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ElTigre

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Registered: 04/29/06
Posts: 2,492
 #1 
March 17, 1991

Mexico's Village Of Guitar Makers

For more than 450 years, ever since the Spanish conquistadors arrived in west-central Mexico, guitars have been a way of life in the town of Paracho, high in the Sierra Nevada in the state of Michoacan. It was a priest accompanying the original conquerors, Vasco de Quiroga, who decided that each Indian village should be taught a craft that would enable its residents to support themselves as they were incorporated into the Spanish colonial system. And just as it fell to Santa Clara to become a copper-making site and Uruapan to turn out lacquerware, Paracho soon gained fame as Mexico's principal center for the manufacture of stringed instruments.

As it turned out, the choice made by Tata Vasco, as the cleric is still known affectionately to the people of Michoacan, was a wise one. Paracho, about three hours' drive southeast of Guadalajara, is surrounded by meadows of grazing sheep and goats and a cool, thick forest of pine, augmented in recent years by fragrant stands of eucalyptus. During most of its history, it also lived largely in isolation, thereby allowing guitar-making families to hand down their venerable craft from father to son without worrying that their progeny would be tempted to wander off elsewhere. In other words, both the raw material and the skills needed to produce guitars have always been close at hand.

Nowadays, the production of guitars in Paracho is a much more sophisticated process, drawing on materials from around the world. The finest instruments are made of rosewood imported from Brazil or India and of spruce from Canada or the United States. The designs on the elaborate inlays around the guitar sound holes may appear to be indigenous, based perhaps on patterns handed down from the Purepechua people, who were the ancestors of many Paracho residents, or on some Hispano-Moorish archetype. But many of the rosette inlays are actually bought in bulk from Japan and Germany, both of which are increasingly the source of the handtools preferred by the most accomplished of Paracho's guitarreros.

The craftsmanship that brings all these ingredients together, however, is purely home grown and deeply rooted. A stroll down the principal streets of this town of 20,000 makes it seem as if there is a taller, or workshop, attached to every home.

From dawn to dusk, the streets of Paracho are filled with old men leading burros loaded with hardwood ready to be worked. Children run down the sidewalks carrying bundles of guitar necks, eager to get out of the house after sanding instruments for hours at a time. Inside workshops open to the street and littered with wood shavings, their fathers can be seen carefully gluing guitar sides, fronts and backs together as their mothers do delicate inlay work on the frets or apply lacquer to the body of the guitar.

"I grew up among people who worked the wood, and if you see that daily, you come to it naturally," Jose Luis Diaz Reyes, one of Paracho's most respected luthiers, said as he fit the neck of a guitar to the body he had made by hand, an apprentice watching closely in his shop at 361 Calle 20 de Noviembre. "My grandfather made violins, and I couldn't have been more than 9 years old when I started with him, picking the wood he would use. I worked on my first guitar in 1953, when I was 13, and I have never stopped since. But I'm still learning and still improving, and every guitar is a new challenge."

The guitar makers of Paracho divide their output into two categories: the handmade, carefully crafted guitarra fina and the cruder guitarra comun. The latter can be purchased for as little as $20, though prices can range up to $150. The fina runs from about $500 to $1,500. But those guitars are truly made to order, allowing the purchaser to choose not only the types of wood (rosewood, ebony, palo santo, spruce, pine, cedar, walnut) and guitar adornment but also one of four timbres: bright, deep, sweet and mellow.

The economic crisis from which Mexico is only now beginning to emerge substantially reduced the domestic market for fine instruments and also resulted in the proliferation of guitar factories, in which cheap and shoddy instruments are turned out on a production line. Nevertheless, certain families in Paracho have a tradition of craftsmanship that they have been able to maintain: the Amezcua, Caro, Diaz, Granados, Reyes and Soto families are perhaps the most prominent. Competition among them is intense, and they do not always speak well of each other when questioned, but their individual pride of craftsmanship is unmistakable.

