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orfeo N°


m a g a z i n e The Contreras legacy

Western redcedar forests Marcelino López Nieto

N° 3 - Spring 2014 English Edition

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orfeo From the Editor


m a g a z i n e “It’s an embarrassment: Spain, homeland of the guitar, has no museum of instruments in its capital city!”  complains Marcelino López Nieto. This world-renowned luthier from Madrid, who has rubbed elbows with some of the great names from the guitar world of the twentieth century, offers us a glimpse of some of the treasures in his magnificent collection for this Third Edition of Orfeo Magazine. And while we’re in Madrid, we meet up with José Antonio Lagunar and Victoria Velasco who explain to us the history behind the Contreras shop and the challenge of picking up where the luthiers of the prestigious “guitarrería” left off. And still on the subject of Madrid, it was the Spanish capital that a guitar-making revolution took place when, in 1965, José Ramírez III started using western redcedar for guitar tops. This wood comes from gigantic trees lining the American and Canadian rim of the Pacific Ocean. So off we go to America, the continent discovered by Columbus in the course of his expedition financed by… Madrid. There’s no mistaking Madrid’s place of honour in this edition! Alberto Martinez

The legacy of Co


It looked as though the untimely passing of Pablo Contreras in 2011 would toll the death knell for Madrid’s famous “guitarrería” but his family has ensured its continuation, entrusting José Antonio Lagunar with the manufacturing side of the business and Victoria Velasco with sales. A tough act to follow…

The “curved brac was to become t

Pablo Contreras

Manuel Contreras

There is a seemingly infinite line-up of professional guitarists who have adopted Contreras guitars, from Regino Sainz de la Maza and Atahualpa Yupanqui, to the Romero family: Celedonio, Pepe, Ángel and Celín. Manuel González Contreras (1928-1994), a talented cabinetmaker of period furniture, excellent designer and music-lover, found his true calling when he came into contact with the world of lutherie while working for a few years in the studio of José Ramírez III (19591962). Brimming with ideas, he soon realised that he would need to set out on his own path if he was to turn those concepts into a reality. Over a period spanning five decades, both Manuel and his son, Pablo Manuel (1957-2011), worked tirelessly to study, experiment and innovate as guitar-makers, guided by the desire to continue enhancing the performance and sound quality of their instruments. Both father and son possessed the quintessential qualities for such a pursuit of excellence: a deep knowledge of the characteristics of wood, meticulous attention to detail, an excellent ear, a love of music (Pablo was a connoisseur of music with an especially soft spot for jazz) as well as something else of paramount importance: they knew how to listen to the opinions, needs and wishes of professional guitarists, with whom they maintained a close relationship. The first of Manuel Contreras’ creations, which was to become the common denominator of all his main models, was the ‘curved bracing’ of his guitars’ soundboards. The rationale behind this innovation was to make the struts stronger, reduce the number thereof and enhance the soundboard’s vibration.

cing�, the 1st of Manuel Contreras’ innovations, he signature feature of his guitars

Old catalogue from the Contreras workshop showing details of guitar manufacture.

The tops of the first guitars were predominantly western redcedar, with backs and sides of Brazilian rosewood.

Ghost view of the curved bracing.

“1ª Especial” Model The first guitars to exit Manuel Contreras’ workshop, made of Brazilian rosewood and with tops of Canadian redcedar or spruce as is typical of all his concert models, had bracing that was clearly inspired by the traditional Antonio de Torres style of construction. But quite early on, the luthier started developing his curved bracing system. Even the early versions of this model, which underwent adjustments over time, had that signature Contreras guitar sound: a well-rounded sound, rich in overtones, displaying excellent quality and volume. He added another feature, which was to become a hallmark of Contreras guitars: he replaced the visible external bracing of the guitar’s neck with two ebony reinforcing rods inserted into the neck itself, on the front face, flush with the fretboard. Thanks to this internal strengthening, the neck’s shape and thickness could be refined without compromising its stability. The “1st Special” model put the Contreras name firmly on the map of the guitar world and still holds, to this day, a prestigious place alongside other models. The two ebony supporting rods are located inside the neck.

The fine marquetry of the rosettes is another signature feature of Contreras guitars.

