Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Karl Peters, Rabbi Shergill, Papon and many more have him on speed dial. Saurabh Datar meets 'Guitar Doc' Sunil Shinde, who fixes guitars for the biggest names in the music business
In an unassuming workshop at Charkop, Kandivli, Sunil Shinde is surrounded by guitars – broken, bent, modified, or some new ones. He pulls at strings, adjusts guitar necks, fixes tonal problems, and any other issue that the instrument may have. Shinde is India’s foremost guitar luthier (a term used to describe someone who makes a lute or other string instruments), and the biggest names in the music industry seek him out to get their prized instruments fixed, modified or maintained.
“I feel this skill of mine God’s gift to me. I never really learnt or took classes to know how to repair guitars. I just learnt it by myself,” says the 40-year-old. His stint with the instrument began in 1989, when he joined Alberto Music in Malad. After picking up some chops from its owner Salvadore Dias, he started repairing and fixing guitars full-time. Working at Alberto also exposed him to several books on guitars. “I would repair a guitar on my own, and then compare what I had done to the manuals; it used to match.”
(Left) Sunil Shinde (second from right) with music directors, Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy
Soon, word spread among the musicians’ community about the teenage wonder boy who could diagnose problems in guitars and stir up some excellent remedies. Shinde began servicing legendary Bollywood musicians like Kalyanji-Anandji, Pyarelal (of Laxmikant Pyarelal), besides popular guitarists of those times, such as Dilip Naik and Ramesh Iyer.
After working at Alberto till 1996, Shinde established his own workshop. Naturally, his clients moved with him as well. Today, Shinde serves the likes of Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa (of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy), bass guitarist Karl Peters, guitarist Kalyan Baruah, indie stars Papon and Rabbi Shergill, Sandeep Chowta, Clinton Cerejo. The list goes on to about 3,000 clients.
Shinde works on 4-5 guitars a day. “What can I say? They like my work,” Shinde humbly submits. And with Mumbai’s humid climate and heavy monsoons taking a toll on guitars, Shinde is kept busy.
The ‘gitara’ Shinde invented for the film, Ek Tara
Ehsaan Noorani swears by Shinde. “I wouldn’t trust my guitars with anyone else. I have a big collection of guitars and I send them to Sunil every month for maintenance.” Noorani feels Shinde has a natural talent for tracing problems and finding solutions to them. During the 2006 floods in Mumbai, Noorani’s guitar was damaged when Empire Studios was flooded. “I thought it was gone. But he fixed it!” says Noorani, who still uses the guitar for recording.
He also remembers how, once, Shinde applied an unconventional technique to identify an issue. “I have a Parker Fly guitar, which is made of composite material like mahogany graphite. To detect the problem, Sunil put the guitar in an X-ray machine!” exclaimed Noorani. The guitar was soon back to normal, courtesy the ‘Guitar Doc’, a moniker Shinde has been given by the musicians’ community.
In another instance, Shinde managed to find a manufacturing defect in a guitar belonging to jazz player Sanjay Divecha. “Sanjay sir mailed the company about this fault. The company accepted that the entire batch of guitars had that fault. Even though it was beyond the guarantee period, they replaced the guitar,” recalls the luthier.
Shinde not only repairs guitars, but also customises them according to client requirements. One such request was from singer-director Avdhoot Gupte. “Avdhoot sir was making a film in which he wanted a combination of western and Indian sounds. The protagonist in the film is a musician who undergoes a transformation,” explains Shinde.
After about a year of research, creating designs, and working on prototypes, Shinde invented the ‘gitara’, a combination of the ektara and the guitar. So happy was Gupte with the job that he approved them at first go.
“It has six strings and same number of frets as a guitar, but emits a more Indian sound. But, it can also be used in western tonality. Avdhoot sir was very happy, as the instrument was exactly as he had imagined it,” he adds. The gitara is now in the process of being patented. The film, Ek Tara, will release in April. “I’m also featured in it, along with my shop” he smiles. Shinde also invented another instrument, combination of a mandola and a mandolin, on the request of veteran Bollywood mandolin player Chandrakant Lakshpati.
Sunil Shinde at his workshop in Charkop, Kandivli. Pic/Prashant Waydande
He also plays the guitar, which he learnt on the job. So, did he never feel the urge to compose as well? “No, my field is a specialised one, and I want to keep doing my best here.” Shinde keeps up with the changes in the industry online, and musicians send him CDs and relevant links as well. ‘Ehsaan sir’, as Shinde calls him, has been particularly supportive.
“He got me imported tools and books, which I use in my daily work. They’ve been a huge help. I am thankful for his constant support and encouragement,” beams Shinde. For Noorani, it was just a way to give back to the music community. “It will benefit everyone,” he says.
The Doc now plans to set up his a factory to produce guitars under his own name. He hopes his two boys will also learn the guitar. “They’re young now. But, that’s all for the future; for now, I’m happy with this.”
As I prepare to leave, he gets a call from another musician wanting to come in to show his bass guitar. The ‘clinic’ always has a stream of visitors. The Doc is happy to see them all.