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 Borderzine.com. (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.”