FRETS.COM Thumbnail Article
Please click on the small images to see the large views.

Page 1 of 2

Quito, Ecuador
Vogel Guitars
© Frank Ford, 2002; Photos and commentary by Bob Vogel

"How did I get to Ecuador? Now that's a good question. I'm going to write a book on how I got into this situation some day, but let me give you a quick rundown here, without wearing out your ear.

Let's see, I studied architecture at USC, worked 7 years as an architect in Mammoth Lakes California, moved back to L.A. in 1985 and got a degree in Composition and Arranging from Dick Grove School of Music in Studio City, and then traveled extensively. I got married in Quito in 1989, lived for two more years in L.A., and then moved to Quito in 1991 with my Ecuadorian wife Zulay.

Ecuador is a place of great opportunity, and great risk. First I started a record company. I designed and built two recording studios, a mastering studio and offices. I imported audio equipment, set up a cassette duplication facility, and trained the staff. My record company produced Christian music in
Spanish, so I was kind of a "musicianary".

Then in 1994 I became pregnant with the idea of making guitars. A friend gave me a book called 'How to Make an Acoustic Guitar,' a tiny X-Acto knife, and a tiny X-Acto saw. There were no guitar factories in Ecuador, just small workshops limited to making traditional classical guitars. I saw an opportunity.

In January of 1995 I hired two workers, bought a few hand tools and a router, and began to make electric guitars. Alright, I'll admit it; the first guitars were pretty crude, but thank God, amazingly, we sold them and the company was born." - Bob Vogel

"Ecuador is an ancient land of jungles, volcanoes, Indian villages, and high valleys. My guitar factory is in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, with a population of over a million. The photo is of the Otavalo area, an hour north of Quito, with a view of lake San Pablo, little hand-farmed fields climbing the sides of the volcano, and a layer of wood smoke hovering in the valley."
"Here is the outside of our plant. Before we got here an ice cream and plastics factory called this home. Our plant is on the right. You can see the guard shack in the center of the photo. AT the top of the photo is the active volcano Pichincha, which erupted a couple of years ago, spreading layers of ash on Quito. If it ain't one thing it's another."
"We have a small retail store next to the factory."
"We make a lot of colorful classic guitars, like the green sunburst in the photo. We make sunburst, green, blue, wine colored, and black classics. Our acoustics, and classics have the same body size, but with different bracing, woods, and interior construction, of course. Ecuadorians, for all their conservative nature, like colorful guitars. On the left is a 12 string electric solid body. These all hardwood guitars sound great!"
"Sandra Mora is our cheerful saleslady. She also orders parts, runs the office when I'm gone, organizes publicity, deals with around 20 commercial accounts, and generally holds the whole company together with her good business sense. Thanks Sandra."
"Vogel Guitars team. We have around 15 guys in the factory, a couple of sales people, a couple of armed guards, and a warehouse man. Our guards work 12-hour shifts, changing every two weeks to work the swing shift. They never take vacations."
"Wood in Ecuador comes in a standard size called a 'tablon' or some variation of the same: 2x10 'Tablon', 4x10 'Doble-Tablon', 4x8 'Viga' (beam) and occasionally 4x4 'Columna.' Length is always 8 feet long. Wood is felled and cut on-site in the jungle, and trucked up to Quito. Frequently the tablones arrive with mud all over them."
"This is typical of the lumber yards in Ecuador. It hurts me to see all this nice hardwood stacked up outside, exposed to the elements. Air drying in Quito doesn't work well because the air is very dry and the boards dry too fast and check. Many times the boards are useless due to checking and cracking."
"We air dry the wood for a while in our warehouse, then cut it up and put it in a drying oven. Only hardwood is available, but in a stunning variety from 'Cedro' almost as soft as balsa, to 'Caoba', a wood so dense I'd be surprised if it floats. The Sitka Spruce, Engelmann spruce, and Western Red Cedar tops for the classical and acoustic guitars are imported from Canada."
"A batch of Acoustic guitar necks. We use "Colorado Fino" wood for the acoustic necks, which is a variety of hard mahogany, with a fine reddish color. In these necks the adjustable truss rod has been installed, and covered with a strip of wood."
"Wilson band saws out the necks. Then we use a jig on the pin router to clean up the edges."
"Wilson roughs out the dovetail neck joint on the bandsaw. Miguel Osorio checks his work . Miguel is an industrial engineer and supervises the whole factory operation; personnel, equipment repairs, tool and material buying, etc."
"Here is an overview of the woodshop. Our wood shop uses standard woodworking machinery, and jigs."
"Jose uses a file to smooth out the holes for the classic tuners. Is there a name for these holes?"
"These guys love their hand tools!
"Someone once said a trip to Ecuador is like walking into a National Geographic magazine. That's true."
"Hernan works on some 6-string bass bodies with his handy Stanley plane. Hernan is the shop foreman, and has been with me from the beginning, in January 1995."
"Hernan checks his work on a new bracing pattern he is trying out. He likes to experiment on new designs, and, unlike the rest of Latin America, always comes to work early."
"This is a very simple jig to make classical guitar bridges. The shaper blade cuts the correct slots for the bridge and the string-tying block, and the rest is cut and sanded by hand."
"Our poor man's CNC. It's a small router-copier we use to rough out the heel of the necks on acoustics and classics."
"We don't have a CNC yet, but plan on getting one when finances permit. Labor is cheap compared to the US, so it is harder to capitalize new equipment."
"Here Luis Castillo routs out a guitar or bass on a pin router, our biggest machine. Notice Luis's stylish use of primary colors."


Back to Index Page