The History of The Guitar
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The Classic Guitar Method: Now in one volume, much of what the novice classical guitarist will need to know to lead him or her to the recital stage. From proper instrument care and maintenance to the necessary technical skills, musical mind-set, and the standard repertoire—all exposed and explored with enough detail and insight that the student will wish to keep this book handy years to come as a ready reference source.
With the aid of a good teacher, the student will rapidly progress through The Classic Guitar Method attaining technical proficiency and musical eloquence.
This method stems from the need to incorporate a number of schools into a single cohesive curriculum. Years of honing a logical approach to the guitar and the creation of music culminate in this volume. As a self-proclaimed Disciple of Valdés-Blain , much of that famed teacher's focus can be found in Mr. Pellegrin's method.
Predecessors of the Guitar
No one knows with any certainty how or when man first learned that the plucked string could produce music. Historians and anthropologists surmise that the concept dates to the invention of the bow and arrow. It is felt that primitive man appreciated the twang of the bowstring—possibly having incorporated this sound into a pre-hunt ritual ceremony. This sound has been refined through time, distilled into those modern stringed instruments in use today, in particular for our study, the guitar.
The early stringed instruments as known today consisted of hunting bows to which gourds had been attached. These gourds served as resonating chambers, an attempt to amplify the sound produced. Early instruments fall into four main groups: idiophones, i.e. instruments the material of which is able to vibrator without ant special tension (sticks and rattles); membraphones, or skin vibrators; chordaphones, or string vibrators; aerophones or air vibrators. Until the advent of truly electronic instruments, these four groups remained a constant.
Lute-like chordophones date back as far as 2000 BC. They first appear in Mesopotamia where they were known as Pantur . These lutes belong to a family of instruments having long necks. They made their way to Egypt and Greece in approximately 1500 BC and eventually were brought to Persia. In Persia they became known as Setar , denoting a three-stringed instrument, Cartar , four stringed, and Panctar with five strings. (The Greek lute had a soundchest, consisting originally of a tortoise shell covered with stretched leather, made of a vaulted back joined directly to a flat soundboard.)
The long necked lutes of this period are still in use today in the form of the Arabic Tanbur and the Indian Tamburi. It was in Persia that lutes with more familiar proportions originally appeared. We know of these through clay figurines dating to 800 B.C. These short-necked lutes have necks formed by the tapering of the body, the division between the neck and the body unclear.
The short-necked lute made its way from Persia to India, and from there, to China. Today it is still to be found in China as the p'i-pa. A short-necked lute is also found in Japan. Here it is called a biwa.
If any one person can be credited with the introduction of the instrument to India and China during the first few centuries A.D., it would have to be a popular religious sect leader of the time named Mani. Mani was born circa 216 A.D. He was a noble Iranian, born in Ctesiphon. He was raised under the influence of an eclectic Babylonian Christian cult. When he was approximately twenty-five, he claimed to have a new, enlightened religion ‘revealed' to him. This religion borrowed heavily from Buddhism and Iranian mythology, mixed with Christian dogma. This religion's main interest to us today is that it was the only religion of its time to cultivate a lively personal relationship with the arts in its practitioners. Mani expressly required that his adherents steep themselves in poetry, music, and painting. An interesting though irrelevant bit of trivia is that St. Augustine was a follower of Mani for nine years.
We know that Mani traveled and proselytized throughout Northern India, Tibet, Chinese Turkestan and Khurasan. Soon after, we begin to see the lute gaining popularity in these areas. His followers credit him with the “invention of the lute”. It may be that in preaching his religion, he converted people to the lute.
Around 270 A.D., things started to turn sour for Mani. When he returned to his native Persia and the court of Shapur I, he was forced to flee to avoid arrest. In 276 A.D., he was captured by the Zoroastrian Magi, who proceeded to flay him alive. His skin was then stuffed and put on public display. This makes modern music critics seem tame by comparison! An ivory dating from 968, which originated at Cordova and is now at the Louvre, is perhaps the oldest piece of evidence enabling us to establish the presence of the lute in Europe.
