Granada, ciudad de la guitarra

IMG_6244Spanish version here. Yesterday we spent the afternoon setting up the exhibition “Granada, ciudad de la guitarra” which opens today in the Sala Zaida, Caja Rural. The exhibition opens with a quote from Evaristo Valentí’s article “La nueva escuela” and takes us through the development of the guitar (thanks to Asociación para el Estudio de la Guitarra RCSMVE) to leave us with a great collection of guitars made in Granada. The only exception is the Antonio de Torres guitar from the Centro de Documentación Musical de Andalucia which is there to remind of us of the fact that Torres built his first guitar in Granada. IMG_6256A series of videos showing guitar-makers at work, a selection of historical tools, jigs and documents are on display as well. The highlights of the exhibition will be the concerts, live workbenches and the conferences. Here you can see guitar-maker Juan García Fernández, who will have his workbench onsite for a few periods throughout the exhibition, admiring the work of Pernas, Caro and del Valle. Thanks again to Gloria Medina for all the work and of course to Fundación Caja Rural and Poli Servián for the iniative. Click here for the programme. IMG_6255

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


José Pernas 1859

José Pernas 1859

José Pernas 1865

José Pernas 1865


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


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.