Instruments create beautiful music—but who creates the instruments? David Armenta, for one


David Armenta, 23, looks down the neck of an electric guitar to make sure it is perfectly straight. The slightest bend, he says, will alter the guitar's sound. --Photo by Kaylene Sutton

EL CENTRO, Calif.–When David Armenta was all of 15 years old, with little cash in his wallet and a lot of musical spirit in his heart, he wanted a “super cool” guitar that he could not afford.

But, instead of running to the local music store to put his dream guitar on layaway, Armenta did something different–he decided he would rather make his own guitar.

“I taught myself (to make guitars),” said Armenta, now 23 years old and a communications major at Imperial Valley College in Imperial, Calif.

His first investment was a set of carpentry tools he got for the bargain price of $20 at an auction.

“You don’t need a lot of tools to make a guitar,” Armenta said, pointing to his head. “I guess it’s all in here.  If you can see it, you can make it.”

He then collected wood he found in alleyways to build his first guitar. After reading the book “Electronic Guitar Construction,” by Tom Hirst, Armenta graduated to specialized tools and wiring.

Watch and listen to the slideshow of Armenta and his guitars.  Produced by Kaylene Sutton, Imperial Valley College, for ©2010  (Story continues below slideshow.)

“It worked,” exclaimed Armenta. “At the time I was very religious so my first guitar that I built was cross-shaped.” Armenta said that he wanted to be a rock star when he was younger. “I can play a guitar but I never became the player I wanted to be. I couldn‘t achieve the sound I wanted.”

Armenta uses a jigsaw and table saw to do most, if not all of the cutting of the wood. He draws the lines that he wants to cut on the lumber and “free-hands it,” he said.

To make the control cavities that contain the electric equipment, which he calls  “the mystery of guitar making,” he uses a plunge router. “I don’t know why they haven’t made a horror film out of this but this thing spins at 25,000 rpms. It’s horrible if it gets out of hand,” Armenta said.

Armenta has designed and built eight electric guitars over the last eight years, some of which he has sold for $3,000. His clientele seem to be happy.

Abraham Herrero, said that the guitar Armenta made for him is “a dream come true.” The two met while working at JC Penney in El Centro about two years ago. “I always wanted a custom-made guitar and David delivered,” said Herrero.

Josh Jaime, has commissioned Armenta to rebuild the first guitar Armenta made– the cross-shaped guitar. “That guitar was beautiful. I fell in love with that guitar,” said Jaime. “I’ve seen him work,” Jaime says. “If you’re looking for a regular guitar, go to Guitar Center. If you want a guitar with a lot of time and effort put into it, custom-made just for you, go to David.”

Watch the video of Armenta simulating the creation of an electric guitar.  (Story continues below video.)

Armenta has no plans to make his artistry a career. “Guitar-building is not serious. It doesn‘t make enough money,” Armenta said. “I plan on having lots of kids and then retiring in Paracho, the guitar capital.” Paracho de Verduzco, in Michoacán, Mexico is  famous for the hand-made guitars that are produced there.

He said his career path will likely lead to journalism, a field known for its stress induced by heated competition and harried deadlines. So it’s no doubt Armenta will keep  his guitar-making tools around.

“It gives me a sense of peace,” Armenta said about building guitars. “It’s makes me feel like I’ve found my nirvana.”

11 thoughts on “Instruments create beautiful music—but who creates the instruments? David Armenta, for one

  1. thanks for the comment, kaylene. your story is really interesting. excellent slide show as well 🙂

  2. Wow! How you compiled that video is amazing. It rally came out great.

    Thank you for the story, I love it.

  3. WOW! I am so glad to see that you are doing what you always wanted to do, and are doing a great job at it too. I am soooo proud of you.

  4. My grandma was an musican and she taught a piano class @ imperial valley college many years ago. Her name was inez delrio. She also worked @ clark baker teaching private piano lesson for many years. She had a lot of talent similar too armenta. I believe that we can achieve anything we set are minds to. This was an extremely inspiring piece, showing us all what are minds are capable of creating. Young Mr.Armenta is blessed with an amazingly creative talent that makes beautiful music. Thanks for sharing a small part of imperial valley’s talent. Mrs. Elliott I’m very proud of you. Please continue to chase your dreams. Imagin the possiblities. We believe in you. God bless!

  5. Kaylene, keep up the hard work and that good spirit of yours.
    It is contagious for those young inquiring minds. YOU are on the road to success!–David,you are truly unique.

  6. Hey,Kaylene I really like your videos. You really did a good job connecting all the material and making a good story out of it. Good luck!

  7. DAVID! I’m so proud of you for focusing on this incredible project for such a long time…it really takes lots of dedication and determination. Hope you can come see us soon, we really miss you!

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