Orfeo Magazine #1 - English edition - Winter 2013

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orfeo N째


m a g a z i n e Special Focus Barcelona The Art Nouveau guitars of Francisco and Miguel Simplicio The exquisite tuners made by Javier Fustero N째1 - Winter 2013 English Edition

o Founder and Director: Alberto Martinez Art Director: HervĂŠ Ollitraut-Bernard Editor: Christian Descombes Editorial Assistant: ClĂŠmentine Jouffroy Translator: Meegan Davis Website: orfeomagazine.fr Contact: orfeo@orfeomagazine.fr

orfeo From the Editor


m a g a z i n e “If you delve deeply enough into something, you’ll end up staying there” Jean Cocteau

It was my work as a photojournalist that led me to start a collection of guitars as though part of an in-depth story. Each guitar that found its way into my collection engendered some kind of exploration and a photo essay. I also tried to meet with the luthiers who had created these guitars so as to understand their choices. These artists allowed me a glimpse of their knowledge of guitar-making and passed their passion for lutherie on to me. “Orfeo Magazine” is the realisation of a dream: to pay tribute to luthiers and their work – focussing on the guitar not only as an instrument, but also as a cultural object and a work of art – by creating as beautiful a magazine as possible. This inaugural edition is centred on two families from Barcelona: the Fustero family, manufacturers of machine heads; and the Simplicio family, luthiers, and their connection with the “Modernista“ movement. I thus hope to create a space that will bring together luthiers, guitarists, collectors and aficionados. Alberto Martinez

Francisco Simplicio and Miguel, his son, are a rare

“It is my hope that their decorative richness and beauty will safeguard them against the neglect and weight of time.� Daniel Friederich

not unlike the architects of Barcelona, they carved historical or

example of luthiers influenced by an artistic movement:

The Art Nouveau Guitars

of Francisco and Miguel Simplicio organic decorative motifs into the heads of their guitars.

The marquetry and generous purfling are admired to this day by professionals.

Excerpt from “Diccionario de guitarristas” Domingo Prat Buenos Aires 1934 SIMPLICIO HERNANDIS, Francisco - Born 18 October 1874, Barcelona. Renowned Spanish guitar maker. At a young age he started work as a carpentry apprentice in the artistic furniture workshop, “Masriera y Vidal”, later known as “Francisco Vidal”. With his outstanding skills and rapid progress, Simplicio quickly rose above his peers,

Left, a ghost view showing the guitar’s bracing. Above, medals from the Chicago Exposition which would subsequently feature on labels of the instruments created by Enrique García and, later, those of the Simplicios.

and worked for 18 years as a cabinetmaker. It was a combination of political and social circumstances that led him to the art of guitar making: a whole series of political upheavals that pitted employers and workers against one another in a pitiless struggle ending in a ruthless mutual lock out, with the joinery workshops closing their doors as a result. Days passed; months went by and shortages became painfully obvious. It was thanks to Simplicio’s long-standing friendship with the eminent guitar maker Enrique García that the latter took him on as an assistant and ended his desperate situation. Over the course of 1919 García’s fame grew, and his pupil, Simplicio, developed into a skilled artisan. It became clear that García’s health was rapidly failing, and

“Grand Award” at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition Simplicio became the right-hand-man of the greatest of all guitar makers; upon his master’s death, in November 1923, Simplicio took over the famous workshop. The fact that Simplicio, at the age of 45, took up the art of lutherie and went on to excel as one of the top guitar makers of his time attests to his intelligence; while his background in cabinetmaking clearly gave him an advantage, he was able to build on that foundation under Enrique García’s constant guidance. Before long Simplicio had stepped up production and immersed himself in a frenzy of work which proved most profitable. His fame grew and he presented some of his guitars at the prestigious 1929 Barcelona

International Exposition, where he was honoured with the esteemed “Grand Award” and gold medal. In light of his intelligence, tireless work and absolute dedication to guitar making, Francisco Simplico fully deserves the gratitude of guitarlovers everywhere. He died in Barcelona on 14 January 1932. SIMPLICIO, Miguel – Renowned guitar maker from Spain. Son of the famous Francisco Simplicio Hernandis. He continued the tradition that his father had inherited from the great Enrique García, enriching it with his own skills. The calibre of his guitars is equivalent to those created by Francisco Simplicio (see above).

There are only five Simplicio guitars known today to bear the Orpheus and Lyre sculpture on the headstock.

The acanthus leaf was an ornamental motif that featured prominently in classical Greek architecture. It was also widely used in joinery and cabinetmaking from the Renaissance through to the Louis XVI style.

For the creation of their guitars, the Simplicios used Cuban mahogany (pictured), satinwood, flamed maple and Rio rosewood.


