Orfeo Magazine #19 - English Edition - Summer 2022

Page 1

orfeo 19

M A G A Z I N E The guitar in Scandinavia Kenneth Brögger Thomas Fredholm Per Hallgren Yngvar Thomassen Leonardo Michelin Egil Haugland

N° 19 - Summer 2022 English edition


Available 1 September ! To pre-order your copy, click on the book below Book size: 22.5 x 30 cm (2 kg) 216 color pages 280 photos 1 life-size guitar plan French/English Price: 90 € (+ shipping)

Bruno and Catherine Marlat have amassed, over many years, a noteworthy collection of documents on French luthier, René Lacote. Their work has now culminated in a beautiful book, the first to trace this luthier’s life and the history of his fruitful collaborative work. It explains how his guitar-making evolved over time and showcases a selection of his instruments.

© OrfeoMagazine Founder and Publisher: Alberto Martinez Art Director: Hervé Ollitraut-Bernard – Publishing assistant: Clémentine Jouffroy French-Spanish translation: Maria Smith-Parmegiani – French-English translation: Meegan Davis Website: www.orfeomagazine.fr – Contact: orfeo@orfeomagazine.fr

o


orfeo From the Editor

19

M A G A Z I N E The historical and cultural region of Scandinavia, in Europe’s northern reaches, is made up of three constitutional monarchies: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In all three Scandinavian countries, a vast treasure trove of poems, melodies and popular songs have been handed down through the ages. These hardy seafaring peoples, these Vikings who sowed such terror throughout Mediaeval Europe, were sensitive to the beauty of the hymns and songs that celebrated their exploits. The guitar was unfortunately absent from this corner of Europe for the longest time. Even though Denmark boasted excellent luthiers in the nineteenth century, it was only after Andrés Segovia’s classical guitar concerts and Bob Dylan’s acoustic guitar playing that the instrument truly gained traction. The luthiers I visited in these three countries are not the only remarkable representatives of their craft but, as is all too often the case, I had no choice but to limit my selection, due to time constraints and distance, to the six ambassadors of Scandinavian lutherie that you will meet in these pages. Enjoy! Alberto Martinez


The guitar in Scand

Guitar from 1812 by luthier Jens Nielsen Gade. Musikmuseet Museum (Copenhagen). Right, my itinerary for visiting the six luthiers featured in this edition.

© Arnold Mikkelsen

There is no longstanding tradition of the guitar as a popular instrument in the countries of Scandinavia. Denmark was probably the first country to take an interest in the construction of classical guitars. In the chordophone family, the guitar-lute is the most representative instrument of Sweden and the Hardanger fiddle is still the musical symbol of Norway.


ndinavia Denmark In Denmark, as in many other European countries, the guitar became a very popular instrument among amateurs in the early nineteenth century. This led to the emergence of such excellent luthiers as the Gade brothers. The brothers, Jens Nielsen Gade (1788-1854) and Søren Nielsen Gade (1790-1875), were the most prolific and important guitar-makers in Denmark at that time. Jens Nielsen Gade, in particular, had a huge production capacity of guitars, pianos and harps. Most Danish instrument-makers in the nineteenth century were inspired by Austrian and German traditions. As time went by, however, some makers looked to France for inspiration.

Egil Haugland Leonardo Michelin

Yngvar Tomassen

Thomas Fredholm Per Hallgren

Kenneth Brögger

Sweden The guitar-lute, also known as the Swedish lute, is a musical instrument developed from the early English cittern and the lute, with a second neck and several bass strings running offset from the fingerboard. It is tuned and played like a guitar. The most influential person in the Swedish lute’s development was the Royal Court instrumentmaker Mathias Petter Kraft (1753-1807), active in Stockholm. Kraft added a second neck, like a theorbo, replaced the metal strings with gut strings and changed the adjustable bridge to one glued to the soundboard While strings were paired in courses on the cittern, single strings are used on the Swedish lute


A modern Swedish guitar-lute, 1931.

