Interview with a Luthier - Howlin' Rooster Guitars & Such

I recently dug out an old American Telecaster, I never played it much ever since I got it, so decided to give it a go. As expected, I knew it was a bit out of shape so decided to drop by at Basil's workshop. Something I've been meaning to do for a while, but never did only because it felt like it was two continents away (Sharjah, nuff said). I finally took the time and dropped in at Howlin' Rooster Guitars and such - first off, I was completely mind blown at how far Basil had come with his passion as a luthier. Second, it really didn't seem that far once I got there. 

Anyway, I dropped off the tele and returned after a week or so, the axe sounded a lot better than before so I was quite pleased. However, Basil's dedication and passion reminded me of how I go about my music, we connected on a level of perseverance. I realized I'm now friends with someone who is working his way to be a master luthier, let alone the only one I know in UAE. For this reason I decided to interview Basil, one musician to another, for the first Mastery Blog Post. Here it is. 

A&M: In few words, tell us about yourself. 

BA: My name is Basil, I love the music that I love and everything surrounding it, I guess that’s my passion. All the other passions stemmed from this one.

A&M: Take us back in time, when it all began.

BA: Howlin' Rooster started when I got back from studying in Canada. That was is 2013. I started working at the factory with my family and I found an opportunity, being surrounded by big tools, machinery and scrap material. I quickly got to work, reigniting a childhood passion of mine, building things. I started with a few cigar box guitars and took it from there. 

A&M: Did you struggle? Is yes, what was the hard part?

BA: Sure, I guess there were struggles but I never felt like I was struggling to do anything. I just love doing this work and whatever challenges came, I always managed to enjoy it. It terms of challenges, I would say sourcing tools and materials was the most difficult. People don’t make guitars here and it’s impossible to source the majority of what I need locally. That being said, it has led me to make some awesome contacts, locally and internationally, and come up with great solutions. I think that contact base is the wealth of my work.

"Sourcing tools and materials was the most difficult" - Basil

A&M: How did you get into the luthier business? 

BA: Reading books and watching YouTube videos. I started with the videos, checked out all the guitar factory tours, and then started watching more specific videos on guitar building as I needed. After that I bought a few books and then some more. Most of the learning came from actually building though.Later on I did an apprenticeship in Canada and now I learn from everywhere, everyday.

Proudly displayed certificate at the Howlin' Rooster workshop

A&M: A cigar box guitar and a normal one, whats the difference?

Essentially the concept is the same. The box is the body of the guitar. The main difference is the tone and the look. The feel is the most controllable aspect. You can build them rough and dirty or silky smooth. 

A&M: Where do you source raw materials?

BA: It’s been changing. When I started, everything was salvaged. Wood came from old demolished buildings, abandoned construction sites, beaches, trash cans, anywhere really. I always had my eyes open for something whenever I was driving and if the piece was too big; I’d make a mental note of the spot and come back with a pickup truck. The cigar boxes came from the cigar shops, free of charge. They would have thrown them otherwise. Recently, I started buying woods too. Eventually as your work gets better, you will see the limitations of salvaged woods in some areas of guitar construction. Still, using salvaged wood is very important to me and I will always incorporate it into a guitar. It is the artwork on my guitars. 

This Cigar Box guitar is made from salvaged wood.

A&M: How many types of guitars do you make? Are they expensive?

BA: I make 3 types of stringed instruments, Box type stringed instruments which can use a cigar box or some other kind of resonating container, solid wood acoustic guitars, and recently I started making solid body electrics too. I also make a bunch of accessories for them, like bottle neck slides, guitar straps made from old seat belts and cigar box amplifiers. Prices range from 50 AED – 10,000 AED. I also do repairs. 

Slides made from used beer bottles.

Various Cigar Box Guitars.

Handmade Micro Guitar Amps

A&M: Are customers hard to deal with? Tell us a story.

BA: Some are, yes. When I was making instruments in my earlier days, I was selling them for a lot cheaper than they are now. They attracted customers who were buying them as works of art to hang on the wall instead of playing them. Off course, I built them to perform and that was and is what drives me when I build them. A lot of customers wouldn’t understand the effort that went into that since they weren’t musicians and didn’t intend on playing them. They would try to haggle and that was hurtful. Anyways it made me commit to making the best instruments that I could, and then the customer base changed and started to include a lot more musicians, which are more understanding. Off course, the musician is a breed onto himself, and they too can be very difficult.

A&M: How do people find you? 

BA: Through my links Official Website Instagram Facebook 

Hope you learnt something here, If you have any questions or feedback, leave a comment and don't forget to follow Apes and Men on FacebookInstagram and Twitter!


  1. I ve been to Basil's place in Sharjah . Its an awsome passion to follow (me being a music lover too) Great guy to deal with too.
    All the best to him
    Dexter (Basil)

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