“A word on the tornavoz” Excerpt from the catalogue « Un musée aux rayons X » published by Cité de la Musique Paris 2001

t seemed perfectly fitting that, upon the death of Enrique García, Francisco Simplicio took over the workshop. Simplicio maintained the same overall design of the instruments, but his background in cabinetmaking influenced his choice of woods: Cuban mahogany, satinwood, flamed maple and rosewood were often used. His varied marquetry and generous purfling are admired to this day by professionals. Even more astonishing are the headstocks of his guitars, given the way that they are beautifully carved and sculpted; five different headstock styles can be identified to date, which is unique in twentieth-century guitar manufacture. The tornavoz continued to be used on a regular basis; it is a conical tube fitted to the inside of the soundboard, surrounding the sound hole, made of 0.3 mm thick brass and weighing approximately 50 grams. This device, which had proved a popular addition to guitars for some one hundred years, chiefly in Spain, dropped out of use around 1940. Musicologist Emilio Pujol described the tornavoz, in his guitar method entitled “Escuela razonada de la guitarra“ (1933), as being

designed to “accentuate the bass notes”. This is corroborated by Charles Besnainou, from the Musical Acoustics Laboratory, University of Paris VI. A light, 60 mm tube with the same diameter as the average guitar (approximately 85 mm) was affixed flush to the inside to the soundboard. The observed effect was a perceptible drop in the primary bass frequency of the soundboard’s resonance – from 220 to 212.5 Hz – and, even more markedly, in the Helmholtz frequency (the spontaneous cavity vibration of the volume of air present in the guitar’s body), from 120 to 102.5 Hz, which alters the percussive attack of the notes. Moreover, the frequency range between these two crests of resonance is clearly raised by 6 to 10 dB, which bolsters and balances the instrument’s bass notes. The physicist also noted that the tornavoz fails to serve as a directional amplifier, since the tube is too short given the size of the wavelengths. The tornavoz was never used nor appreciated by flamenco guitarists. After his death in January 1932, Francisco Simplicio’s equally talented son, Miguel Simplicio, took over the workshop.

Daniel Friederich

Barcelona Art Nouveau A promenade through “Modernista“ Barcelona that inspired the work of the Simplicios.

“La Pedrera” by architect Antoni Gaudí, a house located on the avenue Paseo de Gracia, icon of the “Modernista“ movement.

Casa Comalat, by Salvador Valeri i Pupurull, built between 1906 and 1911.

Casa Pérez Samanillo, 1910, by architect Juan José Hervás Arizmendi.

Casa Sayrach, 1918, by architect Manuel Sayrach i Carreras

The thirty-five years that changed the face of Barcelona


very time I visit Barcelona, Spain, I am amazed anew by these houses, with their designs inspired by nature and their façades adorned with organic motifs. These houses were all built within a short, quite specific, window of time: between 1885 and 1920. Driven by a desire to create a style of art reflecting Catalan traditions, architects, sculptors, painters, poets and writers all sought and discovered new forms of expression. This movement, known as “Modernisme“, blossomed in Catalonia with the same vigour as the other European “fin du siècle“ art movements, such as Art Nouveau in France, Secession in Austria, Jugendstil in Germany or the Modern Style in Britain.

Features of “modernista“ architecture include the use of historical elements, the predominance of curved motifs, a lavishly decorative aspect, with a focus on organic and floral themes, a penchant for asymmetry and aesthetic refinement. Catalan “modernisme“ is best embodied in the works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Several of their creations are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Palau de la Música, the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. Antoni Gaudí introduced new techniques in working with his materials, such as “trencadís” (meaning “broken” in the Catalan language), a kind of mosaic created from broken tile shards.

Floral and organic themes abound in Art Nouveau architecture. The acanthus leaf, in particular, can be found in many faรงades.

Francisco Simplicio, luthier Paseo de San Juan 110


or as long as I have known Simplicio guitars, I could not help but wonder whether the Simplicios actually worked in one of these Art Nouveau houses. The home-and-workshop of Francisco and Miguel Simplicio, previously belonging to Enrique García, was located at 110 Paseo de San Juan (Passeig de Sant Joan in Catalan), as can be seen on the guitars’ labels. For a guitar photographer-collector like myself, there was no resisting the urge to visit this mythical address. Diego Milanese and Umberto Piazza’s most valuable book, “Francisco Simplicio: Luthier”, served as a guide. Thanks to this book, I learned that Barcelona’s streets had been renumbered in the 1940s and that the house formerly situated

at 110 Passeig de Sant Joan can be found as number 114 today. The building, built by Josep Pérez i Terraza in 1905 and known as the “Casa Antoni Gibert”, is on the corner of Carrer de Provença. The workshop was located on the ground floor. The answer to my question can be seen through the photos, taken last autumn in Barcelona, in these pages: Francisco and Miguel lived and worked surrounded by pillars topped with richly carved organically themed capitals, took shelter from the rain under Art Nouveau balconies adorned with floral-motif wrought iron railings and went from room to room by turning “modernista“ door handles. AM

Details of the Casa Antoni Gibert, built in 1905. This building housed the premises of Enrique GarcĂ­a and the Simplicios (left-most entranceway).

