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I have known Samir Karnik, the person behind Enzo for the longest time. One of the finest souls i have encountered and a complete madhatter(no wonder we are friends) i had to introduce him to our readers. We have a little tête-à-tête about guitars, Enzo, his love for music and what drives him to do what he loves to do.
Tell us a little about yourself & your relationship with guitars.
Who am I? Me? I’m crazy and crazy is as crazy does – perhaps, but let’s dwell into how is it that I keep myself sane.
I am what is termed, a luthier, or simply a guitar maker, amongst many other things. If you were to ask any of the guitars that I make, they would think that I was their creator, the one that gave them a life. This however is untrue. I am only a humble student that seeks to unravel the mystery of an instrument that has changed me.
It reminds me of an inscription on an old Elizabethan lute (precursor of the guitar, with 4 strings) – ‘I was alive in the forest, I was cut by the cruel axe, in life I was silent but in death I sweetly sing’ – Perhaps I bring life to dead pieces of lumber, yet the guitar as an instrument begins its journey as a little seed that rooted itself to the forest ground and grew to towering heights with the help of the sun, rain and soil. The tree was then assassinated for trade because of its natural perfection and cut into little pieces. These dead limbs then come into my hands wherein I must execute a painstaking surgery to re-stitch the dismembered pieces and give them another chance to live. If I am successful, it will live on for decades singing a song for anyone that cares to hear its tune. As a result, in its totality the guitar is an instrument that contains aspects of the sun, moon, stars and thus a soul.
It has always been my quest to create something that’s permanent and lasting, perhaps like a best friend; the guitar seldom judges but is always there by your side through thick and thin. The guitar, as with any other musical instrument, is much like a best friend – its always waiting for you when you most need it and through it one can express their deepest emotions, an inlet to the soul, a medium that can make you feel a lot more whole.
This relationship between the guitar, my best friend, and me has connected me closer to my most honest self. Playing a guitar can be a very fulfilling thing, while making a guitar and then playing it is completely divine. This has brought me close to sanity in what I consider an extremely insane world where most seem to be chasing their own shadows while forgetting to enjoy the ride. The ride can get bumpy and sometimes you have to just fasten your seat belt and keep moving forward, reminding yourself of what it is that makes your soul shine, and to simply do those things and be that person.
The first guitar I built on my own was a terrible failure as it caved in the moment I put strings onto it. The tension of the strings caused the bridge to pull the soundboard out since it was too thin, and it cracked. I had, only a few months prior to this, quit my high paying, comfortably secure, bank job to become a luthier, well – a simple carpenter. The failure of my first experiment did make me fearful. What had I done? I had traded security for something so uncertain. However what seemed like a failure was actually a success in that it taught me to be more mindful and aware of what I was doing. My passion for this craft eclipsed that initial failure and I began to study this craft with a greater sense of determination. Every month I would make one instrument and try something different structurally, acoustically and ascetically. Mindful practice and perseverance have been my greatest gurus and I can safely say that I am quite content with the instruments that I make today. I still have a long way to go but the ride is surely smoother now, as I have learnt a lot in the last two years of constantly working with wood and building acoustic guitars.
Tell us about your musical journey & how Enzo started.
The musician in me developed early on. When I was 10 years old, I vividly remember watching the Physical Education (PT) teacher, Malcolm Estibeiro play ‘Hotel California’ on stage at school with a guitar in his hands, which was the precise moment I felt the urge to learn this instrument that would then become a significant part of my journey and me. After much convincing, my parents got me my first guitar, an 800 rupee Givson F-Cut and I managed to rope my PT teacher into teaching me my first few chords. While kids my age were watching cartoon network, playing gulley cricket and fighting it out on computer games, I would sit alone in my room and play around with sound, with a guitar in hand. Later I would learn under the guidance of Dean Lazarus, another angel who spared countless hour with my little kid self and introduce me to the magic of the electric guitar. The guitar has been my closest companion ever since and I have shared with it my deepest emotions – ranging from sorrow to smiles.
Having played to live audiences with several bands like Zephyr, Rachel and the Plutonians, Something Relevant, to name a few, yet I preferred sitting under a tree or with my friends jamming on instruments, as there has always been something organic in those moments. Today, I also play the bass, compose, record and produce tunes at my little make shift home studio for non-commercial purposes, just cause it’s so much fun.
Having an academic background in social sciences, environmental law and a master’s degree in environmental sustainability, led me towards a formal career as an environmental consultant working primarily with banks advising them on establishing systems to measure and mitigate their carbon footprints. Sustainability concerns are close to my calling and I have over the years worked with various non-governmental organizations on a wide range of socio-environmental projects – involving aforestation, community development, enhancing livelihoods etc.
This might seem at odds with the fact that I work with wood today and I depend on trees being cut to make my fine guitars, but I do try to imbibe the principles of sustainability in my guitar building work.
Where did you learn the art of making guitars?
