One-Handed Guitar Brings Music Back to Refugee’s Life

A former Vietnamese refugee suffering from a brain injury named Dinh Van Nguyen is reconnecting with music with the help of a custom, one-handed guitar, setting high hopes that designers could further modify the instrument to help others who suffer from similar debilitating injuries and conditions.

As a young man, Nguyen was the guitarist and singer in a Vietnamese band, but when he was 23-years-old he lost the use of the left side of his body after suffering from a traumatic brain injury. As music was always such a big part of his life, he refused to let it beat him and continued to sing, though he couldn’t continue to play the guitar.

Jason Kenner, a music therapist and fellow musician, became part of Nguyen’s rehabilitation, and hoped to bring music back to Nguyen’s life. Kenner said, “[Nguyen] plays music with his carer Quan, but Quan plays the guitar and Dinh sings along, but if we put a guitar in Dinh’s hand and we played the chord, than Dinh would strum along.”

Kenner started to tool around and modify old guitars laying in his garage. Basing his idea off of a harp’s design, he incorporated a similar build into the body of a guitar, changing its tuning and shortening its neck. When Kenner handed the prototype to Nguyen, he said something just clicked.

“He just played it instantly, didn’t have to explain how it worked, so it met its brief really well,” said Kenner. “We were able to utilise music, to achieve some therapeutic aims.”

The one-handed guitar could be the next step in the instrument’s evolution. The instrument has been around for centuries, but ever since it seized the attention of pop music, innovators have made their own changes to the instrument. From the invention of the electric guitar, to advancements in amplifying technology, to the more recent innovation of guitar multi-effects pedals that came into prominence as late as the 1960s, the guitar has undergone many transformations. The one-handed model may very well become a new iteration of the popular instrument.

If successful, it could help the 12% of America suffering from a disability learn to play music for the first time, or reconnect with the art, as is the case with Nguyen.

Kenner isn’t the only person to design a one-handed guitar, either. Popular engineer Ben “Heck” Heckendorn received a similar challenge from Ian Pierce, who lost his arm in a tragic railroad accident. Heck’s model works by placing one-hand on the neck, while an automated pick is worked by two foot pedals to strum.

Kenner is taking his one-handed, harp-guitar hybrid to a national conference in Brisbane in the hopes to help more disabled persons with his prototype.

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