Made In Singapore: Luthier Wayne Lim takes six months to a year to make a guitar

SPH Brightcove Video
Wayne Lim set up Luthier Singapore to create custom-made guitars, as well as to offer repair services. The 28-year-old luthier is believed to be the first to build handwound pickups here.
Wayne Lim may be young but he is a master luthier with a decade's worth of experience working with guitars. ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

SINGAPORE - The single-minded pursuit of handmade perfection and the sweet sound of music - that is what the dream life looks like for Wayne Lim, one of Singapore's handful of professional guitar makers.

He turned his twin passions for craft-making and music into, a company he started in 2017 that repairs and builds bespoke guitars.

He has lovingly put together seven guitars from scratch so far and has assembled many more from pre-made parts in a workshop in his mother's Toa Payoh flat.

Each guitar is meticulously made to specification and takes six months to a year to complete. They cost from $4,000 to over $5,000.

Lim, 28, says: "When I build a guitar, I build it for a player not a collector. What's the point of having a nice guitar if it doesn't get played?"

His customers are fellow musicians who appreciate the worth of a well-made instrument for use in their gigs and recordings.

Professional guitarist Simon Lai has been using an electric guitar custom-made by Lim in the past two years. The 35-year-old from Singapore-Australian rock band Cynation says: "I have owned a few guitars from boutique brands that are in the market and his build is as world-class as it can get. His guitar feels great, looks great and, most importantly, sounds great."

One thing that makes Lim's guitars stand out is that he hand-makes the pickups in his custom electric guitars, unusual given the easy availability of pre-made ones.

Pickups capture the vibrations from the strings, send the signal to amplifiers and have a big influence on the guitar's sound.

Word has spread online and he has customers who have ordered the pickups alone from Indonesia, Taiwan and as far afield as the United States.

The seeds of Lim's love for crafting were planted early - and he has a scar on his hand to prove it.

Wayne Lim tests the fit of the neck of an electric guitar that he crafted from a solid piece of wood in one of his bespoke builds for his customer. ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

He was eight the first time he did woodwork with his grandfather, a hobbyist carpenter. He has fond memories of it despite accidentally cutting himself with a chisel.

At 12, he found his second passion after watching local bands perform at a gig at Youth Park.

He persuaded his mother to enrol him for guitar lessons; his father bought him his first electric guitar.

His mother is a training director at a property developer while his father runs Peranakan Tiles Gallery, a museum in Chinatown.

When he was 13, he bought various guitar parts off the Internet. He had difficulty putting them together and decided to seek help at one of the guitar shops in the basement of Peninsula Excelsior. He ended up working at the shop for about a decade, doing guitar repair and maintenance work.

At 17, he started a second job as a guitarist for the resident bands at clubs such as Medusa and Shanghai Dolly.

Wayne Lim picked up carpentry from his grandfather from a young age and enjoys working with his hands. ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

Using his savings, and with some financial support from his mother, he moved to Los Angeles in 2015 to study guitar craft and acoustic guitar design at the Musicians Institute for a year. He reckons that he spent a total of US$55,000 (S$75,000) for school and living expenses there.

He stayed on in LA after graduation and did freelance guitar repair jobs and worked in a boutique guitar company for six months. But he came home after he and his then-fiancee successfully applied for a BTO flat. The couple married in 2019 and now live in Punggol.

During the circuit breaker period, Lim's business went up by 50 per cent. Musicians are playing their guitars more, now that most people are spending more time at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he reckons.

But he makes the time to work on a project close to his heart - a ukulele for his wife, a piano teacher. She has always been supportive of his passion for guitars, he says.

They met in 2015 at Queen, a club that used to be at Esplanade Mall where Lim played guitar.

"Besides my mum, it was my wife who motivated me. They were the ones who convinced me that I should start up my own company, that I could do it on my own."

Watch the video on luthier Wayne Lim here:

The video is part of Made In Singapore, a series of videos produced by Singapore Press Holdings in partnership with the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), as part of IMDA's Public Service Broadcast initiative. A series on local fashion designers called Rave will pilot in the first half of 2021.

The second season of Made In Singapore continues to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of Singaporeans who design and handcraft goods, making a business out of doing what they love. This season will feature young craftspeople who have gone against the grain to create their own products.

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