When I was growing up here in Kigali, there weren’t a lot of local guitar makers that I could turn to – in fact there was only one in all of Rwanda that I could rely on when I became a professional guitarist in 2014
And this is why it brings me such joy to share with you the story of Nigerian luthier Favour, who is leading a new generation of African luthiers, and can’t live without her sander, drill and Dremel.
Favour Richards’ musical journey started like many others. From Eastern Nigeria but raised in the North, she picked up the guitar at the age of 10 and promptly fell in love with the instrument as an accompaniment to her voice.
Despite having a degree in philosophy, Favour has always loved making things and fixing things. At the age of 14, she made a tyreless bicycle and created other funny stuff, but soon gravitated towards carpentry, though her opportunities to learn were very limited.
“I didn’t learn it in school, but I have always wanted to do this since I was little,” she explains. “So after university I started off watching YouTube videos on guitar making and repairs and since I couldn’t find or pay for a teacher then, I met with an old carpenter, from whom I learnt how to handle machines and began to combine the online knowledge with what my furniture teacher was teaching me.
“I confess that it was one of the most difficult and slow learning processes I ever had because there was no proper guidance, as lutherie is so much so different from carpentry even though they use almost the same tools.”
Favour had a lot of musician friends, and was herself constantly playing and attending shows, so it was quite easy to build her client base. She sold her first guitar to a friend in 2019, who paid her 1500 Naira (around $34 USD) for it.
From there, Favour created her own brand, ToneCrest, which combines guitar building, repair and lessons all in one.
“ToneCrest is an offshoot of the two aspects of things I have always loved doing, combining both music and technical/mechanical work,” she explains. “I started off just making guitars, but cost of raw materials became so high, and I couldn’t afford the machines required for building great guitars, so I had to improvise with what I had. As a result I ended up doing more repairs as a means to save up to buy the tools and materials I need to make better guitars that live up to the ToneCrest name.
Sustainability is a hot topic in the guitar world at the moment, but even for a luthier starting out, Favour understands the importance of respecting and conserving the natural world that gives us the raw materials needed to make our instruments.
“It’s beautiful to know that nature provided trees that can be used to create such instruments,” she reflects. “But it’s also essential to make sure that those trees keep being replanted by us because we can’t enjoy good music whilst our ecosystem and health suffer.”
Favour’s journey to where she is today hasn’t always been easy – she’s ploughed a huge amount of her own money and free time into honing her craft, even going hungry a few times to help her afford the tools she needs.
Along the way she’s been supported by family and friends, but in recent times she’s come to appreciate the support and interest her story and work has attracted on social media.
“I truly think that I was born inspired to create, because I remember my favourite thing to watch on TV when I was very little was industry manufacturing TV shows,” she laughs. “I have just always been so drawn to that as far back as I can remember. And in my teens I tried to make things like generators, guitars, bicycles, fans, but were only halfway successful.”
She’s come a long way since then, but while she’s still honing and perfecting her craft, she’s keen to pass on what she’s learned to others, and is particularly interested in sharing her knowledge with other young African women who want to follow in her footsteps and become luthiers.
“The foremost reason for my wanting to expand ToneCrest in the near future is to be able to help more and more people with funds, employment opportunities, talent appreciation and more,” she affirms. “And basically encouraging other females who have the passion to go into such fields, letting them know that they absolutely can and should, even though inspiration may not go all the way in this case, but inspiration melded with passion will carry them all the way.”
For more info visit tonecrest.disha.page.