Doom Wood Guitars: Building Boutique Instruments for Bandung, Indonesia's DIY Scene

For most westerners, Bandung (the capital of Indonesia's West Java province) is probably not the first city that comes to mind when they think of psychedelic music, doom metal, punk, or post-rock. But with the overseas success of bands like The S.I.G.I.T. and Burgerkill, as well as the well-received coverage of all-girl metal band Voice of Baceprot, that may be starting to change.

Though Indonesian music might just now be making it into the mainstream, Bandung’s art and music scene has been bustling for decades. The city itself is beautiful, sitting 768 meters above sea level surrounded by volcanoes, lakes, and forests. Far more significant than scenery, though, is the community of people in Bandung who, despite facing significant challenges, work together tirelessly to put on shows, promote activist causes, run labels and record stores, and play in bands—often all at once. The scene's vibrancy comes as much from friendship and collaboration as it does from a shared location or aesthetic.

DWG009 Siege HH Black Lace

The Bandung-based Doom Wood Guitars is a two-person (sometimes three-person) operation that hand-builds instruments for bands all around Southeast Asia. The company's founder, Rembo, is an integral part of Bandung's scene, having run record labels, worked as a live sound engineer, and played in influential Indonesian sludge/doom band Vrosk.

In addition to running Doom Wood, Rembo currently helps run the DIY warehouse venue Spasial. Located in a former military weapons warehouse in central Bandung, Spasial is home to many small businesses and hosts DIY shows and art exhibitions. We had a chance to speak to Rembo about his years of involvement in Bandung's independent music scene, its community, and, of course, gear.

At this point, you’re kind of a Bandung veteran. How did you first become involved with the scene here?

I started to notice and learn about the scene in Bandung in the mid-’90s when I was in junior and senior high school and started going to shows. In the ‘90s, most of the underground punk/hardcore and black metal gigs were held in a big sports hall called Saparua. We would have like 1,000 to 2,000 kids at a show and another 100 to 1,000 people outside trying to break down the door to get in.

In my high school, there was group of about 30 of us who would hang out and try to organize a show at Saparua. Because we were students and didn't have money, we’d save our money for one year until we had enough money to rent the space and music equipment. I think we started doing that in 1998.

The spirit of DIY, the spirit of organising with your friends, was in our hearts. After the first show, that feeling remained—that it wasn't just for me, it was for us, for my friends and for the community.

DIY warehouse venue Spasial

How did you get involved with the technical side of things?

At that time, my friends’ bands started asking me to be their guitar tech, even though I didn't have any basic skills. That was until 2001, when I graduated from high school. Then I got involved with a record label called My Own Deck. I helped with selling merch, CDs, and cassettes, and learned how to produce bands and put out their music. I started a new record label called Broken Jaws Records, and we made some compilations and organized small shows in a bar twice a month.

I had the opportunity to manage some friends' bands around then, and that was quite successful. I also did a lot of live sound engineering. Some of the bands I worked with got paid really well, so I'd get really good money from working on their shows—maybe around $50 to $100 for one show.

I would save up that money and buy gear that I started bringing to shows for the bands that I was working with. It started with small things, like microphones, DI boxes, and pedals. I would try to convince some of these bands to improve their sound by buying some good equipment, but usually they would say they didn't need it. But when I could bring things with me and say “Just try it," most of the bands would realize how much these things could improve their sound.

A selection of Rembo's gear

So you started buying gear because you knew you could help bands sound better?

A lot of bands from Bandung cared about details. They wanted to have a good live show, so they would pay for a sound engineer even if that would mean they wouldn't make any money for themselves from the show. I was curious about how I could make things sound better. I would hear things I liked and try to work out how they got that sound with different guitars, amps, and mics.

At first, I didn’t understand much about how amps work, like that there were tube amps and solid-state amps. Some people didn't know the difference between a Fender Frontman and a Twin Reverb, but when I tried playing through those amps, I could see. Once I started to learn about this stuff, I got more and more interested.

