Mariachi music is a traditional genre that has stood the test of time.

Saulo Garcia, a third-year manufacturing engineer student, has a great passion for it, despite not majoring in music.

Garcia got into music during high school for a senior project.

“I had to teach myself the basics of guitar for my project with the help of a mentor,” he said. “That was the beginning of learning music, and then I came to [Cal Poly Pomona].”

Garcia now plays the guitarrón, similar to a bass guitar, the vihuela, which is similar to a five-string guitar, and classical guitar.

Manufacturing engineer student Saulo Garcia (front row, second to right) playing a lively performance with members of his mariachi ensemble. (Courtesy of CPP Music Department)

Professor Jessie Vallejo has enjoyed watching him succeed in his courses at CPP.

“He first joined my mariachi ensemble as a guitar enthusiast who recently bought a guitarrón, but did not know how to play it,” Vallejo said. “In a very short time, Saulo excelled at playing guitarrón and became one of the central members of my mariachi ensembles.”

Garcia is in two mariachi ensembles on campus, Los Broncos and Los Caballeros. He has performed various events on campus with them.

He has played in professional performances as well as venues such as weddings, backyard parties and birthdays.

“Professor Vallejo noticed I excel pretty well and lets me know when a professional group needs a bass player,” Garcia said.

“One of the crazier performances I’ve done that I was very excited about was when I played for a former governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“They just asked if I was able to play at an event, not telling me who it was for. Once it was set, they said, ‘Oh, by the way, this is who you’ll be playing for’ and I freaked out.”

The event for Schwarzenegger was a charity event.

Garcia felt honored to be able to play for him.

“We were there playing mainly mariachi, [but] sometimes traditional or fusion interpretations of English music in a mariachi format,” Garcia said.

The mariachi groups he plays in also sing in Spanish, but switch to English throughout the songs to put a unique spin on them.

“Saulo constantly supports his fellow students by coaching them on guitarrón technique and mariachi repertoire,” Vallejo said.

“Los Caballeros ensemble are less experienced students who started with guitar, so I help them if the professor is busy with the other instrument players,” Garcia said.

Garcia is not only a talented at playing instruments, but at repairing them as well.

“If I ever brought something broken to a guitar store to be fixed, they wouldn’t set it up to how I wanted it,” he said. “When I would feel there was still a problem, I fixed it myself but I would do a better job. So, I learned repair through that. It was also cheaper to get $5 of equipment than pay up to $60 for a repair.”

Now he repairs instruments not only for himself, but for other students in the music department.

“It’s practice for me because it’s not every day I’m gonna get a broken instrument, so when a friend needs help, I take it for a week [and] they thank me so much because they know it’s usually expensive,” Garcia said.

Being a manufacturing engineer student, he finds the mechanics of the instruments fascinating.

“As his professor, I have enjoyed learning about intersections between engineering and music through his independent research on building and repairing musical instruments. Saulo has contributed greatly to the campus, his peers’ education and my own approach to teaching,” Vallejo said.

Garcia aspires to incorporate this interest in repair into his long-term career.

“I want to make my own guitar company selling instruments and the tools to fix them. I want it to include Mexican mariachi instruments and the repair tools specifically for them, because they aren’t readily available in other instrument stores,” Garcia said.

“When I’ve repaired my instruments, I’ve had to prototype the tools that I can’t find. With my own money, I’ve had to buy supplies and make my own tools myself, so to create a store that sells them would be amazing.”

Along with starting his own stores, he also wants to educate other musicians about these instruments.

“I also want to document how I’m making them. There’s a lack of documentation on mariachi instruments. It’s hard to research them so I have to speak to older mariachi performers to learn about the instruments, like how to fix them, the purpose of the parts or the kind of wood it uses.”

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