Santos Hernandez, Master Spanish Luthier

Santos Hernández was born in Madrid in 1873. When he was ten he began an apprenticeship making vestments and ornaments in a shop that made religious paraphernalia. Unhappy with this vocation, he apprenticed to Valentin Viudes, the son. After a short time, he left Viudes shop and went to work for José Ortega in Granada. But, he soon returned to Madrid and worked for Saturnino Rojas and in the prestigious shop of Francisco Gonzalez, then being run by the son. In 1893, Santos was drafted and was assigned to a artillery unit during the five years of his military service. He was sent to Cuba to fight during the Spanish-American war. On leaving the army in 1898, he seems to have set up his own workshop on the Calle Nicolas Salmerón. About 1905 he was hired by Manuel Ramirez as his foreman to replace Enrique Garcia, who had moved to Barcelona. Santos seems to have been the luthier who was most involved in building the guitar Manuel Ramirez gave Andrés Segovia in 1912. When Manuel Ramirez died in 1916, Santos continued working for his widow until 1920. In 1921, Santos opened his own shop in an alley, La Aduana, in the center of Madrid, building both classical and flamenco guitars. Santos was secretive about his arts, and refused to taken on disciples. Santos Hernández guitars were played by such notable classical guitarists as Luis Sánchez Granada, Regino Sainz de la Maza, Quintin Esquembre, and such flamenco players as Ramon Montoya, Niño Ricardo, Sabicas, Esteban de Sanlúcar, Manolo de Huelva, Manolo de Badajoz etc. After his death in 1943, his widow continued to run his shop, employing Marcelo Barbero to make guitars.

Manuel Gutierrez Martinez and Antonio de Torres

Manuel Gutierrez Martinez and Antonio de Torres

Manuel Gutiérrez Martínez was born in Sevilla in 1773. As his father was a silversmith, it is uncertain where Manuel learned his trade. Over the course of his long carrier in Sevilla Manuel had a number of workshops. In 1836 he had a workshop at Calle Cerrageria 46. In 1844, his workshop was at Calle Cerrageria 44. In 1845-46, it was at Calle Cerrageria 35. In 1847-48, he was at Ballestilla 10. In 1849, he moved to Cerrageria 36, a few doors away from no. 32,  where Antonio de Torres worked from 1856-1868. Manuel shared this shop with María Dolores Gómez Sánchez (b. 1805-d.1867), his apprentice and disciple who had joined his shop in the 1840s. Manuel never married, so when he died of asthma on the 25th of May, 1857, Maria Gomez, inherited this shop from her master, and continued to list Manuel's name in the trade guides until she retired in 1868, and sold the shop to Manuel Soto y Solares (b1839-d.1906).

Manuel Gutierrez chief claim to fame is that he was a close friend of Antonio Torres (b. 1817- d. 1892). According to Prat (1934:374) for a time when Torres was first becoming established in Sevilla, Gutierrez shared his workshop at calle Cerrageria 36 with him. Torres arrived in Sevilla in 1845. During this period, Torres was not a full time builder, but was being encouraged by Julian Arcas, a Spanish guitarist and virtuoso.  (Romanillos and Winspear 2002:176).  Torres probably shared Manuel's workshop sometime between 1849 and 1854, when Torres opened his own workshop at Ballestilia 11, moving then to Cerrageria 32.  

Although Jose Pernas (b.c. 1802 - d after 1866) is credited by some by some as Torres teacher, Romanillos believes it is doubtful that this Granada maker was his teacher. Romanillos notes that Torres guitars have much more affinity with guitars made in Cadiz and Sevilla than with those of Pernas. Romanillos, suggests that (FE 2) shows that Torres was still learning his art in 1854. An interesting question is whether Gutierrez may have taught Torres something of the luthier's art.  It is hard to assess just how much Torres learned from contact with other makers in Sevilla, "in particular with Manuel Gutierrez, it is probable that he was able to learn certain techniques to help him in his career" (Ramanillos 1995:20-21). 

