From a workshop on the outskirts of Barcelona, Jose Alejo (DePalet) creates artisanal reclaimed wood guitars and instruments made with pallet wood. A true labor of traditional craftsmanship that seeks to transform the way in which we utilize our environment, through music.
Can you tell us the story of DePalet? How did it you start making reclaimed wood guitars?
I’ve been playing guitar almost all my life and I also come from a career working in the wood industry. As any normal evolution it reached a point where I saw myself capable of building my own guitar. Initially it all began because I really wanted to satisfy that urge of learning how to build my own guitar.
On the job I was, I saw there was a type of wood that wasn’t being really respected, the pallet wood. These pallets brought a product from another point of the planet to where I was. The product was normally changed from one place to another and the pallets normally ended up discarded in the dumpster.
Trying to bring together music and recycling as a way of respecting our environment seemed like a great idea. That is how I began making reclaimed wood guitars.
What is the production process of making a reclaimed wood guitar?
At the beginning I used to get the pallets by driving around the industrial areas around Barcelona, asking around if I could take the pallets I found with me. Now I have a couple of companies that help me out and give me the pallets they want to discard, so I can give them a better life.
The construction process begins by taking the pallet apart, which is already a laborious process. I then clean the wood. When the wood is clean and separated in individual slabs, I select which type of wood will be used for what part of the guitar. Each individual part of the guitar admits certain specific types of wood. So for example, the fingerboard of a traditional guitar would use Macassar ebony. Obviously I don’t have that type of wood because thankfully its not used for building pallets. As a substitute I use American Oak, which offers similar results in terms of density and hardness.
The overall construction of a guitar is divided in three parts. I first make the neck and the headstock, which are made with the strongest woods I can find. At the same time I begin the construction of the body, which must be strengthened with a series of internal reinforcements and has to be as symmetric as possible. Once those two separate parts have been finished, I begin mounting both pieces together. The type of mounting I do is through a traditional method that I hope to be able to continue using forever. The final result is a reclaimed wood guitar that is sturdy, artisanal and that possesses a very characteristic sound.
What are the challenges that you face when creating your instruments?
There is a big conflict between the traditional systems of construction and the one I am putting forth. To make reclaimed wood guitars, using only pallet wood, I have to modify completely the processes of creation.
The reclaimed wood that I use is not like traditional wood used by other luthiers (instrument makers). It comes with a completely unknown level of humidity. The shape that the wood comes in is completely unknown. The types of woods are also unknown. The levels of hardness and density are always different. On the other hand, the wood normally comes with nails, knots, cracks, and all types of deterioration. So the material forces me to adapt the process of construction to it. The process is very different to traditional methods of construction, where the process is the same always, just because the wood always comes in the same shape and form.
On the hands of who would you like your instruments to end up?
Honestly, I would love my instruments to finish in the hands of people that value the work that is behind creating a reclaimed wood guitar. People that look to find in this object a whole mindset, which is the respect for our environment and our space.
If it were professional musicians we were talking about, I don’t really have any expectations. I must admit that I would’ve loved for our beloved Paco de Lucia to be able to play one of my guitars, but unfortunately that won’t be possible anymore, as he passed away not too long ago.
But honestly, wherever they end up, I don’t care if its on the hands of professionals or not, the object of this instrument is that wherever it goes it creates good environments, helps people to express their feelings and becomes a catalyzer of emotions.