By the ninth century A.D., then, the lute was known in Europe, but it did not enjoy any real popularity outside Spain until the Renaissance. The Moorish invasions of Spain brought many Arabic styles of art, music and architecture to Spain. The Arab influence on music included the introduction of the lute.
It is from the Arabic short lute that the instrument we usually associate the term with evolved. Even the word “lute” itself stems from the Arabic name ‘ud or al ‘ud, from which the Spanish formed the term “Laud”, All the European languages base their word for “lute” on this term.
The ‘ud was still far from the instrument we speak of as a lute. For one thing, the neck was still not a separate entity from the body. Also, the ‘ud had two crescent sound-holes, much like viols of the same period. The transformation to a distinct neck and single central sound-hole probably took place in Spain towards the close of the fourteenth century. This is the lute that made its way to the rest of Europe.
As the lute won the hearts of musicians and music lovers in Europe, with the final ousting of the Moors from Spain, the lute's popularity there turned to hatred. The Spanish people acquired a definite distaste for all things Arabic in origin. Historians believe that in order to ease their feelings towards the lute, the Spanish luthiers decided to dispense with the vaulted body, the hard angle of the headstock, and create a new shape for the body. This alteration also simplified construction considerably and one cannot overlook the economics of the move. The instrument could no longer be considered a true lute, although its repertoire and playing technique remained virtually unchanged.
The resulting instrument, the Vihuela de mano, probably sounded very much like a lute, as they are both tuned the same and both carry double courses. However, the Vihuela, with its flat back and indented waist, visually resembles the guitar. As justification of this assertion as to the quality of tone, I point out that the Vihuela is tuned exactly like a lute, double courses, et al. Its repertoire alone can be traced back to that of the ‘ud. The guitar does not have the double courses the vihuela and lute share.
The lute was firmly established in the Europe by the fourteenth century. It was used in all music, becoming a favorite in ensemble work and vocal accompaniment.
By the early sixteenth century, the eleven-string, six course lute was beginning a metamorphosis that would ultimately bring about its decline in popularity during the next century. By the middle of the sixteenth century, the lute had eight courses. The courses were arranged as follows: the lowest (eighth) course consisted of an octave doubling (the bass string and a string having the pitch one octave above it), the seventh and sixth courses consisted of octave doublings, the fifth, fourth, third, and second courses consisted of unison doublings, and the first, or highest, course was a single string to facilitate playing clean melody lines
The performance and enjoyment of what was referred to as instrumental parlor music was an out-and-out fad in all strata of society. Those who could not afford a spinet or clavichord could get hold of an inexpensive lute, which could be had in English barber shops. The most popular instrument of the Renaissance was the lute, analogous to the piano in the 1800's and early 1900's and the guitar in our day. During the very late sixteenth century and the early to mid seventeenth century, the lute continued to expand by the addition of bass courses. When the width of the fingerboard could no longer be spanned by the hand to fret the lower courses, they (the lower courses) were strung completely free of the fingerboard and could not have their pitches altered except by retuning them. These instruments with outrigged courses are termed Archlutes. The Theorbo is one of the smaller Archlutes. It possesses thirteen courses, the highest two being single stringed. The Chitarrone is the largest Archlute. It has thirteen courses also, however, it is basically set up like a six course lute to which seven additional single bass courses have been added. These courses are exceedingly long. (Approximately twice as long as the other courses, and three times the length of those found on a normal lute. The Chitarrone is an exceptionally large and extremely cumbersome instrument. Its neck has two separate peg boxes.)
The lute and the Archlutes lost their popularity due to this excessive complexity and size. The instrument was no longer highly portable and relatively inexpensive. Despite a small but significant resurgence in Germany during the lifetime of Bach, which included such notable and worthy composers as Bach, Weis, and Pachelbel contributing to its repertoire, the day of the lute was, for all intents and purposes, over. The Vihuela would persist and evolve, moving from comparative complexity to brilliant simplicity – a simplicity from which a high art would emerge.
From left to right:
Bow Chordophone (Africa) This bow chordophone consists
of a bow and bow—string, plus a resonating chamber fashioned from a gourd. The instrument represents one of the earliest instruments capable of producing pitches.