Frank Wallace, a concert guitarist who has record with a 1854 Gutiérrez (Gyremusic CD), and has had a chance to compare it with the 1857 Torres (FE 07) in the Yale University Musical Instruments Collection, believes the elderly Gutiérrez must have shared his knowledge with Torres. Romanillos makes an interesting observation on the 1857 Torres (FE 07) in the Yale collection. He notes that Torres seems to have used an old neck that was originally made for a double course guitar, given that this guitar has a bull's horn headstock like Gutierrez used, it is possible that he got this neck from him. There are other indisputable similarities between these instruments. They are alike in size, shape and lightness of construction," with the exception that Gutiérrez' has a deeper body (over 100 mm!). "Both instruments have three-piece backs, five radial struts, a v-shaped shaft splice, and an almost identical headstock, in a shape reminiscent of bull's horns." Wallace also observes, "similar techniques were clearly used by Gutiérrez to refine the top of our guitar, whose thickness varies widely from 1.4-2.2 mm. Their sound is remarkably similar, in spite of the different woods for the back and sides (Gutiérrez, Brazilian rosewood; Torres, cypress). Both are rich, dark, full and complex in sound.”

The back and sides of the 1837 Gutierrez are made of brazilian rosewood. The back is assemble for 5 pieces into three contrasting sections. The top is made of German spruce. The top is braced with five fan braces with the outer braces on each side abutting and coming off its neighbor at a steeper angle. The bridge seems to be a later replacement. This guitar originally probably had a tie bridge with no nut or pins.  Like the 1854, this 1837 Manuel Gutierrez has a deep body measuring 100 mm at the neck, and 108 mm at the end. Its string scale is 645 mm, and the fingerboard is 52 mm at  the nut. While it has had a number repaired cracks, over all it is in very good condition. Acoustically, although this guitar is small, its tall sides gives its body a column of air comparable to a larger instrument. This heard in the depth of its tone. It is very responsive, and has excellent volume and power. The basses are woody, dark, rich, defined, and complex. The mid-range is well-developed producing lush notes. The trebles sing. They are sweet, rounded, polished, clear, incisive, and have great depth.  

Prat, Domingo. (1986).Diccionario de Guitarras. Columbus, Ohio: Ediciones Orphée Inc. [Originally published in 1934].

Romanillos, José L. and Marian Harris Winspear, (1995). Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker - His Life and Work. West Port, CT: The Bold Strummer, Ltd.

Romanillos Vega, José L. and Marian Harris Winspear,  (2002). (The Vihuela and the Spanish Guitar. A Dictionary of the Makers of Plucked and Bowed Musical Instruments of Spain (1200-2002). Guijosa, Spain: The Saguino Press.

1924 Hermann Hauser Vienna Model

1924 Hermann Hauser Vienna Model

Although Hermann Hauser Sr. (1882-1952) was one of the greatest luthiers of the 20th century, he is perhaps best remembered for the remarkable instruments he built in the Spanish tradition after 1924. In that year, both Andres Segovia and Miguel Llobet visited Hauser. Segovia had attended a concert in Munich at which a group of musicians all played Hauser's. Segovia impressed by the quality of Hauser's work, wrote his impressions of the concert, noting that he "immediately saw the potential of this great artisan if only his mastery might be turned to the construction of the guitar in the Spanish pattern as immutably fixed by Torres and Ramirez" (Segovia 1954). Segovia encouraged Hauser  to copy his 1912 Manuel Ramirez guitar (an instrument generally believed to have been built by Santos Hernandez while he was foreman of the Ramirez shop). He examined and made measurements of this instrument. As Llobet owned an 1859 Antonio Torres, Hauser also had opportunity to examine it as well. Although Hauser began building in the Spanish tradition in 1925, the secrets of these great masters were not an open book, and it took Hauser twelve years of trail and error before he was able to build a guitar that Segovia proclaimed as being the "greatest guitar of our epoch.”

