Aurelia, India's homegrown guitar brand all set to ace the axe game

by Ranjini Achuthan

For the longest time, guitarists in Kerala and across the country have bought, owned and played guitars made by international brands alone, irrespective of the quality and cost. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that India hasn't seen a trustworthy premium homegrown brand of guitar until now. This gaping void has now been filled by the luthier extraordinaire from God's own country, Vivian Varghese. A guitarist, drummer and teacher based out of Thiruvananthapuram, he has been in the industry for close to 15 years, experimenting and honing the rare craft of Lutherie.

The launch of Aurelia, his brand new guitar company has been done by his close friend, the much-celebrated guitarist-cum-music producer Rex Vijayan over all major social media platforms. The brand that has been named after his daughter is already gaining traction with orders for customized designs pouring in.

We delve deep into Vivian's vision and mission behind his dream venture.

Pic courtesy: Rajarams Photography

In today's day and age, with many established international brands available in the market, what are the unique design aspects of Aurelia that would set it apart from the rest?  One thing I decided from the inception of my company was that my instruments should be unique. I don't build replicas or copies. I've researched and tried out a lot of guitars in the past 15 years and I meticulously listed out all the pros and cons of each of them and eliminated all the cons, combined all the pros and few innovative ideas of my own while designing them.  Walk us through the process of building a guitar from scratch. How long does it take to build an Aurelia guitar? How much are the guitars priced at, as of now? Customers can first choose from the designs I have created. It is available upon request, on the website. Then I'll edit the digital file a bit according to their custom order and place the order for the hardware and wood they have chosen. Once the materials arrive, it's a combination of CNC work and hand tools. I cut the basic shape out using my CNC machine and rest of the carving, shaping and finishing is all done by hand, with a lot of attention to detail.

The whole process takes up to 6 months or less. The price range starts at 1.5 lakhs. I hope I can scale up soon, so I can start an affordable range of guitars as well.

Do you intend to have a stock series of guitars or is it going to be all customized guitars? I have 3 designs ready as of now from which you can choose and customize certain features in it like pickups and wood. I plan to release more designs soon.

You have been in the industry for a while and you have a loyal base of clients who vouch for your craftsmanship and service. Your clientele includes the biggest names like Rex Vijayan, Santhosh Chandran, Baiju Dharmajan and Mithun Raju as well as budding talents in the industry. We would like to know what got you interested in designing guitars. When did you start? Take us through the memory lane! I always wanted to build a guitar for myself, didn't think I would be a professional luthier but I liked woodworking since I was a kid. I taught myself how to repair and set up my own guitar since I couldn't find anyone else to do that for me. In 2016, my students started giving me their guitars to work. Rex Vijayan is a close friend and he encouraged me to get into this and brought all his guitars to my place so I could practice on them. Once he posted a photo of it, word got out. Some of the latest brands in the market like Strandberg and Abasi concepts have some stellar and innovative design concepts. Which company/design have you been inspired by, the most? My Instagram feed is almost all guitars. I'm constantly looking for new guitars. Out of all those luthiers that inspire me daily, if I had to choose one, I would choose Micheal Sankey of Sankey Guitars.

Is it said that as the wood ages, the quality of the guitar increases. Your thoughts? Which wood do you prefer to work with? Wood generally looks better as it ages, if it has an open pore finish, guitar wood will also change color and dries up eventually.  I offer a wide variety of wood from all over the world but my favorite is locally sourced Mahogany. Kerala has the best mahogany in my opinion.  House of Tone pickups is a favourite of yours. Could you tell us more about this? Why do you prefer it? I have tried a lot of pickups, I have always wanted the best pickups available to put in my guitars. No compromise there. I like House of tone pickups and Bareknuckle pickups the most because of their attention to detail, and they deliver the tone just as promised, every single time. 

What are the challenges you face while making guitars? Why do we not have enough quality brands coming out of our country?  My biggest challenge is importing everything I need. All my hardware is imported and it costs almost 50% more because of shipping charges, duty and IGST. Hopefully, when I scale up I plan to design and build my own hardware. As for why there are not enough Indian brands, quite frankly, I feel its the tedious work involved and the market risks that might be a deterrent. I haven't really given it much thought. What is your ultimate goal with the Aurelia guitar company? My ultimate goal is to provide really good quality guitars in an affordable price range for musicians in India, especially Kerala. I didn't have a guitar for the first 5 years when I was trying to learn the instrument. I always borrowed it from someone, some times right before getting on stage. Also, the quality of the instrument will help you a lot in the learning process and that is something we don't have here. Most students and musicians are forced to use cheaper guitars while learning it until they can afford to buy a good one.

What is your idea of a perfect guitar? What qualities should it have?

A perfect guitar should always stay in tune, the neck should be stable even in Kerala's ever-changing humid weather and it should last a lifetime. A perfect guitar for me would be one that you don't want to stop playing. Ever!

As of today, Vivian works from a makeshift studio bedroom in his apartment in the capital city of Kerala. He signs off by wishing and aiming for a physical store filled with his labour of love and passion for the stringed instrument!

Visit aureliaguitars.com