Six String Art – The New Indian Express
“I had my first real six strings” – those iconic words from Bryan Adams’ song, Summer 69 (Gen Z may need to look for this one), inspired a number of ’90s kids to invest in their first acoustic guitar. A ubiquitous instrument – given its accessibility – most of us, at some point, have tested our affinity for music through it. Whether you are a beginner or have been strumming the guitar for years, there are many styles and types to choose from. However, like any other product, factory and mass produced instruments are just simple die-cut models. A custom-made guitar, on the other hand, is pure art. It is a thing of beauty, which definitely attracts attention. But, where do you go for a custom six string? The answer is a luthier.
Originating from the French word “luth”, a luthier is an artist who makes and repairs by hand one or more stringed instruments such as guitars, harp, banjo, among others. Guitar making is an art – it takes immense dedication and concentration. Add to that list a love for the handmade, as well as the willingness and conscience to assimilate the lessons learned through (a lot) of trial and error. The practitioners of this trade must be meticulous; the attention to detail required in the handcrafting of an instrument can take years to develop. Although it is a popular art abroad, local luthiers are rare. That said, there are a few in town who have mastered the craft of luthier.
A creative process
After playing bagpipes and snare for a few years at school, Anand Vihar-based Ankit Kathuria decided to try his hand at guitar. While playing bass in college, he never seriously pursued learning guitar. Eliminating the assumption that luthiers must also be guitarists, Kathuria jokes: “Not all guitar builders are guitarists. There are two different parts of the brain at work during these two activities – one helps play and the other helps build.
After trying a few nine to five jobs and getting some tattoo training, Kathuria (33) finally decided to work as a saleswoman at 440Hz, a music store in Lajpat Nagar. That’s when a customer walked into the store, worried about higher guitar action. “He had a concert the same day and was very worried,” says Kathuria. The store owner, who later helped him learn about the technicalities of guitar repair and maintenance, gave Kathuria an Allen wrench and walked her through making some adjustments. It worked! “Doing that was really satisfying. The owner then told me that every store has a guitar technician. When I mentioned that I didn’t know about it, he said he would teach me and also ordered some tools, ”Kathuria tells us about her trip. Over time, he handled several repair orders and remembers that he even had a runner to help him. Not only did he learn a thing or two on the internet, but he also learned the nuances and techniques on the job. After two apprenticeships with the late Arulnathan Dominic Xavier of Arul Guitars, Bengaluru, Kathuria finally launched Avid Guitars.
What does the clientele who need a custom guitar look like at Avid Guitars? Kathuria mentions that these instruments are for people who “are thinking of owning the guitar of their dreams”. He says, “People who have been playing guitar for years know what they want, unlike others who are just starting out.” India has a mixed market, he mentions, and there are people who cannot understand how expensive custom-made guitars are: an Avid Guitars customer must be willing to shell out more than one lakh INR. for such an instrument. Kathuria says, “When people go online and see a handmade guitar, they can never understand why it’s expensive.” The details are intricate, says Kathuria, who often works with spruce wood, rosewood, and native Indian wood like jackfruit and tamarind.
Although she receives several requests for custom shapes, fan frets, and even arm bevels, Kathuria currently only makes one guitar in a month (or two) for sale. “Usually a luthier will be booked for a year or two. It’s not the same for me because I’m in the midst of changing workshops and also run an independent community called Space Session. Guitar making is a big job, says Kathuria: “There is so much to learn; you have to keep honing your skills.
Learning never stops
Karan Singh (38), who runs a guitar repair shop with his friend in Mehrauli and makes custom products in his workshop in Goa, had a somewhat unusual journey. An avid guitarist himself, Singh says, “Of course, you don’t have to play guitar if you’re a luthier. But it helps. When Singh started ten years ago, he was self-taught; always using references on how to put something together. Finally, after some apprenticeships in Europe, he launched Bigfoot Guitars. Singh says, “I understood the different aspects of what makes a good guitar while I was learning. In fact, I always look forward to taking it to the next level. Education is an ongoing process. Every year or two, I make sure I spend time learning from someone I truly admire. I try to use my learning to create a better instrument. Making several instruments such as ukulele, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and bass guitar, Singh points out, “It takes about three months to assemble an instrument. Since I’m a one-man show, customers have to wait between one and two years for a custom guitar.
