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A Guitar Is Born

This will be a Stratocaster-type guitar, albeit with Gibson-style pickup mounts and a bonded-on neck. The parts shown here were fashioned with extraordinary care by Erisa of Aurodam, in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India (Auroville is quite close to Pondicherry on the Bay of Bengal).

Body: Pilimardu -- terminalia tomentosa
Top: flamed Work -- acacia auriculiformis
Neck: tiger flamed Kalimardu -- terminalia peniculata
Fingerboard: red sanders -- teracarpus marsupium (red ebony?)

Johnny Nitro is working on installation of pickups and so forth at Subway Guitar in Berkeley.

A little essay about the guitar, and the wood, and Auroville...

It was the wood that got it going. It's wood that in its way fascinates most about Auroville. Mother and the Matrimandir, Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine are in every way astonishing, but it's the lumber you can put your hands on. For lumber you need timber and today, at long last, it exists, and not just casuarina for capsule poles.

It's Auroville's forest that to a return visitor, indeed to almost anyone, is the community's most tangible success. The trees have made a devastated piece of the Earth habitable again. They're plentiful enough now that they can be called timber without that's being a bad name.

Perhaps my favorite tree is the one Mother named Work, acacia auriculiformis. It's from Australia, or Papua New Guinea (call it the ear-pod wattle if you like), and it grows wonderfully in Tamil Nad,' quickly and without much water, yielding wood that can be used for building houses or for making furniture, or for crafting musical instruments, like guitars.

It's something of a vice, the guitar, more than a toy, not quite an obsession. Up at Charlipalayam (OK, Aurogreen) there's a bunch of Work on the ground these days, numbered logs, ready for sale. Charlie said a guy named Erisa, who lives at Aurodam right near the Centre Guest House (my crib for the week), builds guitars and might be taking some of the wood. Charlie said Claire, who comes and buys Aurogreen milk, told him Erisa would like to meet me.

It was an easy trundle on Charlie's venerable and formidable yellow cycle to Aurodam, me with faithful Carvin kit guitar (alder body and maple--I think--neck, with rock-hard ebony fingerboard) in tow in gig-bag backpack. Erisa was terrifically welcoming and it turned out he spent years in Northern California, apprenticing at Santa Cruz Guitar and later living in Marin County, north of San Francisco. It even transpired that he knows a lot of the same people I know on the San Francisco blues scene, names like Johnny Nitro, Anthony Paul, Dave Workman and Chris Cobb, names that mean nothing in Auroville but plenty to me, these guys are known to Erisa too. He also had a most impressive old tube amplifier, a vintage Jim Kelley, exceedingly powerful, and he assured me that I could blast the Carvin through it pretty much as loud as I liked (Umberto, I apologize).

It became clear that Erisa was interested in building me a guitar and that the guitar could be made with Auroville wood. Not the logs from Charlipalayam, as those would take years to cure, even when milled into planks. But Erisa has wood he's collected from razed buildings, wood that even in the form of large beams has aged and dried for decades or even scores of years and so will make for a stable instrument. The botanical names flowed past me as I attempted to nod knowingly, but I think we agreed on some sort of terminalia for the body of the guitar, which will be shaped like a Fender Stratocaster, and he'll fashion a flamed Work top, which will be way cool as tops of any sort are unusual on a Strat. It'll be a hard-tail, meaning the strings will go through the body from the back rather than merely attaching to the bridge; at the same time the body will be somewhat hollowed out to reduce weight (Erisa, are you reading this? As little weight as possible, please). The neck will be well frankly I forget, maybe that's where Erisa will use the terminalia (Erisa, is it limba? A.K.A terminalia superba? I found that on the web) but the fingerboard I remember will be Sander's something-or-other, a gorgeous hard wood--I saw the plank he'll use--Erisa said is sometimes called "red ebony."

The neck will be fashioned in what for want of the correct terms I'll called angled layers for extra strength, a construction you don't get in a run-of-the-mill Fender. And the headstock will be tilted back (another thing Fender doesn't do, because it consumes more wood), which makes for a better angle for the strings as they pass over the nut. Another feature of a high-end instrument.

As for price, suffice it to say that by Western standards the Erisacaster will be very, very reasonable, fantastically so for a custom guitar (I'm still to send precise measurements for the neck, in millimeters and fractions thereof). I paid a third up front, and Erisa said that would include shipping: possibly by DHL, more likely via Renu, his sister, who'll be coming to California in June or thereabouts (Renu, thank you; I'll get you Johnny Nitro's autograph). And, typical of the wonderful generous surprises with which Auroville abounds, Erisa said if I don't like the guitar, then I don't have to pay the balance. He didn't say anything about returning it.

I will like the guitar, I know. As for its metal parts, like the bridge, tuning machines, pick-ups and switches and wiring, I'll take care of that here. Erisa's already suggested people who can help me choose them. He doesn't stock these parts, as they're expensive, and they don't keep well in the Auroville climate.

I don't mind. Because, after all, the wood's what counts.

-- Rich Piellisch
adapted from
Auroville Today\

Erisa, with daughter and Charlie's ride, at Aurodam, March 12, 2002

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