While I was working at the bank, which involved spending a lot of time on a computer, I decided I wanted to build things with my hands using wood in particular with the eventual objective of making a guitar someday. For that I would have to learn the intricacies of woodwork. I would go after office hours and sit with carpenters till late at night working on little projects. They taught me how to use a hand saw, a planer and a bunch of other basic tools and techniques that are essential to crafting wooden things. My first project was a foldable chair that looked like a robot. After I was a bit confidant with the basics I took some time off work and decided to go to Goa where an English luthier – Chris Horton was conducting a three week guitar building course. His ethic was to use the most basic available tools and techniques while making an acoustic guitar. I would party the night away and wake up early morning and head to his workshop at the end of Baga beach and work on my guitar till late afternoon. He is a great teacher and a gem of a person and provided me with the right guidance. By the end of this program I had made my first ever guitar. This experience had a huge impact on me as I had discovered the almost forgotten joy of working with my hands. I promptly came back to Mumbai and quit my job to begin my next adventure. I boldly went into a space that I had never dared to venture before..
I converted a small vacant room in my house into my little guitar-making factory. Initially I spent a few months making little tools, jigs and establishing a supply chain for all the materials that I would require to make a guitar. YouTube lessons helped me make a machine – a drum sander at almost 1/10th the cost of what was readily available – an invaluable tool in the making of a guitar. Since then I have spent countless hours watching videos online on various guitar-building techniques that have guided me at my craft. Instagram has also been a great resource to allow me to connect with luthiers from across the world that put up work-in-progress images that I am able to learn from, and also share my learning’s with.
What is the concept behind Enzo?
Enzo is a circle that is drawn in one uninhibited brush stroke. It symbolizes the moment the mind is free to simply let the body or spirit create. It shows the expressive movement of the spirit at that time. In its form it expresses the principle of controlling the balance of composition through asymmetry and irregularity.
It is also the logo for my homegrown brand – ‘Enzo Handcrafted Guitars’ as it is also representative of the circular hole on the face of an acoustic guitar.
To my mind the guitar is a functional canvas or a piece of art that can be played to further express oneself through the music that is made with it.
Every guitar that I make is designed from scratch, through a collaborative process with the client’s involvement in every aspect of the guitars creation – beginning at the drawing board all the way up to final set up. Before I even begin to discuss the proposed guitar, I like to get to know the person who I am making the guitar for and often I would engage in hours of guitar talk. Perhaps even a friendly jam with the client to understand their musical background, as this would help me build an instrument that is more suited to their unique playing style. No two guitars that I make are alike, just as no two of us are!
What is the link between Environmental Sustainability and Guitar Making?
Traditionally guitars have been made using a certain select few species of ‘tonewoods’- like spruce, rosewood, mahogany, maple etc that are believed to result in the best possible acoustics and are said to be the most resonant. I am in firm disagreement with this notion.
It has led to severe deforestation in countries where these species are available. As a result of the heavy demand over the past century for Brazilian Rosewood, known as the ‘holy grail’ of tonewoods, today there is a blanket moratorium that prevents anyone from accessing this lumber and there are legal restrictions on its trade and transport, as the Amazon has been heavily deforested and Brazilian Rosewood is now a threatened species. Instrument makers have resorted to shifting their supply lines to other developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa where the implementation of environmental laws are lacking. India is the largest exporter of Rosewood and a significant exporter of Ebony both of which are in high demand from the instrument making industry. This results in indiscriminate logging within the country that is unsustainable in the long run.
To address this issue – I am currently on a quest to find alternative, sustainable species to work with. There is a lot of indigenous wood available in the country that is generally being used to make products like furniture, doorframes and packaging. My experiments with Tamarind, Jackfruit, Mango, Indian laurel and Neem have been promising. Not only do these guitars look unique because of their different grain patterns and the wood colouration, they also tend to have their own individual sonic signatures. After all it is not only the wood that determines the acoustic quality of a guitar, but the construction and design – the quality of craftsmanship that also has a significant bearing.
With all the waste wood that is generated from building a guitar, I try not to throw it away and recycle it into something useful – some wooden jewelry, bird boxes, inlay material, symbolic crosses etc – anything that can be further used by someone, anyone. I now offer little recycled knick-knacks with every guitar using the waste generated from that same guitar to the client, as an add-on. It could be anything… so it’s sort of a surprise!
Also to offset the lumber that I use to make a guitar, for every Enzo Handcrafted Guitar that is built, a small portion of the profits are reinvested towards planting 10 treesthrough GrowTrees,an NGO recognized by the UNEP and WWF, at one of their aforestation projects in India. Clients also receive a certificate from GrowTree that mentions this contribution and the specific location at which trees will be planted on their behalf.
What is the future plan or goal?
Simply making guitars for those that can afford them does not completely fulfill me. In its next avatar I would like to reorganize this as a community based, skills development project, where I take this craft to the ground level and work with either rural or tribal communities that lack decent economic opportunities and are thus impoverished. This also taps into my past experience of working with rural communities on livelihoods projects that involved things like training women to weave textiles.
Having learnt this craft without any real carpentry experience or wood working skills, I am confidant that I will be able to teach it to anyone who is committed and can demonstrate a desire to learn.
However this is yet a few years down the line. Unlike purely brain-based professions that use only one tool – the computer – working with wood involves using my hands, head and heart to guide a wide array of tools that can be quite challenging. It takes me a month of daily work to make one guitar, as I do this all by myself. For now I aim to make as many guitars as I can and thereby learn something new from each one by experimenting with my designs – in business management lingo its called product development.
So far, so good….all I have to do is touch that wood!
You can check out more on Enzo on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/enzoguitars