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AGGIE BLUEPRINT Volume 6 / Issue 2 / SPRING 2017

Ryan Thorell: Logan’s Luthier Aggie Superfan Battles Parkinson’s What keeps Captain Aggie going?

Farming for Friends Putting the Unity back in Community

Modern Day Job John Craig Christensen’s Biblical life



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Ryan Thorell: A World Class Luthier (maker of stringer instruments) based in Logan. Captain Aggie: This Aggie superfan battles his illness with a passion for USU Athletics. Farming for Friends: A community rallies around a family’s loss to help them heal. Anatomy of Grief: John Craig Christensen--therapist and modern day Job.

Editor’s Note


This semester we’ve put together one of our most diverse issues yet, something that we’re very proud of her at Aggie BluePrint. From sports and science to fashion, I sincerely hope that you find something that interests and inspires you. Perhaps you might discover something new that you’ve never considered before. Whatever the case may be, I hope you enjoy our months of hard work. As always:

Editor: Dani Elliot

Read thoughtfully. Think Deeply. Leave your print.

Faculty Advisor: Cathy Ferrand Bullock

Designer: Ethan Trunnell Contributors: Jackson Wilde, Parker Atkinson, Megan McNulty, and Catherine Wallace. Photographers: Marcus Catlett, Ashlee Flygare, and Ashley Stilson

Dani Elliot



By Jackson Wilde FOR THE PAST half hour, Ryan Thorell has been gently rasping the spruce top of his creation with a razorblade. The blade has bent and twisted, little by little, to fit the form of his fingers. With each pass, flecks of wood accumulate on the paint-splattered work bench.

He is constructing a 15 inch archtop acoustic guitar for a customer in San Francisco. The instrument is made from wood sourced from three continents — North America, Europe and Africa — and Thorell’s last name is elegantly inlayed in cursive on the headstock.

“I like to approach each guitar individually,” Thorell says, “and approach it from my perspective as it evolves through out the years.”

Thorell says the commissioning musician wanted a guitar that mirrored his traditional musical leanings, but with a modern touch. While the shape of the guitar is time-honored, the outside is edged with Central American Bocote wood — a look subtly invoking a leopard’s spots. But at the end of the day, Thorell’s goal for his instruments is simplicity and playability. “My guitars have become more spartan,” Thorell says, “and more about the instrument and its ability to perform as a tool for the musician.”

The Corina (REAR VIEW)


Red Sky DeluxE (rear view)

Thorell has been building guitars professionally since 2003. Since then he has been slowly but surely building a reputation as one of the nation’s best luthiers. “He’s the real deal,” says Bob Bakert, a music industry veteran of 30 years currently working for Eastman Guitars. “He’s like a world-class guy hanging out in Logan, Utah, and he’s so damn young.”



The GRAND (rear View)


Thorell, 37, looks like a woodworker should look — laced work boots and blue jeans. Blue-collar. In his shop sits half-a-dozen guitars he’s either building or repairing. He says he produces 12 to 20 handmade instruments per year — a testament to a business practice as spartan as his designs.

“Thorell’s last name is elegantly inlayed in cursive on the headstock.” *‘Red Sky Deluxe’ headstock pictured


“I think having an approach that allows you to be productive and fly next to the ground,” Thorell says, “has allowed me to really stay as a one-man shop.” The career Thorell has built as a luthier’s luthier in an unassuming town is taking a turn. Thorell’s most popular guitar model, the instrument he designed for his friend and famed jazz guitarist Frank Vignola, will now be carved and assembled by Eastman Guitars — hitting the shelves of distributers in the next four months. Thorell’s project with Eastman Guitars marks the first time one of his designs has been picked up by a manufacturer, and he says it’s bringing him new publicity and validation in a complicated market.

Thorell built his first guitar in 1993 at the age of 13. It was an angular electric guitar reflecting his musical interests at the time — namely, Metallica. He says he knew every riff from Metallica’s guitarist Kirk Hammett, but when he discovered jazz he began taking the instrument in a more earnest

fashion. Motivated by the music of Eddie Lang, Wes Montgomery and George Benson, Thorell says he began practicing eight hours a day. “Really good jazz rhythm guitar, I love,” Thorell says. “I think that’s what the instrument excels at.” Once jazz guitar playing enveloped Thorell, he began studying with Frank Vignola at Arizona State University at the age of 16. Vignola had been hired in 1996 to start the jazz guitar department at Arizona State, and he would pick-up teenage Thorell at the airport to study the craft of playing jazz. Vignola left Arizona State the following year, and subsequently lost contact with his student from Utah. Thorell began seriously considering a career as a luthier as the years progressed. After several woodworking apprenticeships, he began building guitars professionally in 2003. Nearly ten years after their initial meeting, Vignola says the guitar manufacturer he endorsed was dropping all their endorsers. The news lead to a handful of luthiers sending their instruments to Vignola hoping for an endorsement, but none of the guitars truly made “The players who own one of his guitars — and even some who don’t — rave about them.” *Red Sky Deluxe headstock


