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October 07, 2012

Thailand: The Guitar Maker

Country and culture drive the creativity of a musician in Chiang Mai, where music and art are a bridge to building friendships.

  • The Process

    After selecting woods specific to Thailand, Moradaet treats the wood in a kiln he built next to his home.

  • Always Learning

    When Jon Rubesh brought over his classical guitar, Moradaet was excited to get a chance to inspect the instrument to see how it was made.

  • Musical Tradition

    Moradaet believes that music is an important part of Thai culture and can serve as a way to unify people.

“My name is Noi Moradaet.” His voice is clear and soft as he holds a guitar in his skilled hands.

As a Luthier, Moradaet earns a living by designing and hand crafting classical and steel string guitars. He was born in Isaan, the eastern province of Thailand, where agriculture and farming are the main sources of income. Moradaet is a Buddhist. It is often said “to be Thai is to be Buddhist.” Centuries of a proud heritage thread their way through his words and the work of his hands. Even down to the design of the logo he hand paints on each of his instruments, it is clear that his country and culture are deep in his soul and the drive of his creativity.

As a child, Moradaet’s fondest memories are of his father playing a traditional wooden Thai instrument and singing old Thai songs. Eleven years ago, he left his rural home in Isaan for the city of Chiang Mai in the northern province. At the nightly bazaar, he worked with a friend who encouraged him to create his own instruments to sell. One evening, a tourist praised his work and suggested that he make a more internationally recognized instrument, something everyone can play. And now, six years later, Moradaet is able to work full time on custom-made guitars, dulcimers, and ukuleles without taking side jobs to supplement his income.

He is very careful and intentional about his work. The woods that he uses to make a guitar have to be just right – hard, yet pliable. The grain of the wood must run the proper way. Moradaet uses woods found only in Thailand that don’t even have English names rather than more traditional woods such as spruce, mahogany, or maple. And in this, there is something for missionaries who work in this country to learn. The work is indeed hard, yet we must also be pliable. Culture is ingrained in the people and runs deep a certain way. It may be wise to substitute Thai ways for foreign methods of getting things done. And always, we must be as careful as we are intentional.

Music and the arts are a significant part of the culture here. “Music is very important to Thais,” Moradaet said. “There are at least twelve yearly Thai celebrations, one a month, where everyone looks forward to food, music, and time together.”

Traditional Thai music was thought to be intertwined with Buddhism, but Moradaet doesn’t believe so. “I don’t think Thai music is Buddhist; I don’t think it is connected with a specific religion at all,” Moradaet said. “Music of a culture brings people in a community together to celebrate life.”

TEAM missionaries Jon Rubesh and Kennedy Paizs visit with Moradaet and his friend Bunyaa from time to time. Rubesh, a classical guitarist himself, enjoys playing on Moradaet’s uniquely Thai guitars. The walk for Moradaet to a relationship with his Creator may be a long one, full of deep conversations, questions, and patient answers. And now with TEAM’s Arts and Music Center available to cultivate these relationships, Rubesh and Paizs can naturally speak the Creator’s love into Moradaet’s life and the lives of many Thai artists and musicians who love their craft, their culture, and their country.

-Written by Sharla Rubesh
-Photography by Robert Johnson

[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, October 2012]