San Bartolome Guitars

Many rural towns scattered across Ecuador still adhere to the “guild system” inherited from Spain, where each community specializes in a particular craft. The hills around Cuenca may be home to the most interesting artisan traditions in the country. For example, there is a strong heritage of guitar making in San Bartolomé. In the foothills just above the town’s main plaza, we climbed out of the van at the home of master craftsman Jose Uyaguari. The tools of his trade were spread across a rough wooden table set up in his front patio: two long silver wood planes, chisels, awls, and a giant tub of glue. Using exotic woods such as Capuli and African Ebony, Uyaguari fashions some of the world’s finest guitars without using a single nail, then adorns them with intricate inlays painstakingly pieced together from tiny bits of multi-colored wood shavings. His customers are said to include famous artists such as Freddy Fender and Judy Collins.