Monday, July 20, 2009

Mang Angel, Tenacious Violin-Maker

Mang Angel, Tenacious Violin-Maker
By Wilhelmina S. Orozco

From north to south, the Philippines marvel at violinists for their ability to play on their instrument with great enthusiasm. They ooh and ahh over the pieces played by Master Gil Lopez Kabayao whose folk song album remains to be a precious relic in the music world. For my part, I also treasure the pieces played by another master violinist Alfonso Corpus Bolipata like Sana Wala Nang Wakas, and Kahit Na composed by Willy Cruz, the latter with arrangement by Alfredo Buenaventura in the tape, Pelikula which can make lovers swoon to every note.

Thus, music has that tendency to convert all ill into humanistic feelings. Perhaps, even those thinking of getting into wars would turn into peace-niks or pacifists if only they would listen to violin music, think of the world on a standstill, and just allow the
notes to carry them through the wind. Yet, are they aware that violins are now being made in the country?

Angelito Gabute or Mang Angel is one such maker who has crafted lots of violins, violas and double basses through the years embracing his craft and art with great discipline without any kind of assistance from any financial institution. Born in Romblon, he is highly proud that many of the violinists today have been his customers. In his whole lifespan, he must have made a mark already of handling over a thousand violins owned by both professionals and amateurs including those by Gil Lopez Kabayao who introduced him to working as a professional in the field of music.

The studio site of Mang Angel is a simple abode in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City where he lives with his wife, Evelyn and his daughter,Angeline, their only child, a nursing student. Evelyn helps him in marketing, judiciously going to academic institutions where orders or requests are made for him to repair instruments and also help him with the financial accounting and the pricing of his output. Whether repairing or making a new violin, he goes about the small space of his studio, measuring only about 3 x 3 meters, sawing, shaping, sanding, and then assembling wood, after which he attaches the pegs and the strings. Of course the process is more complicated than that as he also tacks in pieces of wood inside the violin to make it produce sounds more pleasing to the ears. His major tools are only his hands and a handful of machines, big and small, for wood cutting
and shaping.

From birth, Mang Angel has been a musician all along having been largely influenced by his father, Juan, a guitar maker and an arts-inclined family.Besides guitar-making, Mang Angel's father knew wood carving, blacksmithing -creating knives, axes, and horseshoes out of iron. His mother, Leonora Mirano has many relatives who are also musicians. His grandfather by his mother, and the cousins of his mother, now abroad, know how to play the harp. A brother, Roberto, has traveled already to other countries like Italy, Germany, America, Japan to learn and to work as a maker of bows used for the string instruments. Meanwhile, his sisters, Paz and Marilyn are handicraft maker and educator respectively while harp.

Mang Angel's father, Juan, learned how to make the guitar from a Spain-educated Cebuano, Mr. Jose Flaviano who went to Romblon and put up a seminar on guitar-making. Juan attended the seminar which launched his career as a guitar maker. Mr. Flaviano bowed out of the
market as the products of my father became more sellable because of their better quality and lower priced, Mang Angel narrated gleefully knowing how competition plays even in the musical world.

To learn a craft requires a good mentor, interest and perseverance. Mang Angel had all three. Although an associate in agricultural technology in the province, producing crops using highly scientific methods, Mang Angel opted for the joy of making sounds, a very difficult and highly skilled work. His source of inspiration: no less than the master violin icon, Gil Lopez Kabayao and the unqualified support of his better half, Evelyn.

"Hindi ako nag-aral ng music. Self-study lang ako. (Pero) nag-aral ako sa mga musicians sa pagbasa ng nota," he confessed. Three years old pa lang ako, marunong na ako ng tono. Tumutugtog na ako ng bandurya at 5 years old. Kung ano ang sound, kaya kong gayahin. Tinuruan ako ni Mr. Aguedo Faderon, sa Romblon. Conductor siya ng rondalla, (at)lumalaban kami sa kumpetisyon sa Western Visayas, Nananalo (rin) sa kumpetisyon kasi magaling ang teacher," he narrated. In the seventies, Mang Angel went to Manila abandoning his profession , and sought out Mr. Kabayao who encouraged him to work as an apprentice to Mr. Amador Tamayo, the violin-maker schooled under Italian violin makers.

For 17 years, he dutifully studied the intricate and difficult ways of making a violin under Mr. Tamayo, broken only by a year of paid work at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Every violin he did he used to pay his tuition as an apprentice but after three years, he got more regularly paid.

Actually, he just accidentally met Mr. Kabayao, when the latter visited his hometown to deliver a concert. Fortunately, after the event, Mr. Kabayao met his mother backstage, who showed him a ukulele made by his father. Wondering how in that very distant place anyone
could be making such an instrument, Kabayao walked through 8 kilometers of rough roads with his mother just to meet his father and there Angel learned about the beauty of music from the master himself.