While the story of Hauser's conversion to the Spanish tradition as it is usually told places the emphasis on what he learned from these great Spanish luthiers, little attention has been paid to what Hauser himself may have contributed to that tradition. Whatever Hermann Hauser brought to the Spanish tradition was rooted in the German tradition. Hauser was himself the son of a luthier, Josef Hauser (1854-1939), and attended the State School for Violin Making in Mittenwald as a youth. To become a luthier, one had to pass a state exam which covered all aspects of the luthier's art, and Hauser's examination master was Johann Otto Haslvanter, a famous guitar and zither maker in Munich. While Hermann started his career by building zithers by 1905 he was also making guitars. Following his graduation, Hauser went to work in the Amberer's shop, a family of luthiers who had been building for several generations. However, by the time of Segovia's and Llobet's visit Hauser had established his own shop, and had developed a excellent reputation for his precise work building guitars, lutes, lyre-guitars, and historical instruments. While justifiably Hauser's reputation rests on some 250 instruments that he built between 1925 and 1952, he had by 1924 perhaps already made 250 guitars in the German tradition.

The 1924 Hauser

I recently acquired a 1924 Hauser, which much to my surprise has a recognizably Hauser tone, despite its very different construction. The 1924 Hauser had suffered years of abuse and had numerous cracks that had been poorly repaired over the years. To restore the guitar, the neck and back had to be removed.  Inside was a forest of cleats, gobs of white glue which had been liberally applied by previous attempts to repair the guitar, all of which had to be removed before restoration work could begin. The process of restoring the Hauser to its original condition, however, allowed us to inspect his work closely. While story of Hauser's conversion to the Spanish tradition has always emphasized what Hauser learned by copying Manuel Ramirez and Antonio Torres, this guitar allows us to glimpse some of what Hauser may have brought to that tradition.

Outwardly, the 1924 Hauser  is smaller than modern Spanish instruments and is a typical guitar in German tradition whose very exaggerated hour glass figure seems to derive from the work of Johann Anton Stauffer (1805 –1843). The back and sides are made from  European maple, but the guitar is much shallower in depth than is typical of Spanish classical or even flamenco guitars. Unlike Spanish guitars which increase about 10mm from the neck to the end in depth, the 1924 Hauser, like many German instruments of the period, increases in depth from the neck to the waist, and then becomes shallower again. Structurally, this profile is designed to give an arch the back lengthwise. It is also domed slightly, rising about 2mm from the edge to the center. The back made from two pieces is joined without center strip, and glued without bindings to the sides. The sides are glued to the neck and end blocks, and not fitted as into the neck assembly as is the case with the Spanish foot. A wedge of ebony with a peg for a guitar strap adorns the join of the side over the end block.

The top is also slightly domed, lifting perhaps 2mm toward the center both in length and width, coming with the pivotal point centered along a line passing under the saddle. There are three thin bands of purflings around the edges alternating white, black, and white in color. The rosette which is only 8mm wide uses two bands of the thin edge pattern separated by three wider black bands. The top made from two matched pieces of German spruce, which increase from about 15 grains per inch at the edge to about 25 in the center.

The German spruce used in the top is probably from the supply of  wood Hermann discovered in the early 1920s while walking on the outskirts of Garmisch. According to an interview with Hermann Hauser II: 

"Hauser passed the home of a zimmerman, a rough carpenter, who specialized in hewing logs for the beams and rafters of farm houses. This fellow was in the middle of the yard in the midst of a great supply of logs and was busy with a broad ax, squaring them. Hauser took a close look and rushed into the yard yelling, "You are a gangster!” 

When the astonished carpenter recovered from his surprise, Hauser explained to him that he was chopping on the finest grade of mountain spruce, a wood suitable for the sounding boards of stringed instruments. A deal was consummated on a more friendly basis and Hauser bought the entire supply of wood. This was cut to more convenient shapes and send to Hauser's shop in Munch (Herttig 1983:11-12).

