Invention in Rock Major

A formidable, old building of brick and stone stands before me. As I press the bell, wind blows a flurry of leaves in a spiral around my person. I am told that within is the workshop of an eccentric inventor. An iron-barred door swings open. Inside the dimly lit entranceway, pipe organ music volleys off the walls, light pours in shafts through the windows, and that which is not illuminated lingers in the shadows. After a moment, a wild-haired figure beckons me to follow him. We climb a double staircase, into the highest floors of the building. A small bucket attached to a rope hangs through the stairway for the purpose of transporting tools. At the top, we continue down a hall and through a set of double doors. I can make out a wall full of categorized specimens and tables full of instruments.

“This,” he says, “is where I work.”

He is Scott Gorsuch, and he has toiled for nearly 20 years at the Bunn-Minnick Pipe Organ factory, tuning the grandiose instruments in preparation for their installment in churches, theaters, and other venues. His office on the third floor is essentially the guts of a pipe organ, where he carefully calibrates tubes. But in his free time, he creates his own instruments, a fascination with invention born out of necessity.

“I got started in high school. That’s why I took wood shop. Then I was a cabinetmaker. I just can’t afford the stuff I’d like to have, so I just ended up making it to get what I want,” Gorsuch said, gesturing to a double-neck guitar in the corner. “I had a double neck once. I’ve played [this 12-string] for years, and I didn’t even have the idea back then. I had that neck from the little guitar, and I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to make some little travel guitar out of that.’ And somewhere in that process, I thought ‘this would work!’”

The double-neck guitar he shows me isn’t your run-of-the-mill double-neck, by any means. It is, in fact, two separate guitars—one large 12-string and a small travel guitar. They’re held together by neodymium magnets.  When the magnets lock in, spring-loaded pins on both guitars are aligned, completing the circuitry and creating a double-neck guitar. When disconnected, each can be used as a functioning guitar by itself.  When he hands it to me, he does so holding the smaller neck to demonstrate the strength of the connection.  He says he can “jump around like an idiot” and the instrument will remain intact. It also brings what Gorsuch calls the “what the f**k factor,” and he’s got a plan for this instrument.

Hello, Amish Country!

The Amish Drum Machine functions very similarly to a mechanical music box. A cylinder, powered by a DC motor, rotates within a small box. The cylinder is outfitted with screws in strategic points. When the screws rotate past   a series of micro switches, an electrical signal is sent to one of several pinball flipper motors. The flippers themselves are outfitted with drumsticks. As the cylinder rotates, the flippers play different patterns on actual drums. These patterns can be altered, as needed. This means that Gorsuch, when playing the bass drum and snare with his feet, can simulate a live drummer playing along with him. Pretty nifty. To see it in action: visit youtu.be/idPn1Z-yu28.

“I filed for what’s called a provisional patent application. It allows me to legally say ‘patent pending.’ I’m working on my second prototype now,” Gorsuch says, holding up two hand-built necks of finer construction. “I’m gonna take my time and make these really sweet, and that’ll be the one that I pitch to large guitar companies, and with any luck, that’ll be my retirement.”

Guitars aren’t his only fancy. The workshop also contains a custom-made amp and some bespoke pedals. One of the pedals, primarily for the cheekiness, is housed in a wasabi pea can.

“You gotta make it funny or weird or something,” Gorsuch laughs.

A few years ago, Gorsuch’s weird musical inventions caught the attention of people around town with a project he called the Amish Drum Machine (see sidebar). It was essentially a cylinder drum music box that played part of a drum kit while Gorsuch accompanied on guitar. Sadly, that contraption was destroyed when his basement flooded a couple years ago, but he may rebuild it one day as a “retired guy project.”  Even though technology could reproduce something similar with a lot less effort, the appeal of accomplishing the same ends mechanically holds a special place for Gorsuch.

“That sort of summed up my ethos about a lot of things. I love the work aspect of it—the non-app aspect of that. This isn’t something I want to solve with an app or a computer or MIDI or something digital. This is going to be something beyond old-school. What can I do to make this happen in a real way so that it’s real cymbals, real drums—as real as I can do it. I totally dig doing weird stuff like that. I knew [the double neck] would have its own sort of built-in entertainment value, too. And I don’t mind being perceived as odd. It’s okay. I am odd.”

Scott Gorsuch is working on his self-titled third album, which will be available on vinyl in the near future. To hear some of his music, visit soundcloud.com/scott-gorsuch/sets.

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