Buying a guitar in Granada

2015-01-21 10.17.11A recent visitor to my workshop complained that despite Granada’s reputation as a great place to find a guitar, he was having very little luck.  The makers he was interested in or whose guitars he had tried, or was able to try now, did not have anything available for sale.  It is true that the better makers are making guitars on order and sending them off to clients as soon as they are finished so you have to be here at the right time if you want to sample the wares.  One way to avoid this problem is through contact with the guitar-makers.  These days a lot of them use email and will answer. These are not neccesarily reccommendations although I will say that these workshops do not sell factory-made instruments but rather guitars made on the premises by the guitar-makers.

Rafael Moreno, Francisco Alba and José López Bellido do not have webpages.

Sometimes it is possible to hold off sending a guitar to the client so that someone can see it. In the past I have had a guitar available which I have been asked to reserve long enough so that a client could come and see it and maybe take it.  I am always encouraging folks to come to Granada to buy a guitar as it is a treat to meet the builders and the city is beautiful.  However, there are alternatives; a few shops where you can find a nice asortment of guitars from Granada.  Below is a list of shops which usually have guitars by a number of Granada makers.

  • Casa Luthier in Barcelona, Spain
  • Aura Guitar Shop in Tokyo, Japan
  • Jean-Marc de Beys near Toulouse, France
  • Kent Guitar Classics in Sevenoaks, England
  • The Classical Guitar Store in Philadelphia, U.S.A.
  • Guitarras de Luthier in Madrid, Spain
  • Kurosawa at various locations in Japan
  • RIck Falkiner’s Guitar Centre near Sydney, Australia

 

 

Three-piece backs

One of the characteristics of the early Granada School was the way they used darts, inserts and in general multiple pieces for their backs.  Some still do it today but it is not so much a signature of Granada.  Here are some photos, mostly from “Un siglo de la guitarra granadina” by Manuel Cano, a sixteen page supplement from 1975.  One must assume that these backs were composite for economic reasons especially given the hard times in Andalucia back then but many of them are so nicely laid out that a lay-person would surely never consider that possibility.

Antonio Llorente 1835

Antonio Llorente 1835

Agustín Caro 1820

Agustín Caro 1820

pernas1844

José Pernas 1859

José Pernas 1859

José Pernas 1865

José Pernas 1865

ortega1880

Benito Ferrer 1891

Benito Ferrer 1891

Rondalla and the traditional spanish strings

christmasThe most common musical formation 30 years ago in this part of Spain was the “rondalla”, a group of players using bandurrias, laudes and guitars. The guitar was of course the rythmic accompaniment and the smallest (bandurria) was the the solo voice. Dances, parties and any social event would see at the very least a group of three players and in the case of a concert there might be as many as fifty. The larger groups often had a few bass guitars too. Today, choirs, orchestras and marching bands have become more common but you can still see groups, recordings and even festivals dedicated to the spanish string trio.

The relationship between these three instruments was a very important one also for the guitar-maker. Years ago everyone started out building all three instruments but today very few makers build fine bandurrias and laudes.  Very few musicians are looking for a bandurria that costs in the thousands of Euros.

The book that I talk so much about tells the story of Benito Ferrer who played the bandurria for dances and how that led him to starting a workshop which in a way resulted in the consolidation of the Granada School of Guitar-making.

The trade has changed in many ways over the years and this is just one of the things that has been lost in the specialization.  The older guitar-makers here in Granada are fond of telling us how a guitar-maker must know how to choose a standing tree, fell it, cut it up to dry, maximize the number of sets and then store them for seasoning.  Of course these days very few have that luxury or knowledge.  One of the reasons for the excellent tradition in Granada is that almost all of the makers who started in the 70s or earlier came from wood-working trades, specifically cabinet-making.

Leonardo Guitar Research Project

The Leonardo Project is a very necessary iniciative in tonewood investigation.  The scarcity of some traditional tonewoods and the recent legislation means that we need to educate the guitarists to accept a different aesthetic.  Most makers already agree that we can use many other wood species and still get the sound we are looking for.  “The main goal for the Leonardo Guitar Research Project is to study, demonstrate and communicate the opportunities of building guitars with non-tropical woods.”  Among many other activities the Cordefactum festival this week in Puurs, Belgium will host an exhibition and demonstrations of guitars made with non-tropical woods.  The festival itself is very interesting:  Fernando Espí will play, Daniele Chiesa will give a talk and Thomas Holt will be displaying his guitars there and he will have a copy of the book “The Granada School of Guitar-makers”  which will very shortly be available through your sheet music seller.