© Mikael Bodner

in its developed form. It is possible that this is due to the influence of the guitar, which in the late eighteenth century shifted from paired to single strings. Norway The Hardanger fiddle is a traditional stringed instrument, considered to be Norway’s national instrument. In its modern design, this type of fiddle is very similar to the violin, although it has eight or nine strings (rather than the standard violin’s four) and thinner wood. Four of the strings are strung and played like a violin. The remaining strings, called sympathetic strings, pass through the fretboard and then under the bridge and they resonate under the influence of the other four. The Hardanger fiddle is used for dancing, accompanied by loud, rhythmic foot-stomping. Before weddings, a fiddler would traditionally lead the bridal procession to the church. The instrument is often highly decorated, with an animal or a woman’s head carved into the scroll at the top of the pegbox, extensive mother-of-pearl inlay on the tailpiece and fingerboard, and black ink decorations called “rosing” on the body of the instrument. Sometimes pieces of bone are used to decorate the pegs and the edges of the instrument.


Example of a Hardanger fiddle from the nineteenth century.

© Victoria & Albert Museum (1), © The Met (2)

Sculpted heads on Hardanger fiddles.


Nyhavn canal, in the heart of Copenhagen, with its colourful houses, its restaurants and its old wooden boats, is one of the city’s most visited spots.



Kenneth Brögger, in


the Spanish tradition He lives in Birkerød, north of Copenhagen (Denmark). He built his first guitar in 1974 and in 2002 he performed extensive restoration work on part of the Danish Music Museum’s collection of Danish-made string instruments. Kenneth Brögger, surrounded by some of the instruments in his collection.


An unusual detail: a rosewood head with inlaid maple.

“My influences: Torres of course, but also García, Simplicio and Fleta, the luthiers of Barcelona. ” How did everything get started for you? Kenneth Brögger – In the seventies in Denmark, not many people were interested in the classical guitar; only a handful of players and a few luthiers. The guitar-makers were very secretive and didn’t like to share their craft, but I became close to one of them: Yngve Barslev, who explained the basics to me. I then made several trips to Spain to learn more about the techniques of the trade and the French polishing method. In Granada I went to the Antonio Marín Montero’s workshop and asked if he could explain to me how to French polish guitars. He said to me: “Ok, just sit down there and watch how I do it.” I stayed in the workshop for two weeks, observing Antonio as he worked. Then, one day, he gave me a “muñequilla” rubbing pad, some shellac and a guitar soundboard and said: “When we go for a siesta, you stay in your hotel room and polish this top; same thing on the weekends.” I did this until Antonio finally

said: “That’s ok, now it looks professional.” Antonio was so nice… I have remained friends not only with him, but also with the other luthiers in the workshop. Which other luthiers have had an influence on your work? K. B. – Torres came first, of course. I like the Barcelona luthiers, too: García, Simplicio and Fleta. My work is influenced by all of them. I make four different models. I make two Torres copies: one from 1890, a very simple cypress guitar that was part of my collection; and one from 1864, which is much more ornamented. Both are near-exact reproductions of the original instruments. I then have my own model, and the Stradivari model. My model is strongly influenced by Torres and the great Spanish instruments of the early twentieth century. Recently, I changed the “plantilla” of the body a little, moving to a more


Kenneth Brögger splits his time between the island of Mallorca and Denmark; pictured here in his workshop in Birkerød. Romanillos introduced him to the Spanish method of construction.



“My Torres replicas are almost identical reproductions of the original instruments.”

His 1864 Torres model


“I decided to make a guitar with the same motif for the top purfling and around the rosette, just as Stradivari did.” harmonious shape inspired by Santos’ guitars. I have regularly attended the annual musical instrument fair in Cremona (Italy) and some years ago, I saw a Stradivari violin that was beautifully decorated with alternating circles and diamond shapes made of ivory, and I decided to make a guitar with the same motif for the top purfling and around the rosette, just as Stradivari did. But, of course, I used mammoth tusk instead of elephant ivory. This guitar is my tribute to Antonio Stradivari. What is your construction method? K. B. – Initially, like other Danish luthiers, I was building guitars by following the violin-making method, with the body separate from the neck. After meeting Romanillos and following one of his courses, I started building the Spanish way, with the top and neck already together from the outset. Now, I’m convinced that all the parts of the guitar are better connected this way.

Alternating circles and diamonds, a pattern inspired by Stradivari.

Which woods do you prefer? K. B. – For the tops I like spruce better than Canadian cedar. I pay particular attention to the quality and to the way the wood is cut; it should be specially selected and perfectly quartersawn. For the back and sides, my favourite is Brazilian rosewood, but I like also Indian rosewood,


Preparing patterns for the purfling and rosette.