“Doble tapa” Model In the early 1970s, Manuel Contreras started experimenting with ways of obtaining greater projection from the guitar, while preserving its tonal qualities. His ideas and tests were seeking to improve the performance not only of the soundboard, but also of the guitar’s body. After numerous experiments with varying thicknesses of wood and the addition of varying appendages, he began adding a second soundboard to the inside of the guitar’s back. He would laminate the Brazilian rosewood with redcedar or spruce; a rigid wood with a more flexible one. Manuel Contreras eventually concluded, after countless tests, that his system delivered better results if the guitar’s top and the second, internal ‘top’ (“tapa”) were made of the same wood. This is why “Doble Tapa” guitars made of redcedar also have bracing and the inner soundboard of redcedar. The same is true for the models made of spruce. The Double Top system gives the instrument a unique and characteristic timbre, as well as better projection. Ever since it was introduced in 1974, this system has been an outstanding success and is still used, not only in the “Doble Tapa” models, but also in later models, such as “25° Aniversario” and “10º Aniversario”.

The “Doble Tapa”

is a fine layer of wood – the same wood as the soundboard – bonded to the rosewood back of the guitar.

With no sound hole to work around, bracing is much freer. Below: endoscopic view of the inside.

“Carlevaro” Model In the early 1980s, the Uruguayan guitarist and composer, Abel Carlevaro, impressed by the innovative talent of Manuel Contreras, put in an order for a guitar of his own design, inspired by the concept of a grand piano. He envisioned a guitar with the upper side of the body straight instead of curved, and with the soundboard separate from the body and devoid of a sound hole, so that its entire surface could vibrate. Manuel Contreras, in his quest to fulfil these criteria, came up with a rather complex system of construction which gave the guitar a ‘floating’ top, connected to the

guitar’s sides with just a few wooden pegs. The “Carlevaro” model was completed in 1983, to Abel Carlevaro’s satisfaction. Manuel built several Carlevaro guitars in the 1980s, with variations on the basic design, such as the inclusion of a sound port (in the style of an openwork lute sound hole) or modified bracing on the underside of the guitar’s top. This particular model doesn’t have the typical Contreras sound; it has a ‘lighter’ voice, especially well-suited to Renaissance and Baroque music. Ed.: Since the death of Manuel Contreras this model is no longer listed in the catalogue.

The left side has no waist and instead of a sound hole, there is a gap all around the edge of the soundboard.

The “feather” headstock decoration is reserved for concert models.

“25° Aniversario” Model In the mid-1980s the concept of the “Resonator” was born, which Manuel Contreras developed in close cooperation with his son, Pablo. Their idea was to separate the guitar, inasmuch as this is possible, from the guitarist’s body so as not to dampen the instrument’s vibration. Their first resonator was an entirely separate rosewood back that could be attached to the outside of the guitar, with curved supports in the places where the guitar comes into contact with the guitarist’s legs and right arm. This first detachable resonator made it possible to perform tests with various Contreras guitar models and thus prove its effectiveness. In parallel, father and

son worked to make resonators that had been ordered for existing Contreras guitars. Over time, they realised that it was better to build the resonators onto the guitar itself, largely to avoid any warping of the former due to wear and tear. They decided to create a model that featured both the resonator and the “double top” system, all in one guitar. And so the “25° Aniversario” came into being, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Contreras workshop. One aesthetic peculiarity is that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, customers could choose between two headstock designs: either an engraved “C” for Contreras or the usual “feather” motif.

The resonator is an independent, secondary back, separate from the body of the guitar.

The “10° Aniversario” model, with its size and weight of over two kilos, never fails to impress.

“10° Aniversario” Model The model with a resonator proved enormously popular among professional guitarists as it gave the instrument such a sensational boost in volume. And yet some guitarists were disinclined to embrace an appendage that altered the traditional look of a classical guitar. It was because of this reluctance that father and son began looking at ways of building the resonator into the interior of the guitar, thus restoring the “25° Aniversario” model’s traditional allure. Unfortunately, Manuel Contreras passed away in 1994 without ever seeing this project, for which he felt such a passion and on which he worked to his very last days, come to fruition. From then on, Pablo Contreras was to continue working on the challenge solo, gradually reworking the entire internal structure of the “25° Aniversario” model until he found a way to accommodate the resonator. He also experimented with different bracing systems, reverting to the use of straight struts, albeit with much more complex patterns. He was aiming to make the guitar as immediately responsive as possible. These years of intense research and constant testing culminated in the launch, in 1998, of the “10° Aniversario” model. The guitar’s name refers to the tenth anniversary of Pablo’s tenure of the Contreras workshop. This model achieved international recognition in the year 2000, winning the top award from the “Convocatoria Internacional de Guitarras”, a competition for guitar-makers organised as part of the centennial commemorations of composer Joaquín Rodrigo’s birth. The “10° Aniversario” was – and remains today – a landmark model in the history of Spanish guitar construction. It is a living model which embodies all the new ideas and methods of construction developed by Pablo in his final years of work.

