Heart Strings

Adam Chan, who makes customised steel-string guitars, chats about his passion in life.

By Edmund Wee      1 July 2020

You craft guitars out of trees felled due to disease. How did that come about?

That would be the electric guitars I made for NParks Singapore. I wouldn’t call it a mantra; I was trying to contribute to the efforts by NParks to promote public awareness about Singapore’s rain trees. I suggested ideas to then-SMS Desmond Lee [now Minister of Social and Family Development] to help in the mentioned efforts. One idea begot another and, eventually, we decided to make an electric guitar out of a felled, diseased mahogany tree that once stood along Singapore’s Formula One circuit route. The completed guitar was presented to Minister Lawrence Wong during the premiere of the Singapore Garden Festival in 2016.

Adam Chan believes that passion alone is not enough to achieve success.

What guitar do you value the most?

It should be the unofficial first solo built in my mentor’s workshop. After I purchased several sets of guitar wood materials, I went ahead with my first “dream” guitar. With little understanding of what craftsmanship was then, my focus was on aesthetics. Every attempt was about matching the grains and making sure all observable parts were made to perfection. To cut the long story short, it was a disaster.

While the natural wood grains were very attractive, I made several major errors and a lot of smaller ones. The guitar definitely does not produce the best sound and there are obvious signs that it is the product of an untrained maker.

It was clear to me that my zeal to make my dream guitar created a disaster instead. Just because one is passionate and sincere about doing the work doesn’t mean the quality is high. This is a fallacy that is not perceived by many passionate individuals and Singaporeans. I have woken up from my slumber since.

What have you learnt from your passion?

That it is not something you wish to fall back on when the going gets tough. Everything initiated from a spark of passion will quickly fade away once routine sets in. Just look at the many start-ups. Where are they now?

I opened my workshop in February 2014, but it was only after three years that the first guitar was completed in August 2017. AdamCHAN Guitars wasn’t ready before then.

There was much skills and knowledge to discover and learn in creating a brand and product that would actually mean something. Running a workshop isn’t just about passion; it’s also about sheer grit and discipline.

Besides passion, what else do you value?

Discipline has helped me to push forward even when I was fearful, and enthusiasm has allowed me to laugh at things. Talented young people think that discipline and enthusiasm are mutually exclusive, but they are not. Enthusiasm exists within discipline; and discipline, too, can be found in enthusiasm. I can’t emphasise this more.


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