“pau ferro”, maple and cypress, with its fantastic fragrance that makes it so pleasant to work with! I have also built guitars with walnut back and sides, with excellent results in terms of sound. Do you have any special features on which to comment? K. B. – A few years ago, encouraged by David Collett (GSI president), and after several days at the drawing table, I developed a new, very personal, guitar head. Sometimes I also make a head design according to an old geometric principle called “The Polycentric Baroque Arch”: a three-arch combination. Another unusual combi-

nation is the rosewood headstock veneer inlaid with ebony. In guitar-making, we are continuously learning, throughout our lives. I have visited luthiers in Valencia, Granada, Córdoba, Seville, Palma de Mallorca (in the old days, when guitarmaker George Bowden was working there) and I always learn something from them. There are so many details in guitar construction, and so many ways of doing things… Ed.: He is the author of three important books about lutherie in Denmark: Classical Guitar Making, Danish Guitars and their Makers, and A Life with Guitars, which will be released soon, with both Danish and English text.

Six-hole bridge on one of his own models.



“With the Spanish construction method, all the guitar’s parts are better connected.”

Head shape designed according to a three-arch combination.


Smögen, a charming little port 150 km north of Gothenburg.



Thomas Fredholm, from C. F. Martin to Romanillos He started making steel-string guitars in the eighties before switching to the classical guitar. Today, he builds both and divides his time between his Gothenburg workshop (Sweden) and his second home in Sri Lanka.



An unusual heel for a classical guitar.

“In Sweden, each one of us makers has had to start from scratch because there was no information.” What is your guitar background? Thomas Fredholm – My path into guitar-making was different to that of my colleagues in Sweden. My musical background was centred on Bob Dylan and Neil Young; these are the musicians who inspired me to become the luthier that I am today. I started making steel-string guitars in the 80s, mostly as a hobby. Love for classical guitar came later, upon hearing pieces like Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Cavatina played by John Williams, and this nudged me into making classical guitars during the early 90s. I have two friends here who are passionate classical guitarists and it was also thanks to them that I became interested in classical guitar-making. Now, I make both: steel-string and classical. I am a self-taught luthier. In Sweden, each one of us makers has had to start from scratch; there was no information out there. In the countries of northern Europe, we feel isolated. There have never been many guitar-makers

here, so I started by reading some books and approaching the violin-makers’ club. How do you build your guitars? T. F. – I have made many guitars following a Torres plan. Mainly following the bracing; the shape and decoration are more personal. I also like Simplicio: As I see it, his instruments are the most beautiful guitars ever made. There was a phase, in my search for lightness, when I built around twenty double-top guitars, albeit keeping the Torres bracing. In the end, I found that it didn’t make much difference to what I was doing. I also stopped making double-tops because it was too much of a hassle. It’s quite tricky, and I get the same result with a single soundboard. With the double-tops you don’t really know what is happening all the time, and if you have a crack on the top, it’s very difficult to repair. I love the Torres sound; I could never abandon that just for the sake of power. I build the classical guitar body the Spanish


His bracing takes its inspiration from Torres, but the shape of the guitar is more personal.



“I have produced many cedar-top guitars but I think I’m more of a spruce luthier.”


In a corner of his studio, two Panormos: one genuine and the other a replica by Fredholm.

“I put the whole instrument together and start tap-tuning from there. I tap-tune everything.” way, upside down, with the typical peones, but the neck is done separately and joined with a dovetail. I find that this approach gives a better tonal quality to the instrument. What are your preferences for wood? T. F. – For the tops, I like spruce. I have produced many cedar-top guitars but I think I’m more of a spruce luthier. For the back and sides, the woods I work with are mostly Brazilian and Indian rosewoods. I love cypress but – you know the problem – the guitarists will say “I’m not a flamenco player”. There is one wood that is never used in classical guitar making, which I have never tried, but which works fantastically well in the world of steel-strings, and that is mahogany. I have seen plenty of acoustic guitars made of mahogany and they are extraordinary. A mahogany Martin from the 30s kicks everything! I have enough wood for two lifetimes! I have lots

of very old Brazilian rosewood. I have spruce tops from Germany and Austria that are 40 years old, and I have some others from the 90s that come from Italy. In Sweden we don’t have really any ideal wood for soundboards. Probably, one of the problems is that when we have midnight sun, with the sun shining for so many hours per day, the trees tend to twist. The other problem is that our mountains are not very steep, and so the north side is not completely in the shade. We have never had a tonewood industry because demand is too low. Even Goya, the Swedish guitar-maker who was quite successful in the 60s, imported all of his spruce tops from Mittenwald. How do you fine-tune your guitars? T. F. – There are many ways to get the tone you are looking for. I put the whole instrument together and start tap-tuning from there. I tap-tune everything.