Close-up of the entrance hall, offering access to the apartments of the Casa Antoni Gibert.

The exquisite tuners made by

Javier Fustero Founded in 1945, the Fustero workshop has become famous in the classical guitar world for its manufacture of beautiful tuners. Today, the studio is officially closed and Javier Fustero, eldest son of its founder, retired. An interview in his Barcelona workshop.

This guitar by Contreras is fitted with damascened tuners. Damascening, the highly-prized specialty craft of Toledo, involves inlaying gold leaf into an engraved iron base-plate.

The Fustero workshop in Barcelona, in the Hospitalet de Llobregat district. Today, only the pigeons keep Don Javier company.

“Between 1960 and 1965, we produced as many as 30,000 machine heads per month, all by hand”

Don Javier, tell me how the business got started. J.F.  –  It all began in 1945, at the end of the war, when Spanish industry was in poor shape and my father, Manuel Fustero Bosque, created the firm to manufacture lathes. My father, who was something of a guitar-lover and was very familiar with that milieu, received requests from luthiers to produce machine heads and frets, which were hard to come by at the time. Initially my father had only three employees, but the business became so successful that in the 1960s there were some twenty people working

for him. Each was specialised in one type of work and assigned to a specific machine; there were metal turners, fitters, tool and die makers, and so on. The engraving on the tuners was never done inhouse; the machine head plates were entrusted to independent engravers. Are you able to give us any production figures? J.F.  –  Between 1960 and 1965, we produced as many as 30,000 machine heads per month, all by hand. All the luthiers were our clients. Oh, it wasn’t to last forever..! In 1966 Japanese

Don Javier Fustero in his now-deserted workshop. The premises have remained unchanged since their heyday when some twenty workers bustled within its walls.

Guitar created by Ignacio Fleta at the behest of Manuel Fustero in 1977. The tuners (“Torres” model) were engraved by hand on a slightly thicker machine head plate. Right, custom-made tuners with a spacing of 39 mm between capstans (“Fleta“ model).

“We also custom-made a lot of tuners of special sizes” tuners came on the market and other workshops appeared in Spain. When did you start work in the business? J.F.  –  My parents had three sons: Manuel, Carlos and me (Javier). I was born in July 1945 and I spent my whole life here in this workshop. Manuel worked here, too, but Carlos never worked with us. Our father died in 1990, but he had actually stopped working years earlier. How are your machine heads made?

J.F.  –  The base is always brass and the finishing gold or silver. The very first model that we ever produced was the “Torres”, followed by the model with the lyre motif, which was our best selling design. Since it was used on by the Ramirez guitars – and became popular thanks to them – we decided to call it the “Ramirez”. In 1972, we started the “Fleta” model, both with and without the Hauser-style scalloping. We also custom-made a lot of tuners of special sizes, ranging from 34 to 40 mm of spacing between capstans. Ignacio Fleta, for example,

It is the hand engraving that gives Fustero tuners their beauty.

“There may be tuners that are more accurate and of better manufacture, but none that compare in terms of beauty!”

always ordered tuners with a spacing of 36 mm. It was the Japanese who standardised the spacing at 35 mm. For the tuning knobs, I think that the best material is methacrylate: - better than bone, wood or mother-of-pearl. Methacrylate is durable and won’t become deformed over time. Wood is particularly unstable; in time it will warp and the tuning knob will end up turning uselessly without gripping. Some of our tuners had a special damascened finish to them (gold inlaid on an engraved baseplate made of iron). We sent them to Toledo, where damascening is the specialty craft.

Do you have any advice for guitarists? J.F.  –  Buff the tuners regularly with a clothes brush, without using any products. Rubbing will enable cleaning of the worm and pinion gears and will bring out the lustre of the engraving. Next, add a drop of machine oil and then wipe off any excess. What makes your tuners special? J.F.  –  Their beauty!!! There may be tuners that are more accurate and of better manufacture, but none that compare in terms of beauty… AM

The “Fleta” design, with scalloped edges.

The “Ramirez” design, with the famous lyre motif.

Paris, February 2013 Website: orfeomagazine.fr Contact: orfeo@orfeomagazine.fr

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