‘The Sweet E’ Fine Arch Top Guitar - Designed by Ryan Thorell for Thorell Guitars

an impression — except one. A guitar built for a friend caught Vignola’s attention. Impressed, Vignola agreed to give one of the guitars a shot — unaware that luthier was his former student from Utah. “I played that guitar everyday since he sent it to me,” Vignola says. Vignola endorsed Thorell’s instruments, and in 2007 Thorell built his first signature model for Vignola — coming full circle from their time studying at Arizona State. The design has since become

one of Thorell’s most popular. “I didn’t put it together until after he made me the guitar,” Vignola says, “he was the one that used to come from Utah to Arizona to study with me.” Thorell continued to craft guitars and a reputation. And the players who own one of his guitars — and even some who don’t — rave about them. “Everyone who has played my guitar — from George Benson to Tommy Emmanuel — just fell in love with it and played

it for hours,” Vignola says. James Romeyn, a distributor and designer of high-end audio systems, says Thorell’s instruments are some of the best he’s ever heard. Debra Romeyn says before moving to Logan from San Francisco, her husband James had exhausted all the luthier options the Bay Area had to offer. She says Thorell’s artistry and craftsmanship is on superior level. “They have a tone that I don’t know if I’ve heard in a jazz guitar before,” James says, “and I


don’t know what he’s doing but he sure isn’t going to tell anybody.” Cache Valley local and guitarist in Vagabond Dreamers Jay Davis has two guitars from Thorell that he gigs with regularly — one of which Davis helped build under the tutelage of Thorell. “I don’t know what it is about them exactly,” Davis says. “Not only are they just really beautiful works of art, but they sound really special.” Bakert says after meeting Vignola at a seminar and seeing his custom Thorell guitar, he was sold. He now owns three Thorell guitars. “I picked it up and played it and said, ‘I’ve got to own of these,’ and I immediately called Ryan and ordered one,” Bakert says. Inspired by Thorell and Vignola, Bakert says he pitched Thorell’s design to Eastman Guitars, which spawned the project between Vignola, Thorell and the manufacturer.


Dreadnaught detail shot

an $8,000 guitar to people.” Vignola says the guitar parts are being manufactured in China and shipped to Eastman Guitar’s custom shop in California to be assembled — where experts can monitor the quality of the instruments.

Purchasing a handmade guitar from Thorell will cost between $8,000 and $15,000, a price only a dedicated few are willing or able to spend. However, the Thorell designed Frank Vignola Signature Model from Eastman Guitars will be offered at $2,995 — and a more accessible price will hopefully put Thorell’s work in the hand of more musicians.

“That’s what I was excited about,” Vignola says, “that their really going to be nice guitars.”

“This is a big deal for Ryan and I’m so very happy for him,” Vignola says about the project with Eastman Guitars. “It’s a very difficult market to be able to sell

“We did it because we think it’s a really cool guitar and we think we’re really cool company,” Bakert says, “and we think Frank is a cool guy and Ryan deserves some love, here.”

The trio of artist, luthier and manufacturer is something of a rarity according to Bakert and Vignola. For a manufacturer to produce a guitar in such a fashion exemplifies dedication to producing fine guitars.

Once the production is completed, Vignola says he will retire the original guitar Thorell built and play exclusively the Eastman model. Vignola says he as been gathering signatures on the original guitar from musicians he appreciates — creating his own collectible over the years. “It becomes irreplaceable,” Vignola says. “It’s like a ’59 Les Paul — you just can’t do that again.” In Vignola’s view, Thorell’s sense of human decency is just as important as the guitars he builds. Thorell’s attention to detail, cooperativeness and overall good nature makes him worthy of high praise. “He would do anything for anybody,” Vignola says. “That’s why I really wish him the most success, because he really deserves it.”


By Megan McNulty HE SITS AT the table in his house in Smithfield, Utah. It’s a peaceful day. He fiddles with a wood bridge he is currently building. He doesn’t allow himself to get bored — he must always keep busy. His house is filled with Utah State University Athletics posters, many of them signed by Aggie coaches and student athletes. His basement is filled with various Aggie sports memorabilia — a piece of a net, a collage of tickets dating back to the 1970s, pictures with legendary Aggie coaches. On his floor sits a scrapbook filled with newspapers containing articles about Aggie sports he’s collected from working at Valley Recycling years ago — his version of scrapbooking. His goal is to have 40 binders of newspapers by the end of the year. Andy Pedersen has been fighting Parkinson’s disease for nearly 25 years. He was only supposed to live 20 years at most. He’s scheduled to take his medication several times throughout the day. Without it, his body will become completely paralyzed and he can hardly speak. Even with the medication, he is forced to walk with a cane or be pushed around in a wheelchair by his wife, Judy. Pedersen is a fighter, a collector, an Aggie super-fan and advocate for many with diseases. Some call him the Forever Aggie, the Aggie Pope — but his personal favorite is Captain Aggie.

Captain Aggie is part of the identity that keeps him going. Pedersen started attending Utah State University in 1969. It was the spring of 1970 when the Aggies went to the NCAA tournament. They finished eighth in the country. That was the spark. The glory days. Now, 47 years later, he attends almost every home game — even at the age of 65, adding to his tally of about 1,400 total games attended. Basketball. Volleyball. You name it. Pedersen is prob-


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