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This Guitar Luthier Is The Man Behind The Music

You could say that Jun Castro has strummed his way to success
by Khatrina Bonagua | Feb 26, 2017
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Many men dream of melding work and passion. Whether it's in the field of sports, films, handicrafts, or music, there’s just, a wonderful sense of fulfillment that comes with pursuing what you love the most. There’s an unexplainable happiness when you’re out there, working with your hands, shaping raw materials into something beautiful, pouring your heart into each performance or art.

Passion and happiness are two words that certainly apply to the fruits of Jun Castro’s labors. A luthier (a guitar repairer and maker) by profession, he spends his days tinkering with damaged guitars in order to bring them back to their most handsome state.

Jun, 58, grew up surrounded by notes and strings. Back in the late '90s, he thought he had his life all planned out—all he wanted to do was travel and make music. With his immeasurable guitar skills, Jun believed everything would go his way, jumping from one band to the next in search of the perfect rhythm. But things didn't seem to fit, and after a while, he decided to carve out his own path by attempting to strike out with a solo career as a folk singer. Jun was having the time of his life, playing gigs all night long and spending the days sleeping soundly in bed.

But then love came knocking and a sweet serenade started to play in his ears, the kind that didn't end despite endless evenings playing in clubs and bars. Naturally, what followed was a family, a veritable highlight in Jun’s simple life. Unfortunately, the money he earned while making music was not enough for the demands of fatherhood. Being a professional musician, as he learned, would not sustain his new lifestyle. He needed another, more stable job to keep his loved ones afloat.

He hid the guitar and peddled Good Morning Towels in Quiapo to make ends meet, selling the humble product in the dingy alleys in one of Manila's busiest areas. And while in the middle of hustling, fate would intercede in the form of Filipino luthier Rudy Discipulo, popular in the circuit for his work with RJ Guitar Center.

“Dinadalaw ko siya sa bahay, tinuturuan niya ko sa mga simpleng trabaho," Jun remembers. "Tapos imbes na siya na ang gumawa sa gitara ko, ako na ang gumawa, siya ang nagturo sakin. Tuloy-tuloy na ang pagpunta ko sa kanya nun, siya ang naging mentor ko, hanggang sa nawala siya. Halos lahat naituro niya sa loob ng siyam na buwan. Para akong kumuha ng vocational course.” 

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Jun owes everything he knows about guitar repairing to the late Discipulo. “Malaki ang pagsasalamat ko sa kanya kasi nagbago mundo ko. Nanggaling ako dun sa tumutugtog, nag-asawa, nagtinda sa bangketa, hanggang sa eto na, nagkalikot ng gitara.”

It was the year 1998 when his teacher passed away, but the latter's legacy was alive and thriving through Jun. He dropped the towels and found his way back to his first love—the music. But instead of playing, he gained a sense of solace in fixing guitars. 

Armed with new knowledge and Discipulo’s blessings, Jun started his lutherie career. He approached his old bandmates and his musician friends, but they were hesitant to let Jun touch their prized instruments. “Sabi nila, ‘E tumutugtog ka lang dati ah, ano namang alam mo sa pag-ayos ng gitara?’” he shares. “Syempre, mahirap nga naman ipagkatiwala yung gitara nila sa kung sino lang. Naiintindihan ko yun. Pero di ako tumigil. Gusto ko to. At itutuloy ko ang pag-luthier.”

Determined, Jun continued to find clients. There was no social media to help him spread the word then, so he relied on old school tricks to market his services.  “Nagpupunta ako sa mga music stores noon, sa mga mall. Dala-dala ko yung leaflets ko that I printed on bond paper, tapos pina-photocopy ko ng marami. Pinamigay ko yun sa mga tao sa music stores, sa mga kaibigan, sa lahat ng makakasalubong ko.”

Luckily, people started to slowly take notice, and his most trusted friends in the industry started bringing their guitars for him to check. And after proving his worth with client after client, his career suddenly took flight.

