By Aston Morrisey
His hand-made guitars have been played by Freddy Fender, Judy Collins, and Spanish classical musician Pablo Menendez, according to a 25-year-old article in American Musician magazine. Cuenca guitar maker Juan Uyaguari say, however, that he can't vouch for the story. "I hear that some of them belong to famous people but I don't know this. My job is to make the best guitars I can,” he says. "When I sell them I only hope they go into the hands of people who enjoy them."
Until 15 years ago, Uyaguari made his guitars in San Bartolomé, a village 40 miles southeast of Cuenca famous for hand-made musical instruments. His mother’s family started the tradition 100 years ago. Later, his father took up the trade and was joined by his brothers. Some of Uyaguari's relatives remain in San Bartolomé and continue to make and sell guitars in their main street shops. More family members have joined Uyaguari in Cuenca, where several continue the trade.
Although his workshop is located in a modern suburban house, 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 wood when I work. This is the way I know that what I am making is good quality," he says. His modest living room doubles as a showroom where he usually keeps an inventory of about a dozen guitars. Prices from $75 to $1,000 (afficionadas say that the same instruments would easily fetch three or four times as much in the U.S.)
Differences in price are 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 of white and red cedar, alder, pine, and guaiacum. A more expensive wood generally produces a better sound but not always. "The sound quality depends on how well the wood is balanced,” Uyaguari says. “To create perfect sound I must create perfect balance."
The guitars made of more expensive woods usually require a higher degree of artistry and many feature intricate inlays and combinations of woods. "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. “But each one also has its own personality.”