Apparently, Hauser used this wood for the rest of his life, and his son was using the last of this magnificent wood when Herttig interviewed him in 1983. If this is the wood that Hauser used in this 1924 instrument, it may help to partly explain this guitar remarkable purity of tone.

One of the features that stands out is the asymmetrical strutting Hauser used in the top. The purpose of this design seems to be to stiffen the treble side of the top and strengthen the treble response. Although Santos Hernandez also used a sloping horizontal bar for this purpose, Hauser had developed this idea independently, and, in fact, patented this design in 1920. The top has five scalloped bars. Two traverse bars between the neck block and sound hole. One traverse bar just beneath the sound hole. One diagonal bar running from just below the waist on the base side to the mid-lower bout on the treble side. And one traverse bar  just beneath the bridge. There is a bridge plate through which the bridge pins. There is also a similar sized plate between the traverse bracing about the sound hole, and a somewhat large plate that follows the contours of the neck block above the uppermost brace. There is some thought that the plate beneath the bridge, in addition to securing the bridge pins may encourage a more even quality of sound across all the strings.

The bracing on the back consists of three traverse bars: one in the middle of the upper bout; one just below the waist; and, one in the middle of the lower bout. The center seam joining the two halves of the back is reinforced by a strip of wood running its length.

The linings used to glue the top and back to the sides of guitar are made from plain continuous strips, and notched to accommodate the traverse bars.

The end block is of rounded pine, and is drilled for a strap peg.

The neck has a number of distinctive features. It is appears to be Honduran mahogany that has been lacquered black, with an ice cream cone type heal. The neck fits into a dove-tail joint, but is fastened to the body by a bolt which is set into the heal and goes through a threaded nut set into the neck block emerging on the other side. The dove-tail joint is cleverly made by constructing the neck block of several pieces. The inner member appears was formed by cutting V shaped wedge out. This pine wedge was glued to the neck assemble and so fit perfectly into the V shaped slot. The pieces with the V slot were then backed by another piece of wood, one side of which was then rounded.

The headstock is distinctively different from the guitars from 1925 on which paid homage to Torres and Manuel Ramirez. Rather, it has a crest like a flattened m with an oval hole through with a guitar strap was probably attached. Hauser uses a v-joint to attach the head to neck, a feature that he carried over into his Spanish-style guitars, but one which is not characteristic of Spanish instruments.

The ebony fingerboard has twenty frets, including a zero fret just in front of the nut which seems to function somewhat like the saddle and contribute to the guitar's volume, sustain, and evenness of tone. This is also a feature seen in some of his later work. There are position markers at the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 17th frets. Like on a violin, the Hauser's fingerboard floats above the body of the guitar.

The tuning machines appear to be made of nickel, perhaps by Landstorfer, with ivory grips. 

Hauser seems to have experimented with a number of bridge types, including adjustable bridges with metal tailpiece assemblies that fastened to the bottom of the guitar. On this guitar, he used a simple elegant pin bridge with what might be described as a pointed mustache.