Ang dami ng nagtiwala," he explains. "Natuwa sila kasi mas napapaganda ko nga raw ang tunog ng kanilang gitara. May mga bagong gitara na mali ang intonation at di maintindihan nung mga uang pinagdalahan nung mga may-ari kung ano ba yung problema. Pero pagdating sa akin, nalalaman ko kaagad.”

Pero may natutunan ako na mas malalim na sikreto maliban sa tinuro ni Rudy," he explains with a knowing wink. The man found his own signature style amidst his mentor's valuable teachings, evolving the process into something he could own. "Ito yung pagsusukat. Meron akong sariling scale na di mo mabibili kahit saan, ako lang ang nakakaintindi. Dito ako nakilala sa scale na ito, at ito ang gamit ko hanggang sa ngayon. Gamit itong scale na ito, at ang tenga ko na hinasa ng pagtugtog at paggawa ng musika, na-ma-magic ko ang gitara."

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Aside from repairing, Jun also customizes guitars. It was the year 2000 when he made his very first one, a part of it coming from an undestroyed piece of wood from an ancestral home that burned down. He takes pride in this piece, a glorious riff-maker fashioned from material that would've otherwise been discarded and remembered as a remnant of a scathing tragedy. 

Tinayo ang bahay nung 1902, poste sa gitna yung kahoy. Nasunog siya ng kaunti, pero makikita mo na pwede pa naman. Hiningi ko yun, kahit puro uling. Pinakinis ko, pinintahan, inayos. Walong buwan ko ginawa ito.

The storied guitar best represents Jun's career as a luthier—a symbol of how hard work coupled with creativity can breathe new life into even the most worn out of instruments. 

Today, Jun’s tiny but always jam-packed workshop located at Sta. Ana, Manila is a testament to his success. Every nook and cranny is filled with guitars—from celebrities, musicians, to enthusiasts—all waiting for Jun’s magical touch. He's in the shop on a daily basis, passion and enthusiasm overflowing as he tests the strings and reassembles the parts, making sure that, when he hands them back to their rightful owners, they're capable of hitting all the right notes. 

Iba yung feeling na gandang ganda sila sa nagagawa ko. Maraming nagtiwala—andyan sina Dion Ignacio, Cesar Montano, Mr. Bones and the Boneyard Circus, Spongecola, Urbandub, Ely Buendia, Aljur Abrenica, at marami pang ibaPag nakikita ko na ginagamit nila yung gitara na dumaan sa akin, masarap sa pakiramdam, para bang, parte ako ng pagsikat nila. Parang bahagi ako ng kung bakit maraming tumatangkilik sa musika nila.”

There may be other guitar luthiers from big, popular stores out there. Some probably even have lutherie degrees from universities abroad. But in the world of local music, when you say the word “luthier,” the name “Jun Castro” often rings loud and clear.

Di ko naman masasabi na successful ako, pero baka, oo nga," he quips, finally admitting to his humble success. "Siguro patunay na dun yung mga patuloy na nagtitiwala. Yung mga pino-post ko sa Facebook na nagpapagawa. Sila ang tulay ko para makilala. Sa totoo lang, bonus na lang yung makilala ako. Hilig ko lang talaga ang musika, at gusto ko makatulong. Na kahit di na ko tumutugtog, yung talent ko bilang isang musician e nandyan at nagagamit ko pa rin. Yung tenga ko, yung mata ko, nakakagawa pa rin ito ng musika sa pamamagitan nung mga nagpagawa.” 

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In his own humble way, Jun is a rock star, a man who maximizes his talents so that others can take the stage, so that others can be in the spotlight. He might not have his own album. He might not have his own sold out concerts. He might not have that whirlwind backstory of rebellion—the kind fueled by sex, drugs, and rock and roll that has made many a musician infamous. But at least he has his shop. At least he has his guitars. At least he has his music. And in the end, maybe that's more than enough.  

Producer Khatrina Bonagua Video Producer Ever Baswel Special Thanks To Aeus Reyes

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