The “lattice” bracing pattern, developed by Pablo Contreras.

The meticulous Contreras craftsmanship can be admired even on the inside.

José Antonio Lagunar uses the same techniques and respects the same “way of doing things” as father and son Contreras.

The Contreras heritage: safe in the hands of José Antonio Lagunar The legacy of Manuel and Pablo Contreras in the world of Spanish guitar is to be found not only in their excellent instruments displaying outstanding acoustic merits, but also in their “way of doing things”; an approach to guitar-making based on research, coupled with beautiful craftsmanship of impeccable quality. Their guitars have set a standard, in terms of both sound and elegance. They are highly sought after for their original methods of construction, for the handcrafted mosaics and ornamentation. Also worthy of note are the beautiful and characteristic “ear of wheat” (or “feather”) designs on the headstock, the rosette and the edging around the guitar tops on the “Doble tapa” and “10° Aniversario” models. After the untimely loss of Pablo Contreras in January 2011, José Antonio Lagunar, the long-serving workshop manager, took over the «guitarrería». He has honoured the Contreras heritage, conserving the models and systems of construction that stemmed from so many years of work and research, as well

as this unique “way of doing things”, this quest for perfect beauty and sonority that was so dear to our dearly departed Manuel and Pablo Contreras. Victoria Velasco Ed.: Victoria Velasco has worked for the Contreras “guitarrería” since 1989, bringing to bear her experience as a teacher at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid as well as her linguistic skills to run the commercial side of the business, handle public relations and test each and every instrument built in the workshop. José Antonio Lagunar joined the Contreras workshop in 1984, thanks to his uncle, Alfredo Lagunar, who was workshop manager at the time. José Antonio took over his uncle’s role as head of the workshop when the latter retired in 1995.

Close-up of the “feather” (or “ear of wheat”).

Pepe Romero: an American friend The famous Romero family was among Contreras’ very first customers. Orfeo - How far back does the friendship between the Romero family and Manuel Contreras actually go? Pepe Romero - «Back to the very beginning. When Manuel Contreras left Ramírez and set up his own shop in Madrid, my father was one of his first customers. And over time all of us Romeros have gone through that shop, and a delightful friendship grew, first with Manuel, and then later with Pablo. In fact, one of the first trips that Pablo ever made, when he was 18 years old, was to visit my place in California.» Orfeo - How many Contreras guitars have you owned? P. R. - Many! I remember one in particular from 1971 which served me well in many concerts. In 1980 Manolo (Manuel) built a guitar especially for me, the one that I call “la Manola”, which I also played in numerous concerts. Later, he also made one with a resonator for me, which I played, in the presence of the Queen of Spain, during the centenary celebration of the birth of Federico Moreno Torroba. I also got a lot of use out of a guitar that Pablo made for me with the exact measurements that I prefer, with a slightly wider neck and a top made from beautiful German spruce. Like I said, I have had several Contreras guitars, but these three are the ones that I have played the most and which are a part of my life as a professional.” Orfeo - What do you ask for when you order a guitar? P. R. - “The guitar that I’ve played the most in my whole life is a 1973 Miguel Rodríguez model, and it’s one that I feel really comfortable with. So I always ask luthiers to build me guitars that are similar to that particular one, with a scale of 660 mm, with a fairly thick, broad neck, since I find it more comfortable if I don’t have to curl my hand so much.” Orfeo - Is it true that your friendship with Manuel lasted through to the end of his days and then continued on with Pablo?

