The property is unassuming, located on a beaten up road out of town and out front is nothing more than a simple blue and white sign. Walking through the gates I found myself staring through the doorway of Guitaras Zepeda. As the bag is slipped off one of the two dozen guitars on the rack, my eyes widen at the sight of its magnificent rosewood finish. If nothing else these handmade guitars are a thing of beauty.
I’ll be the first person to admit that having only been playing guitar for just over a year now, I’m not exactly an expert. That said, being a traveller and more over breaking my foot and having nothing to do for three months, has allowed me the time to hone my skills, start to develop an ear and really appreciate true guitar skills. So upon hearing the sound of these custom guitars, I knew I had found something special.
In Search of a Travel Guitar
Since learning to play in Xela, Guatemala I’d been using hostel guitars when and where they were available. Unfortunately this often meant sanding down the saddle to account for a warped neck, restringing the guitar (if the hostel had new strings), gluing the body back together (if they had glue), carving bridge pin for a steel string acoustic, and a host of other makeshift repairs.
While in Utila, Honduras I got my hands on a steel string guitar for a while, but ages in salt air without a change of strings had caused it to deteriorate. It was like trying to play a rusty band saw. My fingers were not happy.
Clearly I needed a better solution than spending two hours on repair for every hour of play, I needed my own travel guitar. I’d been searching since Xela however for a good travel guitar without much luck. Few if any of the guitars in most music shops were made with travelling in mind as most were full size.
I came close to purchasing a children’s guitar at one point but nearly had my face slashed as the bridge exploded sending wires and splinters of wood everywhere, evidently the glue had failed while I was tuning it. Still other small guitars rang against the frets, had warped necks raising the strings, or other faults causing them to sound terrible or making them impossible to play. I was beginning to think I’d have to settle for a full size or nothing.
Finding my Handmade Guitar
I’d more or less given up on finding a guitar for travel when I happened along a little off beat music shop in San Juan Del Sur. Sitting on display in the front was a rosewood beauty. I was travelling with my mother at the time and was heading back to Leon shortly to work as a hiking guide for Quetzaltrekkers (where I knew I already had a working guitar I’d fixed), so buying another wasn’t on my mind. None the less I took down the name of the maker, Guitarras Zepeda, located in Masaya, a place we’d been not a week before.
It was nearly three months later when I’d walk through the doors of the little factory to see the wonders inside.
Sergio Zepeda is the third of his linage to lend his hand to the beautiful musical instruments that bear his name. He wasn’t sure exactly how long the family had been had been making wood sing, however he figures his grandfather started at least 60 years ago, if not closer to 70. He has high hopes that one of his sons will also choose to carry on the family profession.
As I wandered into the workshop the smell hit me immediately and I found myself a child again. My father was always working on something in or around our house or cottage. Walking in to grandfather’s garage you’d always be hit by the smell of something he’d just finished making. I’ve always found wonder in the smell of a wood shop; beauty of a pile of saw dust and wood chips; and been fascinated by the skill with which a woodworker can mould his material at will. How a piece of lumber can be rough shaped, detailed, and then finally brought to a beautiful smooth finish resembling nothing like its original form.
Three men, including Sergio’s uncle Silvio Pastora were in the modest workshop that day. It didn’t seem like they often had any more than that. One was working at building the bodies, Silvio lent his hand to constructing and fastening necks, and the third sat with headphone on and sandpaper in hand for the finishing touches that day.
I picked up a block of rosewood in the center of the room and was immediately surprised by the weight. It would make a fine instrument indeed. To the side of the sander sat a row of ukuleles and guitars near ready for finish, their deep reds already showing through would only become more brilliant with a final gloss.
This custom guitar shop can turn out just about any request from a classical to western and ukuleles in under six weeks, though their cheaper guitars can take as little as two. Guitarras Zepeda manages about 6 to 10 of their better handmade guitars per week.
My Handmade Guitar
In hindsight I could have had a guitar made custom for me given how long I stayed at Quetzaltrekkers and in the future I most certainly will, however I was rather concerned that an investment in these musical works of art would find itself the victim of a busy chicken bus or another travelling incident. I did however get one of Zepeda’s cheaper classical guitars. It has a beautiful Mahogany thin body and is wonderfully light for travelling.
For a small body guitar the sound is remarkable and easily matches the full body factory guitars I had at Quetzaltrakkers or hostel guitars I’ve encountered since. I also can’t say enough about how wonderful and how much easier it is to play a well-built instrument, to know that the occasional ring or buzz is me learning, not how it just sounds all the time.
How to Get Your Own Custom Handmade Guitar
I’ll note that while there are actually four other small guitar shops in Masaya I didn’t visit, none of them have been around as long as Zepeda. Add to it the fact that they were all actually started by individuals who used to work for Guitarras Zepeda.
De Union Fenosa
200mts abajo la Reforma
Prices seemed to range from $100 USD to over $600 depending on the wood, quality of detailing, finish, and other choices. I did notice however that the type of wood seemed to be the biggest contributing factor to the price with Mahogany being the cheapest, rosewood being of fine quality and a reasonable price point and imported woods from Canada causing the price to skyrocket. When I’m finally settled back in Canada I know I’ll be ordering a rosewood, they are just too beautiful not to.
Shipping right now is only to the USA and Canada and is $150-200 depending on the guitar.
Below you’ll find a few links for some musicians that use Zepeda guitars.
One final note, there are no affiliate links in the post, it wasn’t paid for in kind or otherwise, I just really like these guitars!