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Photo Essay: Giang Van Than - Crafter of Wonders

Long before Liberation Day, Giang Van Than studied in his hometown, the dreamy Central Highlands City of Da Lat, where many families owned their pianos at the time. Every day, he would listen to these beautiful piano melodies on his way back from school in the vibrant nature of Da Lat. Despite being from a humble family with no background in art, listening to these melodies became a natural habit and he was starting to love it! His passion for music began at this time from a young age.
After Vietnam’s Liberation Day in his 20’s, he finally started his career as a guitar maker. As a true artist, he is a self-taught man, having learned most of the techniques by himself and without the help of any teacher and through all of the carpentry work he was doing at the time. He informed me during the interview that he used to watch how carpenters and other luthiers made guitars over countless hours, day and night.
Giang Van Than is not only a craftsperson, he is a pure luthier with a twist!
Luthiers originally specialized in the making of stringed instruments. The word itself takes its root from the French word for “lute,” an instrument that dates back centuries. The word was initially used for makers of the violin family such as cellos, violas and of course guitars!
Originally working in the busy metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, Giang Van Than is presently working in Da Lat, giving support to his elderly mother!
The moment I met him in his humble workshop in the highlands of Da Lat, I felt the great passion flowing through his veins. Giang Van Than is dedicated in every detail and aspect of his guitars and their wood. I was fascinated by each of his patterns, molds and drawings. He is passionate and creative with a touch of melancholy and the twist of an artist!

It is important to mention that he is also a fantastic classical guitar player, which is rare to see with a luthier and makes him that much more in control, giving him better feel and sensitivity for his craft. This particular recipe makes his instruments shine amongst the rest of the crowd both in terms of acoustics and aesthetic, and I can testify to all of that.
He is particularly insistent on the fact that each aspect of his guitars is made purely by hand from selecting the wood to the shape of it, the adjustments, drawings, molds… etc. He selects each piece of wood for each type of guitar with great attention and care, such as cedarwood from European regions, rosewood from Indonesia, and let's not forget Vietnam where Giang Van Than personally picks the Cam Lai (Cẩm lai) wood also known as Dalbergia Oliveri.

After years of knowledge gained mastering his craft, he has finally reached the peak of his career as a Master Luthier of Vietnam, with recognition worldwide. He has had countless customers from Singapore, France, UK, USA and Vietnam. Some of his guitars go for up to 10,000 euros when selling abroad, where the average price is between 5,000 to 7,000 euros. He also shared that the price tends to go very high abroad as foreigners love hand-made guitars.

It is always a pleasure, as an artist and photographer myself, picking topics and honoring the people, artists and artisans of Vietnam such as Giang Van Than. I strongly encourage any guitarists and other music lovers to try his wonderful instruments and pay him a visit.

--Photos & text: Pierre Semere

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