Local and international customers

Aside from students of violin studies, Mang Angel=92s list of customers now include Mr. Kabayao who had ordered several new instruments from him like the violin, the viola and the double bass as well as a Canadian, Jack Gagnon, a musician who had bought 20 pieces already of the latter.

Wise wood choice for good tones
Nothing can make Mang Angel come up with a violin quickly. Two months or more is the minimum for finishing one especially if the wood is not dry enough. "Maganda kung 10 years na natuyo ang kahoy para hindi na gagalaw," he said meaning that the woodgrain would no longer be contracting anymore once the instrument is made. "Pangit kung may tubig, kasi nagiging damp yung tunog. Hindi pa matured yung kahoy," Mang Angel added. (It's not good if the wood is damp because it means the wood is not mature enough=92 thus it would produce a tone too low than what a violin should have. )

Mang Angel explained that the top of the line is usually cut from trees found in the high mountains like those used for the Stradivarius, creating good and high tones. Such wood are best because their grains are closer to each other; the wood will not shrink anymore once shaped or used as material for instruments.

"Ang Class A top of the line nasa tono, maganda ang kahoy, maganda ang pinagkuhaan. Yung Stradivarius, kinuha sa bundok. Yung (mas)mataas (ang pinagkuhaan) yun ang maganda...(yung) masinsin ang grain yung annual ring. Kung napakalaki ng haspe, abnormal ang paglaki, (ibig sabihin) mabilis ang paglaki niya. Kailangan (gamitin) siya sa mababa (ang tunog na instrument katulad) ng bajo, Mang Angel further explained.

"Pero kung masinsin ang grain, kailangan (gawin) pang violin. Yung magandang klase, masinsin (ang haspe), mataas ang tunog (na napo-produce). Ang mga nota matataas," Mang Angel explained.

Unfortunately, the Philippines is not a haven for wood. Mang Angel has to import wood from Italy, Germany or Canada via air freight or sometimes by boat; sometimes this takes ages. On the other hand, he prefers purchasing the strings from Austria and the pegs from Hongkong or the United States rather than making them himself, which he finds too laborious to do. With great tenacity, he could make 12 instruments costing around P60,000 per piece depending on the class of the wood every year, which is almost one a month.

Practical Experience over academic learning
Many Filipino musicians are self-taught or play by ouido, Angel learned music while working as a violin repair technician in the beginning. "Hindi ako nag-aral ng music. Self-study lang ako. Nag-aral ako sa mga musicians magbasa ng nota," he confessed. (I did not study music (in the academe.) I just studied it myself and also learned it from the musicians who taught me how to read notes.)

Violins belong to the family of two-stringed upright fiddles which originated from the nomads found in Turkey and Mongolia in Inner Asia. These instruments used the horses's hair as strings and for bows to play them. Thus as a professional violinmaker, Mang Angel could be said to descend from a long line of musicmakers in Asia.

By his achievements, Mang Angel proves that anyone with grit, courage and tenacity can succeed even without help from institutions. But he wishes anyone wanting to be in this profession to go abroad and learn in those countries that have been making violins for centuries. Also he advises them to take care of their ears, as this profession requires sharp listening skills.

How many hearts and minds have been touched by music coming from a violin? How many souls have been appeased by its tones floating through the wind? Truly, Mang Angel is an angel of the musicians so that, through his care for their instruments, they may continue to heal the world of its anxieties and stresses and make everyone think of goodness and a creative life for everyone.


  1. My son has a violin that was not being used for more than 5 years. I want to have it tuned and examined. May I know what is the address or contact number of Mang Angel? My contact number is 0917-546-1732.

  2. hi, my daughter's violin needs repair. we bought it brand new but unfortunately just after a month, the back of the neck broke. i asked the seller if he could help me fixed it but he said, there is nothing he could do since it is no longer covered by their warranty... I need Mang Angel's help, he lives near our place. How can i get in touch w/ him? thanks

  3. Hi... is it possible to contact mang angel.... pls.. i really need to meet him.. my number is 09298417503...

  4. 496-6928, 0910-3270791 No. 15 San Isidro Street, Tala, Caloocaan City

  5. how much mag papalit ng tuning peg and bridge?

  6. My violin has a problem with it.. may i please request the contact information of Mang Angel?? My number is 09298529651 Thank you very much

  7. Mine too. I need mang angel help? 0922 93 93 922 pls txt back

  8. Hi mang angel, i've got a big problem with my violin.. please message me or call me at 09229609426, so i could go to your shop.. thanks :) need response asap..