Synopsis) In a quiet part of town in Dallu, Sumeet Suwal sits in his humble workshop repairing guitars with skills he’s honed over many years of tinkering. Today, he is much sought after by the top guitarists of Kathmandu.
You first hear of him from Kathmandu’s guitarists as almost all our ace guitarists go to him to get their guitars back in shape. I heard of his abilities as a guitar restorer from Shadows guitarist Sujan Manandhar a few years ago, when we were talking about how to get my old Yamaha fixed. “Go to Sumeet Suwal in Dallu Dai, he’s very good,” is what he told me. Finding Suwal’s workshop wasn’t that difficult as it’s close to Siddharth Chowk, Dallu Awas not far from the Bishnumati River. On the phone he told me,” There’s a large pine tree in the compound Dai; come through the gate and climb up to the first floor.” Although I came down from Swoyambhu, an easier way to get there is by driving along the Bishnumati River and climbing up towards Dallu Awas after the newly built, fancy bridge with an arch.
So there I was in his workshop surrounded by all kinds of guitars both acoustic and electric, some of them dismantled and lying on the workbench like wounded birds. The rest are kept neatly in rows and hanging on the wall are guitar necks and other parts. It looks more like a guitar factory! He’s not alone, his three assistants: Saugat Choudhary, Jayant Karmacharya and Dhanu Dhital do the preliminary work of dismantling a guitar according to the problem, like taking out the strings, unscrewing the neck from the body etc, depending on the kind of fixing each one needs. I hadn’t been told of his disability. “When I was four I had meningitis and the doctor decided they had to amputate my legs above the knees, so I wear prosthetic legs which enable me to walk. Everyone was very helpful, like my school Vidyodaya which is nearby, allowed me to study from home,” he says.
His father encouraged him to take up music, so in 1998, he learned to play the keyboards with his teacher Upendra Lal Singh, who used to come to his house to teach him. “Then around 2003, I bought a Chinese guitar and learned how to play. But it wasn’t a good guitar; there were lots of problems with it, so I started tinkering with it to improve it. I gradually learned a lot about guitars from my tinkering. Then I tried improving a few more guitars and that was the beginning of my journey,” recalls Sumeet.
He soon realized that he had the skill to repair guitars and got more deeply into tinkering. When the internet came to Nepal, he would go to a friend in a school where he was allowed to access the net. His friend helped him search for sites that gave lessons in guitar servicing. “There are lots of forums which you can access and there are experts who will answer your questions. That way I learned a lot about guitars,” informs Sumeet. It wasn’t long before word got around and friends started bringing their guitars to him for repair. And out of compassion they began to pay him, realizing this could be a meaningful career for him. So he started repairing everything from pick-ups, frets, fret-boards to the body itself from 2005.
Suwal officially launched SuMeet Guitar Restoration in 2015 and started devoting all his time to servicing, repairing and restoring guitars. He opened the workshop in his house in Dallu. “We’ve had this house since the time of my grand-father,” he says. He got married to Nilam Shakya from Chauni in February 2015. “Since my marriage, my life has improved,” he reveals. They live with his parents and he’s their only son besides his two sisters, one of whom is married and lives separately while his other sister lives in the same house.
“About 60% of the professional musicians of Kathmandu bring their guitars to me for servicing. I even repaired guitars for Deep Music,” he tells me. If you check out his facebook page you see who has been visiting: Hari Maharjan, Deepesh Singh, Manoj K.C., Ashesh Dangol, the list is long. The page also has videos of Sumeet doing repair work and it’s fascinating to watch him preparing frets and replacing them so skillfully. He even repairs broken parts like a guitar neck or a bashed up body of an acoustic.
Sumeet imports guitar parts and accessories such as pick-ups, fret-boards, keys and guitar necks from Thailand and Singapore. “I can repair Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio pick-ups and guitar pedals as well,” he says. Today Sumeet is famous for his skills but remains extremely humble and soft spoken. He is an inspiration for disadvantaged people who wish to be someone and be counted. For Kathmandu’s guitarists, he’s heaven-sent.