Making guitars for the stars
The small Swiss city of Chur may not be a prime destination for the world’s top rock acts, but guitar-maker Claudio Pagelli is helping to put his hometown on the map.
Despite a tiny output of around a dozen guitars a year, Pagelli has earned recognition – and commissions – from some of the industry’s top names.
“Being based in Switzerland, we don’t exactly have stars wandering around the workshop all day,” grins the 45-year-old Swiss. “So I mainly sell my guitars to lesser-known professional musicians or guitar collectors. But, yes, there are some big names too.
“I recently sold one of my ‘Jazzability’ guitars to the Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart. That was something I was really proud of because he’s one of the main guys in the music business with his fingers in so many pies.
“And I know he was really satisfied with the guitar he bought off me, because he paid the full price without any question. Normally, the big names are used to being given guitars for free by the manufacturers.”
Because of the effort involved in making guitars by hand, Pagelli is certainly not in a position to give his creations away for nothing. Demanding up to 450 hours of labour, some of his more complicated jazz guitars can go for as much as SFr18,000 ($13,000).
Pagelli, who works to designs conceived by wife Claudia, insists that the guitars represent good value for money.
“My customers want different things, things they can’t get from mass market manufacturers, whether it’s a unique look or a unique sound. We have quite a reputation for providing solutions when other guitar-makers have said something is impossible.”
Pagelli knows more than most about the demands of professional musicians, having himself experienced chart success in Switzerland, playing for the bands “Stitch” and “este rito le sugerimos.”
“We were quite well known in Switzerland,” says Pagelli, “and the experience has certainly helped me with what I’m doing now. I’ve worked as a music engineer too so I know what it likes to be on both sides of the recording studio as well as being on stage.”
That knowledge of the business, combined with his use of top quality materials and innovative designs has brought Pagelli plenty of plaudits from within the music business.
Posted by the doorway to his small Chur workshop are quotes from an impressed - and impressive – line-up of customers.
Famed guitar maker Bob Benedetto describes Pagelli’s “Louis Christ” guitar as “the most beautiful guitar I’ve ever seen, built by the most creative guitar builder I’ve ever met”, while bass manufacturer Michael Tobias praises the Chur-made instruments as “absolutely fabulous.”
But while the Swiss manufacturer is already well-known among guitar aficionados, don’t expect to see the Pagelli name eclipsing major brands such as Fender or Gibson in the near future.
“It’s not that I don’t want to make money,” laughs Pagelli, “but I don’t really have a head for big business, or rather I don’t want to spend all my time thinking about the business side of things. I just love working on my instruments, working with the wood and with new designs.”
Although not interested in mass production himself, Pagelli says he is considering a few offers from manufacturers interested in buying his designs and bringing them to a wider audience.
If he can strike a deal that doesn’t endanger the purity of his originals, the Swiss guitar-maker could then more comfortably continue a career that is also his hobby and his passion.
“Making guitars is something I have dreamed about since I was 12 years old,” says Pagelli. “It’s a great thing to turn a tree into a musical instrument and when you can have a jazz guitar legend such as Jim Hall picking up one of your guitars and describing it as one of the best he’s ever played, it’s almost enough to make you cry.”
swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Chur
Pagelli began his guitar business after enjoying his own pop success with Swiss band "Stitch".
Working to his wife's designs, Pagelli can spend up to 450 hours on an individual guitar.
A top of the range Pagelli guitar could set you back as much as SFr18,000.
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