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He's the guitar man

Solomoni Biumaiono
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

FROM an early age, Stuart Michael was greatly influenced by music, and from his younger days up until now, music, specifically guitars, has always been part of his life.

The 41-year-old is one of the few in Fiji who can repair electric guitars. This trade is a not only a source of living for him but a self-taught passion.

"This passion of mine started in 1988 while I was in Australia and I was playing for this band which was headed by an African. One of our guitars was in need of repair so I cleaned it and put it back together but when I did that, it was out of tune. The guy told me never to touch any of our guitars ever again.

"That's what got me thinking because a guitar can sometimes play badly. That's what made me get into this," Michael said.

In 1991, when he came back to Fiji, he started experimenting with repairing guitars using his background as a machinist, plumber and tradesman to try and overcome his initial failure.

"When I got back to Fiji, I thought that if that guitar can sound bad after I cleaned it, maybe my guitar might sound better if I cleaned it.

"So I started learning, gaining more knowledge through magazines and from whatever place I could learn more about how electric guitars worked," Michael said.

So off he went and started collecting old guitars and amplifiers which, in the early 1990s was starting to go out of fashion as new music technologies had changed the way music was created.

"Most of this gear was being thrown out by their owners and many of them were already playing up, but I decided to repair and restore them," he said.

After collecting guitars and amplifiers for 22 years, Michael now has an array of electric guitars with brands like Fender, Gibson, Graestch, Ovation, Martin and even Yamaha guitars, as well as Fender and Gibson amplifiers for both bass and lead guitars.

He said guitars always told a story because many of them had long histories and had belonged to people who were once considered legends in the local music scene.

The oldest guitar he has is a Fender Jaguar which was made in 1966 and once belonged to a local band called the Havana Boys, while his latest acquisition is a Gibson X which once belonged to Knox.

"I have everything from acoustic to electric guitars and even vintage amps which is the tube type. All these, I restored and kept through the years. I've also done work for local musicians who needed to have their guitars repaired," he said.

Michael has repaired guitars for local musicians like Nezbit Hazelman, Robert Verma, Mike Raymond, Joe Tabakaucoro and Rupeni Serevi.

"My next project now is to try and build my own guitars. I feel that after repairing them for so long I have come to understand the nature of guitars and how they work which I hope will enable me to build my very own guitar," Michael said.

He has already started his fundraising drive which he hopes will allow him to buy the special tools needed to realise his dreams.

This is to allow him to build guitars within a reasonable time period and in the most cost effective manner.

"I don't want to build a guitar just to copy the guitars which are currently out there. I believe that my technique of repairing and building guitars is something that you won't find in any book anywhere in the world.

"Through the years, I have realised that many guitar players usually think that when they can't do something, they think that is their inability or lack of skills to execute such ideas, but really it's the guitar and not the player which is at fault. It is the playability of the guitar," Michael said.

He believes he will soon realise his dreams because he is working to improve on the flaws.

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