P. R. - “Absolutely, and in fact when my son, Pepe Jr., decided that he wanted to be a guitar-maker, I sent him to Madrid to learn with Pablo, who took him in as if he were his own son, just as I had welcomed Pablo so many years beforehand in California.” Orfeo - Speaking of Pepe Jr., your son, where else did he study guitar-making? P. R. - “My son built his very first guitar under an American luthier called Dake Traphagen. Then he went to Madrid to study with Pablo, and he took a course with José Romanillos. He also spent some time with Miguel Rodriguez and, finally, with Edmund Blöchinger in Germany. I think that his longest stint was with Blöchinger.” Orfeo - To get back to Contreras, what do you think it is about Contreras guitars that makes them special? P. R. - “The woodwork is exquisite and they have their own, unique, inimitable voice. Just as in the world of violins a Stadivarius has a Stradivarius sound and a Guarnerius has a Guarnerius sound, Contreras guitars have their own sound.” Orfeo - Do you think that each luthier has a signature sound? P. R. - “Only the good ones! The rest all sound the same.” Orfeo - And can you recognise guitars by the way they sound? P. R. - “Of course! Even blindfolded, I would know if I were playing a Contreras, a Blöchinger, a Santos Hernández or one made by my son. I grew up playing at comparing guitars with my father. That’s how my ear was trained, and I can recognise them as if they were people.” Orfeo - Thank you for this interview, Pepe; is there anything you’d like to add? P. R. - “Yes, I would add that both father and son Contreras were not only master luthiers, who contributed immensely to the world of Spanish guitar; they were also great people. The truth of it is that I miss them very much.”

Pepe Romero: a lifetime dedicated to the guitar and more than 50 albums under his belt.

Trees of life

Western redcedar is often used for the soundboards of classical guitars. We visited the Canadian rainforests to admire some of these gigantic trees up close. Join us for a promenade in Vancouver, redcedar capital of the world.

Canada still boasts some pristine rainforests, unspoiled by human activity Western redcedar is the commercial name for the “Thuya plicata” species, a tree that is actually a member of the “Cupressaceae” family. It grows well between latitudes 39 and 57, with the largest stands to be found in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Its range extends as far north as Alaska and as far south as California. But its history begins in eighteenth-century England, with the British navigator, explorer and cartographer, Captain James Cook. In the course of his three voyages in the Pacific, Captain Cook was the first European to set foot on the east coast of Australia, in New Caledonia, the South Sandwich Islands and Hawaii. He was also the first to circumnavigate Antarctica and to map Newfoundland and New Zealand. The aim of Captain Cook’s third voyage*, in 1778, was to discover the Northwest Passage around the top of the American continent that was thought to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. He explored the Nootka Sound, north of Vancouver, in search of a new mast for his ship, “Resolution” and discovered the fabulous forests of western redcedar (often growing alongside Douglas-fir). His log entry stated: “…the grounds of the sea-coast, high as well as low, were covered, to a considerable breadth, with high, straight trees, which formed a beautiful prospect, as of one vast forest.” For these first explorers, and for the early settlers that followed in their wake, these giant forests seemed to harbour a wealth of unlimited resources… These trees were called “trees of life” by First Nations people. The wood from the trees, light and easy to work, was used for building canoes,

making dwellings, crafting tools and sculpting totem poles. The inner bark, shredded and woven, was used for making headwear and waterproof cloaks. The western redcedar can easily grow to a height of 70 metres with a diameter of 4 metres. One particular feature of this tree is its cone-shaped trunk. The useable length of the trunk is about 25 metres. The western redcedar can live to a great age and there are still some specimens in the forests of the Pacific that are over 800 years old. The oldest trees often have sizeable buttress roots and a hollow heart. The wood offers remarkable mechanical qualities (rigid, lightweight, rotresistant and stable) and displays rich variations in colour: from light yellowish-brown, to pinkishbrown and salmon-coloured, to chocolate brown. Because of the difference between the spring wood and summer wood, quarter-sawn timber displays prominent veins. When it comes to our guitars, the drawback with western redcedar is that it is quite fragile and prone to damage from fingernails. On the plus side, however, it is a wood that is available in enormous quantities. Alberto Martinez * Ed.: Timepiece aficionados will be interested to know that James Cook was one of the first navigators to use a marine chronometer. So as to accurately determine longitude, he had on board with him a copy of the H4 chronometer invented by John Harrison.

The rainforests of Vancouver Island are home to some ancient trees, the oldest of which have been standing for more than 800 years.

A tiny portion of these massive tree trunks will be used to make guitar tops.

Arm of the Squamish River where timber awaits transport.

