Lapu-Lapu City in Mactan, Cebu is known for its flourishing guitar industry. There are several accounts how guitar-making started in this region and passed on to generations. Legend has it that the Spanish friars trained villagers, so they no longer have to send their guitars to Mexico when they needed repair. The music-loving townspeople took the livelihood to heart until over the years, it has grown into a thriving industry. Now, there are a number of guitar manufacturers in Cebu, making it the Guitar Capital of the Philippines. The popular ones are Alegre Guitars, Inday Celia’s Guitars, Susing’s Guitars, and Ferangeli, known for their world-class guitars, ukuleles, banjos, bandurrias, and mandolins.
On my first visit to Cebu in 2003, I bought a cute ukulele for a few hundreds of pesos. It looked neat in varnish, it had nylon strings—the same stuff used for fishing lines—and it was about one foot long. I told myself, never mind if it’s off-tune, this is a sentimental piece from Cebu.
Guitars and ukuleles are one of the many unique pasalubong you can take home from Cebu. Of course, there’s dried mangoes, danggit, chorizo, rosquillos, otap, chicharon, and lechon. But to the music lover, nothing compares to the joy of taking home a musical instrument, especially when it’s the fruit of your labor. In fact, you can make one on your own right at the guitar shops where these stringed instruments are made.
With Anne and Anil from Backstreet Academy, I took a van from SM City on that warm Saturday. The destination: Ferangeli Guitars at Barangay Pajac in Lapu-Lapu. The family business started by Fernando (Andoy) Dagoc, traces its roots to two generations who started Cebu’s finest guitar industry. Now, it’s one of the main players in the guitar market in Cebu and an active exporter of guitars to Hawaii, California, Spain, Australia, Mexico, and other parts of the world.
A Day at the Shop
We were greeted by the happy workers, all of whom were busy in their workstations. Two women were busy with their paint brushes as they color the ukuleles pink and bright orange. Inside the shop, the guys were tied up with woodwork, all the sandpapering and chiseling and sawing.
A small guy handed us some of pieces of plywood and introduced himself as John. He’s been making guitars for about five years. For that long, he said he’s mastered the techniques in making the best guitars, and he was determined to teach me how to make my own. I got excited.
He started by naming the tools, some of which rang a bell from my Shop subject in college.
He made a demo first and then I took over. It was fun.
I had to trace some dots on the plywood, the soundboard which they already shaped the day before, and then glue some small pieces of wood called bridge and brace.
After a few minutes… Woah! I made it!
That’s when I started to realize that making a guitar is a tediously meticulous process. Every piece of the product is highly customized. There’s a personal touch of the maker. Most of the work is manual, with the aid of crude tools and light machinery.
After gluing and shaping the braces, the next step was to glue some strip of plastic around the soundboard (the body). I had to use clips to fasten the plastic strip until the glue dried up. I had to be extra careful though or Mighty Bond would glue up all my fingers.
I was having fun. John continued to give instructions in the vernacular, his voice competing with the roaring of the woodcutter. He said I was like a pro; I got his instructions quickly. I told him I could make it my part-time job every summer.
When the glue dried up, John had to help me with chisel work. I realized it’s not that easy to use a chisel, because you need the right amount of force and the right angle to make the perfect cut.
After he attached the handle to the soundboard, we both declared lunch.
Surprisingly, the next step–attaching the side braces–summoned all the energy I gained from lunch. The plywood had to hug the soundboards, curve in the middle to give shape to the ukulele, and meet at the base. It was easier said than done. John would have done it without so much effort, but I almost gave up. Pulling the strings actually required a lot of force and winding them around the ukulele’s body was no guessing game. They had to fall in the right place or the body will end up disfigured.
I was relieved when I did it. Success!
But the challenge doesn’t end in tying it up. The moment of truth is when the strings are removed. Three things can happen: one, everything’s okay; two, the plywood forms bad curves; and three, everything blows up. Good thing my work didn’t end up in bad fate.
Because I lost all my energy after stringing, the rest of the work had to be done by John. He attached the tailpiece and the frets, and then did some last-minute polishing.
Finally, I had to get help from Kuya Gani in putting the tuners and the string.
It took about six hours for all of us to complete the masterpiece. It was fun, like I was back in my Shop class, reacquainting myself with the plane, the saw, and the chisel. It was a unique experience worth all the sweat and hardwork.
So, next time you want a guitar or ukulele, don’t just pick it up from the store. Make one just as I did!
Barangay Pajac, Lapu-lapu City
Mactan, Cebu, Philippines
Facebook: Ferangeli Guitar Handcrafter
This ukulele-making workshop is offered by Backstreet Academy whose goal is to connect travelers to the communities and provide them unique experiences. As of today, their line up of activities include landscape painting , jewelry making, newspaper weaving, street art, and nature trips. To book an experience, contact Backstreet Academy here.
M O B I L E P H O T O G R A P H Y
All photos in this article, unless otherwise captioned, were taken with a smartphone. For this post, we banked on the power of Huawei Mate S, which is a super phone for both outdoor and indoor photography. Visit Huawei’s Facebook page for more details about their products.