Aaron Shay

Guitarist, Guitar Maker, Music and Sound Installation Artist, Music Professor, Teacher, Recording Engineer.


News & Updates

Musical Installation Art at the Albacete Gallery, Kent State Stark Fine Arts Building

Running from August 30th - Sept 24th 2021

This is a collaborative effort with my life long friend and programmer Shawn Gragg. This installation art work which was programmed to "improvise" music in three styles endlessly. 

Here is the text which hangs with it in the gallery and explains it in further detail -

Uncommon Practice Harp, 2021

At the heart of this installation is software which has been programmed to "improvise" in three different musical styles. The idea is that, rather than writing specific notes and rhythms, a composer can instead "teach" the machine a musical style or set of boundaries and then allow the computer to play or "improvise" endlessly within those boundaries. Random number generators are harnessed and controlled to select rhythms, chords, melodies, and melodic fragments which are style appropriate.

It will never repeat itself.

It is currently set to select a style, key, and tempo, which plays for four minutes, then rests for one minute, repeating this process until turning off.

The three styles in this set are loosely equivalent to baroque, classical, and modern-impressionistic music.

The physical instrument has 44 strings tuned chromatically. This constitutes three and a half octaves of range. Each resonator holds 11 strings and was designed and built in the manner of Spanish guitar construction. The same piece of flamed maple was cut into four pieces to make up the sides of each resonator. The tops are Spruce and the bridges are Wenge, an African tonewood. The "neck" boards, which form a cross-like structure to support the instrument, are made of Sapele, a type of Mahogany. Just like Spanish style guitars, this instrument needs to be tuned often and is sensitive to humidity and temperature changes. It uses standard nylon, classical guitar strings.

A push/pull solenoid is placed under each string and fires in a quick burst to strike the string from underneath. These solenoids are controlled by an Arduino board and 44 transistor relay circuits. The Arduino constantly receives and decodes MIDI information from a computer in real time.

One could sit down next to this work like they would a stream or waterfall and listen to endless variations.

The bench is made of matching woods and is fully functional. You are welcome to sit and listen.

Aaron Shay - Instrument design and construction, MIDI generating/”improvising” software programming

Shawn Gragg - MIDI decoding programming for Arduino board



As a guitarist Aaron has performed across the US in a variety of rock, jazz and classical settings. Holding a masters degree from the University of Akron, Aaron is comfortable playing and teaching a multitude of styles. He is a founding member of Kent's hard rock act "Bonk" which achieved extensive radio play in local and overseas markets. Audio examples of various styles of guitar work can be found below in the music player section. Aaron has recently begun work in the field of sonic installation art. His latest installation, "The Uncommon Practice Harp," was a prize winner for "The Manifest Art Prize" of 2021.

Aaron is a two-time recipient of the Kent State Stark "Award of Distinction" for excellence in teaching. He is only the third Kent State Stark professor to win the award twice. As a music professor Aaron has taught a wide variety of subjects from Jazz Guitar, Classical Guitar, Music Theory, World Musics, Audio Recording, General Creativity, Classical Guitar Ensemble, Rock Ensembles, Music Production, Live Sound, and Music History. He currently teaches at Stark State College and Kent State Stark.

As an electric guitar builder, Aaron strives to create unique and high quality instruments which are hand built one at a time. "Gypsy Guitars" was named as a tribute to both Django Reinhardt and the gypsy music which inspired his father Tom Shay growing up in Pittsburgh, PA. With an ear for selecting tone wood and some unique design principles, these instruments are special and unlike anything currently being built in mass production lines. Building only 2-3 per year, they are each constructed slowly with care and dedication. Each piece of tone wood is carefully selected out of hundreds for the most suitable timbre. Guitar repair available upon request. 

A few quotes from guitar customers -

"If you get the opportunity to get one of Aarons Gypsy Guitars do it! I think you will be very happy with it. FANTASTIC! Dont stop building Aaron." Scot from FL

"You, sir, build some amazing guitars. Never heard that much sustain from a bolt on neck. Perfect balance, amazing tone, and that neck is a dream to play. It's everything I hoped it would be and more. I couldn't be happier. Thank you!" Jonathan from TX

"Tonally amazing guitar, and build specs way above other boutique builders in the same price range. Beautiful body shape that would have mass appeal if he ever expanded. Thanks Aaron." Kirk from SC

"A+++++ the guitar is absolutely perfect in every way. Thank you Aaron" Mark A. from NJ

"Second Aaron Shay guitar I have purchased. Thank you Aaron. Guitar arrived great and quicker than I ever expected. Thank you again and will be watching for your new builds." Scot from FL


Film Scoring Portfolio and Pictures below


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