The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

30

It’s the first time I ever bought a guitar in the same workshop it was made in. Well today I bought a US$30 from craftsman Mr Lay Lwin. In his 60s and dressed in the traditional wrap-around biyin 'skirt' that most Burmese men wear, Lay Lwin is chairman of Sein Shwe Lwin Guitar Garden, on Anawrahta road in the bustling Kyauktada township in downtown Yangon/Rangoon. The shop was a welcome detour in the downpour that blanketed the city for most of the day – this is rainy season. What got me was Lay’s smiling demeanour and loving attention with which he showed me each guitar. The US$30 price tag was also a clincher: prices fluctuate according to whether he’s using plastic or steel tuning gears, or if the strings and frets are steel or a cheaper alloy mix.

The top of the soundbox is pine, the sides plywood. It’s not surprising most of the country is still covered in forestry, that Burma would make guitars. Problem is much of that wood is being slashed by or for Chinese timber companies, who often pay off local officials to turn a blind eye as they drive their loot over the border into China’s Yunnan province. Still, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper earlier this week editorialized on the need to grow trees so the air can be clean and the country green, as if hardwood trees they’ve allowed to be chopped can be replaced overnight.

 

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