His acoustic guitars are inspired by pre-war Martins.


“I listen if the wood vibrates, otherwise I sand a bit more.” I tune the sides, I tune the back and I tune the top, tapping and sanding or scraping from the outside. I do it listening to the sound of the sand paper. It’s a violin-maker method. I listen so that I can tell if the wood is vibrating; if it’s not, I sand a little bit more. After I’ve finished, I French polish the instruments. My instruments probably don’t look as nice as they did 15 years ago, because sanding from the outside creates little bumps. But if all the parts are tuned, you get more volume and musicality. I use this method for both types of guitars, steelstring and classical. What sound do you have in mind? T. F. – I remember the beautiful sound of a Romanillos guitar. Hearing it for the first time blew my mind; it was a fantastic instrument and it truly inspired me. It was exactly the sound that I was looking for. I also have in mind a great Torres guitar; a guitar I had

For the back and sides, he prefers Brazilian and Indian rosewoods.

once heard at a festival in Germany. The owner gave me the plan of this guitar and I’ve made some replicas. Something happens when the instrument ages – something that you can’t control – but I’m sure that the guitar’s sound changes with age. I think aging has more influence on the sound than playing. Tell us about your models. T. F. – My steel-strings are like pre-war Martin instruments, in terms of both sound and appearance. I have just finished a 0 model. Building classical guitars has improved my steel-string guitar-making because I have adapted and applied to it the same finetuning, sanding technique that I usually use for classical. To me, C. F. Martin and Torres were fantastic luthiers, who had the capacity to lift the guitars from Volvo quality to Rolls Royce grade.

Two rosewood backs for OM model acoustic guitars.


Rosette and purfling inlaid with mother-ofpearl.


Per Hallgren, from lute to guitar He lives with his family in the countryside, 30 km east of Gothenburg, Sweden. Self-taught, he has built almost 300 classical guitars on a full-time basis since 1992.



A separate room solely for varnishing.

“Before French polishing, I spend a lot of time playing, analysing and fine-tuning the sound.” How did everything get started for you? Per Hallgren – I came to the guitar world in my younger days, playing guitar and Renaissance lute. Then in 1986, I started making lutes and steelstring guitars, but as I was mainly a classical player, I have been building only classical guitars since 1990. I found that the luthier’s work fitted very well with my character; I find that working out in the woods, in silence, is quite inspiring. One day, I sent a letter to Dr. Bernard Richardson, an acoustic researcher from Cardiff (Wales), explaining that I was a young guitar-maker and that I wanted to better understand the acoustic behaviour of guitars. One year later, I received a big A4 enve-

lope with a pile of articles he had written about guitar acoustics and a personal letter ending: “Don’t think that you can find any answers by measuring and analysing resonances, but it can help you ask more intelligent questions”. When I complete a guitar, before French polishing, I mount the strings and I spend a lot of time playing, analysing and fine-tuning the sound. For instance, this guitar, just finished, has some notes that I don’t find good enough; so I will check the resonances of the top and the back, Hallgren crafts his guitars in a dream workshop, surrounded by forests.


Once all the testing is over, he removes the strings and applies the French polish.


“I never forget that the most important thing is what you feel when you play.” using a computer to measure the frequencies and a sine wave generator to show the patterns, to find where to adjust the top or back. But Richardson was right, of course. The computer and the software are only tools to help in understanding the acoustics puzzle. You have to find the answers by yourself. If something needs adjusting, there are three possibilities: if some areas of the top or back are too stiff, I will remove wood; if they are too flexible, I will add small struts or braces to stiffen them; or, lastly, if something needs changing without altering the stiffness I can add weight with small pieces of wood. In general, I build stiff so that I have leeway to adjust the thickness later. I always test my guitars, at least for two or three months, because the wood in a new guitar slowly adjusts to the string tension. I play, I analyse and I try to improve the sound and response as best I can. But I never forget that the most important thing is what you feel when you play. The guitar is a musical instrument, so the impression when playing is more important than any measurements.


His simple model, with less ornamentation and a more sedate head design.


Flawless assembly and meticulous finishing.

The signature headstock of his high-end models.

