|Manmeet "Lucky" Singh, Luthier|
Shadipur is a crowded, largely working class, locality in west Delhi adjoining the industrial districts of Naraina and Kirti Nagar. Its narrow streets perpetually crowded with autos, two-wheelers and rickshaws are lined with endless shops, eateries and hawkers. Down its narrow alleys are houses that seem to touch each other and allow nothing wider than a scooter or motorbike to pass through.
Manmeet Singh, better known as "Lucky", leads me down one of these alleys where the noise of the street recedes and sunlight is cut off by the overhang of closely built brick and cement houses. He unlocks a steel door and ushers me into his 10 by 20 feet workshop.
The little windowless workshop is crammed with carefully bundled stacks of wood of various species. He collects different types of wood, and lots of it. For, Lucky is a luthier; at 23, he is perhaps one of the country's youngest and already a pro known for his finishing skills.
|Measuring a pattern for a guitar body|
He has been making guitars for just 3 years and already his basic models of acoustic guitars sell for Rs 25,000. He makes one or two guitars a month and supplements his income by taking up spray finishing work and procuring exotic local varieties of wood for guitar makers and wood suppliers.
|Ukulele with Cocobolo back|
The first part of the process is to acquire great wood, he explains. "You cannot finish something that is not great in the first place", he explains in Hindi.
This is one reason why he spends a lot of his time - an average of three days a week- at the city timber markets. At Kirti Nagar timber market near where he lives, everyone seems to know Lucky. He dives into the shops to quickly inspect what is available. If something catches his eye, he is instantly on to it.
At one shop, we came across a couple of logs of a local timber called Jungle Jalebi. I later learnt this wood is Pithecellobium dulce also known as Monkeypod. It is dense and difficult to saw. Lucky thought one of the logs would produce some great burl.
He snapped a few photographs of the log and sent it to one his mates in Mumbai who exports exotic Indian woods for guitar makers around the world. The reply came back almost instantly and in the affirmative. The next thing I know Lucky was fishing out money to reserve the log for re-sawing later.
|Lucky's little workshop stashed with wood|
"Two or three of us share the wood I find", Lucky explained. "That way I can get what I want without having to block a lot of money for an entire log."
This way, he has managed to build up a small but impressive collection of a wide variety of wood, including Purpleheart, Cocobolo, Black Siris, Mango, Indian Mahogany, Sapele, Bubinga, Spanish Cedar and so on.
|A beautiful local species called Siris|
He gets the wood cut into quarter inch thick pieces and brings them back to his workshop where he uses a shop made drum sander to bring them down further to a final of 2 to 3 millimetres.
The pieces are cut into various shapes and joined together with thin splines. The sides are moulded in forms of various shapes and sizes made of MDF. The neck is made separately and later attached to the body.
|Mango wood guitar finished with lacquer|
Where he excels is in the finishing. He has an air compressor spray system at home and does the finishing there in a veranda as his workshop is too tiny and enclosed for spraying. He also has a shop made buffing machine which uses various types of cloth wheels.
"The glow in the finish comes from depth", he says. "The only way you can know it has worked is from seeing the final product. If there isn't enough depth in the finish, then it isn't done."
|An accoustic guitar made of Indian Mahogany by Lucky|
The best thing I liked about Lucky was his insatiable curiosity about different kinds of wood, finishes and work methods. He keeps visiting the larger paint dealers to know about the latest kinds of finishes, paints, fillers and so on. He seems to be constantly absorbing information.
A self-taught guitar maker, Lucky Singh seems to be vastly enjoying the learning curve he is on. His insatiable curiosity about everything involving his art will ensure that he grows to be a great craftsman someday soon.
10 December 2017