Bigfoot Guitars – Beyond Rosewood

by Steve Rider

As most guitar connoisseurs know, the business of building guitars can be incredibly conservative. Since the 1800s, acoustic guitars especially, have used a narrow variety of woods. Rosewood for the sides and back, spruce for the top, maybe switch in mahogany here and there. It seems that instead of looking towards the future, the industry has been steeped in striving to sound like instruments built in the days of old. In the old days, wood was plentiful and inexpensive. Honduran mahogany and Brazilian Rosewood were not the rarity that they are now, and were used with wild abandon as if the supply would be limitless. Fast forward to the present day, the world is fully feeling the effect of those reckless practices as the traditional guitar woods become increasingly close to extinction. So close, in fact, that the CITES regulations were enacted in order to thwart the disappearance of these beloved woods worldwide. 

Not only are traditional materials harder to come by, instruments are being built in locations all around the world. And not just mass produced bottom dollar guitars, but instruments painstakingly crafted by people who have paid the price in time and sweat to truly create unique pieces for professional musicians. Enter Bigfoot Guitars, located in New Delhi, India. Bigfoot has successfully adapted to the difficulties in sourcing traditional materials by looking to the many hardwood species present indigenously in native India. What started as a conundrum of supply turned, over time, into one of the defining characteristics of the company’s build philosophies. By stepping off the beaten track and not being afraid to innovate, Bigfoot Guitars has become a trailblazer of sorts within the lutherie community at home and abroad.

Karan Singh, the owner and luthier of Bigfoot Guitars, along with team memeber Kuldeep Uniyal, works in a place that contains a seventh of the world’s population, but few true luthiers building guitars. He hand builds stringed instruments like acoustic steel stringed guitars, classical guitars, electric guitars, thin line acoustics and carved-body ukuleles. While offering a selection of instruments, the main focus is on steel string guitars meant to be played finger-style that have been described as warm, mellow, and responsive. 

Karan didn’t start out intending to become a luthier. He was originally working as a personal and professional life, leadership, and team-building coach. Being a player himself, he wanted access to quality repair services that were unavailable locally. Before long he found himself, as many of us do, getting deeper into the world of guitar repair and building. He faced some unique challenges such as the aforementioned lack of traditional woods that hadn’t been bookmarked for special regulation by CITES. Not only that, but quality control practices were less than exacting ,and quality power tools were hard to find. As a result, Singh would come to use hand tools for the vast majority of his work. Although India has several hundred species of non-endangered hardwoods to choose from, these woods were not harvested with intent to be used for lutherie, so are usually not properly dried and seasoned. As a result, he was spending a great deal of time and energy searching the country for sources of woods. In response to these issues, Singh decided to innovate rather than imitate. He turned to non-traditional woods native to India for bodies and tops. He has spent the better part of the last decade working with non-traditional indigenous species of tonewoods like Indian Red Cedar, Indian Redwood, Jackfruit, Siris, Monkey Pod, Mango, and Eucalyptus. The effects of the decision have shaped his path ever since, even prompting Singh to rethink the bracings inside his guitars.

Singh had a few stops along the road in his journey to embody the level of meticulous care seen in his Bigfoot guitars. He would have to learn woodworking from scratch, so he built a workbench and went to work. He absorbed information greedily and pushed himself to his limit, working through the trial and error, the joy and frustrations that only a woodworker can know. After doing repairs and teaching himself for six years, he decided that he would need to work alongside a master luthier in order to bring his skills to the level he wanted them. Karan apprenticed with Paul Doyle in Ireland, Jeffrey Yong in Kuala Lumpur, and more recently with Master Luthier Jason Kostal in Phoenix. He makes sure to set aside a few weeks each year in order to visit other builders and share knowledge. The experience creates connections around the world of lutherie where guitar building philosophies can be shared. The result being that they can encourage and instruct one another to go beyond a single school of building. 

Today Karan Singh continues to push the boundaries and draw outside the lines. He exclusively builds bespoke instruments, so each build has a unique personality. He cites his current focus as traveling the world to attend guitar shows, to showcase these unique builds and introduce tonal and visual options to players. Finding popularity at home and abroad, Bigfoot Guitars is going strong heading into the future, blazing a path ahead where others are afraid to tread. 

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One thought on “Bigfoot Guitars – Beyond Rosewood

  1. It is not really true that “Since the
    1800s, acoustic guitars especially,
    have used a narrow variety of woods.
    Rosewood for the sides and back…..”
    In Germany and other european country
    wich have been producing a lot of
    guitars rosewood haven´t been the
    first choice. Instead a big part of
    the guitars have been build
    traditionaly with maple for back and
    sides. That was also one of the
    favorite (if not the favourite) wood
    for Torres in spain. Also
    Stradivarius used maple for his
    guitars. Fret board and bridges have
    also been made a lot of european wood
    as f.e pear wood, often black stained.

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