Nefer (Egypt) This example of a long—necked lute dates to 500 B.C. It consists of a skin stretched over a hollow chamber and a neck, which runs the length of the instrument, passing through slits in the skin.
Lyra (Greece) This instrument is of interest in that it demonstrates the use of a tortoise shell in the construction of its resonating chamber. Greek long—necked lutes shared this construction technique.
From left to right:
Biwa (Japan) This instrument is an unchanged, direct descendant of the Arabic ‘ud. This short—necked lute features crescent sound holes and a neck formed by the tapering of the sides.
Tanbur (Arabic) The Tanbur is essentially the long—necked lute that dates back to the time just prior to the lute's introduction to Europe. It is a direct descendant of the Nefer.
Vihuela de mano (Spain) This is a sketch of the only 16th.century Vihuela known to exist. It is presently in the collection of the Jacquemart Andre Museum in Paris. It has accommodations for six double courses. It sports five carved rosette sound holes. Copies of this instrument have been built to its exact specifications, showing it to be an acoustically dead design.
From left to right:
Eight Course Lute (European) This is the instrument of Dowland, Holborne, and the “Golden Age” of Elizabethan lute music. It dates from the 16th. century.
Theorbo (European) This is a smaller Archlute. These instruments had bass courses running clear of the fingerboard in order to increase their range. The Theorbo dates from the 17th. century.
Chitarrone (European) The Chitarrone is one of the largest Arch lutes. It possesses a prodigious bass range. These Archlutes were so cumbersome and complex that they very quickly put an end to the popularity of the lute.
The Guitar arrives
Published in 1855, Friar Juan Bermudo's treatise Declaracion de Instrumentos Musicales confirms much of our assumptions about the Vihuela's configuration. He informs us that the Vihuela was strung with six courses (pairs) of strings. He also describes Vihuelas with additional courses but most scholars believe these were proposed instruments of his and that few if any were actually built. His main complaint about the Vihuela? The gut frets. The necks of lutes and vihuelas were not fretted with permanently affixed wire as with the guitar. Unfretted, these necks required the performer to tie lengths of gut around the neck in the correct placement and spacing to provide good intonation. This was a tricky art that many otherwise good performers of the day could not accomplish with consistent accuracy. Bermudo noted this to the detriment of the instrument. He did propose a few methods to improve accuracy of tying frets, but these were based on a Pythagorean scale—a scale containing unequal half steps—and not the even-temperament required for ensemble performance.
During this time, the terms Vihuela and Guitar were sometimes used interchangeably, the guitar was considered the peasant's instrument and the Vihuela a more upscale and uptown choice for the nobility. The guitar was a shallow, smaller bodied instrument with fewer courses, sometimes four and later five. Once again, our friend Bermudo describes the guitar of his day, referring to it as a small Vihuela.
By the turn of the 17 th century, the five-course guitar had surpassed the Vihuela and four-course guitar in Europe and it was during this time that the guitar made its way to Latin America via the Spanish imperialistic push.
By the 1800's, the guitar had lost its paired courses for the most part and had gone to six individual strings. The body was still a long-wasted narrow affair with very primitive bracing. The instrument pictured to the left is an 1800 Jacobus Jany, built in Vienna. Small bodied, small voiced, these instruments still had a lute-like tone, a true transition instrument with the layout and tuning of the future coupled with the sound of the past
Antonio De Torres Jurado (1817-1892) is often referred to as the Stradivarius of the guitar. His instruments codified the shape, design, and construction of the modern guitar. Torres was born in San Sebastian de Almería, June 18, 1817. By the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a carpenter.
Some time around 1842, Torres appears to have gone to work for José Pernas in Granada, where he began to build guitars. He soon returned to Sevilla, and set up shop.
Although he made some guitars during the 1840s, it was not until the 1850's that he took the advice of guitarist and composer Julían Arcas, that Torres made it his profession and he began building in earnest. Julían Arcas offered Torres advice on building. He then began experimented in earnest with bracing, top shape, thickness and material. Torres reasoned that the soundboard was the critical factor in tone production. To increase its volume, he made his guitars not only larger and deeper, but fitted them with thinner, lighter soundboards that were arched in both directions, made possible by a system of fan bracing for strength. To prove that it was the top, and not the back and sides of the guitar that gave the instrument its sound, in 1862 he built a guitar with back and sides of papier-mâché. (This guitar resides in the Museu de la Musica in Barcelona and it is no longer playable.)