 

Granada Guitar-makers

libro

See here for updates on how to buy this book.  After three years this book has finally been published by the Granada provincial government.  It came out very nice, elegant and with good quality paper and of course the content is top-notch :) and in Spanish and English.   I am sorry to say that it is not yet available anywhere except for the book fair in Granada until next week when it will be available in Spain in most bookshops.  I will let you know.  Internationally I am sending copies to potential distributors in other countries and hope to know something very soon.  If you are interested it would not hurt to ask some of the larger music publishers about the book.  This might help them to take me more seriously.  I have had some negatives and some interest.  I think publishers and distributors don’t realize that this type of book has a very loyal market even if it is relatively small.  Mostly they are interested in digital content these days but this type of book will always be valued in hard copy.

Conference in Paris “WoodMusICK

The opening conference of the Cost Action FP1302 “WoodMusICK” took place in Paris on February 27 and 28 and I was invited as an instrument-maker and restorer representing Spain.

“The main objective of this COST Action will be to improve the conservation of our wooden musical instruments heritage by increasing interaction and synergy between wood scientists and other professionals (including instrument makers) applying wood scientists, curators, organologists and makers towards the study, conservation and restoration of wooden instrument collections of artistic and historic interest, and to offer a novel and reliable, independent and global knowledge on these collections”, from the webpage of WoodMusICK. 

Besides being asked to lend our expertise to the rest of the researchers we were asked to make proposals for directions that work should take in achieving the main objective.  I proposed that we develop a restoration protocol for the guitar because for other instruments such a protocol already in place (to varying degrees) and that the training and formation of instrument-makers and restorers be developed at the European level.  This is basically because in this country many of the initiatives which have been proposed or put into practice are seriously flawed.IMG_9193

The other thing that we were asked to do was of course present the work that we had done previously.  I spoke briefly about my work with historical guitars and the three years I have spent working on the book about the Granada guitar-makers.  The Granada provincial government put together a draft of the book so that I had something to show for our efforts.

Highlights for me of the two days were the presentations by Paul Poletti, Claudia Fritz and Renato Meucci as well as a visit with Bruno and Catherine Marlat.  Mr. Poletti is a specialist in keyboard instruments in Barcelona at ESMUC and talked about reverse engineering historical instruments.   Ms. Fritz presented her latest research with historical vs. new violins which takes off from her polemic study of last year.  Renato Meucci presented a very well-developed charge that we are dating, identifying and valuing old violins based on the opinions of a small group of people (appraisers/dealers) who have a vested interest in over-valuing or under-valuing (depending on the case) these instruments and suggested the use of more scientific methods.

Upcoming book

I have made allusions recently to the book that the provincial government of Granada is publishing about the guitar-makers in Granada.  The book contains a few well-researched articles but is mostly a catalogue of the living makers and a 30,000 word history of how they came to where they are today.  I think it will be especially interesting because the main section of the book is based exclusively on interviews conducted this year with the makers.  Of course there are photos of their guitars and of themselves in the workshop.   The idea for a book about the Granada makers came from Evaristo Valentí (see the article by him here) while he and I talked about pretty guitar books and how Antonio Marín with all his fame, expertise, years on the job and disciples never appears in those books.  One year later José López Bellido and a guitarist Juan Miguel Gimenez proposed we organize an exhibition of our work along with some concerts, masterclasses and seminars and called a meeting of the makers to discuss this.  To me the exhibition seemed like a good idea but I really thought that only a very nicely done catalogue would create any lasting impact in the guitar world.  I was short-sighted enough to say so and a few of the makers suggested I “go ahead and look into that”.  This was in March of 2011.  Over time I came to take that as a mandate to at the very least get some funding for the catalogue. I ended up co-ordinating the catalogue and anyone in publishing can imagine how much time that has taken up.