Transporting the trunks by towing a tethered log raft. Photo Bernhard Limberger

Trees were felled by hand and tra 1/ Standing up on planks, the men would use axes to cut down the trees. 2/ Behemoths with trunk diameters of over three metres. 3 et 4/ The log drive: river transport of logs guided by men. 5/ Locomotives were also used to transport logs.


2 Š City of Vancouver archives

nsported by rail or river

3 © Archives of MI Dept. of Conservation

4 © Robert N. Dennis collection

5 © Joe Cosiglia collection

“I myself have probably graded one million tops” Orfeo - I have seen thouprices but what counts for guisands of logs in Vancouver. tar tonewood is not only the How can you know which acoustic qualities, but also the logs will be suitable for aesthetics. Redcedar is multisoundboards? coloured but the market wants David Lapeyrouse - From wood of a single hue. experience. My company has cut 2 million tops and I myself Orfeo - What is your opihave probably graded 1 milnion about tops with «bear lion. claws»? Tonewood quality timber is the D. L. - You have to compare like most expensive timber. You with like. If you compare two buy it, you cut it and you see perfectly quarter-sawn tops, what you’ve got. If the result is one with «bear claws» and the good, you look for the same other one without, there should features. But there is always be no difference in quality. an element of luck. Not all pieces of wood are the The passage of time gives When you buy wood, you have same. Some can be perfectly to buy the complete log. We quartered and lack that special “chocolate cedar” its unique produce 12 different grades «ring»; they just don’t have the sonority. of soundboard, in classical really outstanding sound qualiand dreadnought sizes. There are some custoty that you’re seeking, regardless of whether they mers who pay two dollars for a top and other cusdisplay «bear claws» or not. The presence or abtomers who want tops worth 40 or 50 dollars. The sence of “bear claws” doesn’t change the quality. two dollar soundboards are easy to find. To get It’s really impossible to guarantee that you are a 50 dollar soundboard, you need to cut a lot of going to make a good guitar. The soundboard good wood! is a vitally important piece. You can make a bad guitar with a good soundboard, but you can’t Orfeo - How do you cut the logs? make a good guitar with a bad soundboard. D. L. - Cedars are big trees; some of them are three metres across. For guitar tops, we cut the Orfeo - What is this dark coloured cedar? logs into 24 inch sections. We then quarter the D. L. - Sometimes I get timber from areas that sections lengthwise (known as quarter-sawing) were logged a long time ago, where you can find and finally we cut two or three tops in the middle logs felled by strong winds or cut and left there of the resultant wedges, so as to get tops with for some reason. Western redcedar doesn’t rot vertical grain. and whatever nature does to make it dark also The main problem with the redcedar is colour. gives it a unique tone. We call it “chocolate Tight, straight, regular grain is easy to find; the cedar”. If you like its dark colour, you will have difficulty lies in finding uniform colour. Even if the best tonal qualities. This wood has probably you have a master grade top in all respects exbeen aging and drying for one or two hundred cept for the colour, the luthiers won’t take it. We years. It’s very, very rare. “Chocolate redcedar” can produce high quality soundboards at low is the luthiers’ best kept secret!

David Lapeyrouse, founder of Timbre Tonewood, a firm specialising in the manufacture of redcedar and maple products.

Western redcedar dries easily and is fairly warpresistant.

José Ramírez III, the “discoverer”

In 1965, José Ramírez III, in his never-ending quest to perfect the sound of the guitar, revolutionised his guitar-building system by using «western redcedar» for the soundboards. Today, the wood that he discovered, along with spruce, is used by most guitar-makers around the world. Here is what the memoirs of José Ramírez III have to say about it. …It was around this time that I discovered an extraordinary wood that could replace and improve upon German spruce, which had been used for guitar soundboards since time immemorial. The wood in question, which was presented to me initially as common cedar, is “thuja plicata”, erroneously called western red cedar. I immediately noticed its outstanding lightness, strength, responsiveness

and, above all, the magnificent grain, which surpasses that of even the best spruce. Hailing from the Pacific coast of North America, the tree is actually a close cousin of Central European spruce. I wasted no time in building a guitar from this wood and it turned out splendidly in every aspect. I seem to recall immediately starting work on four guitars for Maestro Segovia, and I showed them to him as soon as the opportunity arose, which must have been around the summer of 1965. He tried them, without passing comment, but with obvious satisfaction, selected one and then returned the 1962 guitar to me… En torno a la guitarra José Ramírez III (An English translation exists, under the title “Things about the Guitar”)

Marcelino Lรณpez Nieto Born in Madrid in 1931, he studied guitar with Daniel Fortea (himself a pupil under Tรกrrega), befriended the widow of Santos Hernรกndez, worked for Hernรกndez y Aguado and made a name for himself internationally as a talented guitar-maker.