In 1868, Torres met Tarrega for the first time. Tarrega then a young lad of seventeen had come to Sevilla from Barcelona to buy a Torres from the maker of Julían Arcas' instrument. Torres offered him a modest guitar he had in stock, but on hearing him play, offered him a guitar he had made for himself a few years before. About 1870, he closed his shop in Sevilla, and moved back to Almería where he and his wife opened up a china and crystal shop. About five years latter, he began his "second epoch" as he refers to it on the labels of his guitars, building part-time when not busy in the china shop. After the death of his wife, Josefa, in 1883, Torres began to devote increasing amounts of time to building making approximately twelve guitars a year until his death.
Torres guitars are divided into two epochs. The first, belonging to Sevilla from 1852-1870; the second, during the years 1871-1893 in Almería. (Pictured at right, a Torres dating from 1857, the first epoch. Even though this is not considered an instrument built in the truest ‘Torres Style', one can readily see the more voluptuous body shape and almost modern proportions.) The guitars Torres made during the second epoch are so vastly superior to those of his contemporaries that their pattern changed the way guitars were built worldwide. Although they are not particularly loud by modern standards, they have a clear, balanced, firm and rounded tone, that projects very well. To this day, the Torres guitar pattern and design is a benchmark for guitar technology, utilized as a model or as a ‘jumping off place' for many builders.
While there are a small number of designs that are considered the norm for guitar construction, each year brings new luthiers with new ideas to the marketplace. Some of these ideas have been incorporated into the standard repertoire of guitar construction; most go the way of outrigged strings or multiple necks.
With Torres, the bar had been pushed higher. Builders such as Manuel Ramirez, Santos Hernandez, Francisco Simplicio and Domingo Esteso propelled the development of the instrument in various ways, none can be said to have contributed as much or more than Torres, and the builders who most religiously followed his principles and practices before imparting their own instinctive and intrinsic modifications have continued to influence others and stand out as the masters. ( Typical Torres-Hauser bracing pattern to right , consisting of seven symmetrical fan braces. )
José Ramirez II modified the bracing system of Torres to include a transverse brace further stiffening the top to produce a distinctive tone that was further enhanced and focused by José Ramirez III who moved from spruce to cedar for his top wood.
Hermann Hauser, father and son, both based their output on the Torres pattern and so enamored of the 1937 Hauser he played that Andrés Segovia declared it “The Greatest Guitar of the Epoch.”
Hauser's guitars have also gained almost mythical status being considered a pattern to build from as evidenced by the beautiful Kenny Hill Munich pictured above left. This instrument is patterned after Hauser, which implies a Torres influence but incorporates some of Mr. Hill's unique and excellent ideas as well. Its tone and voice are very Hauser-like. SEE BLURB ON HILL MUNICH GUITAR.
Gallery of Significant Builders
(Updated regularly, alphabetic listing)
Vicente Arias, (Madrid b. 1840s - d.1912)
Vicente Arias was born in the Ciudad Real some time around 1845. He seems to have begun building guitars around 1860. His shop was on the calle Santa Isabel, no. 20. He continued making guitars right up until his death in 1912. He is generally credited with being the only luthier in the 19th century whose instruments rivaled those of Antonio de Torres in the elegance and constructional quality.
Vicente Arias was the only Spanish guitar maker of the late nineteenth century whose work came close to rivaling Torres, and a comparison between their instruments is revealing. Arias’ guitars are individual in their overall style, as well as in certain construction details, and are slightly smaller and more lightly built than equivalent instruments by Torres.
This particular guitar is very narrow in the upper bout and waist, but has a generous lower bout. The top wood is of high quality, and the workmanship of both interior and exterior construction is immaculate. The strutting system is unusual: there are six major fan bars plus a central brace, symmetrically disposed in the lower bout, and two extra, very short fans which located directly aft of the rosette, one on both treble and bass sides.
Throughout the guitar, everything possible has been done to reduce its weight.
