Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Alhambra!!

We’ve just had a family holiday in Spain; we stayed in the Alpujarras Mountains, just south of Granada. One of the highlights should have been a visit to the Alhambra, but unfortunately we couldn’t get in. We had heard that you had to buy tickets in advance, so a week or so be before went, we tried to book on-line, but no tickets were available for the days we could go. A moral there for anyone intending to visit!
The Islamic art work of the Alhambra is often cited by luthiers as inspiration for their rosettes, so it would have been nice to have seen it. But, I’m quite happy with the traditional Hauser style motif that I’m currently using; anyway I hate these big flowery things that look like your Grandma’s embroidered it!
Having read the book “Duende” (about an English guy absorbing himself in flamenco culture, recommended!), I knew that there we a few luthiers based in the roads leading up to the Alhambra, so we had a nose around them! One luthier told me that there were too many guitar makers in Granada: so there goes that relocation idea!
It was interesting to see in their workshops, piles of fronts, backs and necks ready to go. They must batch produce their instruments rather than making one-offs. This of course makes perfect sense if you know that your next dozen guitars are going to be the same.

Classical Guitar Update
You may recall that Andy has been playing in my spruce top classical which I built as a demonstrator. He has also shown a number of players, including his teacher Ray Burley, and all have made favourable comments. Having played the guitar for a few weeks, Andy has fallen for it and wants to buy it from me: who am I to argue! Andy is a victim of gas (guitar acquisition syndrome) and I guess I’m a bit naughty to tempt him with all that lovely rosewood!

The cedar top classical guitar is now on sale at Barry Mason’s Spanish Guitar Centre in London’s West End. I was very pleased that Barry wanted to take it as he and his centre are very well-respected in classical guitar circles. No mater how good your guitars are they need to be seen and played. It would be a great leap of faith for someone to order a guitar from a luthier without having tried one of his instruments first. Having an instrument at a dealer’s, gives those players, who haven’t had the opportunity, a chance to try mine.

Current Projects
I have not spent as much time in the workshop as I should have: it’s been one of those periods of time when everything else catches up with you. However, you can see some of the things that I’ve been up to below.


This 12 string electric guitar is my son’s. I made it for him a few years ago, but its original body was far too heavy, so I cut the sides off and have replaced the original body with a much lighter version. I’ve finally completed all the woodwork and I’m now finishing it. I don’t make many electric guitars, I do not find them a particular challenge to construct and feel that you’re to reliant on bought-in hardware, what do enjoy though is the shaping, sculpting, of a large piece of wood.

I thought that I would French polish this guitar as many luthiers are now doing this and it would be a good opportunity for a trial. I’ve never been convinced that for acoustic instruments this type of shellac based finish is better (define better!!), however, if customers demand it…….
Interestingly, I’ve just been reading “Things about the Guitar” a collection of essays written by Jose Ramirez III. He clearly has no-time for “inferior” shellac based finishes, preferring heavier varnishes and citing the oil varnish of Stradivari as evidence. The book’s a good read for anyone interested in classical guitar construction. It’s probably down to poor translation, but he comes across as a real grumpy old man, which is quite amusing. However, his struggle for perfection is something that I empathise with and respect.

I’ve made the mould for Andy’s carved top guitar and I also intend using this shape for my future steel-string acoustics. I need to rationalise the number of shapes that I offer. I use an external mould and the initial construction of the body in done inside this. Andy’s guitar will have a cutaway, which is always fun to do.


The mandolin that I’m making has progressed a little; you can see that I’ve reinforced its neck with carbon-fibre: this material is so light and strong that it’s ideal in this application.




















As it’s a speculative build, the mandolin might go on the back burner for a while. It looks like I will be without a classical guitar again, so I shall be starting another soon, well staring two in fact. I’m going to have a spruce and a cedar version on the go together. The first thing that I need to do is to prepare the rosettes. There’s a fair bit about my rosettes in the blog’s first entry, so I won’t bore you again.

In his book, Ramirez extols the virtues of Western Red Cedar as a tonewood. It sounds, from the comments that makes as though he was one of the first luthiers to use it. One criticism of cedar is that whilst it plays in quickly, it doesn’t last. Ramirez refutes this with the evidence of his early cedar guitars. I do like good old Jose!!

I’ve been listening to Narcisco Yepes whilst working lately, damn he’s good! Anyone want to order a 10 string?………….

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