"Guitar Maker or Luthier - A maker of stringed instruments..."
When you try to weigh up who was the most important classical guitar luthier of all time, you quickly realize it is a really difficult question to answer. After the eighteenth century, where the five course guitar was largely in vogue, there came several guitar makers who improved the design and thus the performance of the classical guitar.
The person who probably made the most difference and who still has an impact on the modern classical guitar was Antonio Torres. Born in Spain in 1817, Torres was able to strengthen the guitar by fan-strutting drastically. This is a method of outwardly radiating patterns of wood on the underside of the guitar soundboard
Torres also enlarged the body of the guitar compared to the nineteenth century instrument thus giving it more volume. Being both a player and an excellent craftsman, Torres realized, more than most that precision and refinement were all important for improving the instrument.
Indeed, the specifications to which he built his guitars became almost the standard for classical guitar construction and his influence can be felt right up to the present day. He worked with great guitarists of the day, to fine-tune his specifications, even the famed Francisco Tarrega. Although he had to work in closely with these people, Torres was quite paranoid about people discovering his methods of guitar construction. It is said he used to lock up his workshop from even his closest relatives whilst constructing his guitars.
Other refinements Torres made to the guitars he constructed, in relation to standard guitars of the day, were broadening the fingerboard, and lengthening the strings. Torres was often more concerned with performance over looks, paying less attention to detail, in terms of ornamentation of the instrument. Torres always, it seemed, went for results.
Torres definitely made instruments of greater power in volume and tonal production and led the way for future luthiers to build on his outstanding specifications.
Antonio de Torres was apprenticed as a carpenter at the age of 12. When he died in 1892, he was virtually broke!
Another luthier that could be regarded as one of the best of all time is Jose Ramirez along with his younger brother Manuel. They were born in Madrid in Spain and established a long family line of quality luthiers. A "Ramirez" is still a status symbol and one of the most popular guitars among classical players today.
Although they argued and eventually split from each other, the Ramirez brothers built guitars of great quality though differing in design from each other. Jose became popular with Flamenco players as the tone production, and lighter construction suited their purposes. This is not to say his classical instruments were inferior; indeed the opposite is true.
Manuel Ramirez followed in the traditions established by Torres. His guitars had a rich full-toned, bell-like quality about them yet were still capable of subtle mood shifts and nuances. Manuel Ramirez once gave one of his guitars to Andres Segovia who played it in many concerts all over the world.
Fact: The earliest proponent of fan strutting was Francisco Sanguino of Seville in 1759 fifty eight years before Antonio de Torres was born.
The Ramirez brothers inspired many other guitar makers who followed in their footsteps including Hernandez, Estio, Barbero and Fernandez. Another guitar maker of note was Ignacio Fleta. Another Spaniard, he lived from 1897 to 1977. He was very highly regarded, and his guitars are much sought after today. He was taught the basics by his father but received further instruction in Barcelona when he was still in his teens.
Fleta also made other instruments such as cello's and violins but turned exclusively to guitar after hearing the great Andres Segovia play. Indeed, so impressed was he with Segovia that he built him several guitars, which Segovia used in concerts over many years. In recent years, the Australian guitar maker Greg Smallman has become popular due to his excellent craftsmanship and exacting methods of construction. Obviously influenced by the designs of Fleta, Smallman has made guitars for many fine classical guitarists including John Williams, Stephan Rak and the emerging Timothy Kain.
Indeed, with the endorsement of Williams in the early 1980's Greg Smallman's career was secured as Williams was (and is still) one of the most high-profile classical guitarists of all time. Williams must have been impressed with Smallman's instruments as he still uses them to the present day.
Not a guitar maker to rest on his laurels, Smallman continually experiments with guitar design. He came up with an innovation in the early 1980's called the "lattice bracing system". His guitars today also have "armrests" on the upper bout of the guitar so that the guitarist's arm is not resting on the instrument, therefore, gives more volume when played. He has even designed a guitar with an adjustable neck. This allows the player to adjust the action without releasing the strings or even altering the saddle.
The flamenco guitar is constructed using different woods, has a thinner soundboard and a shallower body than the classical guitar. This is to help its peculiar tonal qualities of warm tone and greater "attack" than the classical guitar but leads to a shorter sustain of notes.
The future of classical guitar is secure due to the craftsmanship, hard work and love of the above-mentioned guitar makers (as well as other minor guitar makers). From time to time, there are innovations, but from the time of Antonio Torres the basic design of guitar has been established.
There is no valid reason to depart from these basic principles as they work so well. In other words, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
To read more about Torres and classical guitar making go here...
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