I got really interested in vintage gear because in Indonesia in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was a lot music happening. In the ‘70s, all of these bands who played rock or even dangdut [a traditional Indonesian pop music] would have really good gear. Bands like The Rollies, AKA, God Bless, and Rhoma Irama and his Soneta Group, who was a dangdut megastar. They would look at what The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or The Who were using, and they would bring that stuff over here.

A look at Rembo's pedalboard

When these guys got older and weren't playing anymore, they started selling their stuff. In this one house, I saw a Marshall Super Lead with two cabs and a Marshall Super Bass with two cabs, and the old guy was selling the Super Bass full-stack for less than $1,000 USD. I still can't believe I missed out on that one, but I didn't have the money at the time.

But he was selling some old pedals that I could afford, like an old Big Muff Pi for 25 bucks. I had a U.S. guitar magazine with a price guide for vintage pedals, and I saw that the value was around $250 USD, and I realized I could buy it and make good money from it. I kept buying and buying like that until I got my first guitar—a Korean Epiphone for $150 that I could sell for about $350. It became a cycle like that.

These days, you run Doom Wood Guitars—a company that makes guitars for a lot of West Java bands. How did you start building guitars?

It started in 2011. I wanted to make amps, first, so I started an amp company called Doom Wood, and I made heads with raw wood. But the cost was really high, so I focused on making guitars instead.

In Indonesia, it's actually very common to make your own guitar. Some people do replicas of Gibsons and Fenders, but they might not have good pickups or electronics, and they might use cheap Chinese parts. So I saw an opportunity and started to work with a friend who was a luthier. Indonesia is known for cheap but good guitars like Squier, ESP LTD. They have all these factories in Indonesia, like Cort and Yamaha. But I thought we could make better ones.

DWG1701 Stargazer SSS Walnut
DWG015 Superior HH Silverburst Lollar Inperial

Then I got a connection from a friend where I could buy nice wood at good prices, so I started buying small batches. I started with a few kinds of wood: Indonesian mahogany, a basswood (which I think I got from the Ibanez factory), a light ash, and swamp ash. My friends started to order, and some friends who were playing in bands started to use my guitars when they played shows, so people started asking, and the orders started coming in.

Who are some of the bands who are using your guitars now?

Yeah, there's a few: [indie rock band] Collapse, Angga from Taring, Sigmun, Pandu from Morfem. Some other friends from Jakarta and Singapore like This Is Atlantis and Snaggletooth.

I also make a lot of prototypes and ask guitarists from various bands if they would like to use them when they tour or record. Some of the bands that have used them are Nothing, Navicula, Rocket Rockers, and Pee Wee Gaskins. Because I know what music my friends are making, I can make guitars that fit with the sound they're going for.

Tell me more about the guitars themselves. What are you using to build them?

I do set necks, bolt-ons, neck-through bodies—everything. I'm using high-end guitar parts. For standard builds, I'm using Kluson, Sperzel, Babicz, Wilkinson, and Gotoh hardware. I use Lollar pickups, and some other brands. It's not cheap stuff. I don't have a line—everything is custom, but I have a names for some of the popular shapes.

DWG014 Doom Master HH Black
DWG012 Doom Master SS Oxblood Red

When I started, I was cutting and shaping the wood myself and doing all the electronics—everything except for the paint job and finish, which I left to a friend of mine. It took me a lot of time to do everything myself, so now I'm just doing design, some sanding, and then the wiring and setups. Because there are too many orders now, I have a friend who helps me with cutting and shaping the wood, and then another friend who assists us sometimes.

I like the Tele shape, so I call [my guitars in that shape] the Thundermoth. When I build offsets, I call those the Doommaster. I make a Les Paul shape called Superior and an SG shape called Siege.

For me, an instrument is very personal, so even if you buy one from a store, you make it personal and fit into your music. But when you make a custom instrument, it's so it really fits with what the player wants and is something they couldn't get in a store. Basically, I'm doing these for people whose music I know, so it's not hard for me to make something that suits them.