The final step is to take off the strings and do the French polishing. That’s why, in my case, building a guitar is more or less a year-long process. Does the French polish change the sound? P. H. – Yes, a little bit, but in the right direction: it makes the sound sweeter, more refined. Do you build the guitars in the traditional way? P. H. – I build using the Spanish method. I have been using the same asymmetric fan bracing for more than ten years; it’s nothing special. For me, the important thing is to always use the same basic bracing so that I can work on the details for tuning the resonances. When I started guitar-making I tried different bracings and construction methods but, when you make multiple changes all at once, you learn nothing about the finer details, which can actually make the biggest difference. I have been building the same guitar over and over for many years: seven-strut bracing with

two sloping harmonic bars and no closing bar on the bass side. I make two guitar models: one has a simpler headstock and less decoration, to keep the price lower. What is your sound reference? P. H. – In the 90s I attended a guitar festival in which Roberto Aussel played a spruce Daniel Friederich guitar and he let me examine his instrument. I still remember that sound: it was something completely different to what I was used to. After that, everything that I read by Friederich had an influence on my work. I like his scientific approach. Which woods? P. H. – For the soundboard, my favourite wood is spruce. Swedish spruce? P. H. – No, I think our problem is that the trees are not big enough. I buy my spruce in Switzerland; I like it light and rigid, with the growing


Underside of the head laminated in rosewood.

rings not too close together. For the back and sides, I like Indian rosewood, with straight lines and not too flashy. You have made a papier maché guitar… P. H. – I made an experimental guitar with the back of laminated paper. I wanted to explore only the back but I had to find some old newspapers because today’s ones are too small for the width of the guitar! Only the back: not the back and sides, as Torres did. People say that Torres made the papier maché guitar to prove the importance of the top, but we don’t know what Torres was actually thinking. I found that the back is also important; it must have resonances that work in harmony with the top. My idea was to use ordinary paper, an acoustically dead material, and tune it with braces so as to achieve the same resonances as my other guitars. My conclusion was that the tuning is crucial and that it is up to you to find the way. Any particular details in your work?

His rosette’s painstakingly detailed work and elegant colour combination.


Hallgren prefers to work with spruce for his soundboards.

“Only the extraordinarily well-made double-tops are more powerful than a good traditional guitar.” P. H. – No, not really. I want the guitar to be traditional. Only my approach is modern: use of modal tuning, rigidity measurements, etc. All of the guitar’s parts are connected; they work together. Small details can be of profound importance. So I try to have check points during the construction work. At certain stages, I know what I want from the different components: stiffness, weight, resonance frequencies, etc. It helps me to maintain even quality from guitar to guitar. As I want the bridge saddle to have a regular height all along its length, I give the fretboard a slight twist, creating more space under the bass strings. It’s not only a visual detail; the force exerted by the strings on the saddle changes depending on the height and I like to ensure more uniform pressure on the soundboard.

Have you ever made double-top guitars? P. H. – It is difficult to build perfect double-tops. I have made more than sixty and some of them were quite successful instruments, but my conclusion is that only the extraordinarily well-made double-tops are more powerful than a good traditional guitar. They are difficult to tune because you have no thicknesses to adjust: the wood layers are too thin. When you are preparing a layer, it’s so fragile that even carrying the wood from the machine to the workbench is scary! It’s like paper. Of course, Nomex is very stable and if you are travelling a lot to countries with different humidity levels, a double-top is safer. But the guitar’s soul is in the wood… And for me, the fine-tuning is everything…


“I find that the back is important; it must have resonances that work in harmony with the top.”


The Oslo Opera House is in the city’s port area. The building, designed by architecture firm Snøhetta, was inaugurated in 2008.




Yngvar Tomassen, listening to his hands He lives in Nesodden (Norway), which is easily accessible by ferry from Oslo, and he has been building guitars in a very personal Spanish way for more than 25 years.


Before closing the body, he sands the perimeter of linings with a large sandpaper disc.

