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[Eye Plus] Tradition reborn in 'ottchil'-lacquered electric guitar

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Dec. 9, 2023 - 16:01

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Tradition, by definition, is a pattern or custom established over a long time.

But the collaboration between Lee Jung-hyun, a musical instrument designer, and Ahn So-ra, a lacquer artisan, goes one step beyond preserving the time-honored practice of "ottchil," natural lacquering derived from the sap of staghorn sumac trees, blending Ahn's craft with Lee's invention in the lacquering of an electric guitar.

"Rather than to keep the tradition going, I think what we're doing is playing a sort of game through creation on top of the stage that is tradition," he said. "Creating something has endless possibilities. I think the tradition can find new forms and ways to evolve, which can be passed down to future generations."

Ahn, while working in the field of preserving cultural assets, developed an interest in ottchil. She mastered the art after an apprenticeship of seven years, after which, she met Lee to collaborate on their guitar project.

Lee said he had attempted various projects before settling down on designing musical instruments.

"The reason I chose to create guitars is that I like the process, which allows me to do all that I'm interested in and all that I like. I'm expressing my own creative ways through making guitars," Lee said.

Ahn pointed out that the toughest part of her process is applying the lacquer to the wooden instrument. "Ottchil must be done at a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius in a humid environment, contrary to the ideal situation for preserving wood. Incorporating tradition wasn't as easy as I thought, and took a lot of research," she said.

The pair said that applying ottchil has advantages compared to other lacquer materials, such as providing a softer surface and being more environmentally friendly.

Photos by Im Se-jun

Written by Yoon Min-sik