The luthier on the hill

Boaz Elyakam, with a pet parrot on his shoulder, plays a 6 double string guitar with no sound hole.

By Yoni Peres

Yoni Peres

Ruth Elyakam

KIBBUTZ ALONEI HABASHAN, Golan Heights — Driving on the winding road, up the hills of the Golan Height, one cannot ignore the breath taking scenery – Lush green rugged meadows, lakes, creeks and little water falls, and cowboys on horses leading herds of cows.

Not far from the Golan “capitol”- Katzrin, I entered the gate of Kibbutz Alonei Habashan, just half a mile away from the Syrian-Israeli border.

Boaz’s wife was standing at the entrance of a very simple house and invited me inside. In the kitchen, her husband was sitting at a long wooden table, with a parrot on his shoulder, playing one of his unusual guitars.

Over a hot cup of Turkish coffee, Boaz begins telling his fascinating life story: His roots trace back many generations in Israel (formerly Palestine), one side from Pekiin and the other from Shefar’am, both village in the Galilee. Boaz was born in the Haifa Bay area, a region which many of the famous Israeli rock singers and bands have originated from. Both his father and grandfather were violin makers.

He began playing guitar as a teenager and after his military service, traveled to New York, like many other Israelis at that time, with the “American dream” in his mind, hoping for a successful musical career. However, the dream did not come true and he decided at that point of his life to take a break and travel the world on a motorcycle. While traveling throughout Europe, South, Central and North America, he studied guitar building, as well as flamenco and classical guitar playing.

Boaz’s motorcycle

“Seeing so much traditional building, made me want to go for something a little further… a little more challenging than a standard classical guitar,” Boaz told me.”I have spent most of my life looking for acoustically perfect sound in the classical guitar. My goal is to reach a level of perfection in each of my instruments, consistently, that has not yet been achieved by any luthier.”

Building stringed instruments supported his traveling the world for the purpose of meeting other luthiers and discovering more methods, materials and building techniques.

Guitar Mold

The combination of playing and building allowed Boaz to make first-rate guitars for some of the best guitarists worldwide. One of the famous instruments he designed is a compact traveling guitar, with a size that allows the traveler to stick it into his backpack.

At one point of his travels, he settled down on a farm, in Baja California, Mexico. He fell in love and married Laura, a charming lady from Ensenada. Laura decided to go through an Orthodox conversion, and changed her name to Ruth- exactly like Ruth and Boaz in the Bible… back in Israel, on the kibbutz, they now raise three sweet children.

After the coffee and conversation, it was time to see the site where all the instrumental miracles are born. In my mind, I had imagined a fancy state of the art factory. However, Boaz led us to a tiny store house. In front of it, there is a barbecue and a meat smoker. “Every time I finish building an instrument, we celebrate here,” he smiles.

grape press

Walking into the hut, the first thing I notice is a massive motorcycle, a memory for the long years traveling on the roads. Then there are barrels, machines and instruments for wine and liquor production. “Here is where I produce wine, whiskey and arak,” he says proudly, ” I even brought agave plants from Mexico, in order to be the first blue-and-white tequila producer.”

And finally we approach the main production line – musical instruments. The room is full of string instruments, in various stages of construction. Boaz shows us some of the unique products: Guitars with double and triple strings, traveling guitars, modular guitars and replicas of old classical Baroque guitars. He is thrilled and excited, as if each of them were his baby.

Baroque guitar

He opens up some drawers to show guitars ready to go for special orders. “I use simple manual carpentry tools. I work very patiently on each instrument. However, one thing I do not compromise on is the materials.” Boaz is ready to cross the world in order to find a specific type of wood, metal, animal bones, or shells.

Each instrument production takes weeks to months. And the prices – accordingly, range from thousands to tens of thousands dollars.

State of the Art guitar

One drawer contains issues of many of the most important guitar and musical magazines, some with articles on Boaz. He travels all over the world for workshops, master classes and consultations.

After thre mesmerizing hours, he apologizes: “I have to leave for performance in one of the IDF camps in the area. But please, come back again and do not leave without a home made bottle of wine…”

Making my way back to Tel Aviv from the amazing experience, through the beautiful hills, overlooking the sea of Galilee, I feel like I have charged my batteries for a long time. This is one of the scenes which warms up my heart and gives me another reason to be proud of Israel, my country.

Peres, a retired veterinarian, is a freelance writer based in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.







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