Where did you learn to make guitars? Yngvar Tomassen – I am a self-taught luthier. After playing classical guitar for many years, I had the idea of crafting a guitar for myself. In 1995, when I started building guitars professionally, it was hard to find information about classical guitar-making. I remember the book written by Irving Sloane and the one written by Kenneth Brögger. At the time, what guitarists were demanding was volume, so I started doing lattice-braced soundboards. Then, looking for a more interesting, more complex sound for my guitars, I bought a plan of the 1888 Antonio de Torres SE 114, drawn by Jeffrey Elliott, and I moved in that direction. It was very worthwhile because it afforded me more possibilities for tuning the guitar. Do you use Norwegian wood? I. T. – I use Canadian cedar or spruce for the tops and mainly Indian rosewood for the back and sides. Indian rosewood is one of the most stable rosewoods and is well-suited to the Norwegian climate. Here, the winters are long and the houses are well heated. In my workshop,

I keep the humidity at around 40%. I also like maple for the back and sides. It is very elegant and easy to work with, but harder to sell. I don’t work with Norwegian spruce; the pieces are too narrow and the quality is not as good as the European spruce. I order my spruce from Florinett, in Switzerland. Do you work using the Spanish method? I. T. – I work using the Spanish method… but not exactly. I start with the neck and the sides on a mould. Then I glue the top with peones, turn the guitar, sand the back linings with a large sandpaper disc and, lastly, I add the back to close the body. Before French polishing, I string the guitar and, if necessary, I fine-tune it. If I have a note that is not good enough, I try to find the reason and the problem area. If I need to add weight, I search for the spot by gluing modelling paste in different places on the soundboard. And if I need to remove wood, I do it by sanding the braces. For me, the most difficult notes are always around B, C or C sharp on the first string.


Tomassen starts with the neck and sides in a mould before gluing the top and back.



He always makes more or less the same guitar model, as if he were crafting it for himself, and then tailors certain aspects to the wishes of the guitarist. Spruce top, body in camatillo rosewood (Dalbergia congestiflora).



For this guitar, he has chosen Canadian cedar for the soundboard and Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) for the back and ribs.


Headstock laminated with Indian rosewood on the front and maple underneath.

Seven-strut bracing, strongly inspired by Torres.

Any particular details in your work? I. T. – I don’t use too many electric machines; I prefer to feel the wood with my hands. I don’t measure: I trust my hands and the information they give me. I laminate the back of the head more for aesthetic reasons than functional ones. I don’t have different models. I always make more or less the same guitar, as if it was for myself, and then I adapt certain details to the player’s request. The classical guitar market in Norway is very small. I make five or six guitars a year and perform repairs, so it’s not enough to live on; I need to have another part-time job. For us, not being part of the European Union is a problem. As a Norwegian citizen, export taxes and duties make it difficult to sell to other countries.


“Indian rosewood is one of the most stable rosewoods and is well-suited to the Norwegian climate.”


Leonardo Michelin Sal

He learned lutherie in Uruguay but settled in Hamar, near Oslo (Norway). A scholarship from the Norwegian Crafts Institute helped him change course and he builds somewhat unconventional guitars.


lomon, non-conformist


He studied some twenty Romantic guitars and made several replicas.

“I have always wanted to push the envelope, think outside the luthier’s proverbial box.” Where did you study lutherie? Leonardo Michelin Sal omon – I trained in lutherie in Montevideo (Uruguay). Weak local demand and difficulty sourcing quality wood, varnish and good tools hampered my work. At the time we were hosting a Norwegian exchange student, and we had become good friends, and when he saw the challenges that I was facing in my profession, he suggested that I head to Norway to work. In 2002 I moved to Oslo with my tools. Initially, I started out doing odd jobs, but quite quickly I started building classical guitars again. In a bid to extend my clientele, I later began making electric guitars and bass guitars. I have always wanted to push the envelope, think outside the luthier’s proverbial box, and this diverse output greatly enriched my lutherie techniques. To my surprise, the world of the electric guitar was every bit as conservative as that of the classical guitar. But I found my clientele among bass-players, who are more open to new ideas. I knew how to play the guitar, but I had never

played bass. My instruments were nonetheless rather quick to find favour. I later won a three-year scholarship from the Norwegian Crafts Institute to study Romantic guitars. I have always loved these guitars and my aim in studying them was to arrive at an alternative vision of the classical guitar, free from the tradition of the Spanish guitar and from the demand for ever-greater volume from today’s guitarists. Coming into contact with Romantic guitars, being able to measure them and listen to them, helped change my vision of lutherie. For those three years I studied some twenty Romantic guitars and I have made some replicas of them: Fabricatore, Stauffer, Coffe-Goguette, Pagés… How did this period of study influence your way of working? L. M. S. – With the Pagés, I had to learn to work using the Spanish method, with a solera and starting with the neck and soundboard. In Uruguay I had learned Fleta’s technique, with sepa-


© Leonardo Michelin Salomon

Sub-frame of carbon-fibre bars: an idea taken from Viennese guitars, and updated by English luthier Gary Southwell.


