Guitar made from Mackey floor, crafted by Polytechnic student, auctioned for nearly $11K at Purdue vs. IU

Gryphon Mawhorter's guitar, made from the wood of a prior era of Mackey court floor. (Purdue University photo/Nick Pompella)

A new piece of one-of-a-kind Purdue iconography has come from a student in Purdue Polytechnic’s popular “guitar lab,” and an auction for the piece garnered nearly $11,000 after launching during the men’s basketball game between Purdue and Indiana University.

Gryphon Mawhorter, a senior in audio engineering technology, a longstanding teaching assistant in Professor Mark French’s guitar lab, and a student with a penchant for making one-of-a-kind stringed instruments, created a baritone guitar out of wood from a past era of Mackey Arena’s basketball court floor.

The open auction for the guitar went live the evening of the Purdue vs. IU basketball game on February 10, after Noah Scott performed the National Anthem on the instrument. The proceeds from the auction support Purdue programs, such as the specialized supplies and equipment that students need in the guitar lab in order to make unique creations such as Mawhorter’s Mackey guitar.

The Mackey guitar on the night before the Purdue vs. IU game. (Purdue University photo/Nick Pompella)

Sourcing a Purdue relic

Mawhorter said that the Mackey guitar came together as a consequence of Noah Scott, a Purdue alumnus, an employee of the Purdue for Life Foundation and a guitar enthusiast. “Noah came by with this wood one day last semester and said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we made a guitar out of this?’ [laughs] That’s pretty much how this started.”

For Noah’s part, he managed to come into possession of the old bits of Mackey Arena’s playing floor through happenstance, as a colleague at the Purdue for Life Foundation had it stowed away in his home.

This wood comes from before Mackey’s 2016 renovations, where the court’s playing surface was replaced after a flooding incident caused significant water damage. But the wood itself is probably older than 2015 or so. A similar event happened in 2011, which means that the decade of the ‘10s saw two different court replacements in Mackey. However, in Gryphon’s estimation, it would be a major surprise if these particular bits of maple were out-of-commission that recently.

Gryphon Mawhorter with his Mackey guitar creation. (Purdue University photo/Nick Pompella)

“I don’t think there’s any way that wood was only in use from 2011 to 2016. For one thing, when I was taking everything apart I saw a label that said "’79," which I have to assume means 1979. And also, before I cleaned it up, it certainly looked and even kind of smelled like it was from 1979 [laughs].”

Making an iconic piece

“I thought it was really critical to preserve the surface of the maple, because that’s the part that just so clearly looks like the floor of a basketball court, particularly with the satin gloss that I put on top of it,” Mawhorter said. “Obviously I wanted to create as little scrap as possible, which was an interesting challenge since there isn’t exactly an unlimited supply of this material to work with.”

From start to finish, the whole guitar took almost exactly a month to finish. While Gryphon said it’s not the fastest job he’s ever had—that would be two weeks—he did spend quite a bit of extra time over the course of the past month making sure it was as perfect as he could make it. That includes spending a great deal of free weekend time sanding and machining at Purdue Polytechnic’s guitar lab in the newly-built Lambertus Hall.

Mawhorter also ensured that the entire construction was done up with as much Purdue imagery as possible. On the fretboard (a particular point of pride for Mawhorter—“I think it’s by far the best fretwork I’ve ever done”), he has laser-etched several hidden details in golden epoxy.

First, he and Noah worked with administrators at Purdue to implement a licensed font on the fretboard that is reminiscent of Purdue’s old-school athletics logos. Then, on every other fret, he also included a golden 2D profile of the Boilermaker Express.

Gold details on the fretwork, such as a novel Purdue font, are visible in the top of the frame. (Purdue University photo/Nick Pompella)

The auction

Noah Scott, a Purdue alumnus and current Purdue for Life employee, who will perform on the Mackey guitar on February 10. (Purdue University photo/Nick Pompella)

The Mackey guitar auction went from the evening of the men's basketball game to 8:00 p.m. EST on Valentine's Day, four days later. The bids far surpassed both Mawhorter and Scotts' expectations, and alongside the additional prompt to donate directly to the guitar lab, this Purdue Polytechnic program generated a grand total of $11,500 over the four-day period.

Purdue Polytechnic’s guitar lab has existed in one form or another for 18 years, growing from the basement of the now-demolished Michael Golden Labs into a purpose-designed space in Lambertus Hall. The class is open to students from all academic backgrounds. Students learn to design a product, manage budgets and supply chains, and then make their designs—everyone gets their own electric guitar at the end of the semester. The lab is being supported by the world-renowned guitar company Gibson, in a first-of-its-kind partnership in their 130+ year history.

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