Dear International Living Reader,
His hand-made guitars have been owned by Freddy Fender, Judy Collins, and Spanish classical musician Pablo Menendez, according to a 20-year-old article in a music magazine. Guitar maker Juan Uyaguari, however, can’t verify the stories. In fact, he doesn’t really care. “My job is to make the best guitars I can. I hear that some of them belong to famous people but I don’t know this,” he says. “When I sell my guitars I only hope they go into the hands of people who enjoy them.”
Uyaguari is one of scores of the skilled artisans who live in Cuenca, a city in Ecuador known for the high quality of its woodwork, ceramics, painting, jewelry, fabrics, and hats. Until 15 years ago, Uyaguari made his guitars in San Bartolomé, a small village 25 miles south of Cuenca famous for its guitar makers. The business was started there 100 years ago by his mother’s family. Later, his father took up the trade. Many of Uyaguari’s relatives remain in San Bartolomé and continue to make and sell guitars in their main street shops.
Although his house and workshop are now located in a modern subdivision, everything else about Uyaguari’s operation reflects an earlier age. His tools, some of them more than 100 years old, are all hand-operated. “I need to feel the tool on the wood as I work. This is the way I know that what I am making is of the best quality,” he says. His modest living room doubles as a showroom. He usually has an inventory of about a dozen guitars ranging in price from $60 to $800 (the same guitars would easily fetch three or four times as much Stateside.)
The difference in price is based on the wood used in the construction of the instrument–the more expensive guitars are made of silk wood, walnut, ebony, and mahogany; the less expensive guitars are made with white and red cedar, alder, pine, and guaiacum. A more expensive wood generally produces a better sound, but it all hinges on balance: “The sound quality depends upon how well the wood is balanced in the instrument. To create perfect sound I must create perfect balance.”
The guitars made of more expensive woods involve more artistry, with intricate inlays and combinations of woods that require a careful melding process. “It is a challenge and joy for me to work with different woods and to create different designs. Every guitar is different. Every guitar contains part of my personality,” Uyaguari says. Because of greater demands of craftsmanship, his high-end guitars require more time to construct–a $65 guitar takes about a week; a $600 guitar may take a month or more to create.
If you’re traveling to Cuenca and would like to visit Uyaguari’s shop, you can call him direct at tel. + (593) 2285-3637. To reach him through an English-speaking friend (Uyaguari and his wife do not speak English), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll be glad to help arrange a visit.
For International Living
P.S. In nine days, a small group of International Living readers and a hand-picked panel of Ecuador insiders will convene in Quito to investigate the best opportunities this country has to offer. I’ll be there, too, to make sure everything runs smoothly. It’s all happening May 25-27. To make a last-minute reservation, tel. 1-866-381-8446 toll-free or e-mail email@example.com.