Robert (“Sky”) Sabin ’10 has been playing a guitar since he was 13. He grew up listening to a multitude of guitar styles from the melodic Paul Simon to electric-guitar-charged rockers Little Feat.
It’s no wonder he has a fondness for and fascination with the instrument. The music major has taken that interest up a couple of notches over the past two summers. First, in 2008, he built his own guitar. And then this summer, as part of an independent research project, he filmed a documentary about guitar builders called—what else?—The Quest for the Perfect Guitar.
The half-hour documentary was created with the support of the Filene Center, using funding from the Wheaton Fellows program, which supports educationally meaningful internships, service experiences or structured independent research. The film is about a partnership between a guitar builder (known as a luthier), Stephan Connor, and a classical guitarist, Eliot Fisk, who have been working together to create the “perfect” guitar.
Since completing the filming, Sabin has continued to refine it as an independent study project under the direction of Associate Professor of Art and Film Jake Mahaffy. Sabin hopes to polish it to enter it into film festivals.
This all started in the summer of 2008 when he became interested in making his own guitar. He met Connor while seeking someone with whom to apprentice. Connor did not need an apprentice, but the two became friends. Sabin spent all summer building his own guitar using a kit, seeking advice, and sweating over making precise measurements to cut wood and assemble the instrument. His interest drew him back to the guitar builder the following summer when he decided to make a documentary about guitar makers who work on Cape Cod, where Sabin lives. He ended up focusing exclusively on Connor and Fisk.
“I’ve always been interested in the effects of a custom instrument on the player and what goes into building a fine guitar. The film provides insights into both,” said Sabin, who owns two acoustic guitars, a mandolin and a violin. “What interests me about guitar building is that the process is simultaneously creative, intuitive, mathematical and scientific. It is incredibly precise,” and yet, as shown in the film, improvising can add a totally new sound, he said.
Sabin grew up surrounded by creativity. His mother is a writer, his father an illustrator, and his older sister is a sculptor. His house was always filled with the sounds of all kinds of music—from Bach to R.E.M.
The singer-songwriter has performed his blend of rock, jazz and folk music in coffeehouses in New York, in venues across New England, in Ireland during his semester abroad, as well as at Wheaton. He is a member of the college’s World Music Ensemble, and heads the Lymin’ Lyons, Wheaton’s new steel drum band.
He said building his own guitar and making the film provided him with invaluable lessons: “Creating this film taught me to be patient, confident and resourceful,” he said. “I learned that much of the process of creating a film has a lot to do with networking and socializing, as well as finding smart and reliable people to work with. I loved making this documentary, and I would be extremely happy to continue working in this field.”
Over the summer Sabin used digital recording software to create a new CD on which he plays all the instruments. Listen to his music at www.myspace.com/skysabin.