Marcelino trying out his guitar N° 1.000, a reproduction of a Baroque guitar. On the workbench, a copy of “La Leona” by Torres.

He uses bracing inspired by that of Santos, with an reinforcement placed under the bridge.

At the age of 18, he set himself up as a luthier in Madrid To this day he continues, at the age of 83, to build guitars, copy historic instruments and make reproductions of guitars by Hernández y Aguado, Santos Hernández and Antonio de Torres. He is the owner of one of Spain’s best guitar collections and still finds the time to play “at least half an hour each evening”. What follows is an interview conducted with this outstanding “guitarrero” in his Madrid workshop, while he was working on guitar N°1,000. Orfeo - Your training as a young man was twofold: as a cabinetmaker in a Madrid workshop; and as a student of music, studying guitar under Daniel Fortea... López Nieto - “Yes, since I loved working with wood, I learned cabinetmaking in a workshop in the street named Calle del Olmo, in Madrid. One day, in 1945, my mother had the radio on, and I

heard the tremolo of Tárrega’s «Recuerdos de la Alhambra» for the first time. I was so awestruck that I said: Mamma, I want to learn to play the guitar! And so that is how I come to know Maestro Fortea and study under him.” Orfeo - How did you learn to make guitars? L. N. - “Since I was into wood-working, my uncle gave me a guitar – made in Valencia – which was in rather a bad state. By examining the way in which it had been made, I was able to make another one, doing it my own way. When I was 18 years old, in 1949, I set myself up as a guitar-maker in Calle Jesús y María.” Orfeo - When did you meet the widow of Santos Hernández? L. N. - “From 1948 to 1953, I studied under Daniel Fortea and he had one guitar made by Manuel Ramírez, from Calle Arlabán, and two guitars by

His guitar N째 999, ready for dispatch to Japan.

The workshop walls are bedecked with guitar and violin soundboards and necks.

Shellac ready for use in French polishing.

Between 1972 and 1975, I must have made some 30 guitars for Hernández y Aguado Santos. I remember them very well – one was made of cypress and the other, rosewood – and he would let us students play them. Maestro Fortea would take his pupils to guitar gatherings, held in the home of Matilde Ruiz López, who was Santos’ widow, in Calle Aduana. So after our Saturday classes with Maestro Fortea, we would go to these guitar sessions at Santos’ place. Both Regino Sainz de Maza and Alirio Díaz would come along and play there.”

L. N. - “Yes. We never actually worked together, but we were good friends. I have also made some Barbero model guitars.”

Orfeo - What did you learn from Santos’ widow about building guitars? L. N. - “A lot! She shared with me everything that she knew about her late husband’s guitars. She let me play the three Santos guitars that had been kept. Among them was the “La inédita” guitar, which Santos had created for Segovia, but never actually delivered. Moreover, I am very familiar with Santos Hernández guitars through my work restoring them. The Santos reproduction that I make is a copy of a 1933 guitar.”

Orfeo - And how did you come across Hernández y Aguado? L. N. - “That was also in Matilde’s house. Victoriano Aguado had passed away and Manuel Hernández, who no longer worked very much, asked me to make some guitars. Between 1972 and 1975 I made some 30 instruments for him. Hernández was very pleased with my guitars. He gave me his labels to stick on them, and my own name didn’t appear on them anywhere at all. Years later, upon the death of Hernández’s sonin-law and given that there were no further descendants, I carried on making those guitars, but with my own labels. It’s a model that gets a lot of orders, especially from Japan. It’s an exact reproduction of the Hernández y Aguado guitars: the template, the bracing, the rosette, the head... everything is identical. Their construction was based on the Santos guitars.”

Orfeo - I believe that you met Marcelo Barbero, the luthier who completed Santos’ last guitars?

