Meet The Maker - From pawn shop Strats, to artisan string winding. The story of Gts.co, with Gabriel Tenorio
With our two part detailed look into Gts.co strings released throughout this week, what better way to round that up than with a chat with the man himself, Gabriel Tenorio. 

One thing that first grabbed my attention about your work, was how it's roots appeared to be both firmly footed in traditional methods along with innovative thinking. With those traditions in mind, how did you gain that knowledge and experience, did you have a mentor perhaps?
The founder of Guadalupe Custom Strings, Francisco Gonzalez, is an amazing artist. He founded the band, Los Lobos. I was a client early on with GCS. He was the only person who understood the struggle to find appropriate quality strings for instruments that were not common in the US. There was a big enough demand for quality strings for harps and other Mexican regional instruments that he opened for business to the public. He was more interested in finding the perfect string for an instrument and its player than creating a huge money making company. He was obsessed and he shared in the passion of making music. His credo was that you had to be a musician to understand not only the 'how' but they 'why' of string making. He was really big on finding solutions, on experimentation, patience, and cutting through BS. He understood that many preclusion's we have as musicians are just superstition or bad science. He wanted to demystify the process that was in the hands of machines while elevating the role of the artist and artisan.

Guadalupe Strings - gts.co founding steps
Photo sourced from - https://guadalupecustomstrings.wordpress.com/

In this day and age where a large proportion of the string market is with mass-produced factory made strings, what brought you to learning about this more traditional craft?
I am going to keep going back to Francisco and Guadalupe Custom Strings! Francisco would take a musician in his workshop, listen to him or her play, ask questions about how they perceived their instrument/music, and what they were searching for. It was the epitome of custom. It was amazing to watch the process, literally watch a string be made and then test it and say, maybe a little more tension, maybe less this or that...and then begin to realise that the limits set of the mass market strings were lifted. Most strings are made in just a few factories, there are smaller companies popping up, but they all employ similar types of machines to mass produce strings. This process is all about making a half decent string for very little money to perform within a range or margin of error. Many companies aren't taking the time to make strings for instruments that are not represented on the wall at guitar centre or any other large music retail chain. For musicians like me, this opened a world of innovation and advancement. The tradition, in a most basic or essential process, would help drive luthery and performance and composition because artists were not forced to use strings that kinda worked, that didn't last, that weren't offered at any and all retailers. The tradition meant that we could push the level of performance for luthiers and musicians if we also pushed our skill level and craft.

One thing I feel that makes gts.co's thinking stand out from the crowd, is designing strings around particular models of guitar, something not many other string makers do. What was it that began this train of thought?
I think of what i do from the perspective of a professional musician with touring and recording credits. I think of it from the perspective of a kid who couldn't afford but a cheap Harmony Strat from the local pawn shop, who tied together broken strings, who used bread bag clips as picks, who saved what little money he had to take a bus to the local store and spend all that cash on a set of Ernie Balls....Only to break them! So after being treated to an amazing experience with Francisco then performing with and recording with the strings he made, I was convinced, this was how it was supposed to be. I spent time in workshops and job sites as a kid. Growing older, I would take trips to awesome guitar shops where they would let me play old Gretsches and Jaguars for what seemed like hours because they didn't mind me playing old time music. I learned about these strings from a local luthier shop in Boyle Heights, that made the guitars for los Lobos and Jose Feliciano, etc. I was one of the few folks they let into the workshop, i used to eat lunch with the whole family while the doors to the shop closed. I just came to the conclusion that the personal connection between producer and client, between the builder and the artist, the artisan and the musician was part and parcel to the success of everyone involved. It is foundational.

Gabriel Tenorio Strings - Interview

Looking at innovation in particular, all of your string sets are the result of your own detailed research. Do you have a particular development process? Or is it sometimes experimentation depending on the guitar in question?
The main approach is hands on. It is the best way to be definitive about what it is I am developing. Some sets came from following my own calculus and own understanding of how these particular strings perform. I've made enough over the years to have created standard sets and a mental guide as to how to approach new challenges. It isn't just about reaching diameters per se, it is far more important for me to create a set that can feel comfortable to a player. That comfort comes from balance across the fretboard and responsiveness. Just last night i wanted to experiment with a low E, so I took out my trusty old Tele and made some .052" strings using different core and wrap combinations.  I used to test for GCS before I joined the team and began making strings. 

