Thursday, 30 October 2014

Torres SE122 update

Congratulations to all at Bromptons Auctioneers on their highly successful sale on Monday. The guitar by Antonio Torres, SE 122, sold for the hammer price of £85,000. Had I had the money, I would have paid a good deal more for this fabulous guitar. The guitar is special to me in that it is such original condition; and is the closest therefore that many of us will get to Torres himself. Most Torres guitars I have seen have been altered or restored; some significantly. This one is virtually untouched. The new owner I am sure will value and respect this instrument. My hope is that little will be done to change it; in fact I would like to see it remain unrestored.

I was lucky enough to have this guitar to examine in considerable detail earlier this summer and I am in the process of preparing a drawing and detailed description of this guitar for other makers and interested parties to download. I will post details and prices on this blog. I have other drawings of interesting and rare guitars which I will also be making available.

Other guitars that sold on Monday were an interesting Garcia made in 1906, a fairly early guitar by Robert Bouchet, and a nice Lacote 'Legnani' model.

 I am also just finishing my first copy of SE 122 ,(pictured below) and I'm very exited about the prospect of stringing it for the first time. It goes without saying that I will keep you all informed...

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Antonio Torres 1888 SE122

Every so often a guitar turns up in the workshop that you can't get out of your head. This guitar by Antonio Torres is one of those guitars.

Until recently, this guitar was simply not known about and lay in storage in the house of its owner. It is a large bodied, seven fan strut guitar, with the back made of rosewood and mahogany, and it carries many of the most iconic features of this great maker's work, such as the 3-lobed headstock and the herringbone inlay in the rosette. Although it has playing wear and humidity cracks, it is in virtually untouched condition which is truly remarkable. So many Torres guitars have inevitably been altered or restored, but with this guitar you see the work of Torres; the doming on the front, the exquisite shaping of the head and even the polish - all original and as Torres left it.

One extraordinary feature of this guitar is the grain orientation on the front as it is 3 degrees off centre. This is startling and almost unnerving at first glance. It is, however, almost symbolic of this makers approach to his craft and illustrates his insistence on using the timber available to him in the best possible way.
Startling and unnerving maybe but not unique in Torres work; a Torres guitar owned by Tarrega, SE114 (also from 1888)  exhibits skewed grain, as does SE99.

This guitar is due to be auctioned at Bromptons in London on October 27th, along with other fine guitars. I will write about this instrument in much more detail in a future post.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Vuida de Manuel Ramirez restoration

I've recently finished restoring this small Manuel Ramirez guitar, built in 1919 by Modesto Borreguero. After Manuel Ramirez died in 1916 his widow kept his workshop going with the assistance of Santos Hernandez, Domingo Esteso and Modesto Borreguero. These instruments carry the 'Vuida' (widow) label. Santos and Domingo Esteso left first to continue making under their own names; Borregero was the last to leave in the early 1920's. It is fair to say that Borreguero is the lesser of the 3 makers. Later on he was to train (and be surpassed by) Hernandez y Aguardo and Vicente Camacho. He enjoyed a long life, dying in 1969.

This is a small guitar, with a scale length of 634mm and was perhaps intended as a 'ladies' guitar. The back and sides are of Indian rosewood which was unusual for this time. The guitar is simply and in places roughly built, but in spite of this has survived very well; the damage can be attributed to careless owners, rather than poor workmanship.
This guitar had already been extensively repaired at some point in the past; the top had some large inserted patches, and at some point rear mounted steel string type tuners had been fitted. Initially I hoped to repair some loose back braces through the soundhole, but closer inspection revealed that the removal of the back was the only effective way to proceed, as many bars, top and back, were unglued. I also took the opportunity to make a working drawing of this instrument. I intend to make this drawing available for download in the near future.

(The inside of the guitar prior to restoration)

The back bindings came off cleanly as did the back itself, and to my delight there was a signature and date on the inside of the soundboard. For me it was one of those poignant moments; Borregueros signature bold and assured, signed with a flourish just before the back was glued on nearly 100 years ago. I went to my reference books and found that picture of Manuel Ramirez and his staff outside his shop and there was Modesto Borreguero in his carpenters apron looking solemnly at the camera.

I took off the crudely installed cleats and replaced with linen strips. The centre strut needed partially replacing and the 2 harmonic bars needed regluing. All the back bars were removed, cleaned and reglued and some of the centre seam cleats were replaced. I also renewed a side split that had been badly repaired in the past. The back was refitted and glued and the binding reinstalled. A new set of ebony pegs was fitted, bone nut and saddle shaped and the guitar was playing again. The sound is warm and dark and whilst this modest instrument is never going to be a grand concert guitar, it has a charm of its own.