The Hauser Riddle

1924 Hermann Hauser played by  Randall Avers

This guitar presents a puzzle. It has tonal characteristics concentrated trebles of remarkable purity, great separation, balance and evenness of tone, qualities abundant in his later work, yet the design and construction of this instrument could not be more different. Although the 1924 Hauser has a lovely voice,  there are some differences in the sound and tone. The basses are not as quite as resonant, nor does it have quite the volume of those he built in Spanish tradition. While one suspects that the wood Hauser used might hold part of the answer to this riddle--at least in terms of the purity of sound-- but I suspect is real answer is more profound. As José Romanillos notes (Courtnall 1993:125-126), rather than fan bracing, European makers used several traverse bars across the soundboard. As a result, their soundboards are tighter and higher pitched than are guitars that use fan struts. While European guitars may have nice trebles, the basses are restricted, and lack vibrancy. While Romanillos goes on to say that the Spanish guitar is more lightly built, and is designed to get the soundboard and the air cavity to vibrate at their optimum, the 1924 Hauser, too,  is a remarkably light guitar, and the whole instrument vibrates when played. Features like zero fret which seems to be designed to transfer energy back to the body suggest that Hauser was already aware of many of the same principles that Spanish makers were using, but approached them in a different manner. We certainly see this in his patent of the diagonal bar. While Romanillos holds that Hauser had to forget the German tradition in order to produce the kind of sound Segovia was looking for, what this 1924 Hauser suggests is what had to do was to translate what he knew about guitar making into the Spanish tradition-- and what took him so much time and effort to figure out was the methods these great Spanish luthiers used to control the same sorts of variables that he controlled using German methods. This guitar suggest that Hauser was not a mere copyist, but a true innovator who brought considerable knowledge to the Spanish tradition and enriched it.

References

Courtnall, Roy. Making Master Guitars. London: Robert Hale, 1993.

Hutting, H.E. "Remembering Hermann Hauser II." The Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly. Vol. 11, No. 3.

Morrish, John. The Classical Guitar: A Complete History. London: Outline Press Ltd.

Segovia, Andres. "In Memoriam, Hermann Hauser." Guitar Review, Vol. 16, 1954.

Urlik, Sheldon. A collection of Fine Spanish Guitars from Torres to the Present. Commerce, CA: Sunny Knoll Publishing Company, 1997.

Antonio Torres and his Disciples

Antonio Torres and his Disciples

Don Antonio Torres' (1817-1892) is known to have been notoriously secretive about his craft.  Yet, a very good case can be made that he may have had two disciples:  Joaquin Alonso and José López Beltrán.

Joaquin Alonso is known from one guitar, the label of which is shown in the book of Romanillos and Winspear (1995:31) and reads:

 Frabicada / por / El Desciplo de Torres / Joaquin Alonso / Almería - Calle de la Alcazaba / Aňo 18[73 Handwritten].

Between 1870-1875, Torres "retired" from guitar making  to open a china shop with his wife in Almería. Romanillos speculates that during this period he was probably doing well-enough for him not to contemplate returning to guitar making, and so was willing to train Joaquin Alonso. We must assume since the guitar was made in Almería where Torres was living that Alonso had his approval to advertise himself as being  his disciple.

We know a little more about José López Beltrán. Again, the few facts we have are supplied by José L. Romanillos and Marian Harris Winspear (1995, 2002). José López Beltrán was born in 1846 in the parish of San Sebastian, Almería. He married, María López Muňoz, and had two children, José and Marría. He is also known from three surviving instruments which bear the label that reads:

  José López Beltrán  / unico discipulo / de / Don Antonio Torres / Teatro Apolo / Almería  Año 18 [94] penned in.

 José López Beltrán  / unico discipulo / de / Don Antonio Torres / Teatro Apolo / Almería  Año 18 [94] penned in.

The first of these instruments, now in my collection, was made two years after the death of Torres in 1894. The other two are dated 1903 and 1906 respectively.

 1894 Jose Lopez Beltran 

1894 Jose Lopez Beltran 

Top: German Spruce

Ribs and Back: Cypress

Neck: Mahogany

Fingerboard: Ebony

Upper bout                235 mm

Waist                       194 mm

Lower bout                310 mm

Body length              450 mm

Rib depth (top)            60 mm

Rib depth (waist)         65 mm

Rib depth (bottom)       68 mm

Sound hole                   80 mm

String scale               635 mm

Weight                      0.90 kg

Soundboard aggregate 1064 cm2

Text of Label

 José López Beltrán / Unico Discipulo / de / Don Antonio Torres / Teatro Apolo / Almería  18[94] handwritten

The words El Tesorero appear on a piece of parchment used as lining-- but appear to be artifacts of the paper used.