At least one Arias guitar possesses a fingerboard that hooks out over the soundhole on the treble side, carrying nineteenth and twentieth frets for the top string. This is not a common feature, and may have been included at the request of a particular guitarist.
Poster above is for an Arias Exposition in Italy organized by Stefano Grondona September -- October 2005. All photos of Vicente Arias guitars courtesy of Noud Koevoets of The Netherlands.
Jack L. Kirk, Brooklyn New York (circa 1980's)
Born in Sheldon, Illinois, Jack L. Kirk began building guitars after studying classical guitar for twelve years. Martha Nelson put Mr. Kirk in touch with Charles Fox who, at that time, conducted a six week course for guitar builders at Earth Works in Vermont. That is the only formal guidance be received. Of course, in the eight years since then, Mr. Kirk has built instruments in both traditional patterns as well as the experimental. To Mr. Kirk, experience is the best teacher. [Picture above left, author in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1983 playing(!) Kathy Szedenik's Kirk Concert Guitar.]
The guitars Mr. Kirk is currently producing are small guitars employing a short scale length. These instruments ere built in the style of Torres guitars and are indeed exceptional. Mr. Kirks guitars ere highly sought after by area recitalists and their owners will play no other instruments.
Jack Kirk produces a small number of instruments per year, running a one-man operation. His instruments may be seen and purchased at Antonio Davids shop at the American Institute of the Guitar, 204 West 55th Street New York, N.Y. 10019.
Q:How did you begin building guitars?
A: Well, I became interested in building while I was studying the guitar, ah, I thought it night be interesting to attend a few sessions with a local builder. I called a few people and tried to find out if there was someone in the area who built guitars who would let me go into his shop, you know, and sort of hit a brick wall on that. One fellow I met down in the Village, named Hon [said] Well, I havent got the time and this and that, he really didnt want to take on any apprentices. So, I had mentioned to Martha Nelson at the Guitar Society that I wanted to build and asked if she knew any schools for guitar builders. Oh yes, theres this place up in Vermont, at that time it was called Earth Works, run by Charles Fox. I called him end he sent me a. brochure. I went on a waiting list of about a year end I did go up there for a course of six weeks, end lived at his place. He took on six students at a time and you built a guitar in six weeks. Pretty fast! It was seven days a week, except Saturday afternoon. So, Ah, thats essentially how I learned the Basics. when I went up there, I didnt know a screwdriver from a chisel. My real interest in building didnt develop until then. My real love for it developed shortly after I came beck. I realized that eventually whet I wanted to do was build, even more than play. I studied classical guitar, you know, for twelve years. I studied with a number of people including Albert Valdez Blain for a while. So now I dont play all that much anymore but I keep my fingers limber playing the same old pieces over and over. Essentially, that is how I trained; I had been an apprentice to no one. Basically, Im self-taught, except for the basics taught at that school. He teaches the Spanish method of building up there, from the top down, then the neck, sides into the neck, its the Spanish method as opposed to the European method, which puts the top on last.
Q: Which Luthers work has influenced you, either pro or con?
A: Well, many have influenced me, but only recently have I really made any determination of who I really follow. Ah, well, thats a pretty big subject. Torres and Hauser are my idols in the guitar-making field and I like Romanillos I like his approach. For a while Ramirez fascinated me, ah, I built a few Ramirezstyle guitars, big guitars with long string length, but Ive pretty much come full circle now and returned to basics. By that I mean, when its all said end done, I think the Torres and Hauser designs will be the optimum design of a classical guitar because I think big guitars are, as we say, out of focus when compared to smaller instruments. What youre really looking for is balance, clarity of tone and evenness of notes, I dont believe you can beat a smaller instrument. A large guitar has certain unique tone qualities, dark sound, very Spanish. Some pieces sound great on it.
Q: In what ways do you feel your instruments differ from and/or improve upon the works of these luthiers who have influenced you?
