The escopetarra: a guitar with a violent background

The escopetarra is a musical instrument created by the Colombian musician Cesar Lopez in 2002. This unique instrument is made from an AK-47 air rifle, whose owner was a former paramilitary and, thanks to Colombians Luthiers Luis Alberto Paredes and Alfonso Robledo, it has now been converted into a musical instrument.

The escopetarra was born in the middle of the Colombian conflict: a war between the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and left-wing guerrillas that has lasted years. It is not considered a particularly great invention, as there are a lot of guitar variations produced all over the world. What is unique is the story behind the escopetarra, it is a gun that was surrendered from a person who made the decision to leave this war. This instrument can be seen as a symbol of one man’s attempt to choose good over evil.

Manufacturing the escopetarra

When the former paramilitary decided to disarm, there’s a process by which weapons are surrendered; during this process all fusils, guns, grenades and rifles are stripped away. Whoever is in possession of such a weapon delivers it to the Ministry of Defense and the weapon is then disabled, its mechanism is removed, the canon is cut into pieces, and it is delivered to the United Nations. Once there, it is taken to the luthier or the guitar constructor, a man named Luis Alberto Paredes.

The first thing that Luis Alberto Paredes does is retire some parts that don’t work to the fusil to convert it into a guitar; this is an especially difficult task because the AK-47 is a tight, well-built rifle.

A back hole is made in the compression chamber to legally disable it as a weapon, a task which costs many drill heads to make. Afterwards the gun is assembled with wood from Colombian trees.

It takes time for the metal and wood to adapt, then the guitar bridge is incorporated with a microphone and an electric piece at the bottom, connected through the rifle to a volume and tone knob. Then Alfonso Robledo makes a second adaption that consists of a preamplifier with a 9-volt battery to increase the signal level.

Tuning the Escopetarra

The tune of an escopetarra is very stable because the canon that is inside of it is a metal piece in the center. It uses 0.12 strings, which are some of the thickest and strongest in the market.

The neck of the escopetarra is 0.2 inches thicker than a normal guitar neck because of the canon that is inside it. It has a metallic sound, but it’s a guitar with normal characteristics; the one thing that is different when played is the larger area below, where the arm is supported, is no longer there. This is why anyone who wishes to play it has to become accustomed to playing it in the air.

What is the difference between an escopetarra and a normal guitar?

As an object that is so heavily constructed with metal, the sound transmission and vibrations are different. The sound is unique; only the escopetarra creates this sound because of the metal-to-wood ratio. An interesting difference is that it is made with different kinds of wood.

The metallic body is basically a cavity that gives it a different resonance. Another characteristic of the escopetarra is that when a guitarist begins to play it, the metallic body begins to warm up as it lies in close proximity to the guitarist’s body. As the escopetarra warms up, the metal expands slightly, causing the tune to rise. Given this change in temperature and tune, it’s important for the guitarist to warm up beforehand for optimal sound and performance.

From a more spiritual point of view, this in an object that has caused many deaths. Statistics say that around 300 victims have been murdered with this weapon. It’s energy is strong, as this was an object was used for the sole purpose of killing – now, it is used to give life.

Cesar Lopez leaves us with a deep reflection about this instrument.

If this gun can be transformed from a weapon that kills into an instrument that spreads love, why can’t humans look to transform their hate within?

Who has an escopetarra?

Fito Paez
Manu Chau
Unesco (Paris)
Miguel Botafogo
United Nations (New York and Vienna)
Antioquia Museum
Culture House (Berlin)

Article by Julio Monroy
Special thanks to Meredith Gober for the English translation

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