The one attested connection to Antonio de Torres (1817-1892) is that he was asked in 1894 by Juan de Torres Pujazón, a first cousin of Torres to prepare a fitted case in which to ship a guitar known as "La Leona," that Torres made in 1856 and had kept, to Francisco Mingot in Argentina, who had purchased it through intermediaries from Ana Torres, the maker's unmarried daughter. Torres Pujazón writes, "I have written my relative Anita, saying that I have the money in my hands, 2,500 reales and that she must bring the guitar tomorrow without fail and I can give her the said sum. I think she will come and we will not fail. As soon as I have the instrument in my hands I will try straight away to get our good friend José López  to make a fitted case" (Romanillos and Winspear 1995:218).

Circumstances would seem to indicate that José López Beltrán  may have worked with Torres in the last few years of his life. We know that Torres returned to building guitars in 1875, beginning his "secunda epoca," which lasted until his death in November of 1892.

From 1875 to 1882, he built on average six guitars a year. During this period, the China shop provided part of his income and consumed some of his time. In 1883, his wife, Josefa Martín, fell ill and died of cancer, leaving the sixty-six year old Torres, a widower with two young daughters--Matilde (b. 1872-73) and Ana (b.1876)--to support. The China shop ceased to exist, and Torres turned his energies to building full time. His output from 1883 to his death in 1892 averaged 12 guitars a year. Yet, it is also recorded that by 1887, Torres' hands shook so badly that he had difficulty signing his name, and needed help to do assembly work. During this period one of the persons who helped him was Juan Martinez Sirvent, a young parish priest who became his trusted friend, helped Torres to do assembly work, "particularly  with gluing the back and ribs and the soundboards of his instruments; tasks he found difficult to carry out by himself because of his shaking hands" (Romanillos and Winspear 1995:42).

Reading between the lines, here's where I suspect Jose Lopez Beltran entered the picture. I suspect that Martinez Sirvent's duties as a parish priest would have meant that he was often unable to help Torres do his work. Torres probably needed more help that this arrangement provided, and he took on  José López Beltrán as an assistant. By this time, he probably was less worried about training a competitor than about having steady help. He had orders to fill.  He also knew that that the great secret of his sound was not something that anyone could steal from him, as he confessed to Martinez Sirvent, "it is impossible for me to leave the secret behind for posterity; this will go to the tomb with me for it is the result of the feel of the tips of the thumb and forefinger communicating to my intellect whether the soundboard is properly worked out to correspond to with the guitar maker's concept and the sound required of the instrument" (Romanillos and Winspear 1995:17). In fact, as Romanillos documents, the methods of construction Torres employed were not only in wide use in Almería, but he shared knowledge of how to do certain operations with other makers, e.g. Torres taught Miguel Moya Rendono (1847-1915) how to calculate fret spacing using a compass and the "rule of 18" (Romanillos 1995:144). So why Torres so secretive? While he may not have wanted to train competitors, certainly by the end of his life, this was not a worry. The answer I think is that making a show of being secretive was good for business. Making a show of secrecy suggested that he had some special knowledge and techniques that other makers did not possess.  If as Torres confesses that his "special knowledge" was a part of his own physiology, hence something he could not teach, and would die with him, there was nothing to be secretive about. What he could teach, and likely did teach José López Beltrán was the then common techniques of construction, techniques that could be learned from any competent maker.  

