From guitarist to guitar-maker
Gao Yi first started playing the guitar when he was 16. Today, the 46-year-old doesn’t just know how to do so — he also handcrafts the musical instrument, spending hours every day in the confines of the 40-square-meter loft above his apartment sawing wooden frames and painting.
Gao has crafted 25 guitars in his lifetime, most of which have been sold for prices ranging from 30,000 ($4,476) to 40,000 yuan.
“I don’t see this as a fortuneopportunity but a dream come true. Making guitars allow me to imbue a handmade item with my understanding and passion for music,” said Gao.
The first musical instrument that Gao learned was actually not the guitar, but the flute. When he was 16, he learnt to play the guitar by himself and he took a one-year professional guitar course at the Central Conservatory of Music after graduating from university. Such was his talent in playing the instrument that he later won the National Guitar Competition in 2000.
For several years, Gao worked at Yamaha Shanghai as a marketing director tasked with expanding the guitar market in China. In 2009, Gao decided to quit, but his life since then still largely revolves around the musical instrument. Today, apart from making guitars, he also teaches children how to play the instrument.
From cutting wood pieces to gluing the frames and painting the product, it normally takes Gao about four months to craft a guitar. He shared that the process of conceptualizing the guitar could take even longer.
Gao said that he has always prioritized quality above everything else when making his guitars, and has over the years stocked his workshop with many precious and valuable types of wood from all over the world.
“Making guitars can be considered an advanced skill for a guitarist. It allows him to learn how different types of wood, the thickness of the wood and the patterns used result in different sounds,” said Gao.
“Unlike other wooden products like furniture, a guitar is not just about the outlook and the technique — it is more related to the instinct and experience of the craftsman that helps to create a perfect resonance.”
In a bid to improve his skills, Gao even flew to Spain to be mentored by Antonio Marin Montero, one of the world’s greatest guitar makers, for two weeks. Gao is now also learning how to combine technology and computer software with traditional handmade techniques to save time and ensure the accuracy of the design. He added that he is currently aiming to replace the process of hand drawing his designs with computer aided design software.
“Making guitars is to make it be a part of me. I get to perform a melody with my hands and express my feelings,” said Gao.
Gao Yi polishing a guitar in his workshop.