On November 25 in the year 1989 I arrived in Granada on a bus from Madrid. I had to find a job quickly and a place to live and then get started on my project. My dream was to learn to build guitars here in the single most important centre for the Spanish guitar. At the end of the year that I had set aside I would be going back to Edmonton, Alberta (Canada for those who don’t know) to make a go of my new profession. My experience up to that time consisted of a few years of guitar playing, visits to Neil Hebert in Montréal, some encouragement from my guitar teacher and one or two repairs on acoustic instruments. I suppose I never would have done this if I hadn’t studied linguistics at University and felt comfortable teaching English as a second language to private students here in Granada. This kept food on the table although at the same time it kept me from devoting all my energy to making guitars.
Once I got settled the first thing I did was to knock on the doors of all the guitar makers in Granada looking for someone who was willing to teach me, give me some pointers or (my dream) to take me on as an apprentice. To my good fortune there was a pamphlet available thanks to an exhibition of guitars only months earlier. This gave me the addresses and phone numbers of pretty much all the makers in Granada. I quickly found out that the only apprentices here are the sons or nephews of the makers. My spanish was almost non-existent but I managed to get my point across. A few of the makers seemed offended by the idea, some laughed and others tried to explain that having an apprentice slowed down production and that unless the apprentice was a family member there was never a return on the investment. Today I understand them, I might someday take someone on but for me it will be another project entirely, something I do to alternate with my building. Right now I have too much work to do. Here I should mention a few makers who were helpful despite all that. Jonathan Hinves told me to go and make something and then come back with some concrete difficulties and questions. I did so and he was very helpful, he helped me bend the sides for one of the first instruments and had great advice to give. Antonio Marin answered any questions patiently and when I had a problem with cutting the binding rebate and went to see him he went into the back and brought out a router all set up to do it and said, “here, use this”. I was blown away but as I later found out, this was typical of him . Antonio’s generosity is lengendary. For enthusiasm I have to thank German Perez Barranco: “Get some cash for it and get started on the next one”, he said about one of my first guitars. Rafael Moreno is an unpretentious man and offered tips and wood on a few occasions.
This was all extremely helpful but I needed more, there is an undefinable philosophy and a concrete process among the builders here and I wasn’t getting it. In the summer of 1990 José Ángel Chacón (based in Málaga) offered a two-week workshop on repair, restoration and construction. This was part of the music workshops offered during the course of the Granada International Music and Dance Festival. I couldn’t attend all of the hours because of my teaching schedule but I got a start on a guitar and got to know some of the students as well as Chacón and his son. At the end of the course I was invited to join him and his students for the weekends in Málaga where they participated in an informal “school” in his large workshop. I learned so much about wood, the tools of the trade and acoustics. The love of instrument-making and music was palpable in both the work and social situations. I ended up spending most weekends there for about two years and then a few months at a state-funded school which he finally set up. I was invited by Chacón to participate but was not officially allowed to be at the school or to use any of the tools. As a matter of fact I was an illegal immigrant in Spain for my first ten years here.
BACK TO GRANADA
At some point I realized that I would be better off working on my own and went back to Granada, set up a space in my home and began working. Of course this was some time after my planned one year period in Granada had passed and I was hooked on the place. In trying to apply the Granada methodology to my guitars I think they started to improve but I had to keep teaching and didn’t have much time for building. I should admit that being 23 when I arrived I quite enjoyed the low stress cultural attitudes as well as the tapas bars in the evenings and for the first years spent a lot of time away from my workbench. My relationships with the builders in Granada got better but by no means was I in their league and of course they knew that. I met my wife Monsa in 1996 and that, along with a firm decision to dedicate my life to the guitar allowed me to stop teaching and get serious. I think I might have carried on making guitars for some time but I doubt I would have become a success if I hadn’t met Rolf Eichinger in 1999. At that point my life changed: I began two instruments under his direction and used the techniques and procedures that he had learned from the Granada makers (Manuel Bellido and Antonio Marin). Suddenly I had access to some tools that I hadn’t been able to purchase, seasoned wood, and an answer to every question. So often those answers were a kick in the ass to get me thinking and working as opposed to an immediate solution to my problem. I finally understood that making guitars is a job that requires all of your time and all of your energy, especially when you are trying to “make it”. I began putting in ten hour days and six and seven day weeks. My craftsmanship was by no means up to Rolf’s standards but that improved and so did the sound and responsiveness of my guitars. A teacher in this business is so many things, teaching someone how to make great guitars is difficult enough but a good teacher knows how and where to sell his guitars and can help with that too. Advice on buying wood and tools is extremely important . With Rolf I began spending all available cash on wood purchases and so I now have a decent stock of wood for my current and future guitars. Rolf occupied the workshop next to mine for nine years and taught me more than I could ever have imagined and made me the professional guitar maker that I am today. His death in 2009 left this microcosm of the guitar a poorer place.