His classical guitar model, reinvented from square one.


“What if the guitar had evolved without Torres?” This question has guided my work ever since.” rate body and neck, as with violins. Even today, I see no reason to do things any differently. At the end of the three years, for my final submission, I made a classical guitar starting from scratch, incorporating any worthwhile elements that I had come across in the other guitars with a question in mind: “What if the guitar had evolved without Torres?” This question has guided my work ever since. It was Stauffer’s work that opened up the most possibilities for me and my copy of a Stauffer was astonishing for its volume and sound qualities. It’s incredible! It is a narrow little guitar, with a string length of 60 cm, with enormous braces for strength; compared to everything that I had been taught, it was the absolute anti-guitar! I had the same kind of surprise with the CoffeGoguette guitar; the replica had a truly beautiful sound. Not a Torres sound – it was something else – but equally as beautiful. Ultimately, my end-of-study challenge was: “Can I create a modern guitar, one that satisfies the requirements of the contemporary guitarist, but designed differently, as if it had followed an alternative evolutionary path?” And what was the answer? L. M. S. – My guitar is built with ideas from Cof-

The rosette is made from colourful pigments and mastic.


© Leonardo Michelin Salomon

The bracing used on his classical guitar model.

“I had to learn how to stop working with the finishing and avoid doing more than necessary.” fe-Goguette, such as the soundboard bracing, and from Stauffer, like the adjustable neck with extra neck-block reinforcement. Both the soundboard and the back are thick, the body small, the scale length short: everything is the exact opposite of what I had learned to do. This approach is similar to that of English luthier, Gary Southwell. I had attended one of his lectures in 2006 and I very much liked his ideas, including the one about using carbon fibre bars instead of a single steel one as per Viennese guitars of ten strings or more. I also had to learn how to work the metal parts for the neck joint, to do traditional varnishing, to do away with sandpaper, to stop working with the finishing and avoid doing more than is necessary.

Like acoustic guitars with “relic” finishing? L. M. S. – No, I’m not out to deceive anyone; I have never sought to produce anything like those reproductions of antique guitars that are perfect, as if they were shiny brand new and factory-fresh. Antique guitars aren’t like that; the “handmade” aspect is visible. I have started to work with other varnishes (other than shellac) and with natural pigments. I have also tried various recipes of spirit varnish, the kind of varnish that was used in France in the 1800s, and I have experimented with brush-on application in addition to the usual rubbing pad. And what about Norwegian wood?


Adjustable neck with floating fingerboard.


Replica of a CoffeGoguette guitar, c. 1830, under construction. Is it suitable for lutherie? L. M. S. – The answer to this question is actually quite complex. There are hardly any ancient forests, with centuries-old trees, left in Norway. It all goes back to the seventeenth century, when Norwegian timber was being exported in vast quantities for reconstruction after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Ever since then, lumbering continued in Norway at increasing rates, and the advent of machinery only amplified the process. These days, it is considered normal forestry management to clean cut and then replant an area, but this indiscriminate, extensive felling impoverishes the soil. Moreover, trees are felled when they reach eighty years of

For his soundboards, Norwegian luthier Lars Torressen, who specialises in Baroque instruments (lutes, theorbos, guitars and vihuelas), does not use spruce grown in his own country, but he does use several local wood varieties for his instrument bodies: yew and holly from Hardanger, elm from eastern Norway and the woods of fruit trees for the pegs.

age or thereabouts. Consequently, the resultant wood has neither the requisite size nor quality for lutherie. Everything goes to the construction industry, building and paper. We have buildings dating from the 1700s or 1800s made from pine of outstanding quality, from trees aged three hundred years or more, and today’s carpenters have trouble finding quality trees when timbers need replacing. I do think, though, that we can craft soundboards with a good Norwegian spruce, albeit using three or four pieces, and I am convinced that it is possible to achieve a visually beautiful, even if imperfect result, as our violin-making luthier colleagues already know.


Soundboard made with four pieces of Norwegian spruce.

Copy of an anonymous guitar from Mirecourt, early nineteenth century.


The road connecting Oslo and Bergen goes over plateaux at an altitude of more than 1,000 metres.




Egil Haugland, the musician He is a luthier, guitarist and associate professor in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. He has attended guitar-making courses under José Luis Romanillos and made four instruments with him.


