While other angsty high schoolers jam out in the grungy garage with their bandmates, Tom McCracken makes music with Fab Lab’s fancy Co2 laser-cutting machine. If you ask the Suncoast Polytechnical High School senior what he wants to pursue in college, he’s still just as unsure as the next 17-year-old. But, there is one thing he has figured out: how to design and manufacture an acoustic guitar from scratch. After a few trips to Home Depot for plywood, and figuring out how to tune the Trotec Speedy 400 Laser Engraver at Suncoast Science Center/Faulhaber Fab Lab, nothing was stopping the tenacious teen from borrowing his next-door neighbor’s guitar for reference and getting to work. The new infrared CNC laser-cutting machine uses Co2 lasers to slice at 400 inches per second, generating 80 watts of energy for every 1,000 nanometers. A lot of numbers to comprehend, we know. But that’s nothing for McCracken—an analytical thinker and mathematical tinkerer, with a desire to tap into the more right-sided parts of his brain (to perhaps learn some chords to his favorite pop-rocksongs). “I specifically wanted to explore the living hinge technique for this project, which laser cuts the wood in a manner that gives it flexibility,” McCracken says. “It was perfect for making a guitar body.” 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan


McCracken spent 36 hours on CorelDRAW (professional graphic design software), creating several iterations, and playing around with various schematic guitar models and measurements of the parts. After advanced modifications and enhancements, he traced 150 parametric pieces with intense precision. Dimensions had to be exact, with little to no tolerance (an allowable amount of variation of a specified quantity)—so that once the Trotec engraved and cut each piece of wood, McCracken was able to assemble and fit each piece together perfectly in Lego-like construction. 

“It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle in reverse, building something off of itself and of itself,” McCracken says. After gluing the seams and sealing the base of the body with oil to protect the exterior and prevent warping, he taught himself how to engrave and place metal wire for the frets of the fretboard. He then taught himself how to weigh the strings at the recommended tension and fasten them in the correct order to correspond to the traditional chords of a guitar. Having now crafted seven custom guitars by hand, all with a slightly different nuance in design, McCracken’s brain juices are flowing with potential new projects to try with the machine. He’s considering crafting a pair of eyeglasses for his friend to match his own prescription, or maybe making a skateboard to skoot around the University of Central Florida campus (where he’ll be attending in the fall). The jury is still out on whether or not he’ll be starting his own band.  SRQ