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When thinking about where acoustic guitars are designed and built many brands and countries immediately come to mind. Taylor and Breedlove from the USA, Godin from Canada, then the smaller builders like Dowina and Furch from Europe and Cole Clark and Maton from Australia, but India?
It is fair to say that this vast country which makes up approx one seventh of the world’s population is known for many things but acoustic guitars and in particular top quality bespoke acoustic guitars is not one of them. Well all that is about to change and Bigfoot Guitars based in New Delhi and headed up by luthier Karan Singh are leading the charge.
I first came across Bigfoot Guitars at the UK Guitar Show 2018 which was held at Olympia back at the end of September and I almost missed them. Bigfoot’s owner and head luthier Karan Singh unfortunately had his booth slotted into one of the most crowded and noisiest parts of the whole event. How anyone was supposed to properly try out an acoustic guitar with that level of noise I don’t know but, Karan soldiered on regardless and I am pretty sure that once people had seen the guitars they would not have needed much convincing that these were instruments definitely worth owning.
Karan’s career did not start out in guitar building…or any instrument building for that matter. He was initially running workshops on Team Building and Leadership Development and working as a consultant. He provided one to one coaching to help people achieve their life goals, both personal and professional. During this time Karan got into repairing his own guitars as there were no decent guitar techs in his home city that he could go to. One thing led to another and eventually Karan decided to try his hand at building his own guitar. From there the lutherie bug well and truly bit and the rest is history. That was 10 years ago.
For the first 6 years Karan continued on as a completely self-taught guitar repairer and builder however he knew this would never be enough so the decision was taken to travel abroad and study with professional luthiers where he could both hone his skill set and fully understand what it takes to build exceptional guitars that can spread so much happiness and joy in peoples’ lives.
Karan apprenticed with Paul Doyle in Ireland, Jeffrey Yong in Kuala Lumpur and most recently with Master Luthier Jason Kostal in Phoenix. He now tries to set aside a few weeks each year in order to visit other builders and share knowledge and guitar building philosophies so they can each build better and more inspired instruments.
Bigfoot Guitars (www.bigfootguitars.com) offer Acoustic Steel stringed guitars, classical guitars, electric guitars, thin line acoustic (crossover guitars) and carved-body ukuleles. The primary business though is in building steel string guitars for the finger style player. This is Karan’s forte and what he does most instinctively. He also has two new apprentices who help with a lot of the processes – Kuldeep & Sonu. Kuldeep does high quality fretwork and setups, whilst Sonu shapes the necks.
Living in India of course is a challenge in of itself where lutherie is concerned. Karan notes that In the entire country there are probably 7-8 guitar makers, out of which perhaps 2-3 could be considered professional (Who work full-time and put out a quality product).
Finding tone woods is also a problem. India has probably 300 species of tropical hard wood trees that are not on the endangered list however most local mills do not stock the sort of wood needed for guitar building and if they do it is often not seasoned because most is used for furniture building. And so Karan has to spend a lot of time travelling the country sourcing his own wood which of course eats into build time.
There is also a problem sourcing good quality power tools in India. Quality control is random so you may get bandsaws don’t cut like they should, table saws can’t be set up true and belt sanders that aren’t square. So when Karan says his guitars are “hand-made” he means it. He has to rely on traditional wood working tools for 80% of the work, which actually is probably a good thing. It means there is incredible attention to detail and a love for the luthiers art that goes into each guitar Karan builds.
Bigfoot Guitars are known for their use of non-traditional tone-woods as well as hardwood tops for many of their guitars. As a result they are pushing the boundaries on the types of wood that can be used to build a great instrument. This sets a good example for Western guitar makers who are now increasingly trying to source alternative woods in order to not fall foul of CITES regulations. India is an as yet untapped resource for a whole new generation of guitars and guitar makers.
Having seen the quality of the guitars that Karan and Bigfoot are creating I think it will not be too much longer before we see India taking its place amongst the ranks of the world’s top guitar making countries.
For more info visit http://www.bigfootguitars.com/
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