BEACON, N.Y. - Beacon's own master luthier, 'Lord of the Strings' John Vergara, doesn't mince words when he talks about his work.
"If I didn't find this, I'd be dead or in jail - this saved my life," Vergara told Daily Voice matter-of-factly during a recent visit to his Beacon workshop - Lord of the Strings - where he builds Spanish guitars of all types, as well as doing repairs on pretty much any stringed instruments.
"It's a miracle that I'm here," he added. "Every day I'm amazed at what I have."
Vergara's journey has been long and taken many unexpected turns. He grew up in the Bronx, struggling for much of his young life. "I grew up in slums - homeless and hungry," Vergara said. "Got involved selling drugs at age 9...(though he didn't do them himself) and was homeless for a few years during junior high school."
He discovered the magic of music at age 12, and in his own words "that changed everything."
When he came to Beacon in 1995, Vergara was surprised at the irony. "It was very similar to the Bronx," he said. "People were getting mugged on Main Street, it wasn't so nice. My thing would have been impossible then. Since then the change has been like night and day."
Vergara honed his craft over the last 12 years. He spent time living in the Middle East in 2010 where he studied the oud - the grandfather to the guitar. He later did a three-year formal European-style apprenticeship with what he called 'an old German in Wappingers.'
Vergara's workshop - open by appointment only - is filled with classical guitars, ouds, violins and much more. His hand-made guitars aren't for beginners - they start in the $4,000.00 dollar range and go up from there. But there are many instruments on Vergara's website (www.johnvergaramusic.com) and in the shop that have been refurbished and have a lower price tag.
Vergara talks about his workshop like it's an oasis and his instruments like they are his children.
"When people come in they say 'this say this is my safe place,' " he said. "If they felt bad when they came in, they feel much better when they leave. It's like a sacred place, a peaceful place - and it feels that way to me, too.
"And my instruments are hand-made - with intuition, not measurements," he added. "Each instrument has a piece of my soul in it, each sounds different and has a unique sweetness to it. Guitars are souls, and I'm about bringing new souls into the universe... and I love to bring old instruments back to life."
Vergara says it takes him approximately 6 to 8 weeks to build a guitar from start to finish. "When I'm done with a new project I get depressed," he said. "It's like the end of a relationship. When I wake up in the morning I'm excited to make a guitar, and when I leave at the end of the day I don't want to go home... I don't want to leave. Sometimes I forget to eat, forget to pee... I don't know what I'd do without it."
And he always knew it was in his blood to work with instruments. "Even before I was doing this, I knew I wanted to do it," he said. "It's taken years of learning, years of making mistakes, sacrificing, blood sweat and tears and patience to get to where I am now. It's a journey, and I feel like I've just scratched the surface."
Lord of the Strings is located at 8 South Chestnut Street in Beacon, and Vergara can be reached at 845-839-2055.