A: (Laughs) How they improve on it? Well, tone wise, I dont think I can improve on Hauser or Torres. I can only hope to equal what theyve done as far as tone. Ah, I think Ive tried to look for ways to improve bridge construction, things like that bridge. [A bridge he showed me employing two small dowels anchoring it to the face of the guitar.] I dont see any reason why a bridge should have to pop off. I use a method to fasten bridges where they wont pop off. There are those who will shout me down for approaches like that, you know, you must not leave an instrument in a way that cannot be repaired!, if you put a bridge on with hide glue, it can be removed with a hot knife. My idea is why not put everything on very solid so there will never be any need for repair?
Q: Those dowels go through the bridge and into the top?
A: They go under the tieblock decoration. They go through the bridge after the bridge has been glued to the face of the instrument. Then the tieblock decoration goes right on top of that, you understand, thats oh 3/32 of an inch thick and it covers these two little dowels there. The dowels go right through the top, you make the dowels just long enough so that when you put your hand in through the sound hole, you may feel them sticking out. After theyre on, you can take a piece of send paper and sand them flush with the top. I dont think those bridges are going anywhere! Theyre [the dowels] only 1/16 of an inch, just little pieces. In no way do they detract from the sound or anything. I use maple dowels cause thats whats available at [my supplier]. If I could get spruce dowels, Id use them.
Q: Tell, me all about your construction techniques, bracings, etc. How far will you change your designs to accommodate any particular customers whims?
A: Ill accommodate a customer. Ill do anything they want, within reason. If someone says: I want a red guitar, if they put a deposit on it, Ill make a red guitar! And then, when they come and say I dont like it, Im stuck with a red guitar! Most common thing is the deviation from the standard size guitar. I look at the Hauser and Torres as the standard size guitar although many people have gone bigger the bouts are wider, searching for more volume, see? Thats a myth. It simply isnt true that a bigger guitar is louder, in fact, it can be weaker in volume. Modern day classical guitar strings only are capable of giving off just so much energy. Until they come up with a better string, theyre going to have to stick to a smaller instrument. There is so much experimenting going on, in guitar making. You see, there is no experimenting going on with violin making, changing design, theyre simply trying to find out how to match the plates. You have three factors there. Back and top and the air cavity inside. So youre trying to couple the top with the back and theyve learned how to do that with electronic instruments. Now, I have some electronic equipment whereby I can locate the resonating frequencies of the top end the back. I found out, after a little experimenting, that I could just about, ah, tell what that is by tap-tones, an yearsold way of just rapping and telling if youre close. The most important thing, I think, is to know if youre close, preferably within a semitone of one another. Ah, to know what note in particular a plate is tuned to, isnt all that critical. With guitars, youre sort of restricted by I dont think a guitar plate will go any lower than say, ah, G, probably a G 196, any lower and the plates would be very, very thin. Lets say G up to a B as highest. So most guitar sound boards run from G to B. Backs are a semitone lower or higher then the tops. The point I started to make was, you know, many people are taking the scientific approach now to guitar making electronic equipment. Have you heard of Fred Dickens? Hes a friend of mine. A few years ego, during my playing career, I owned one of his instruments. So we became friends after I began building. Ah, I went over there and found out that he had given up building and the only guitars he would build were those in connection with his research. The work he does now, this guitar research work, is done for the Acoustical society. They have some very technical studies going on. Fred writes for them about guitar acoustics. So, what I wee going to say was that I was fascinated by this scientific approach to guitar building and I went out there. He has a chart recorder in his shop plus essentially the same equipment I have here a function generator with a counter, an automobile speaker and a mono amplifier. You take a little terrarium send, put it on the plate and vibrate it. When you reach certain resonating frequencies, the sand begins to dance on the surface and forms patterns. These patterns are very telling as to what youre looking at, and there are many modes these patterns travel through, end if youve ever heard someone say the ring mode, the ring mode on a plate is celled mode five and that would indicate that the plate is in tune with itself. What Ive just done is take a big subject and condense a few facts. In violin making, when they tune plate e1ectronica1ly, they keep carving and shaping until they get this ring mode, end that plate is then considered to be in tune, and it will give all it could possibly give. Thats the most you can get out of a plate.
Q: You do that with guitar tops then?