Meet the maker - Gabriel Tenorio interview

I have also noticed that with a few of your string sets, that research happens in collaboration with professional musicians and techs like the Jazzmaster sets gts.co are well known for with JM guru and tech Michael James Adams for example. Do you find that the feedback you receive from your guitar peers involved in a project brings up different results to when you develop a string set yourself?  
It is the ultimate test. A great player or great tech can certainly have a qualified opinion. But not every great player makes a great tester.  I trust players who understand instrument building, who know the studio, who can tech, who play many kinds of styles and instruments.  My go-to guys for a while have been Mason Stoops and MJA. Both are amazing musicians and each have vast knowledge about the construction and history of guitars and stuff related. Most of my clients now, and nearly all of them when I started developing my lines of acoustic and electric, are professionals. Some of them have been my guinea pigs... I had a great deal of stuff that I had tested and liked, but I was so nervous when they left the shop. I had been accustomed to then it was a question of taking a leap of faith and letting the strings do their thing. Once i let go and really let the product out of the bag, the response was ever growing in volume and customer satisfaction. It was good. Mason and Michael not only give me real feedback, but also do an amazing job of proving the string in their personal use and in on line media. But to answer the question... Sometimes it does indeed take a second hand/ear to finish a formulation. I was onto making a set of Jaguar strings when I met MJA. We went on to work on the definitive JM set 11-50 together. That is, with him in the shop testing and adjusting his two Jazzmasters while I made strings. So while we didn't test on a Jag, we got the JM set done. What is funny, is that the original prototype for the Jag didn't work for the JM (no big surprise) but the Jag set i just finished testing was the same formula I first tested with MJA. Not only that, but the 11-50 Jazzmaster set on a Jaguar feels like butter. I like the new definitive Jag set because it celebrates the guitar as it was designed for thicker strings. The most important thing that came out of the JM testing session was confirming that my twists did indeed have an impact, that Mastery Bridge is just undoubtedly the best shit (for me), and that offset floaty tremolos need something different than what most standard formulations can provide. The thicker strings most companies offer as stiff and dead. I don't believe in that.

Looking at your personal music tastes if we may! What first started your passion for music and the guitar? Did those early musical influences spark an interest in picking up the guitar or did that come later in life?
For sure, my grandparents and uncle were intensely musical. First and foremost, they influenced me tremendously. Music was practiced, performed and celebrated in our family. So my faves at 3yrs were Trio Los Panchos, Jose Feliciano, Beny Moré, David Bowie, the Beatles, Glen Miller Orch, Artie Shaw...a real good mix of Mexican/Latin, jazz, and rock musics. It was what was playing in the house. Later on, like at around 6 or 7 I discovered other musics around the world that featured plucked instruments like the sitar or sarod, various south american instruments, the lute, the oud... It was so fascinating to me. I didn't pick up the guitar until I was 15 or 16. I played clarinet because the schools didn't have saxophones (public school). I played piano just because it was there. A broken down piano fell on my when i turned 8 and crushed my femur, so I have a bit of bad blood with up right pianos. I always thought guitar was magic. not magical, but just pure magic. Its sound was enchanting. The way sound was produced just boggled my mind. I don't know why. I think it is because i never knew how to fret with enough strength until I turned 15. It was also a way of dealing with weird family stuff. It came really easy.

Meet the maker - Gabriel Tenorio Interview

Working in the guitar industry can be an interesting world, combining a passion with a career. Is the guitar something you still get to enjoy and what does playing guitar mean to you? I.e, a means of expression, a release, straight up good fun etc.
I have to be honest, I've been focusing so much on building this new company and my little family, it has strained my relationship with performing.  A few years ago I started noticing that it became harder and harder to survive playing. That is, it was getting harder to make my hands do what i needed and to recover from performing. I felt i was knowing more and becoming a better musician but it was physically taxing and emotionally draining. I stopped cycling because of it. But as I made more and more strings, it became evident that I was needing to guide my life's work more toward string making. Thankfully, I find it rewarding and the response  has helped propel me to continue this work. It works out. I play still, of course. I love it. The guitar is still enchanting and knowing that I can contribute to the process of music making makes me very happy.

Is there a favourite part of string making for you? How do you keep the process engaging day to day?
Finding solutions and learning are the most rewarding part. Sometimes it feels good just to go into the shop and get right to work on making a bunch of strings without having to think. That is, there is a physical part of this that can tax the hands, arms, back, legs, feet, eyes, ears, etc. And the the part that taxes your mind: formulations, maths, researching specs etc. Keeping it balanced is key. I do many emails and administrative stuff at home while my son naps then head to the workshop in the evenings. I try to keep a discipline, time for emails, time for printing, time for invoicing, time for producing, time for packaging, then x time for what comes my way.

Meet the maker - Gabriel Tenorio Interview

Where do you see gts.co heading, is it a matter of further product refinement or perhaps increasing production numbers whilst retaining the hands on craft?
Definitely, refining the product is part of the natural process of being an artisan. I feel like i am learning more about the process, the nature of the material, guitars, music, machine, marketing, etc everyday. At some point, I do have to consider how to make more strings to get them to a wider audience. It may include training someone. It will definitely include developing and fabricating better tools and methods. Right now, I've gone down a rabbit hole of grinding stainless steel strings to feel almost like flat wounds. The method for this is more barbaric than rustic, more insane than it is pragmatic. That is, it is artisanal beyond absurdity. It takes so long to make a set and failure seemed to be my best friend a couple weeks ago. But, for one, it made me far better at making electric bass strings because I've made so many in the development process, I no longer have as many reservations about making them now that grinding them to polished finish is the next plateau to reach for. I am making these for some select players here in Los Angeles, both bass and guitar. A few prototypes have gone out into the world. I am enjoying the relationships I am building with builders, techs, musicians, and now dealers. I look forward to building greater awareness of what GTSco and GCS do and informing more folks about it.

Thank you so much to Gabriel for taking the time to speak with us and for giving us such a great insight into his craft.
If you're interested in trying a set of his strings, we stock as many variations as we can and always aim to expand our catalogue right here in the UK. Click HERE to see which we have available currently.
For USA and overseas, I urge you to check in with gts.co direct HERE
James.

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