Romanillos finds evidence  that others were involved in the construction of several guitars built late in Torres' life (SEU 04, SEU 05, SE 139, SE 151, SE153, SE 155). Most of these date from 1890-1892. Romanillos speculates that that Miguel Moya Redondo may have been the luthier involved. The family seems to have asked Miguel Moya Redondo to finish some instruments that Torres left unfinished. Guitar SE 155 dated 1892 seems to have been one of these.  I find Romanillos' argument convincing that Miguel Moya finished SE 155 because it exhibits decorative elements Moya used in his own guitars. I findRomanillos' argument much less than persuasive for guitars built during Torres life.  I doubt that Miguel Moya Redondo would give up his own building and leave his shop to come and help Torres.  Torres' economic situation  in his last years, I believe also makes this unlikely.  When his second wife died in 1883, he was left to raise to young daughters by himself. Although he went back to building full time,  about half of these were humble, simple guitars that would not have put much money in his pocket. He doesn't seem to have been able to pay his bills. Torres died so deep in debt that all his property had to be sold to pay his creditors. Given these circumstances, I think that it is very unlikely Torres would been able to afford to pay Miguel Moya to come help him. I think it is much more likely that Torres took on José López Beltrán as an apprentice-- striking a bargain that he would teach him in exchange for his help. If one accepts my reasoning, then it much more likely José López Beltrán was the second hand involved in making the guitars that were finished before Torres died. 

I think the evidence points to José López Beltrán  having worked for Torres toward the end of his life. This interpretation finds support not just that he was asked by the family to build the fitted case to ship the Leona  to Argentina. As to his claim to be Torres' only disciple, since we do not know what became of Joaquin Alonso, it could well be the case that at the time he was building this was true, and Joaquin had died. The fact that in 1894, when the family turned to José López Beltrán to build the fitted case for "La Leona,"  José was already making this claim, I think argues strongly that the family had no difficulty with his claim.   Moreover, if there were nothing to his claim, everyone there would soon know. So, I find improbable that José would be so stupid as to advertise himself as Torres' disciple in Almería for at least the next 12 years, and run the risk of ruining his reputation.

There is one other piece of evidence that bears on José López Beltrán's success as a guitar maker. Romanillos and Winspear (2002) cite two documents from 1901 and 1903 respectively which register José López Beltrán as an jornalero (day laborer) and an obero (a worker). While I have little doubt that José López Beltrán received instruction from Torres, and was accepted as his disciple, what these documents suggest is that he struggled as a guitar maker, probably doing it part time. This I should point out was not uncommon. Guitar making was a poor man's profession. Most makers came from working class families, often working first as carpenters or cabinet makers. No matter how skilled a maker might be, unless a famous guitarist used one's guitars or a maker was particularly skilled at self-promotion, the primary market for guitars was a local one. In Almería, which had a population of 47,000 in 1900,  José López Beltrán would have had to compete with at least 4 other makers: Juan Castillo and the more established Moya family (Miguel Moya Redondo, Juan Moya Castillo, Andres Moya Martinez).  It is hard to imagine that the demand for guitars in Almería was that great.  Even Torres struggled, and died deep in debt.  So it is not surprising to find  José López Beltrán working as a day laborer and part-time builder.

 

What can we learn by examining the 1894 José López Beltrán. The proportions of this guitar are generally consistent with the small bodied Torres guitars.  It is closest to the dimensions of FEX 21 (1865), FE 27 (1867), FE 29 (1868), SE 02, (1875) listed in Romanillos and Winspear (1995). The guitar has a three piece back similar to many in Torres' obra. The top is made of two unmatched pieces of spruce, a trait common in his guitars. The spacing of kerfling for the top is wide, but consistent with Torres as well. The cross braces are high, rounded, and go straight into the kerfling, again typical of Torres. Parchment is used to reinforce the seams of the three piece back, again something Torres did occasionally.  The bridge seems a bit atavistic, and harkens back to ones Torres made in his first period. The headstock is an obvious tribute to Torres.  At odds with Torres is the treatment of rosette and the fan bracing. The rosette is José López Beltrán's own. Unlike anything Torres made, this guitar has three fan braces and no kite.  However, this is a small guitar, and does not appear to need extra bracing. The angel of the braces does, however, focuses at the 12th fret as in Torres' guitars. Generally, the binding and lines are consist with Torres' treatment of humbler guitars. Like them, the cypress used in the back and sides has knots and other defects. While the workmanship exhibited in this instrument is not up to the level of Torres, it is what one might expect of a person learning his craft.

