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Meet Mumbai Guitarist and Guitar-Maker Samir Karnik

How the guitarist ditched his bank job to make eco-friendly guitars

Anurag Tagat Jul 26, 2014
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Samir Karnik.

Samir Karnik.

Samir Karnik isn’t just one of those guys who went to Goa to turn into a beach bum. The 27-year-old guitarist, who has previously played with Mumbai rock band Zephyr and filled in for jam band Something Relevant on guitars, attended a guitar-building course by day and (of course) partied at night, woke up and repeated the routine as part of the 15-day course in Baga, Goa last year.

Although his interest in making guitars started out on a whim, Karnik is well-versed enough to rattle off the merits of, say, using neem wood as opposed to the over-used mahogany to make a guitar. Says Karnik, “I think the biggest advantage is environmental.” Karnik also studied environmental law and earned a Master’s degree in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh. Although Karnik first held a corporate job to promote sustainable responsibility for a bank, building a guitar changed his outlook. Says Karnik, “I would look forward to waking up every morning and working on the guitar. I enjoyed the process so much that I came back and said, ”˜I need to stop what’s going on’.” Karnik left his job and put his savings into buying carpentry equipment similar to what he worked with in Goa. He had a few basic tools, such as a screwdriver, planer and a ruler, but needed specific tools such as a drum sander. Karnik created one all by himself, with a little help from the Internet. Says Karnik, “You just go to YouTube and type in ”˜How to make a sander’. Everything is available.”

Starting in June 2013, as he started setting up his company, Enzo Handcrafted Guitars, Karnik found that it made perfect sense to make guitars in India because of all the indigenous wood that’s easily available from local sellers in and around Mumbai. Karnik builds acoustic guitars that are environmentally-friendly, using wood from trees such as mango, jackfruit, neem and apple. He feels using alternative species of wood also reduces dependency on widely-used woods such as mahogany and rosewood. Says Karnik, “Rosewood’s demand is really high, but supply is low. It’s kinda a threatened species of wood. Its supply is dwindling really fast. It’s putting stress on deforestation in places like India.” He adds that it makes sense to also buy and encourage locally-produced guitars, since the transportation costs and carbon footprint involved in manufacturing within India.

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Karnik has built eight guitars so far and remembers his first attempt, which wasn’t entirely successful. Says Karnik, “When I put the strings in, the whole guitar started caving in due to the tension of the strings. The top was too light. The guitar caved in, in a day or two. It taught me to slow down and be more cautious.” Karnik, who spent two months on the guitar, was heartbroken, and even a bit anxious, considering he had left his job to pursue becoming a luthier. He adds, “The last couple of guitars have been promising ”“ none of them are falling apart and they sound good”

A guitar crafted from mango wood. Photo: Samir Karnik

A guitar crafted from mango wood. Photo: Samir Karnik

Although he can build a guitar from scratch in 15 to 20 days, Karnik prefers to take longer. Says Karnik, “I’ve decided to take it slow, work on each guitar for about two months, let it cure, and dry.” The Enzo Handcrafted Guitar page gets enquiries almost daily, but Karnik is choosy, and says he’d like to sell guitars to enthusiasts and people who are as passionate about the instrument as he is. Karnik’s first customers came through his immediate network of friends, who wanted to encourage his skill. But he recalls one drummer friend, who bought a handmade guitar. Says Karnik, “He’s a drummer, so he’s played this guitar and after two months, I went back to meet him and check how my guitar is doing. Our man has dropped the guitar and cracked the sides and all that. It broke my heart. I thought, ”˜Do I want to sell guitars to drummers?’ That’s a good question.”

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As the word spreads about Enzo guitars, Karnik has been approached to go beyond making acoustic guitars. He’s currently working on a micro-bass guitar for veteran guitarist and bassist Floyd Fernandes. He’s also started working on an electric guitar, but mentions that acoustic guitars are much more of a challenge. “Now I want to make a range of guitars and put them up for sale, so that people can come here and play maybe five guitars.”

Karnik also has another long-term plan, one that ties in his aim for making a difference through environmental sustainability and his love for guitars. He says he would like to expand his work into social entrepreneurship. Says Karnik, “I want to work with a community and teach them how to make guitars, thereby involving a lot more people. I’ve worked with tribal, rural communities [during my bank job]. A lot of them depend on the forest for a source of income. It makes perfect sense to construct a project around making guitars, where I’m skilled enough to teach people how to make guitars. It helps them earn a living from it. That’s the vision.”

 

Find out more about Enzo Handcrafted Guitars on Facebook.

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