Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Paracho (Guitar Town, Mexico)

by Scott

Kid in a candy store. Me in Paracho. Pretty much the same thing. Paracho, in the state of Michoacan, is known as THE place to buy a guitar in Mexico. I've never seen anything like it. There'a a huge guitar on the road into town. In the central plaza, rather than a statue of the virgin or some revolutionary figure, they have a luthier working on a guitar. There is a guitar museum and dozens of guitar shops. The whole town revolves around guitars.

Our plan was to hit the guitar museum when it opened at 9am. After that, Heather was going to do her own thing while I toured the town. Unfortunately, the museum didn't open at 9am (or 10am or 11am). Fortunately, a passing luthier, who saw us looking confused, insisted that I follow him to his shop. This turned out to be the highlight of the day.

The Escobedo Hernandez family has been making guitars in Paracho for 3 generations. The 3 brothers gave me a tour of their bare-bones workshop and handed me guitar after guitar. Each one I played was excellent and surprisingly in tune considering the frigid morning (Paracho is at 7300 feet). I never asked how much, because I really wasn't in the market. I finally excused myself before I started feeling guilty about wasting their time. Plus, I was running out of material. It's a lot of pressure playing in front of an audience of luthiers, especially when you're playing their creations.

One of the Hernandez brothers at work
With the museum still closed, I walked the main drag. Every other store was a guitar shop, and those in between were guitar related. There was a shop that did nothing but make gig bags. Several stores sold nothing but guitar woods -- thin sheets of cedar, rosewood, ebony, maple, mahogany, palo escrito, cyprus, etc. Other shops sold nothing but hardware -- a huge variety of tuning pegs, pickguards, trim pieces etc.

A huge assortment of trim pieces and 22 different options for tuning pegs

Bubble wrap, nylon, and a sewing machine on the right produces finished gig bags on the left

I checked again, but the museum was still closed, so I walked the main drag on the opposite side of the plaza. It was more of the same. Quality did vary. I found that not all Paracho-made guitars are good, but the good ones are very good. Rodrigo Amezcua let me play a few of his guitars and I was impressed. He only completes about 50 guitars per year, and each of those takes about 6 years from start to finish. If I'm ever in the market for a nylon-string guitar, I will look to him or the Hernandez brothers. Coincidentally, both Rodrigo and the Hernandez brothers claim that their grandfather was the first luthier in Paracho. Who knows. I didn't question. It's a small town, maybe they're cousins. The answer is probably locked inside the museum.

Nice as art, but not as instruments. The wood can't sing with all that bling.

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