With communications with the outside world improving, some of Paracho's younger luthiers have branched out and begun to make electric guitars and basses. A few of the more adventuresome have even been lured northward to work in guitar shops on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, a city that has more people from Michoacan as residents than the capital of the state, Morelia. Ruben Vasquez Rubio, 31 years old, was one who made that trip, quickly found work on the basis of Paracho's reputation, discovered that California was not to his liking and is now back in his home town. "It is better to work alone than in bad company," he said.

Many of the electric instruments produced in Paracho are no more than crude knockoffs of the Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul guitars standard in the pop music world. But in a second-floor workshop above his home at 204 Cuauhtemoc, Mr. Vasquez Rubio displays photographs of an outlandish skull-shaped bass he made while in Los Angeles for Gene Simmons of Kiss and of a no less bizarre guitar he built for George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic. "I have also made an acoustic guitar to specifications for John Denver and a flamenco guitar for Charo," he said. "But if you want a copy of a Fender Stratocaster, a Gibson, a B. C. Rich or even a Martin, I can do that, too." Prices are roughly half what they would be in a guitar shop in the United States.

In Paracho it is possible to find other stringed instruments of varying quality, at prices comparable to those of the guitarra comun. Many of the guitar makers also produce excellent specimens of the bajo sexto, a traditional Mexican basslike instrument with doubled steel strings, and the rest of the stringed instruments common throughout Latin America. Among these are the tiple, or tenor guitar; the requinto, a small, four-string guitar; and the charango, the tiny, five-stringed Andean guitar made from the bodies of mummified armadillos. Ramon Granados, at 164 Independencia, has tried his hand at lutemaking and found customers as far away as Germany. Violins and mandolins are also for sale in some shops, but the levels of craftsmanship can be erratic.

Since the 1970's, Mexico has held its annual Feria Nacional de la Guitarra in Paracho. The weeklong event, which begins on the second Sunday in August, has become a major attraction for guitar lovers and players from all over the world, and with good reason. Fifty or more of the town's guitar makers, joined by luthiers from other parts of Mexico, compete in several categories for prizes and offer their finest instruments for sale. There are guitar expositions and concerts, ranging from classical and flamenco music to Mexican folk songs and Purepechua tunes that were sung at similar festivals even before the arrival of Tata Vasco.

One gauge of the degree of craftsmanship at a workshop is to count the number of certificates that have been awarded as prizes from the national guitar fair; these are displayed on the walls and often used as a bargaining point when it comes time to set a price. Other shops tout their wares by showing off letters and cards from satisfied customers in the United States, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Australia and Britain. "It's a long way to come for a guitar," one visitor from San Jose, Calif., wrote in Mr. Diaz's testimonial registry, "but it's worth it."

For those daunted by distance or the isolation of the town, a wide variety of Paracho guitars can also be purchased at the Casa de la Artesania on the Plaza San Francisco in Morelia. In addition, some guitars from Paracho are available at shops in the Zona Rosa in Mexico City and at the Fonatur chain, which is run by the Ministry of Tourism. (Prices in Morelia and in Mexico City will be roughly a third higher than in Paracho.) Instruments can even be found in trinket stores in Tijuana and other cities on the border, though these tend to be mass-produced, bottom-of-the-line specimens selling for twice or three times the price in the town where they were made. "Yes, it is true that Paracho is known everywhere for its guitars," the luthier David Soto Valencia said. "But the best instruments never leave here. You can only buy them here."

The only hotels and restaurants in Paracho are rather basic. There are good hotels in Uruapan, about 25 miles away, including the Hotel Plaza Uruapan (64 Ocampo; telephone, dialed locally, 30333) and the Meson de Cupatitzio in the Parque Nacional (32060). A room for two will cost about $50 at either place.

RULOMANRIQUEZ

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Registered: 12/13/08
Posts: 135
 #2 

le agradesco su tiempo para darnos esta informacion, fijese que en España tienen un muy buen consepto de este pueblo majico PARACHO y de su artesania que an obtenido premios muy inportantes por la fabricacion de sus guitarras, nuebamente gracias .


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