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Soaring Songbirds

Ortwein Sign adds iconic neon sign to historic Chattanooga Choo-Choo complex



The Chattanooga Choo-Choo complex on the south side of Chattanooga, TN features a historic train station that has been converted into a world-class hotel, restaurants and performance venues. Recently, it became the new home to Songbirds – part guitar museum, part exhibit/event area and part professional band room in which you can be a rock star for the day. “The Vault” at Songbirds also contains “without a doubt … the most premiere and complete [guitar] collection in the world,” said David Davidson, general partner with We Buy Guitars in New York City. “With what is happening at the Choo-Choo and its history and the exciting things happening in Chattanooga, we felt like this was the perfect place and we want to be a part of the future.” And We Buy Guitars weren’t the only ones who wanted to be involved.

Colleen Teal, president of Ortwein Sign Company (Chattanooga, TN), worked with the Songbirds’ owners to develop the exterior branding for this one-of-a-kind project. Colleen thought a very large, very cool sign could possibly become as iconic as the Chattanooga Choo-Choo landmark sign that has been around for decades. “This 45-ft.-long, all-neon masterpiece will certainly catch the attention of and make a memorable impression on the local community, as well as the many tourists who visit Chattanooga yearly,” Colleen said, and she’s had experience with the Chattanooga Choo-Choo complex. She spearheaded Ortwein Sign’s re-image of the Choo-Choo earlier this year and signage for “Stir,” a new restaurant there (see ST, May 2016, page 60).

If guitars had wings
The owners wanted highly visible and dramatic signage to draw tourists and everyday locals to their new space on the backside of the Choo-Choo complex. Ortwein Sign proposed two 8- x 13-ft., 4-in. wall-mounted, projecting, exposed neon “winged guitar” signs and a 10-ft., 6-in. x 44-ft., 6-in. exposed neon, main ID roof-mounted “Songbirds” sign.

Once Songbirds’ ownership approved the design and permits were approved by the City of Chattanooga, our design and engineering department used CorelDRAW, Adobe Illustrator, EnRoute and Graphtec’s Cutting Master 3 plug-in to produce the pattern, router, vinyl cut and print files for the various production departments’ equipment.

Rockin’ in 3-part (sign) harmony
The winged guitar signs are double-faced, exposed red neon, aluminum cabinets with trim-capped, clear-plastic-faced neon channels that extend 13 ft. from the building. The Songbirds roof-mounted sign is a single-faced sign of similar construction that stands close to 20 ft. above the Choo-Choo roofline.
Our router is a Warthog router table with a 50 x 100-in. table. We used this to cut out the 0.125-in.-thick aluminum backgrounds, the aluminum letter backs and plastic faces for these signs. The returns for the letters and neon channels were produced by our Accu-Bend system and assembled by one of our master metalsmiths. The letters and neon channel faces were trim-capped by hand in our channel letter department. The cabinets, letters and returns were painted in our custom spray booth using our Matthews Paint System and low-VOC SATA paint guns.

Our neon department bent and pumped more than 500 lineal feet of neon for these three signs. The sign cabinet frames, steel framing support structures and projecting sign supports were produced by Ortwein Sign’s cabinet department using Miller Welders. The main ID sign’s wings and lettering comprise Voltarc 6500 White 15mm neon and Voltarc Clear Red 15mm neon. The tagline lettering is Voltarc 6500 White 10mm. The projecting signs also use Voltarc 6500 White 15mm neon and the guitar glows with Voltarc Clear Red 15mm neon. The cabinet department also handled final assembly and cleanup prior to handing off the signs for installation.


This bird has flown
Ortwein Sign has six crane trucks that we use for most of our installation needs. We used two Elliott trucks to install the two projecting signs – one to hold the sign, the other to attach the sign to the building wall. The rooftop sign was transported to the Choo-Choo site via a flatbed tractor-trailer with a wide-load escort through the city streets of Chattanooga. Ortwein Sign’s intrepid crew of installation wizards got the rooftop sign to site safely (collective sigh of relief).

We rented another crane truck from our friends at Sterchi Construction to lift the rooftop sign into place. We welded the sign’s supports to the roof supports located below a 6-in.-thick concrete roof cap that we cut holes in to access the roof supports. Once that was done, we hooked up the electric to the new sign circuits and powered it up. There’s nothing like exposed neon glowing in the night sky to make a sign like Songbirds’ pop!

Software: CorelDraw,; Adobe Illustrator,; SAi EnRoute,; Graphtec Cutting Master 3 plug-in,
Router: Warthog router table,
Channel Letter Bender: Accu-Bend,
Welders: Miller Welders,
Painting: Matthews Paint System,; SATA paint guns,
Lighting: Voltarc Technologies,
Installation: Elliott crane trucks,; Sterchi Construction,



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