If you’re a musician or an aspiring musician who’s passing through Cusco, don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit the city’s luthiers. Instrument makers in Cusco are among the most skilled on the continent. Here’s an insider’s perspective on this fascinating industry.
On the first impression, this street doesn’t seem much different than others in the neighborhood, but if you decide to poke your head into one of the many dozens of shops, you’ll likely to find dark and workspaces cluttered with slabs of wood, piles of sawdust, carpentry tools, and various stages of completion.
It’s also likely that you’ll find a packed shop of Andean musicians in the middle of a jam session. Welcome to Cusco’s neighborhood of artisan luthiers. If you’re in the hunt for a great instrument at a great price, then you’ve come to the right place.
This artful tradition that goes back many generations
When you talk to many luthiers of Cusco about their work, you’ll sense the deep pride that they have in their work. Most consider themselves to be artists, just as much as the musicians who play the instruments that they build.
As Luise Tunquipa, owner of Instrumentos Tunquipa told me, “It’s more art than anything. I can invest my energy into making a beautiful instrument for the love of making a piece of art. What I want to do is make great instruments. It’s not to make money and throw things together. Everything we make goes for providing our families and making a basic living. “
Another luthier, Gonzalas Toronto, explained “I’ve been working on instruments from when my heart started beating. My dad made instruments, and in that way, I continue making instruments. I play music, and I love art, and so I build instruments.”
What kinds of instruments?
Most of Cusco’s artisan luthiers are skilled at making any instrument that is important to traditional Andean music: the guitar, violin, charango, manolin, banduria (a 16 stringed guitar played for carnival), recintu (a variation of the guitar), harps, and even drums.
Depending on what instrument you’re buying, the quality of work, and the levels of customization you’re looking for, prices will vary.
A profile of some of Cusco’s best luthiers
He is known as one of the best luthiers for the banduria and the mandolin. He is known around the world for his work. His instruments don’t come cheap though; expect to pay at least twice as much for an instrument as other luthiers are charging.
Without a doubt, Sabino is Cusco’s most well-known celebrity luthier. City tours make a point of visiting his shop on their trips through Cusco, because of his reputation, and his charming personality. You find his shop in the neighborhood of San Blas, in the street of Carmen Alto.
Guitarras Maque (Maque Guitars) is a reputable family run luthier shop, located on Bellavista street, which has been in business for over a hundred years. The family specializes in guitars, charangos, bandurias, and drums. They can whip you up a custom-made instrument in a few day’s time.
Tunquipa instruments is another great shop located on Bellavista street. This small shop is always bustling with the commotion of musicians and luthiers coming and going. When visiting their shop, it’s very likely you’ll stumble-in on an impromptu jam session.
What to look for, and how to get there
With the exception of Sabino, whose shop is located in San Blas, almost all of Cusco’s artisan luthiers can be found in the neighborhood of Santiago, on Bellavista street. This is the same street that is taken over on Saturdays by the Baratillo flea market. During the rest of the week, you’ll find a quieter environment where the sound of live music and the whine of carpentry tools can be heard.
If you have any questions about luthiers of Cusco and their shops, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]
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