Guitar enthusiasts all over the world know of the Mexican city of Paracho, located 62 miles from the Michoacán capitol city, Morelia. It’s the place to go to purchase guitars of any quality, from cheap beginner instruments to those of professional concert grade. There, the streets are lined with Las Vegas-sized, guitar-shaped signs, to really let visitors know that any street can lead them to the instrument of their dreams.
Paracho has been a haven for lutheirs since the 16th century, back when the craftsmen were more focused on more classical-style stringed instruments like violins, violas and the like. Although the city is all about guitars these days, the change in instrument production is congruent with their crafting traditions, which were started nearly 500 years ago by a Catholic bishop.
David Clark Scott of The Christian Science Monitor explains that the craftsmen of Paracho are part of the legacy left by Vasco de Quiroga, the first Catholic bishop of Michoacán. Known to the locals as “Tata Vasco,” Bishop Quiroga was an educator who was instrumental in the spreading of Christianity to the indigenous people of Mexico, as well as a great organizer who helped found several towns. With the words of Thomas More’s Utopia in mind, Bishop Quiroga went a step further to make these towns self-sufficient and prosperous through the production of agriculture or specialized crafts.
According to Wikipedia, Bishop Quiroga was responsible for the fine pottery that comes out of Tzintzuntzán, the copper products from Santa Clara, the woven woolens of Nurío, and, of course, the long-standing tradition of instrument craftsmanship in Paracho.
The vast majority of the shops are family-owned, utilizing crafting methods that were passed down from father to son, which in some cases stretches back centuries.
Scott noted one family of luthiers, the Amezcuas, who had been passing the torch between parent and child for over 350 years. The son, Jeronimo Amezcua, explained that this generational endowment of knowledge is beneficial to the process of guitar-making, as some of the instruments can take up to 20 years for the wood to mature to a good sound. Amezcua went on to note that he will often finish guitars that his father started 20 years ago, and the ones that Jeronimo begins now may well be finished by his own son one day.
The skill behind their craft is no joke. The video featured above shows a father/son operation in Paracho, where the father creates a guitar right before our very eyes. While some of the biggest guitar companies have enormous mechanized workshops, this man completes his projects by hand, relying on his seasoned eye alone to ensure perfection. The resulting guitar is as impressive to look at as it is to hear, and stands as a lasting reminder of the influence of a great bishop.