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"For me building a guitar is like having a child"

We interviewed Juliana Hernández, a successful luthier who inspired us with her passion for wood and her commitment to the environment. Values that, without a doubt, we share at Maderas Barber.  This interview marks the beginning of a collaboration with Juliana, not only to spread and promote women in the world of luthiery, but also to learn from her experience and knowledge in this field.

Juliana Hernández is 33 years old and comes from Argentina. Despite her young age, she has been a luthier for more than 10 years. As a child, she was attracted to the guitar because her father always played it when he came home from work. It is one of the few memories she has left of her father, who died when she was only 7 years old. It is for that reason that the guitar became a very special instrument for her. Today, she has become a luthier with recognized prestige and great influence worldwide.

Juliana says that as a child she was attracted to the instrument, she played the guitar with the strings in the air and was deeply curious to know how the sound was produced. For her it was always an object of admiration, "a goddess that was there and could not be touched".

A few years later, at the age of 17, she began to study guitar at the Avellaneda School of Popular Music, one of the most renowned music schools in Argentina, but her guitar was missing a peg and she could not tune it. His brother, Julio, who had some ebony scraps, offered to build him one so that he could continue studying.

It was at that moment that Juliana became interested in the construction of the guitar "we began to see that the guitar had a belly and my brother said to me "why don't we lower the belly?" And so we began to enter into the philosophy of how to lower the wood. We wet it and put books on it.  We were experimenting for several days and that was the first contact with lutherie".

A story of transformation and dedication in the world of lutherie

Hernandez worked as a clerk in a company and spent every spare moment she had researching guitars. After becoming unemployed due to the company's closure, almost by chance she got an audition to work for a couple of weeks at Guitarra a la Carta, where she would end up working for 11 years.

"My brother invited me to see a concert of a friend of his who was a guitarist and when I asked him about his career he told him that he had to close the store for a few weeks because he had to play. Hearing that my brother quickly said: "And why doesn't Juli go to replace you?", and from that day on I worked at Guitarra a la Carta".

It was in this store that she met her teacher, Ricardo Louzao, who wrote, 'The Magic Guitar', a book that Juliana considers "the Bible". The luthier explains that the book is very detailed and that it talks about wood, how to set up a workshop, etc. But she wanted to build a guitar, so when she had the opportunity she told Louzao, who did not hesitate for a second to invite her to his workshop so that she could put into practice what she had learned in the book.

Juliana Hernández with her first guitar in 2011

"The first thing we did before we started building was to go wood shopping. I was very excited because I always loved wood and trees and they always caught my attention". So much so that since then she has been interested in knowing the origin of each wood, learning about the trees, the growth rings and the whole process of cutting the wood.

Juliana, who doesn't buy many clothes or shoes, says she went crazy when she saw so many woods and wanted to buy several, including a brown Bolivian.

Her teacher, Louzao, taught her the keys to choosing a good wood, a lesson she learned for life and which she applies constantly.

The first guitar this successful young luthier built took a year and a half to complete. "It was something that took a long time, it took me about a year and a half because I was doing it when I could and when Ricardo could too because he made another type of guitar with carbon fiber," says Juliana.

The path as a woman in lutherie

Soon after, she enrolled in the lutherie school, where she met more women interested in the trade, among them Laura Reynoso, the first woman to graduate from the School of Luthiery at the Faculty of Arts of the National University of Tucumán, and from whom Hernández learned a lot.

About her path, she reflects and says that "it was different from that of a man", although she always knew what she wanted and most men received her well, Hernández says that she made the decision "to be a little alone on this path to do a little of what I want to do.  The thing about working with men is that they think you don't have the strength.

Regarding women in luthiery, Juliana, who already has a certain reputation in this field, says that "people still look at me and can't believe that there is a woman, some people think that there is no woman who does this, and I think it's a bit old-fashioned".

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Hernández in a Patagonian forest of Cypress and Araucaria.

"Woods are like people, you never quite get to know them."

The Argentinean considers herself a lucky woman, because at her young age, she has had the opportunity to work with a great variety of woods, many of them exotic, which have given her the experience she has today.

Among her favorite woods is Bahia jacaranda. "I can say it's one of my favorites because it has a chocolate scent. I love that, but well, I know that it is very hygroscopic and also rebellious when working".

Hernandez states with conviction that "woods are great teachers." Among the woods she highlights are also cedar and fir, which she compares to people of different ages: "Cedar is like an older, adult person, and fir is like a teenager who moves all the time, who does what he wants. You leave it one day and the next day it's on the other side, although woods are like people, you never get to know them".

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Building the fan for one of her guitars

Yoga as a tool to connect with her guitars and herself

Juliana Hernández, who has more than 17 thousand followers on her Instagram account, is a very spiritual person and very aware of the environment and sustainability, which is why she recycles everything she can in the process of building her guitars, from wood dust, debris and even shavings. This is also what she transmits to her followers, to whom she shares her passion for lutherie. 

For this young woman, building a guitar is like having a child. "I don't have children and he is the closest person. It's like a creative explosion." She states that she is "very exaggerated emotionally" although she assures that with time she has learned not to be so sensitive and to assume problems as challenges in order to face them.

Within her spiritual side there is a deep connection with every guitar she builds, from the wood she selects to the process the guitar goes through once it has been purchased by customers. "I love to ask the customers. I have contact and I ask them how they are, how they were growing, because with time they are getting bigger and maintaining another color, they are singing in another way, I ask to see if they take care of them, if not... When they have brought me guitars to repair I have cried. I am very emotional. It is an expression of art.

As part of her spirituality, Juliana practices yoga "it is a fundamental tool that I started since I was a child to connect with reflection and breathing. It helps me to decant a bit all that my mind tells me, that in reality there is much that is not true because I make it up by myself, and also to assimilate in the day to day and to be able to relate more fluently with people".

From yoga she has also learned patience and acceptance. "To accept that I am human, that I have a body that is a wonderful machine, but it is also limited, to keep it as a priority, to keep my mental health as a priority, to be able to breathe before acting."

This influential luthier assures that "it is very important to be aware of the body and the movements, because lutherie is a very arduous and very demanding profession at a bodily level and there are many people who are very young and are very hardened and very mistreated, because they are not aware of their body".

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Juliana Hernandez prepares a stump to varnish one of her guitars with shellac.

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