By far the strongest argument for José López Beltrán having received some instruction from Torres is that this guitar sounds like a Torres.

What can we learn by examining the 1894 José López Beltrán. The proportions of this guitar are generally consistent with the small bodied Torres guitars.  It is closest to the dimensions of FEX 21 (1865), FE 27 (1867), FE 29 (1868), SE 02, (1875) listed in Romanillos and Winspear (1995). The guitar has a three piece back similar to many in Torres' obra. The top is made of two unmatched pieces of spruce, a trait common in his guitars. The spacing of kerfling for the top is wide, but consistent with Torres as well. The cross braces are high, rounded, and go straight into the kerfling, again typical of Torres. Parchment is used to reinforce the seams of the three piece back, again something Torres did occasionally.  The bridge seems a bit atavistic, and harkens back to ones Torres made in his first period. The headstock is an obvious tribute to Torres.  At odds with Torres is the treatment of rosette and the fan bracing. The rosette is José López Beltrán's own. Unlike anything Torres made, this guitar has three fan braces and no kite.  However, this is a small guitar, and does not appear to need extra bracing. The angel of the braces does, however, focuses at the 12th fret as in Torres' guitars. Generally, the binding and lines are consist with Torres' treatment of humbler guitars. Like them, the cypress used in the back and sides has knots and other defects. While the workmanship exhibited in this instrument is not up to the level of Torres, it is what one might expect of a person learning his craft.

Somewhat puzzling is the word Torres written on the cross brace that supports the end of the fingerboard in a hand is not unlike that of Torres.

If this could be proved to be Torres' signature, it would suggest either that Torres had a hand in helping make this guitar, or that more likely José may have obtained wood and parts left by Torres from his family. It is easy to imagine this as most guitar makers have stocks of wood,  prepared tops, necks, harmonic bars, and other parts in progress at any one time.  The woods in this instrument certainly look like the sort of woods that Torres would have chosen himself for this class of instrument.

Citations:

Romanillos, José L. and Marian Harris Winspear, (1995). Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker - His Life and Work. West Port, CT: The Bold Strummer, Ltd.

Romanillos Vega, José L. and Marian Harris Winspear,  (2002). (The Vihuela and the Spanish Guitar. A Dictionary of the Makers of Plucked and Bowed Musical Instruments of Spain (1200-2002). Guijosa, Spain: The Saguino Press.


The Guitar and its woods.

The Guitar and its woods.

Fine classical guitars traditionally are made with rosewood back and sides, spruce or cedar tops, necks of mahogany, fingerboards of ebony. 

C. 1870 Soto y Solares Guitar

This guitar made by Manuel Soto y Solares (1839-1906) has a particularly interesting history. It has just been restored by my friend Andres Dominguez in Sevilla.

Manuel Rodriguez Sr.

In 1945 he began moonlighting, making his own guitars at home. In 1955, he opened a workshop at Ministriles No 6, in Madrid. 

Antonio Marin Montero

Antonio Marin Montero

Although Antonio has built some flamenco guitars, he prefers to build concert classical instruments, and currently almost all of his guitars are of this kind. 

Casimiro Lozano Carrillo

Casimiro Lozano Carrillo

The Spanish luthier Casimiro Lozano Carrillo was born in 1954 in Casasimarro. As a young man he began to frequent the workshop of Vícente Carrillo, run by his widow Gabriela Casas.

Francisco Navarro Garcia

Francisco Navarro Garcia

Francisco Navarro Garcia (b. 1963 began building guitars when he was about twenty, and has become one of Mexico's finest Luthiers.· In 1989 he won 1st place in a National competition which is held annually in Paracho, Mexico.

 

José Marin Plazuelo

Born in Granada in 1960, the Spanish luthier Jose Marin Plazuelo is the nephew and disciple of Antonio Marin Montero. In 1974, like his cousin Francisco Santiago Marin before him, began an apprenticeship with his uncle...