A handcrafted instrument by Singh can be made from any wood – German spruce is something he uses often, but he also uses native trees such as tamarind, mango and a few – some from southern India, whose English names he does not know. A custom order at Bigfoot can start at three lakh INR, and the customer list includes professional musicians and guitar collectors. Singh says, “Those who have been playing for 15 to 20 years have an idea of the holy grail of the guitar; and I hope to try to make it a reality. Of course, given the details, the process is interesting but takes a long time. He points out, “There’s a lot of back and forth in terms of the design element and finer details. The client is with me throughout the process, and it’s fun for them too. What about unusual customer requests? Singh explains that more often than not he is not receptive to sketches, “I refuse people who come to me with sketches not because I can’t do it, but because it’s hard to get. shape and outline to make an instrument. Ultimately, the guitar is a tool. If the design doesn’t make sense from a playability standpoint, it’s futile. »What about the other customizations? “Yes, I have personalized instruments for clients, especially from a sentimental point of view.
Most skilled trades are often passed down from generation to generation. Is this also true for violin making? Singh debunks this myth by saying, “In the West, this trade was generally passed down from generation to generation or even from master to apprentice. But that hasn’t been the case for the past 30 to 40 years. Of course, the guitar is a relatively new instrument for India, with origins dating back almost 200 years. Hinting at how we as a nation fare when it comes to playing guitar as a profession, Singh says, “The current generation is moving away from the excitement of the corporate world. They pursue careers that are more meaningful to them, keep them grounded in one way or another, and, for lack of better words, are more emotional. Interest has definitely increased.
We end our conversation on the competitiveness of this space, keeping in mind the musical instrument giants? Singh, who also runs a two-week apprenticeship training course for amateur luthiers, concludes: “The clientele that comes to me is niche. I am not in competition with the big companies; they’re targeting a certain segment of people, and we need them. People who are happy to go to a store and buy a guitar should do so, because that’s what works best for them. In fact, even within the community, it is better to have more manufacturers as this creates a market for custom guitars.
Design the perfect method
“I’ve been a guitarist longer than a luthier,” adds Sagar Prasad (30), who started playing the instrument at the age of 15 and doing commercial repairs since working for a music store. music. He recalls, “Guitars don’t come cheap. As an overly ambitious guitarist, I wanted to build my instrument. This is how it all started. The internet was his learning ground, as Prasad sat for hours reading or watching videos from expert luthiers such as Ron Kirn.
When he then launched The ThinkSmiths, Prasad admits it was not an easy passage: “My first run was a fiasco; and I was broke after three months. I took another job but also ran ThinkSmiths in a limited context. Until the age of 24, much of Prasad’s work included adjustments and repairs. “Most of my work is based on adjustments. In terms of installation, Indian stores have very consistent parameters. I have developed my own method; it’s also about figuring out what works best for you, ”he adds. This luthier used to repair between 25 and 30 guitars per year. Over time, this number has grown exponentially; Prasad has installed 200 strange guitars in a year now.
Speaking of the woods used in his workshop in Kotla Mubarakpur in Delhi, he says: “I worked with teak, but also with Meranti (a wood despised in India and used to make door frames). As for the use of rosewood, it is not worth it. Pricing, Prasad says, is something he has made easier for customers. He asks the customer to buy the material allowing him to choose as he pleases. During this time, Prasad calculates additional costs, including a price for the work of manufacturing the part.
Drawing parallels between guitar making and steering repairs is impossible, he says: “Unlike repairs, construction takes a long time. In fact, it’s very well thought out, properly funded, and takes about a month or more. My first construction was long; it took me three months.
Noting that guitar making is a hidden profession, especially in India, Prasad explains why the bespoke market is limited to a smaller group – a segment sandwiched between those who buy guitars off the shelf and others. who pride themselves on being collectors. “Only someone who has gone through many options will come to a luthier. The tailor-made market is made up of artists who know what they expect from their guitar, ”he concludes. This is probably what makes a very demanding customer a rather happy luthier.