The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

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Adel Sakr: An Interview with Cairo’s Real Guitar Hero

Adel Sakr: An Interview with Cairo’s Real Guitar Hero
written by
Nermin Habib

In a cramped, ground-floor workshop on a quiet residential street in Maadi, guitar customizer, Adel Sakr, was busy changing the strings on a timeworn ‘Agile’ guitar with the words ‘worthy’ engraved on the body.

“I’m not very good in English. I speak German.” It’s understandable, seeing as how Sakr moved to Munich, Germany at the age of 17. “I was a young man with no experience. I just wanted to leave. I don’t know if it was the right or wrong decision.”

During his 13 year stay in Munich, his first job was packing boxes on a factory floor until 1995, when he utilised his talent for handicrafts at a guitar customisation shop, before going onto to study further at a music school for three years. “It’s something you’re born with,” he explained. “People either bring someone in to fix something broken or fix it themselves. I’ve always enjoyed fixing things with my own hands.”

He gestures to the furniture in the room, proclaiming “I made all the furniture in this house”, jokingly adding, “You can tell because they’re not painted.”  A smile pulls at the corners of Sakr’s lips when asked why he hadn’t. “It’s not that I’m lazy, but when you build something out of natural wood like a bed, then sleep on it, it has a wonderful smell.”

In 2004, Sakr returned to Egypt and first lived in 6th of October City; “The houses there were cheap to buy, but I moved soon after. It wasn’t my style. I hated it there.”

Since then, he’s been living in Maadi where many of Cairo’s professional and amateur musicians frequent his workshop seeking his expertise or – simply – his company. “I used to play in bands during the 70’s. We played at nightclubs and festivals.  It was a different time back then – many ‘old people’ know me.”

Although most of his work is in repairing guitars, Sakr considers himself a guitar customizer, first and foremost. “I studied guitar customisation, but that doesn’t bring in too much money and there’s no market for it in Egypt.” This is also the reason that Sakr’s workspace doubles as a shop; the room is packed with different guitar models – many bought and fixed by Sakr himself – effects pedals, pedal-boards and amps.  

What fuels Sakr’s passion is very simple. “I’m happy here.” When asked whether he considers himself a luthier, Sakr curtly shakes his head. “Not at all. A luthier makes acoustic instruments. They’re masters; they’re the ones who taught me. To be a luthier will take a long time. I don’t want to ruin what I have now with such hopes.”

In his nine years working on guitars in Egypt, he hasn’t encountered many guitars he hasn’t been able to fix, with the exception of two; one of which – a Fender Stratocaster broken into two pieces – he pulled out solemnly. “This is a 1979 Stratocaster – see? The ‘S’ engraved here stands for 70 and the number that follows is ‘9’. That’s how you know the year the guitar was manufactured for this specific model.”

He regrettably puts the neck down and picks up the body which has been sanded down to bare wood. “This had been repainted with industrial paint then burned with acid water because its owner wanted the original colour back. All the internal electrical connections melted as a result. I did what I could, but I can’t turn back time, you know?”

“The other one,” he casually reminisces “was a Yamaha SG310 that was brought to me a week ago with a block of wood missing from the neck. The guy who gave it to me had such high expectations. I told him I couldn’t do anything – if I had it would’ve cost him something like 1,500LE.”

This is a scruple frequently faced by Sakr who finds difficulty in charging some people for his services. “I can’t charge by the hour like in Germany. Most people don’t have that kind of money here.” He turns the ‘Agile’ he was working on to show us the built-in tuner on the side, “This needs a new battery, but I couldn’t say anything to the guy. To you and me it’s just a battery, but not to him.”

As our time with Sakr was coming to a close with the final tuning of the ‘Agile’, a faint scratching could be heard at the window of the workshop. He grinned as one of the musicians sitting on the couch went to open the screen to let in a beautiful calico cat. “These are my friends” he said, scratching behind her ear. “This one is Yolanda. There’s also Oscar and Pascaponi. They have very Latin American names – I don’t know why.”

Get in touch with Adel Sakr for any customization or repair work you might need for your guitar on this number 01227799102.