“I built four guitars with José Romanillos in Sigüenza.” How did everything get started? Egil Haugland – In my younger days I played steel-string guitars. It was the heyday of Bob Dylan and other singer-songwriters. But later, after listening to Andrés Segovia’s recordings, I switched to classical guitar. In the 80s I had a guitar made by José Luis Romanillos, “Marieta”, and I was very impressed by its construction. One day, I sold it… Which I later regretted… In the 90s my Martin Fleeson guitar needed repairs and I went to see a friend who was a luthier. When I arrived at his workshop, he was working on a classical guitar and I was seduced by the work. I’ve always loved crafts, especially woodwork, so I asked him if he could teach me how to make guitars. With his help and some books, I built my first guitars. Then in 2001, I was very enthusiastic when I heard that there was a course being run by Romanillos. I attended four Romanillos courses: in 2001, 2002, 2005 and 2006. So I built four guitars with José in Sigüenza. They were great experiences. So Romanillos was your first big influence… E. H. – Romanillos and the sound of Julian Bream’s guitar! I’m very sensitive to the voice of instruments, to the sound, to their timbre. Whether it be a human voice, a clarinet or a piano, I am very sensitive to the quality of the instrument itself. An instrument should be a tool with which to express yourself, and some are better suited to your personality than others. Carles Trepat represents for me the sonic es-


2005 guitar made during Romanillos’ course in Sigüenza (rosette detail on page opposite, left).


Construction details of the guitar made during Romanillos’ course in 2005.



Haugland’s labels are drawn and coloured by hand.

sence of Torres. He came to the course in 2005 and 2006 and played all the guitars made during the course. It was fantastic to hear our guitars being played by such a guitarist. What can you tell us about the details of your guitars? E. H. – The guitar from the 2005 Romanillos course is my basic model; the other is more Torres and also inspired by José Ramírez III, especially those from the 1960s and early 1970s. My way of building is very close to that of Romanillos: the plantilla, the solera and so on, come from him. When you build following the plan of Julian Bream’s guitar, the bracing gives a lot of freedom to the soundboard and I have started looking for more control regarding the first two strings. For the last four or five guitars, I used bracing more like Torres’ and included a sloping harmonic bar, like José Ramírez III. I have also been working on the bridge. If you look at the bridge of the Romanillos, there is about 4 mm of wood in front of the saddle, whereas the saddle of the Ramírez is more in the centre of the bridge; there is more wood in front and the angle of the strings is stiffer. I moved in this direction. I have also experimented with different string lengths, up to 660 mm. But always with nylon; I find the sound of carbon strings too dry.


2018 guitar: wenge headstock; back and sides from several pieces of rosewood.


Certificates and souvenirs from the Romanillos courses.

Which are your favourite woods? E. H. – I’m very conservative. For the soundboard, I prefer spruce; I made only one cedar top, many years ago. For the back and sides, I like rosewood. For the neck, I use Spanish cedar or mahogany and, sometimes I use a local wood from Norway, such as cherry wood from the garden of my house in Sveio, Sunnhordland. I don’t have the personality for research; I work more intuitively. As a luthier I am deeply motivated, but I am also a player. My intention was never to become a successful guitar-maker. The combination of the two is very difficult: both activities are full-time jobs, very time-consuming. It takes time to make high-quality guitars and as a player I need many hours of practice every day. And I am also an associate professor at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. You have a strange guitar here. What is it? E. H. – This is an ergonomic guitar. It was a request from Eline Dalseth, who was completing her master’s degree in ergonomics and who asked me to make a guitar following

certain ergonomic principles to offer the player greater comfort. We talked a lot about how to achieve this without losing any of the instrument’s qualities. The shape is unusual but I built it following a classical guitar process, with a solera, a V-joint, etc. It was designed to work with amplification. Do you fine-tune your guitars? E. H. – When the sound is not good enough, I feel I have to do something to improve it. At times I have changed the back, changed the soundboard, or changed the bridge… Violin-makers have the same problem with the soundpost: they change its position a few millimetres because maybe… That’s in my nature, too. When I finish a guitar, I start wondering if I ought not to be doing this or that… I don’t do that anymore because I kept going too far and I ended up destroying many guitars trying to improve the sound!

Haugland with the ergonomic guitar.


The ergonomic guitar: head of walnut, mahogany neck, wenge back and sides.


Bergen. A city nestled in the fjords on Norway’s west coast and the final stop on my journey.



Paris, July 2022 Site internet: www.orfeomagazine.fr Contact: orfeo@orfeomagazine.fr