Our Handcrafted Guitars and Mandolins
“Playing a guitar and building handcrafted guitars allow me to become fully present in the here and now, where clarity and goodness can flow freely and bring about a deeper understanding of self and this world. ” – Grant Nelson, PhD
In December 2012, Grant and I met online and we decided to start our lives together in Lucena City, Philippines. Along with his step-daughter, Sarah, and son, Alexander, another miracle entered this world in July of 2014, Carmela Rose. I am happily married to Grant D. Nelson, PhD, a Psychologist, a professor, a musician, and now a Luthier. He is a man who is passionate in building handcrafted guitars.
Grant’s love of music started at the very young age of 10 years-old in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He played the guitar with his friends in high school and discovered his natural love for music. After graduating from high school, he then attended a music school for guitars in Minneapolis for a year. However, like most musicians and artists alike, the “well ran dry” and his financial struggles soon followed. So, like every good American he went off and joined the U. S. Army and became a medic.
With many of life’s twists and turns, he ended up being a Psychologist. While working full-time as a Therapist and as a University Professor in Minnesota for many years, he would always go back to playing the guitar. He played the guitar most of the time with his sons Alex and Ryan. All these to bring him back to the now; the place where life takes place.
In 1999, Grant was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and gastroparesis (i.e., paralysis of the stomach). Because of his health condition, he went through 5 major surgeries within the span of 9 years. No doubt, life has always been a challenge for him. And it was his love for music that kept him grounded and helped him get through life’s sufferings. An ability (if you will) that was needed when tragedy hit with the loss of Ryan in 2008. Ryan’s passing at age 20 was the beginning of a series of losses. Some of these losses continue to this day. Losses, though, always bring forth the world of change and possibilities. (Grant continues to meet with a few patients online from Minnesota. And he also sees patients in Manila two days a week for therapy.)
Grant became a Professor of Psychology at De La Salle University, Manila. After three years of teaching, he felt the drive and desire to return to his life passion of music and take it to another level. He started building handcrafted guitars. All his life he has always been fascinated to know how the shape, design, type of wood, etc. of a guitar can come together to produce a beautiful sound. Deep within him, was a Luthier waiting to emerge.
After being in the Philippines for more than 4 years, Grant has learned a great deal about our culture. He focused on learning the country’s art of music. This led us to begin to study and learn the country’s history of building handcrafted guitars. The handcrafted guitar building culture of the Philippines is founded on a rich and diverse history. Such history of arts, culture and tradition goes back for more than 400 years.
The Spanish culture greatly influenced the Philippines through its more than 300 years of colonial rule from 1521 to 1898. Legend has it that in Cebu, the Spanish friars taught Cebuanos how to repair and build guitars. They did this to avoid the long process of sending their guitars to Mexico for repair (Mape, 2016). As such, it is believed that the gitara/kitara (from the Spanish guitarra) was first manufactured in Cebu (themixedculture.com, 2013). From then on, the people of Cebu took this craft by heart and created a culture of building handcrafted guitars. They passed on this tradition and culture from generation-to-generation. Such has led to the production of world-class high-end quality handcrafted guitars.
Cebu, being the center of building these high quality handmade guitars in the Philippines was the most logical place for Grant to apprentice. This is where he got the hands-on experience in building handcrafted guitars. He built his first handcrafted guitar in Cebu under the supervision of Fernando “Andoy” Dagoc of Ferangeli Guitar Handcrafter. Jourry Amistad closely assisted Grant all throughout the process of building his first classical handcrafted guitar and Carmela’s ukulele.
Jourry is a 22-year-old guitar builder/luthier who started building guitars at age 12. He grew up in a family of guitar builders. His great grandfather was a guitar builder, and so was his grandfather, his late father and his 2 uncles, 5 cousins, and his brother. His family are the employees of the many guitar building businesses in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu. Being humble employees, their salaries are only enough to sustain their daily household expenses. So many of them cannot imagine getting ahead on life as guitar builders.
For this reason, many guitar building families have chosen other paths for their children to take. Accordingly, many of them choose to work in the cities and factories to make a living. Those few who decided to stay in this industry have that innate love of the art of building handcrafted guitars. These guitar builders are those whom Grant met in Cebu. Their passion and dedication to their craft has become second nature.
Grant spent hundreds of hours with Jourry in Cebu building handcrafted guitars. Accordingly, Grant saw the talent and potential that Jourry possessed. We invited him to come to Lucena to continue Grant’s training. To our wonderful surprise, he stated that he wanted to stay in Lucena and become business partners for Kāmaguṇa Guitars. We accepted his offer and here we are building handcrafted guitars and creating art.
The collaboration between Grant and Jourry in building handcrafted guitars is free flowing, smooth and effortless. Grant’s strength is his ability to do scientific research, such as researching for modern techniques in creating handcrafted guitars. He also has that natural ability to translate such research into an excellent craftmanship. Such is complemented by Jourry’s ability to absorb new ideas and incorporate it in their work. Grant’s love and awe in creating beautiful music allows him to create beautiful handcrafted guitars with wonderful concert sound quality.
We believe that innovation and change comes from collaboration with others. Thus, it was an easy decision to include Steve Wolfe to our business of building handcrafted guitars. Steve and Grant have a long-standing friendship.
Steve also brings a rich history of music within his family and throughout his own childhood. Steve’s sister is a concert violinist and before moving on to the classical guitar, Steve played and learned about music through the bass guitar. Steve is an artist in his own right, creating unique designs with metal as his canvass in addition to his natural love and talent in playing the guitar. Incidentally, his location in Minnesota connects Kamaguna Guitars across the world.
My role at Kamaguna Guitars is to put together the support systems in running this business of building handcrafted guitars. I am an educator by profession where I am also managing our family owned school DIGITECH College for the past 10 years. When I saw Grant’s passion in building handcrafted guitars, and witnessed the Filipino’s natural excellent craftmanship in building guitars, I intuitively knew that there was a bright future for us in this industry. Our vision is to produce high quality world class handcrafted guitars while developing many more Filipino talents and help them become world class Luthiers.
We invite you to view our small collection of classical guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles, and listen to their beautiful sounds. Our prices begin at a range of U.S. $1,500 to U.S. $3,500.
by Phoebe P. Nelson, Ed.D.
Mape , A. (2016). Cebu: The home of world-class guitars. Retrieved on April 4, 2017 at http://www.choosephilippines.com/specials/products/4459/cebu-home-world-class-guitars
themixedculture.com (2013). Handcrafted guitars of Cebu, Philippines. Retrieved on April 4, 2017 at https://themixedculture.com/2013/11/24/handcrafted-guitars-of-cebu-philippines/