Thursday, 30 December 2010

David Rubio, Luthier

Recently, thanks to my friend James Westbrook, I had the opportunity of examining the log book from the archive material of extraordinary English luthier, David Rubio. The rather grand front of this book is shown above, complete with an unused Rubio rossette. Log book is perhaps not the right title for this document; it is part diary, part note book, part order book. Initially, when I opened this, I was hoping for workbench notes on instruments made or examined, but there was little of this. However, this proved to be a document that inspired, educated and moved me.

David Rubio started building guitars in New York in the early 1960s. A career in medicine had been the intention but colour blindness prevented this. Rubio's skill as a flamenco guitarist brought him into contact with guitars and guitarists, and it was almost inevitable that his interest in making musical instruments grew.

Looking at the beginning of this log book you can see the origins of Rubio's business. Most of his clients at this time were local to New York, perhaps familiar faces to Rubio from his days as a professional guitaris? He also took in repairs; Domingo Esteso is mentioned, and he must have learned much from these instruments. It is quite apparent that David Rubio's reputation and workload gathered pace rapidly. The pages of this book fill as the 1960s progress and some familiar names start to appear.

One of the most important names to appear in these pages is that of Julian Bream. The support of Bream must have been important to Rubio, but Bream was also very lucky to find a maker of Rubio's caliber, and to have guitars and lutes made for him. It is easy to imagine Rubio and Bream at the Greenwich Village workshop, discussing instruments and pinning down the details of Bream's next commission. The image is added to by a small technical sketch on one of the pages. It is a detail of a lute by Thomas Goff, and it seems likely that this was Bream's lute that Goff made for him.

Tucked into the log book are some random documents such as a business card, pictured above, with the Duns Tew address. There are some receipts for wood from Andreas Gleissner (my first batch of 50 spruce tops came from Gleissner) and a fabulous letter from an American client arranging to pick up a guitar from Rubio after his relocation to England. The happy recipient of the guitar insists that he will take David and his wife for a celebratory meal at a restaurant of their choice.

There is much to be enjoyed in this notebook, and it really has fired me up in all sorts of ways. Last year I heard Paul Fischer at the Cordefactum guitar festival in Belgium, lecturing on Rubio and this notebook adds to my knowledge of a guitar maker I have long admired. One thing that is clear is that Rubio was an incredibly hard worker and I have heard that often meals would be taken into the workshop and eaten at the bench while he worked. His passionate curiosity turned him towards early instruments, violins and keyboard instruments. He really had extraordinary talents.

Above all else, this log tells part of the story of a man's passion, of his career and his contribution to musical instrument making. I had the good fortune to meet David Rubio, albeit briefly. I was a student at the London Collage of Furniture and on one occasion David and his wife visited the musical instrument making department and had a look around the workshop. I seem to remember that he recommended we should buy a rather expensive German vice, although that was beyond our reach at that time. Since then I have worked on a number of Rubio guitars and my opinion of him grows - a man of real substance and a fine luthier.

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