When people want to order, I ask them about what music and what other guitarists they like, and then that'll be reflected in the guitar itself.

DWG014 Doom Master HH Black

How many have you made at this point?

I think I've done around 50 in the past three years, so it's not a huge number. But now, for this January alone, I have 18 orders. In the past, maybe we would only have two or three orders per month.

It takes three to nine months to finish a build, depending on the project. Sometimes things take longer because we'll order custom pickups from companies like Lollar or Wolfetone, which always adds time. And sometimes it takes a long time when the customer takes a lot of time to decide what they want.

What's the price point?

For a standard project, the cost of a guitar is only like 500 or 600 bucks, depending on the specs. But because most of our projects are so customized and have upgraded hardware, pickups, etc., the cost usually ends up around $1,000. Actually, a few companies from the U.S. have messaged me on Instagram asking how I can sell guitars for these prices. But we get the wood really cheap, because it's material from Indonesia.

Because most of the guitars are for friends here, I want to be fair with the price. That's important to me. I want to make some money back too, of course, but mostly, I want to have the experience of doing a project with that person. Every project is special and different.

So most of your orders come from Indonesia?

Mostly from Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. But I've also had orders from Australia, the UK, the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. But right now, I can only easily cover three countries, because I'm usually hand-carrying the guitars and delivering to the owners. So the way we make these connections is still very traditional.

I think it's good because it stays very personal. When a person gets sick of the guitar or wants to change something about it, I'm happy to help them change. It's like a lifetime benefit, especially for people who live in Bandung or Jakarta. And I get to talk a lot with friends who are into guitars! It's not really about the orders, it's about the friendship.

Rembo with a DWG014 Doom Master HH Black

What are some of your personal favorite pieces of gear?

My first amp was a Mesa Boogie Dual Caliber, and it's still my favorite. My JCM 800 is another favorite, and I just got a 60th anniversary Deluxe Reverb that sounds really nice. And it's really loud for 25 watts. I like that one.

I use some guitars that I’ve made, but live, I use a Nash JM-63 Jazzmaster and a Fano Alt De Facto JM6. I love old Gibsons and always wanted a really good black Les Paul Custom, and a friend of mine managed to get a 1977 Gibson Les Paul Custom from Denmark Street for me.

I also like Japanese guitar brands and I collect some of those, like Greco, Tokai, Burny, Orville, etc. But my favorite is the Yamaha SG-2000—even over my Les Pauls [laughs].

I have so many pedals, but I always use an overdrive, a distortion, and a fuzz. At the moment, I'm using a Caveman Overdrive by Oddfellow. I like the Digitech Hardwire TL-2—it's cheap, but it sounds really good. At the moment, I'm trying the Chase Bliss Tonal Recall, and a Zvex Fuzzolo. I had a Fuzz Factory but didn't need all the extra stuff. I use a lot of delays and reverbs, so now I'm using three Eventide H9s for different things.

For people who aren't familiar with Bandung or the scene here, what would you suggest checking out?

So many bands. I can recommend [psychedelic rock bands] Mooner and Sigmun, [shoegaze band] HEALS and also [indie rock band] Collapse. Sigmun had a really good first album, so I'm looking forward to the next one. HEALS are playing Laneway Festival Singapore in 2018, which is a great opportunity for them. Collapse is my personal favorite because it's a one-man project that turned into a band. Actually, he started playing in my house, and made the guide for the first album there. They're also good live, and they're my friends [laughs].

What else are you doing at the moment?

I work at Spasial, and I help with the management here. We have a lot of events going on, and we've had a lot of really good shows in the past two years. We're trying to make use of it as much as possible—to make it useful for everyone. Some people have money to do shows, talks, workshops, etc., and some people have good ideas but don't have money, so we're trying to figure out how we can support those people to make their ideas happen. I’m always trying to do my best for my friends and community.

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