Saturday, February 06, 2016

Gitara ni Juan: A Project That Aims to Create Quality Classical Guitars Using Select Philippine Woods

Good music performers cannot play well if they don't have quality instruments. In the Philippines, most local guitarists have switched to imported guitars because those being made here do not exactly meet the standards they need. Imagine if all Filipino guitarists can play good quality instruments crafted by local luthiers. That would be a great "Proudly Filipino" combination!

good performers need good quality instruments
You see, for guitars to have decent sounds, they should be made of good materials such as solid or high quality plywood for the sound board, back, and sides plus select hard wood for the neck. Concert level guitars are created using imported and extremely expensive solid woods such as spruce, cedar, or rosewood and are used by advanced players and professionals. Entry level guitars, on the other hand, are made of cheaper materials and are recommended for beginner and intermediate students. These are the kinds of guitars that most Filipino luthiers construct. However, most classical guitar professors from top universities and music institutions in the country recommend beginners to buy imported entry level guitars because of their better sound quality, playability, and build design. 

Gitara ni Juan
Last year, a project called Gitara ni Juan was initiated by the College of Music and the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (EEEI) of the University of the Philippines - Diliman. It is funded by the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD). Gitara ni Juan's team is composed of project leader Asst. Prof. Nathan Manimtim; engineers Crisron LucasJohn Dewitt Dalisay, Ivan Reyes, and Adel Sta. Maria; musicologist Bernice Go; and luthiers William and Jayson Alama.

Gitara ni Juan team with wood experts and project consultants 
from the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI) 
in UP Los BaƱos 
This interdisciplinary collaboration between Filipino musicians and engineers aims to preserve the country's luthiery while also leveraging the local wood industry using modern techniques for wood selection, wood crafting, and structural design in building quality classical guitars. Their design blueprint intends to stay loyal to the classical guitar making tradition in an effort to solve the inconsistency of locally-made instruments.

luthier at work
There are more than 3000 species of Philippine woods. Thus, the project explores the use of locally available woods as alternative materials and, additionally, to set a control standard for the construction of classical guitars to help boost the local guitar-making industry by producing a luthier guide or compendium.

crafting the classical guitar
With the feasibility of using Philippine woods in making good quality guitars, more tree plantation farms may be developed to adequately supply the needed woods and also provide additional jobs in the agriculture industry. Ultimately, the project's end goal is to give the ordinary Juan access to quality and affordable entry-level classical guitars.

Gitara ni Juan prototype
Two prototypes of Gitara ni Juan have already been completed with 12 more to go. Last July 24-28, 2015, the project proponents participated in the National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) at the SMX Convention Center. Alongside other projects under the UP Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Development (OVCRD), the team reached out to event attendees to spark their interest.

William Alama - official luthier
Miniature guitars made by William, which could be assembled and disassembled, enabled booth visitors to get an insight into and appreciate the guitar making process that involves harnessing engineering and science know-how in the design, construction, and acoustics of the instrument. Moreover, they were treated to performances by guitar majors from the UP College of Music, making it the first time for most of them to learn about the field of classical guitar music.

Gitara ni Juan at the NSTW
In September, PCIEERD also produced a short video documentary (watch it, here) about the project with the hopes of spreading the word about a locally-designed and locally-made guitar every Filipino can be proud of. Stay tuned for updates as a concert will take place sometime this May 2016 featuring the proudly Philippine-made Gitara ni Juan.

Gitara ni Juan - something every Filipino can be proud of
* photos used were borrowed from the UP College of Music and OVCRD websites and screencapped from the Gitara ni Juan video posted at the Pinoy Science Facebook page

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