The now-iconic white guitar made famous by the Disney film, “Coco,” was created in Paracho, a small Mexican town where almost every shop makes guitars. Underneath the new icon lies centuries of craftsmanship.
igh in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico, the region’s vast groves of avocado trees give way to thick pine forests. Heading up a windy road pitted by torrential rains, past an indigenous Purépecha village lined by rough wooden chairs for sale, the town of Paracho comes into view. At the entrance, an enormous brass guitar statue towers over modest two-story buildings. On the front, the guitar is painted white, adorned with black filigree and Day of the Dead skulls–just like the lavishly-ornamented instrument featured in the Disney movie “Coco,” about a young Mexican boy who loves music, which struck a chord with millions of people in Mexico and the U.S.
German Vazquez Rubio, the luthier who made the real “Coco” guitar that the movie animators copied, now resides in Los Angeles, but he is from Paracho. Long before people went loco for “Coco,” and Mexicans began selling knock-off white guitars in souvenir shops, Paracho was steadily making musical instruments. In fact, the indigenous artisans in the town, already accomplished woodworkers, began making instruments in the mid-16th century when Spanish missionaries taught them the techniques. The first bishop of Michoacán, Vasco de Quiroga, famously assigned crafts to different pueblos surrounding the central town of Patzcuaro, which continue to be known for their fine copper, ceramic, weaving, and other arts. Paracho, with its stands of pine trees, became a wood-working town, and soon after the invention of the modern guitar, it specialized in lutherie.
What makes Paracho unique is that it not only has a tradition of guitar making–the entire town is involved in the business. Today, locals estimate that 90% of the people who work in Paracho make guitars or guitar parts (the population is about 35,000), producing someone million instruments per year. Most of the instruments are made in factories, but a small portion is entirely crafted by hand, by people many consider the finest luthiers in the New World (most connoisseurs say the best in the entire world reside in Spain).
Making a guitar involves countless measurements; among other things, the wood must be planed to incredibly precise thicknesses. To make the top of the guitar slightly domed (to increase reverberation), Guillermo heats it over a concave work-board. Inside the soundboard lies the secret to each guitar’s distinctive sound: its particular arrangement of struts and fan braces.