The Art of Yusuke Kawakami’s Handmade Guitars

It was never Yusuke Kawakami’s dream to follow in his father’s footsteps and work as a guitar maker. In fact, as a child, Yusuke wanted nothing to do with it.

Yusuke’s father worked as a master craftsman for a guitar company in Japan, and when Yusuke was five, that guitar factory became his playground.

“I didn’t like my dad’s job because he never wear the nice suit or nice tie… his hand is dirty, his clothes is all the same, and smells of wood dust or smells of nitrocellulose lacquer, so my dad is not cool.”

But as long as he could remember, Yusuke had one dream, to make something of his own, something you can’t find anywhere else. It wasn’t until he graduated university and started his first job at a stationary store, where he got to wear a suit and tie, did he start feeling suppressed.

“Immediately, I find out it’s not for me, because I felt like I’m nothing. I’m not Yusuke Kawakami.”

It was here, at 22 years old, that Yusuke found a new respect for his dad and for his dad’s occupation. It was at this time that he realised his dad was a true artist.

“My dad is kind of like cutting edge. He is at the top for me, because he makes instruments by himself… I want to be like that. I want to be a true creative.”

Today, Yusuke handmakes his own custom guitars, from start to finish. He visits the different mountains where he selects his wood from. He only purchases wood that is already dead, and gives them new life as an instrument. It’s also the reason why sanding is his favourite part of the process, as it’s when he can feel himself giving new life.

Just as a guitar is played by hand, Yusuke carves out the neck by hand.

“A guitar is played by hand, that’s why I believe people can feel some emotional feeling from the neck. That’s why, for me to carve out neck by hand is very important…. A lot of neck cut by computer, it might be perfect radius, perfect size, but doesn’t feel… like fit to hand naturally.”

Yusuke is the only one who touches the guitars—he has no apprentices to help him in the process. It’s the way he prefers it.

“If somebody help me and I ship it out, then 10 years later or 20 years later, when instruments come back, I don’t want to regret, like ‘Oh, I asked somebody to finish this instrument. Oh I asked somebody to make this neck.’ If i make, I made it. It’s never regret, because I did my best at the time.’

And that’s the way he wants to continue doing it, making guitars as much as possible, “until I die.”

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