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