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.