This is the second Vuida de Manuel Ramirez I have featured in this blog. You can read about the 'S.H.' Ramirez here.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Brazilian guitar maker - Renato Oliveira

Renato and I discussing a guitar soundboard.
(Photo:Natalia Mikeliunas)

A few months ago I was contacted by Renato Oliveira  a professional guitar maker from Rio de Janeiro. Renato had been awarded a grant from the Brazilian government to travel to Europe to visit working makers to extend his knowledge of guitar making. He wondered whether he could spent some time in my workshop. I was happy to say yes and we managed to pin down a week for the end of April that suited us both. Renato was also booked in to work with Christopher Dean, and German maker Gerhard Oldiges.

David Rubio once said that you don't make a good guitar; you think a good guitar. I like talking  about guitars with other makers. I have never felt the need for secrecy about my knowledge, and I enjoy learning about other makers approach to their craft. As the week progressed, I quickly realised that Renato and I had similar approaches to many areas of our work. With only a week at our disposal, I decided to concentrate on the soundboard and so Renato and I worked on one of my contemporary tops, with Renato thicknessing and strutting the board to my pattern but adding his comments throughout the process. It was a fascinating in-depth and intensive study of this part of the guitar, and it was very interesting for me to hear another makers comments on one of my soundboards. At the end of the week I suggested that Renato should make the final voicing to the top with no input from me; I am now impatient to get this guitar finished and see if these subtle changes are evident in the completed guitar.

Guitar making aside, it is always good to listen to visitors from afar. Renato had come to Europe with his wife Natalia and it was their first visit here. Their brief impressions of the UK were illuminating and surprising (Natalia took great pleasure in the fact we take such good care of our gardens) and it was fascinating to hear of life in Brazil. I hope the rest of their stay is worthwhile, and that they will get the opportunity of a return visit.

(Below)  Rosette detail from a guitar by Renato Oliveira


Saturday, 1 March 2014

Guitar making and aerodynamics

I can't be the only guitar maker to have started out by making model aeroplanes as a kid. I loved making anything really so to have ended up spending my working life in my own workshop creating things is no great surprise. Model aircraft still creep into the workshop sometimes. last summer my 8 year old son and I spent happy hours building balsa catapult gliders and then spent more happy hours chasing them round the local park.

I made the plane pictured above a couple of months back. It's a Dart Kitten for those of you who are interested; a 1930s design. It is still waiting for its prop and rubber motor but test glide flights look good. It's free flight and is made as light as possible so I selected the lightest balsa I could find; then thinned it down so that you could see light through it. It weighs 9 grams; a classical guitar low E strings weighs about 5 grams.....

It was whilst I was weighing sheet balsa that I realised again the connection with guitar making. When I select guitar tops I will always take weight into consideration, the same with strutwood, and bridge material.When you build an aircraft/guitar it needs to look good but it has to fly/play as well. (I was telling all this to one of my students recently who pointed out that at least guitars don't get stuck up trees.)

The aeroplane is sitting on the back of a cypress Torres inspired guitar which I have recently finished and weighed just over 1100 grams. The plane has yet to fly but the guitar has gone and is faraway now, and singing like a bird....

Monday, 3 February 2014

French guitar restoration

This guitar was a recent restoration commission, which I have now finished and returned to its owner. It was made in Mirecourt in northern France in 1880 in the Cherpetal workshop. It has to be said that late 19th century guitars are not in the same league as some of those instruments from the first half of the century. This particular guitar is quite robustly built and lacks the constructional delicacy of many earlier guitars; consequently the guitar is quieter and less resonant than one would wish for. However, when I lifted this guitar from its case I was struck by the pleasing ornamentation, the plain but attractive satinwood back and sides and the astonishingly bad repair that had been carried out to the bridge! The bridge had come off at some point and had been glued back roughly into place and then screwed onto the soundboard for good measure. The bridge and the surrounding soundboard had then been painted over with a thick black paste in an attempt to disguise the damage. The rest of the guitar was in fair condition; a small section of ebony binding loose and in need of reglueing, an ugly top split and the obligatory loose soundboard brace. Oh, and the table and back and sides had been crudely overfinished.

The picture above shows the loose ebony binding on the base end of the guitar.

This picture shows the bridge before restoration. I never did quite work out what that black finish was but it certainly lacked finesse. You can just make out some of the screws that have been installed in an attempt to stop it from parting company with the soundboard. The original bridge was found to be too badly damaged to consider re-using so an ebony replacement was made in the same style.

This stamp was found on the underside of the soundboard, along with the date and signatures of some of the craftsmen of the workshop. It is always good to find this information inside a guitar.
To my delight the overfinish came off beautifully leaving a lovely flat and original  original finish. The overfinish appeared to be some sort of shellac and was painstakingly removed with alcohol soaked swabs.

2 pictures of the finished guitar.

Old guitar cases can be time capsules. An old paper bag from a musical instrument shop in Burton on Trent contained packets of strings including  these 'Cathedral' strings. The packet proudly boasts 'British Music and Tennis Strings'!