Noah Watenmaker and Thao Pham jam together on their kitars in their studio by Bergamot Station. (Paul Alvarez, Jr. editor@smdp.com)

Noah Watenmaker and Thao Pham jam together on their kitars in their studio by Bergamot Station. (Paul Alvarez, Jr. editor@smdp.com)

BERGAMOT STATION — What is a kitar?

It’s a new instrument dreamt up by Santa Monica High School grad Noah Watenmaker that resembles a guitar but with five strings, built-in sound effects and the ability to switch out necks instantly.

He came up with the concept after be began building standard, six-string guitars in 2007 and it has taken a few years to strip the instrument “down to the basics,” he said.

Under the umbrella of their company, We Anything Build, or WAB, he and partner Thao Pham launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month to raise money to finish developing the neck hardware for the kitar. Kickstarter is one of the world’s largest online fundraising platforms.

They built a prototype that uses five strings, but customers can request a kitar with up to 12 strings, any length of neck and body style, Watenmaker said.

“[We wanted to] keep it simple with the tuning system we use to cover the same range notes as a guitar, but we only need five strings,” he said.

Both said they hope there can be an open source platform for the kitar where anyone can create the instrument, and want people to join in on the creation process after the Kickstarter ends.

The premise is for people to take on the kitar themselves or learn to build it, Watenmaker said.

Pham compared the body of the kitar to pants and the strings as the shirt.

“You can make different outfits with it,” she said. “You can put different effects in there so when you switch out the neck on a different body, it gives you a different effect on the strings.”

As of Friday, the group had raised $5,741 out of the $18,000 goal. The deadline is Aug. 29.

Watenmaker said his relationship with music, which he started playing in elementary school, influenced his desire to invent new instruments. He had classical training at Samohi, even performing at Carnegie Hall. Pham, meanwhile, came from a “craft” background and enjoys building.

The kitar comes in two body shapes, a “Jack” or a “Jill,” with Jack being more angular and the Jill design having more feminine curves, Pham said.

The duo, who work out of a converted warehouse across the street from the Bergamot Station Arts Center, met two years ago and both found they had a common goal of “wanting to build everything,” Pham said.

The kitar is in its second prototype form. The first prototype was heavier so they decided to hollow out the body and use less wood, Watenmaker said. They also changed the connection joint between the neck and body.

The name hearkens back to the long history of plucking strings, Watenmaker said. It also derives from the Greek word “cithara” which was an ancient Greek string instrument resembling the lyre.

There’s a long tradition of people altering guitars to form a hybrid instrument, said Isaac Parfrey, general manager at McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Pico Boulevard. He gave examples of a keytar, a small keyboard with a neck like a guitar that is supported by a strap around the neck and shoulders, similar to the way a guitar is held. It was popular during the synth-pop days of the 1980s.

Other examples of innovation are harp guitars, or a six string guitar that has harp strings as its base strings.

“It’s pretty common,” Parfrey said.

Pham and Watenmaker have plans to get involved in transportation and lifestyle sectors with their company, using the same open platform model and enabling collaboration among creators and users. They want to put production back into the hands of the people.

“[We want to] bring builders and users back into a community where they can actually interact with these platforms,” Watenmaker said.

To learn more or to contribute to the effort, go to www.kickstarter.com and search for “kitar.”

ameera@smdp.com