AR­TI­SAN: LUTHIER

Meet a man who makes ev­ery high schooler’s fa­vorite in­stru­ment

FHM (Philippines) - - Contents - WORDS JAKOB KEANE VIRI WIN­STON BALTASAR

Jon dela Cruz built his first gui­tar out of his grand­mother’s bed head­board.

He took it apart, prob­a­bly against his lola’s wishes, and made that into the gui­tar’s body. The wood for the other parts were from scrap he got from his un­cle. “Yung mga frets ko gawa sa pako, kasi di ko na­man alam saan nakak­a­bili ng mga ganon,” dela Cruz re­calls. What scant knowl­edge he had of gui­tar mak­ing came from tak­ing apart an acous­tic gui­tar he had just bought at the nearby palengke, the money for which he got from sell­ing his bike. “Kasi ayaw akong ibili ng gi­tara ng mga mag­u­lang ko,” he adds.

This all hap­pened back in 1992, in his last year in high school. Fast for­ward 25 years and he is now one of the lead­ing luthiers in the coun­try, and owner of Elegee Cus­toms Shop. His cre­ations are prized by lo­cal mu­si­cians for its im­pec­ca­ble qual­ity and tone char­ac­ter. They are also slowly gain­ing a cult fol­low­ing abroad; just re­cently, his gui­tars were show­cased at the NAMM show in the US, what is touted as the big­gest mu­sic prod­ucts trade con­ven­tion in the world, and the re­sponse has been very en­cour­ag­ing.

Dela Cruz started Elegee Cus­toms Shop in 1999. He had ac­tu­ally be­come a biya­hero musician (the guys play­ing at bars and clubs abroad, as well as cruise ships), but even then he was set­ting aside money from the gig pay to buy tools and equip­ment for what would be­come Elegee.

“Sa likod ng utak ko I was al­ready think­ing I would be­come a luthier when I come back home for good, kasi syem­pre hindi na­man per­ma­nente ang pag­ba­banda.”

His first cus­tomers were musician friends. While it wasn’t yet a se­ri­ous project, even then he was al­ready build­ing full cus­tom gui­tars from scratch. “Nagti­wala na­man yung mga unang nag­pa­gawa. Dun na nagsim­u­lang ku­malat

yung rep­u­ta­tion ng Elegee. I started build­ing gui­tars se­ri­ously in 2005,” dela Cruz says. Al­though he grad­u­ated with a de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture, ev­ery­thing he knows about gui­tar build­ing he learned from trial and er­ror. There is ab­so­lutely no for­mal luthier ed­u­ca­tion. “Nagamit ko yung course ko sa pag­gawa ng gi­tara in terms of ac­cu­racy and aes­thet­ics, nakikita ko kung pan­git o hindi ang gi­tara. But ev­ery­thing else came from when I first took apart the first gui­tar I bought, habit ko na ‘yong mag­bak­las ng gamit kahit nung maliit pa ako. Yung in­teres ko sa gi­tara nag-start hindi lang sa pag­tug­tog kundi sa con­struc­tion din niya.” Elegee cus­tom gui­tars cost any­where from P30,000 to how­ever you want it to be, de­pend­ing on the parts and con­struc­tion you wish for your in­stru­ment. “The whole process ac­tu­ally be­gins with try­ing to fig­ure out what the client wants, so ma­ha­bang us­apan muna siya, tungkol sa kung ano’ng style ng play­ing niya, ano’ng tunog ang hi­na­hanap niya, and a lot of other mu­sic-re­lated things.

And as for the first gui­tar he built 25 years ago out of scrap wood, it is still ex­ists. “Nakita ko siya sa kak­lase ko, buhay pa. Sabi ko sa kanya palit tayo, bibi­gyan kita ng bagong gi­tara, akin na lang yung unang gi­nawa ko.”

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