Make music with Jeremy Carter

Jeremy Carter is a Design Education Evangelist for Autodesk Education. In this role, he inspires students and educators to take on design and making as a way of learning. His roots, however, are as a designer and maker. He’s a trained and certified luthier who has been building custom guitars for over 20 years. We wanted to learn how Jeremy blends music and design, where his inspiration comes from, and how he motivates and inspires others, so I sat down to talk with him.

How did you get your start as a luthier? 

Like so many builders, I grew up surrounded by other builders. Both my grandfathers had little workshops in their basements. My brothers and I grew up building forts, making our own nunchucks, and building bike ramps. But when we discovered music, that energy got channeled into building speakers, taking apart guitars, and making 4-track cassette recordings.


Jeremy builds his first instrument, a semi-hollow body electric guitar, at the Totnes School of Guitar Making in Devon, England. 

How did you apply your passion for music to designing guitars?

Ultimately, I was playing in high school bands and wanted a nicer guitar than I could afford. Rather than saving for the big brand name, I found a small school in Devon, England where I could study under a master luthier and learn to build the guitar I wanted–and for half the price of the big brand name guitar! In retrospect, that experience empowered me to build almost anything, even though at that time I was just focused on getting my dream guitar and becoming a rock star.   

The finished product: an arch top semi-hollow body electric guitar.

How do you think music influences design?

Whoa, I'm not sure where to begin. The simple answer is art inspires art. With that said, I think musicians are fundamentally experimenters and problem solvers. Designers go to school to learn processes, techniques, and tools. Musicians learn, practice, play, and remix! Also, while I’m certainly a little biased, I think that musicians are the ultimate DIY practitioners.

For example, anyone that has been in a band knows that you don’t just decide you want to be successful. A band has to find a place to practice and seek out a supportive community. They have to promote themselves and figure out how to market the band, which means making promotional materials and maintaining a social media presence. When a band first starts playing shows, they set up all their own equipment and figure out all the issues involved with playing live. And when a band wants to go on tour, they have to figure out all the logistics of travel, sleeping, eating, and money. It's hard work and takes skill. Nothing drives me crazier than the pop culture caricature of musicians as vain and disorganized party animals. Musicians that take it seriously know they have to experiment and problem solve to make it all come together, but when it does, the feeling is pretty amazing. 


Jeremy designed an electric violin and violin amp for a South Carolina Philharmonic fundraiser. “The shape of a violin is so engrained in people’s minds, that it ellicited a negative response from those who are tied to the traditional shape of a violin. My design set out to challenge the traditional ideas of making music.” -Jeremy Carter

Can you explain the Make+Music initiative? What do students gain from taking part in your workshops? 

I’ve been lucky to find so much enthusiasm for my work around the theme of Make+Music. To date, my work with Jay Brockman at Notre Dame and Third Coast Percussion has focused on workshops where K-12 students assemble simple kit instruments then learn to play a composition together. This combination of making and music creates a space where the students are free to experiment with creative expression and learn how play a complimentary role with a collective. Plus, the students leave feeling empowered because they made the musical instrument they played!

With my other university partners (MIT, Berklee, Olin, MassArt), we are focused on challenging students to think about innovation as related to musical instruments. Musical instruments are literally a 10,000 year old iterative design challenge, having at its core culture, technology and invention. I like to kick off projects with older students by leading a Design Thinking exercise that challenges teams to conceptualize new types of musical instruments and to describe both how they work and how they sound. It’s not as easy as it seems, and that’s the point. While it's easy to imagine a new thing that can make sounds, it is much more difficult once you start thinking about the human factors – ergonomics, expectations, dynamic range, etc. My goal in all this is to build a community of people who explore innovation as related to the experience of music. 

As a part of Make+Music, Jeremy led a design challenge where students from Olin and MassArt were asked to conceptualize a new type of musical instrument. After brainstorming, students were asked to present their conceptualized instrument and mimic the sound. 

What advice do you have for students and professionals interested in blending their passions or hobbies with the design field?

Here is my honest truth: if you are passionate about any sort of creative expression, you will only improve your creative expression by breaking it apart and thinking about all aspects–not just the creative intent or outcomes. Think about connections to history, culture, experiences, materials, human factors, and more.

For me, I wanted to be a really good guitar player, but I was terrible when I first started playing. Right away, I faced the fact that it was going to take a lot of practice and memorization to ‘get good’ at guitar. Learning the traditional way through lessons and music theory wasn’t enjoyable for me, but I did like experimenting and figuring out how the guitar, and sound in general, ‘worked.’ Over time, I developed my own way of playing music but more importantly, I figured out how a lot of the tech surrounding the process of making music worked and that gave me more options to be creative.


Have your own musical instrument design to share? Show off your design in your Portfolio.

Inspired to pursue your own music and design project? Check out the links below and get started.

Learning resources

Explore Jeremy’s guitar components in the Fusion 360 Gallery
Designing every functioning component of a guitar can take a lot of time. That's why Jeremy created a CAD sharing resource of guitar components in the Autodesk Fusion 360 gallery for anyone to use. Leverage these files to kick the design and build of your own custom guitar. 

Follow along as Jeremy designs a guitar 
Jeremy’s Instructables page includes videos of his guitar body design process. Get inspired to make your own instruments by watching the videos. 

Build an electric guitar
Go through a step by step process of designing and building a custom electric guitar.  

Browse student portfolios
Look for design inspiration for your own musical instrument by browsing Design Academy portfolios. 

Design a musical instrument or product
Learn how to apply the principles of form & ergonomics to the design of your own musical instrument or product using Fusion 360. 

Inspirational stories

Engineering music: University of Notre Dame engineering students and Third Coast Percussion team up to make WAVES
Learn how University of Notre Dame students and the music ensemble Third Coast percussion engineer sound. 

Wild Sound: Exploring new musical frontiers through engineering and DIY electronics
Continuing their success from WAVES, read how Third Coast percussion and the University of Notre Dame create a full-length concert program entitled Wild Sound. 

The future of making music: Design and engineering
Discover how the future of making music is influenced by design and engineering.

Invent something new
Learn what it takes to invent something new. Get all your questions answered to take your invention from idea to reality.