A: Its very difficult with guitar tops. Fred was researching for a ring mode it took him over a year to get his first ring mode. He went through all the modern bracing systems, Ramirez especially, Bouchet, with the arched brace under the bridge, end Ill tell you exactly where be found his one ring mode after one year on a Torres pattern seven symmetrical fans with a vee. He didnt come close to it anywhere else. So, ah, then he was doing experiments with the depth of the guitar and, ah, to find out how the air resonance is affected by making the guitar shallower or deeper. Learned all kinds of interesting things to write about, but hes really not found any way to build it into en instrument. I still havent seen a socalled great guitar that was built using electronic tuning. You know what I mean? I think science is telling us why things sound like they do, but whether theyll be able to build a greet guitar, I dont know. I always tell that to everybody. I believe that the worlds greet guitars will continue to be built by the empirical method, by people building to a pattern, by experience. I havent seen anything different on the horizon. This group, this Cat Gut Acoustical Society is made up of a bunch of physics engineers, scholars, teachers, ah, very knowledgeable people. Acoustical experts, and their main purpose was to study the violin, violin acoustics, to find out how to duplicate a Stradivarius and theyre doing good work. They still cant duplicate it though. And they claim to be building great instruments, but you never hear about them. Just like how to books, There are just a few books on guitar making, and youve noticed the people building the great guitars dont write the books about it. You have Sloan, Ive never seen a Sloan guitar, have you? So Id say the more you build and the more you study the art, the more you talk to people, you find out that theres all kinds of hokum floating around about whats good, bad, and what works and most people dont really know the difference...ah, there are so many old wives, tales.
Q: Getting back to your bracing....
A: I consider the Torres bracing system...ah, lets put it this way I think that if a person were going to use no other bracing system, was looking for just one system to use and said give me one, Id give, them seven symmetrical fans with a vee. Now the vee, I dont think you really need it. All the vee does is simply supply the lower bout with some extra stiffness. Seven symmetrical fans seems to Le a good system that, if you dont stray too far from that, ah, it will work. Youll come out with a good sounding guitar...providing everything else went along with it, which is saying a bell of a lot! Theres no mystery about guitar bracing, nothing mystic. All braces do is provide stiffness in certain areas. You could carve, if it were practical, a guitar soundboard without braces. All youd be doing is removing mass and adding stiffness. The two best guitars that Ive ever made have been small instruments, plain and simple Torres bracing. Kathys and Montys (Kathy Szedenik and Louis Monty Jones, two area musicians with Kirk~ guitars) are both essentially the same bracing system. Montys is a little deeper.
Q: You dont use any exotic materials, do you?
A: Ah...well, I built four redwood-topped guitars. Theyre standard string length, but the bodies are Ramirez size. Albert Blain told me he liked the shape of this Aria guitar he has so I said Alright, let me trace it. So I brought the Aria out here and traced it. I made those four guitars (to that shape). It is a rather pretty shape, except I thought they were too big and I told Al about this. I also said Al, theres nothing new about redwood, in fact redwood gets bigger marks as a tone wood than spruce or cedar. You must learn how to work with it, though. These redwood guitars came out sounding pretty good, especially Leo Riveras. There is the mate, over there [points to guitar in room] and the other two I took up to Tony David [Antonio David, 204 W. 55th St.] cause he wanted two guitars. Redwood will be accepted as cedar was. As Ramirez made cedar famous, someone will make redwood famous.
Basically though, Ive settled down to spruce end the Torres/Hauser thats the name of my game from now on. Theres no other way to go for me. I think one of the finest guitars around today is one that Julian Bream has that little Romanillos guitar hes got. If youve heard him play it in a big place, it sounds like hes playing on an amplifier! Thats what you can get out of a small instrument. Essentially Im working towards possible, evenness of notes, and above all, playability. A guitar that sounds great is not worth a damn if its unplayable and there are many of those around!
I dont, you know, try to kid myself about this art. This is always bigger than I am. All I hope for is just to make as many good guitars as I can. Its very difficult. It keeps me humble!
Brooklyn, New York
25 June 1983
What's New? The New Album!
Hey, the new album is out! That's right, finally a follow-up to the reissue of my old album from the late 1980's.
Reflecting Pools is a departure for me as it is totally keyboard. Well, the guitar did show up on one track...