The exhibition never happened but the book should be printed and ready for the distributor in December.   Evaristo’s idea was much more a scholarly text than a catalogue so I thought that getting a few different people to write something to accompany the photographs would honour that idea and make it more interesting to a wider audience.  The first person I contacted was Angelo Gilardino who was extremely supportive and put pen to paper to send us a great prologue for the book.  This actually helped me to convince others to write something, to get the guitar-makers to the photographer’s and of course to finally get some money from the government.  The other person who was extremely supportive from the start was Miles Roberts of Kent Guitar Classics.  Thanks to him I was sending builders to the photographer’s at this time last year well before the publisher came through with the money.  I am quite sure that if we had waited, some of the makers would have gone off the idea and would not be reflected in this book.  David Gansz too wrote an excellent piece for the book and was extremely professional on all levels.  The encyclopedic knowledge of Aarón García was helpful many times and shows in his historical article.  Javier Molina Argente stepped in when we needed something about the makers from Baza.  The interviews and the main text as well as the catalogue section were the responsibility of Alberto Cuéllar who travelled to Granada to meet with the makers.  The photographs of the “guitarreros” and their guitars were taken by Alberto Juárez.

There will be no biographies of the authors in the book itself so let me introduce you to them now (I will complete this page as I get the information):

Alberto Cuéllar Hurtado

At a very young age Alberto became interested in the guitar, not surprising given his family’s connection with the instrument as far back as the 19th century.  His great-grandfather ran a Cafe Cantante -La Montillana- in the centre of Granada and his grandfather was flamenco guitarist Pepe Cuéllar -Hijo de Salvador- and won first prize for guitar in the Cante Jondo contest of 1922 organized by (among others) Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca  in Granada.  He studied guitar with his father “Chico” Cuéllar and Alarich Zöller “Alarico” and later moved to London where he spent four years and graduated with a Bachelor of Music from the Guildhall University of Music and Drama under Robert Brightmore.  He wrote his thesis on the construction of the spanish guitar.

Alberto’s relationship with the guitar-makers of Granada goes back almost 25 years thanks to his profession and supported by the family tradition and due to his father’s friendships with many of them.  He has concertized in France, U.S.A., Japan, Thailand, UK, Spain, India and other countries.  Alberto has lived in Bejing since 2008 where he is very active as a concert guitarist, teacher and promoter of the classical and flamenco guitar all over the country.  He is the founding director of www.jitamen.com, one of the most important websites dedicated to the promotion of the spanish guitar in China.

Angelo Gilardino

Angelo Gilardino was born in Vercelli in 1941 where he later studied (guitar, violoncello and composition) in the local music schools. His concert career, which lasted from 1958 to 1981, had a great influence on the development of the guitar as an instrument in the ‘limelight’ in the twentieth century. Indeed, he gave premiere performances of hundreds of new compositions dedicated to him by composers from all over the world. In 1967 Edizioni Musicali Bèrben appointed him to supervise what has become the most important collection of music for guitar of the twentieth century and which bears his name.

In 1981 Gilardino retired from concert work to devote his time to composition, teaching and musicological research.

Since 1982 he has published an extensive collection of his own compositions: Studi di virtuosità e di trascendenza, which John W. Duarte hailed as “milestones in the new repertoire of the classical guitar”, Sonatas, Variations, four concertos for solo guitar and guitar groups, ten concertos with orchestra and several works of chamber music. His works are frequently performed in concert halls all over the world, recorded and included in competitions.

His contribution to teaching began with the Liceo Musicale “G.B. Viotti” in Vercelli where he taught from 1965 to 1981 followed by an appointment as professor at the “Antonio Vivaldi” Conservatory in Alessandria from 1981 to 2004. From 1984 to 2003 he held post-graduate courses at the “Lorenzo Perosi” Accademia Superiore Internazionale di Musica in Biella. Since 2005, he holds a course for advanced performers at the Music School “F.A. Vallotti” in Vercelli: http://www.informagiovanivercelli.it/vallotti10.htm.

He has also held 200 courses, seminars and master classes in various European countries at the invitation of universities, academies, conservatories, music associations and festivals. The city of Lagonegro made him an honorary citizen in 1989 in recognition of his teaching at the International Guitar Festival. In 1993 the University of Granada invited him to hold a course in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Andrés Segovia’s birth.

