Susing’s Guitars in Cebu

Having no predetermined travel agenda for the weekend, I decided to exploit local points of interest instead so I tagged along with my friend Russel. He and Henry had scheduled a photoshoot for The New Susing’s Guitar brochure. We headed to Baranggay Pajac in Mactan Island which is known as the guitar-making district in these parts. The afternoon turned out to be an impromptu tandem project on the guitar-making industry in Cebu featuring one of the original makers of world-class quality guitars, Susing’s Guitar.

    The guitar-making industry in Cebu started back in the Spanish period among families who ventured into the craft. The most prominent of which was the Malingin Family. The siblings Susing, Lilang and Quirico pioneered the industry and have become guitar brands synonymous to quality. Susing’s started their craft back in 1949 spearheaded by Juanito Valiente Sr., a visionary craftsman and luthier, who married Susing Malingin, thus the brand Susing’s.

    We got to the Susing’s Guitar compound by mid-afternoon and we were greeted by Creselda Valiente, a grandchild of the founding couple, who now manages the family business. We were first taken to the new showroom which has the brand’s impressive finished products displayed.

Tourists/prospective buyers try out the guitars.

This was the first thing that caught my eye in the showroom. It looks like it was inspired by BB King's Little Lucille.

    Susing’s caters to a wide market range with the higher-end clients, usually overseas, shelling out about $1400 (approximately Php60,000) for a customized acoustic guitar made of rosewood, mother-of-pearl inlays and various other design specifics. For middle-priced, steel-string or nylon guitars, you can find many variations with the double-holed, d-holed, f-holed and Ovation-type of acoustic, semi-acoustic and classical guitars. The business recognizes that there will always be the conscientious buyers’ market hence, they’ve also made available an affordable line of guitars, playfully called tropical guitars by the factory employees. These would cost about  $30 (Php1500) apiece.

    After testing out some of the impeccably-made beauties, we proceeded towards the production area which is to the rear of the showroom. Production is not just limited to guitars: Susing’s also makes export-quality ukeleles as well as bandurrias.

The ukeleles and bandurrias section of the showroom. Fun fact: The ukeleles in Hawaii and Tahiti have a built-in beer-bottle opener. The craftsmen made sure to accommodate this feature for their Tahitian clients.

What‘s interesting though is that in the creation of ukeleles, separate components of one unit can be crafted by different luthiers and then put together before the finishing touches. With a guitar however, for one unit, the entire creation which spans from 4 to 6 weeks, will be crafted exclusively by the luthier who started the process. To me, it was a striking bit of information realizing that when they say it’s “handmade”, in the truest essence of the word, it is a representation of a craftsman’s passion.

Mother of Pearl fretboard inlays handcrafted. The design is Darwin's Evolution with a stringed twist. Cute!

The wood-binding process

    I didn’t probe too much on the details of the crafting process but with how the production shed was positioned linearly, it was easy to see how a guitar is created beginning with drying the wood and testing it for moisture. Creselda mentioned that because Philippine climate is naturally humid, when their guitars get shipped to other countries, a common problem would be the lower temperature overseas which causes the wood to shrink, cracking the lacquer finish. With that in mind, the wood moisture testing process has been put in place to minimize these occurrences.

    The business takes a lot of pride in the quality of their guitars which is why each Susing’s creation comes with a Lifetime Warranty. I was told about a man who had bought his Susing’s Guitar in the 1960’s. He recently came in to have it repaired saying that buying a replacement would not even be an option. It’s something that I can understand especially with how musicians get attached to their instruments. And with these handcrafted guitars, just like wine that is aged to perfection, time only serves to improve the sound quality as the wood ages.

    Wood used to make guitars could be mahogany, yakal, rosewood and ebony just to name a few. For the inlays, I saw mother-of-pearls and abalones at the work area of the Master In-layer. Some of the raw materials are available locally while there are some types of wood that need to be imported.

    If you ever come to Cebu, aside from taking a Cebu-made guitar home, you may want to visit the guitar-factories too (the website for Susing’s Guitar is listed below). It’s a very educational and unforgettable experience and you can even meet the craftsmen and ask them questions yourself. Our guitar-makers are considered to be among the world’s finest craftsmen. The ones that I’ve met have been with the industry for as long as they could remember and so have their fathers. The first luthiers made it a point to hand down the techniques to the following generation keeping the trade secrets within their families and keeping in line with tradition.

    Speaking of tradition, another curious piece of information as told by Creselda is that even up to this day, there has never been a lady-guitar maker, the guitar-makers were always male while the varnishers have always been female. There’s no specific explanation as to why, but I guess Tradition has them bound to their roles.

a d-hole guitar waiting for the finishing touches

It was fascinating to see these luthiers in action with a love for their craft which is very much apparent. Our visit to the guitar factory evoked a sense of pride in myself being a Cebuana and a Filipino. Incidentally, as of press time, the nation is commemorating its 113th Independence day which makes this a fitting post to remind us of the world-class skill and talent that Filipinos are blessed with.

The Chronic Vacacionista at Susing’s Guitar Factory

Thank you very much for the opportunity and for graciously accommodating  us Ms. Creselda Valiente and Mr. Henry Bunagan III. Additional pictures are available at Mr. Russel Capatoy‘s website. Well, I guess with that, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy 113th Independence Day!

*Dropcap courtesy of www.dailydropcap.com
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About The Chronic Vacacionista

don't just THINK out of the box. LIVE out of it. View all posts by The Chronic Vacacionista

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