Sure, it feels good, but today is actually a great day because I’m taking my beloved Taylor guitar to local musician and guitar know-it-all (in the good sense) Sal Rael.
Rael runs a sort of guitar finishing school out of his home, and has been around forever…since the old days of the Santa Fe music scene when punk-rock teenagers roamed the earth and even before—in the days when bands like Logical Nonsense and Blood Drained Cows played with regularity, and venues like Club West or The Paramount booked acts so big that our town just about dropped under their enormous presence.
Part of me is extremely excited after reading online proclamations from Rael about how he’ll transform my guitar into a championship-caliber machine—the type of well-oiled, well-tuned instrument that archaeologists might one day find and that will spur heated debates about how talented I must have been to have my instrument calibrated thusly. The other part of me is, I’m ashamed to admit, nervous that the man behind the curtain will take one look at how I’ve been operating, and instantly judge me for failing to humidify it or for stringing the thing improperly. I’ve often heard he’s the best at what he does, and I can’t help but want to impress him.
As I make my way through the fat, falling raindrops and into Sal’s cluttered workspace, one thing is clear—this man loves guitars. From the gutted Fender Strat laying open on his operating table to the many electric basses and guitars in varying states of repair and transformation propped against walls or hanging from hooks, I can’t help but make the comparison to Dr. Frankenstein in my head. Then I feel like I’m stuck up for having assigned two literary allusions to one person. All this aside, Sal’s workshop is a musician’s dream with tools upon tools, custom-built amps and just about anything you could ever want for tinkering with your instrument. It is glorious, and before I can even pull my guitar from its case, he invites me to check out what he’s doing to the Strat. It’s all very technical, but the passion with which he describes his work and the level of research he’s put into something as simple as a built-in switch is, for lack of a better word, insane.
“I got into [guitar work] when I was a kid and lived in Chama because there was nobody up there who worked on instruments…hell, we had to go to Española to buy strings,” Rael says. “So when I moved to Santa Fe and became a goldsmith—I’ve been a goldsmith for 24 years—I transferred that attention to detail [as well as] the metal working skill that goes into jewelry work into instrument repair. It’s just about art in different forms.”
We pull out my guitar, and though he insists that I have taken amazing care of my baby and probably am the greatest guitarist to ever live (this is a joke), he makes a few minor tweaks. Voilà! It’s as good as new—better than new!
“Guitars are constantly vibrating and, in that respect, are trying to destroy themselves,” he says while making adjustments. “There are a thousand small details, but if everything that can be tight is tight and working together, man can they be beautiful.”
We spend the better part of the next few hours dicking around on guitars Rael is working on. He pulls out a beast that he’s built himself from poplar wood and steel. The balance of this thing is incredible, about as close to perfect as any guitar I’ve ever experienced.
“Oh yeah, that one’s a shredder,” he tells me. “I like to play a guitar, y’know? I don’t want to wrestle it.”
I barely hear this, as I’m already inching toward the door, anxious to get my guitar home and experience its newly gorgeous sound.
Open M-F by appointment