As a musicologist he has made a considerable contribution to the guitar repertoire of the first half of the twentieth century with the discovery and publication of important works which were either unknown or considered as lost, such as Ottorino Respighi’s Variazioni per chitarra, the Sonata para guitarra by Antonio José and a large corpus of guitar works written for Andrés Segovia by Spanish, French and British composers during the Twenties and the Thirties. Since 2002 he has edited the publication of these works (30 volumes) in The Andrés Segovia Archive, published by Edizioni Musicali Bèrben. He also reconstructed the concerto for guitar and orchestra by the Russian composer Boris Asafiev, published by Editions Orphée, and he orchestrated the Hommage à Manuel de Falla by the Polish-French composer Alexandre Tansman, left unfinished by its author. The rescue of these works and their subsequent publication has given new substance to the historical repertoire of the twentieth century. Besides, he created new settings for Guitar and Orchestra of famous items of the repertoire for solo guitar.

In 1997 he was appointed as artistic director of the “Andrés Segovia” Foundation of Linares, Spain, a charge which he left at the end of 2005.

In 1998 he was awarded the “Marengo Music” prize of the Conservatory of Alessandria. The Italian Guitar Congress awarded him the prize “Golden Guitar” three times (1997, 1998, 2000), respectively for his compositions, his teaching and his musicological research. In 2009, he was an inductee of the “Artistic Achievement Award – Hall of Fame” of the Guitar Foundation of America. In 2011 the Guitar Festival of Córdoba (Spain) entitled to him the “Jornadas de Estudio” with dedicating concerts and lectures to his works.

He has written two books dealing with the principles of guitar technique. He has published a handbook for the benefit of those composers wishing to write for the guitar but who are not familiar with the intricacies of this instrument. He has also published a handbook of guitar history, a volume entitled “La chitarra” and a considerable number of essays and articles.

The prizes received by his pupils in international competitions, as well as his appointments to serve on juries, are countless.  – See more at: http://angelogilardino.com/bio/#sthash.lmldFucr.dpuf

David Gansz

David Gansz is the author of “The Spanish Guitar in the United States Before 1850,” “Madame de Goni and the Spanish-American Guitar,” and “The Spanish Guitar As Adopted by James Ashborn,” three chapters in the recent book, Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F.Martin and his Contemporaries. His biographical overview of the 19th-century North American guitar builder James Ashborn appears in the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press). The son of a music professor, he has played guitar since childhood. Educated at Oxford and Canterbury Universities in England, and Bard College and the University of Michigan in the United States, he holds degrees in Theology, Art History, Writing, and Library & Information Science. An accomplished poet, his literary archives and books reside at the University of California, San Diego, and he has authored and edited publications regarding education. He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA, with his wife and two children, and works as Vice President of Information Technology at Edison State Community College.

Aarón García Ruiz

Aarón García (Granada,1965) graduated from the University of Granada with a degree in Musicology, specializing in Organology.  He has a collection of more than 900 musical insturments from all over the world and has been a guitar-maker since 2007.  Guitars made by Granada builders José Ortega, José Pernas, Agustín Caro, Isidro Garrido and Benito Ferrer occupy a special place in his collection.  Aarón is preparing his doctroral thesis on the evolution of the guitar in Granada.

Javier Molina Argente began studying the guitar at the age of six and two years later entered the Conservatory in Baza, Granada where he studied almost exclusively with the acclaimed guitarist David Martínez García. In 2004 he was awarded first prize in the I Concurso de Interpretación, in 2006 first prize in the II Concurso de Agrupaciones and one year later the first prize in the I Concurso de Composición all of these at the Conservatory. He continued his studies at the Conservatory in Málaga under guitarist Javier Chamizo. From an early age he was interested in flamenco music and the folk music of his native region. In the year 2000 he joined the Municipal Choir and Dance Troupe of Baza and performed with them throughout Spain and in countries such as Greece, Cypress, France, Portugal and Italy. In September of 2010 he was named musical director of the troupe. His interest in history led him to investigate areas such as guitar-makers in Baza and the guitar in the Baroque period. The fruits of this labor of love are the two articles “The guitar in the Baroque. Age of change and experimentation” and “Baza, city of artisan guitar-makers”. Currently Javier is researching the history of the popular Cofradía de Santiago in Baza which was founded in the mid 18th century and about which there is very little information available.

Alberto Juárez

coming soon