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Man's sons keep quality guitar-making alive

Update: November, 22/2015 - 06:25
Deep devotion: Guitar makers like Nghia put their soul into their works of art. — VNS Photos Doan Tung

Two sons continue their father's tradition of creating quality handmade guitars, each with their own personality, despite the long-standing presence of cheaper imported instruments. Minh Trang reports.

Nhac Son is a famous handmade-guitar brand in Ha Noi, started by Hoang Dung Nhien in 1937.

Nhien was one of the first Vietnamese people who made musical instruments entirely by hand. His brand gradually became familiar with local guitar enthusiasts because of their quality and became a thriving brand.

Guitars were introduced to Viet Nam in the 1920s but it was not until the 1940s that guitars became popular.

In the 1990s, however, the popularity of the guitar fell. The amount of imported guitars in Viet Nam has increased due to the market economy development, which caused a reduction in domestic guitar prices. The number of guitar makers in the country has also decreased.

Nhien has four sons, two of whom have gone into the family business. They are Hoang Minh Giang, 63, and Hoang Hoi Nghia, 54.

"My father was very easygoing in allowing us to pursue what we wanted to do," said Nghia, "But before he passed away, he told us to preserve the family business no matter what our current jobs are."

This is why, Nghia who also works as a math teacher, makes guitars, even though the domestic market is not what it was.

With more than 40 years experience, he knows that making a guitar requires a lot of effort and enthusiasm.

Playing guitar isn't difficult, but becoming a professional guitarist is not easy.

Whole new world: Nghia can learn about improvements in modern guitars by repairing them.

Making musical instruments is similar. Building a guitar just needs a carpenter, but making a good one needs more than that.

Previously, to complete a guitar, his family used a complicated process, from choosing materials, grinding, sanding, to assembling components, but now, these steps are taken by some places that specialize in making separate parts. Nghia's main task is just adjusting materials to make a complete guitar.

However, the nature of this work means it takes him two to three months to finish a guitar.

"To make a guitar, we cannot hurry and have to be careful. Therefore, the guitar is solid, durable, the sound system is also better and more accurate." he said.

Quality wood helps make a good guitar, but the most important factor is the guitar makers' skill.

As guitars now are cheap, their quality is often not good enough, and those which are of high quality, often cost hundreds of dollars. So the amateurs often select one based on its beautiful appearance and low price.

Professional musicians or students pursuing a passion to play the guitar, trust the prestigious Nhac Son trademark.

"Nhac Son is one of the reputable brands that local artists have always trusted. They often have many improvements to perfect the guitars, but struggle to compete with other imported brands," said artist Vu Bao Lam, 80, a professional guitarist.

"This is because Viet Nam lacks good raw materials and technology. When considering the skills of local and foreign makers, it is very difficult to compare who is better." Lam added.

Inch by inch: To make a good guitar, Nghia has to measure very carefully and precisely.

Each guitar is not just a tool to emit sound, it is also a work of art.

"Guitars also have personalities like humans, their sound will change when the weather changes. So guitars have their soul, and the makers are persons who bring the soul for their guitars." said Nghia.

"I have made thousands of musical instruments, but whenever I make a new one, I still feel as excited and passionate as the first time."

Nghia is not only talented in creating his own guitars, but he is also skilled in fixing broken guitars.

He said: "Some people can make a guitar, but cannot fix them, apart from those with an outstanding knowledge about guitars."

Nghia believes that in the future more and more guitar players will trust and buy good domestic guitars at reasonable price from talented craftsmen who put their soul into their guitars.

Nghia's brother Giang also makes guitars. Because of his bad health, however, Giang just sells and fixes guitars in his small house on Khuong Trung street.

The man's face seemed to light up when talking about guitars: "Although this period is no longer the golden age of the guitar, we maintain our traditional job as a hobby and a passion, not just for profit." — VNS

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