“El arte no es perfecto, es humano.”
Updated: Jul 26, 2022
A conversation with José R. Roman creator of Raulo Guitars.
Sometimes tragedy hits and it breaks us. We’re left picking up the pieces and wondering what to do next. For José R. Roman he picked up the pieces of his life and literally started creating things out them.
Last week I had the opportunity to hear the story behind Raulo Guitars created by José R. Roman. José never imagined people would fall in love with his guitars. Standing in his backyard, surrounded by the mountainous terrain of Arecibo, he just wanted to create something that would make an impact. With nothing but his hands and a few tools, José started crafting a one of a kind guitar carved from wood.
Listening to José talk, it’s obvious he loves his craft and has a deep connection with nature. Majó, Maga and Capaprieto are a few of his preferred choices of wood.
“Maga is like chocolate, almost creamy to the touch. Capaprieto’s grain has lots of movement and creates beautiful balanced tones.”
Some artists crave perfection, José rejects it. No two guitars are the same and not one is perfect, because perfection is not beauty. Whether he’s making two guitars or twenty, each is hand crafted with intention. According to Jose, art is just his perspective and a good design should bring peace.
Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.
Where in Puerto Rico are you from and what was it like growing up and living there?
I’m from Arecibo which is almost like the center of the island and almost like a mountain. So, it is very natural for me to work with wood. Every day I’m connected to nature. So everything that I do it’s very natural, eco friendly and good for the environment. You can see it with all my designs and everything I do, I want to respect nature, it always has a softness a roundness so it looks like it was almost born this way.
When did you start working with wood?
To tell you the truth I was born into working with wood. I grew up working with my father and making cabinets. Making things out of wood is my way of living, my way of making money and enjoying life. Anything I want--I don’t buy it, I just go and make it. The same was true growing up. When I wanted to play with a sword, I would ask my father to make one for me. When I got older and became more familiar with the tools and machinery, I started with building just toys and today, in a way, that’s what I’m still doing. For me it’s very inspiring that if I want something I can just make it.
Your guitars are beautifully crafted and each one seems to have its own personality. What is your creative process in designing your guitars?
You know I’ll have an idea in my head, but an idea is not a complete thing. An idea is just something floating in the head, it doesn’t have a tail. It doesn’t have eyes, it’s just something there. I take my idea and figure out the most important parts of it and focus on those things. The first guitar I built was almost like a Martin because I love the sound. I made it for me and it was my way of exploring and learning.
I built a few more guitars, but then time passed and my father became ill with cancer and he died. I was used to always being with my father, always playing with him, working with him and making things. So when he passed away I almost passed away too. At the time I was 26, I wasn’t a child, but in a way I was because I was always dependent on my father. When he passed I couldn’t stand being in the place where we built things together. So I sold it. I sold everything, the machinery, the tools, all of it. Then I just shut myself in and started sleeping a lot.
Eventually I got this idea to make a guitar, but not just any guitar. I wanted to make something that when I pass away it stays here. I want to have an impact. I want the things I make to be useful, then beautiful and cool. So I started exploring. I went to my backyard with $400 worth of machinery and started creating. In that moment I was very connected with nature. I was in the mountains surrounded by animals and the elements. I worked without a roof, if it rained I just kept going. And so I made the first version of my guitars as people know them today.
Once you started working with your hands again and creating out of wood, did you feel more connected with your father?
Yes, every time. Everything I make I think, "Wow, what would my father have said about this." Even though he is not here I know he would be proud. It’s because of him that I’m able to do what I do. He didn’t teach me how to make guitars, but he taught me how to work with wood and the machinery. Because of that I’m free to create my art and show my perspective.
I noticed you don’t only make guitars, you play them too. Tell me more about that.
For me making music always came natural to me. I started at a very young age playing mainly the guitar. I played with friends in bands and in church. Covers were never really my thing, I didn’t like singing other people’s songs, so I just started composing my own. But to be a musician in Puerto Rico and play live is a bit difficult. So that’s why I build guitars because I love music and I wanted to build them for me.
"I know my art.
As we wrapped up our conversation, José confidently said “I know my art.” Don’t we all wish to be so bold and sure? To know our art and know ourselves sounds like making it in life.
Without a doubt, José does know his art and that is the reason why so many flock to his door, they want a piece of beautifully crafted art.