Orfeo - And do the copies sound the same as the original guitars? L. N. - “That would be impossible! The woods

Rubén, Marcelino’s son, examines the rosette of a Santos Hernández model.

Pour coller les filets du bord de la table et du fond, la guitare est ficelée à l’espagnole.

A surprisingly diverse array of instruments awaits in the workshop.

The Hernández y Aguado model under construction.

The soundboard is at its thickest in the middle, whereas the edges are thinner, but I essentially go by intuition are not the same, and, what’s more, the guitars themselves have changed a great deal as they have aged. But they are similar enough...” Orfeo - How many guitars do you make in a year? L. N. - “When I was younger I would make as many as 12 instruments a year, but now I have cut down and make only half of that, with the help of my son, Rubén.” Orfeo - Is it true that you have built more classical guitars than flamenco guitars? L. N. - “Yes, most are classical.” Orfeo - You make guitars modelled on those of Santos Hernández, those of Hernández y Aguado, and those of Torres, but what are your very own guitars like? L. N. - “The bracing is based on that of Santos, although I do add a small extra strut under the trebles and reinforcement under the bridge. But the bracing varies depending on the degree of

flex in the soundboard. Some tops are stiffer, and others more floppy; I tap them, listen to the sound, and adjust the thicknesses and the bracing in accordance with soundboard wood. I don’t use a gauge; experience is the best guide. The soundboard is at its thickest in the middle, whereas the edges are thinner, but I essentially go by intuition. People like large guitars, but I think that a smaller guitar makes for improved trebles and offers better overall balance. It is always easier to bring out the base notes. I prefer to reduce the volume of air a little bit. Guitars nowadays are bigger, but are mostly based on the Torres guitars. It is impossible to make a good guitar without a solid understanding of this underlying foundation. In addition, I have always enjoyed making replicas of historical instruments. I use several different templates: Muñoa, Llorente, Pagés.” Orfeo - Some of your guitars have two dates on the label; why is that?

The Asianmarket has a penchant for guitar tops displaying “bear claws”.

Wooden discs from his previous guitars are suspended over future instruments.

Portrait of Marcelino López Nieto by artist José Luis Morán.

It’s an embarrassment: Spain, homeland of the guitar, has no museum of instruments in its capital city! L. N. - “Because they were started at some given point in time, but completed much later. This has happened quite a bit.” Orfeo - How many old instruments have you recreated? L. N. - “I can’t recall exactly... many. Several lutes, five violins, one harp, Baroque guitars, Romantic guitars...” Orfeo - What is this guitar that you’ve got here on the workbench? L. N. - “It’s a copy of a Torres. I had to repair a Torres guitar known as “La Leona” and so I made a template and I was able to examine every detail of its construction. This one is identical, but without the tornavoz, which I feel only restricts the instrument’s sound.” Orfeo - And has your son, Rubén, made guitars? L. N. - “Yes, but he reverted to the template of the guitars that I used to make before, with the larger body. He has already made more than 20 guitars. He also helps me a great deal with the

French polishing on the guitars that I make.” Orfeo - Tell me about your collection. L. N. - “I began about 50 years ago. Collecting is addictive; it is hard to stop. I have more than 160 guitars, stored outside Madrid, including Baroque, Romantic and classical; 18th century Italian guitars and 19th century French ones. I have a Baroque guitar with five courses, which means five double-strings, from the late 17th century, which belonged to John of Austria the Younger, from the same era as Velázquez, made of rosewood from Brazil, mahogany from Cuba and featuring the double-headed eagle, emblem of the Spanish Habsburgs. It must be one of the oldest known guitars. I also have guitars by Antonio de Torres, Vicente Arias, Manuel Ramírez, Enrique García, Simplicio, Santos... I am trying to convince the Ministry of Culture to establish a museum of music in Madrid. I wouldn’t like to see my guitars leave here. It’s an embarrassment: Spain, homeland of the guitar, has no museum of instruments in its capital city!”

The soundboards of his future creations are hung up so that they can bask in the light and take on even more beautiful colouring.

A collection that is unique We have selected five exceptional instruments to show you from Marcelino López Nieto’s collection.

in Spain

Two of López Nieto’s recentlycompleted guitars are lined up alongside instruments awaiting restoration.

Baroque guitar (late 17th century)

It once belonged to John of Austria the Younger, brother of Charles II of Spain. The doubleheaded eagle of the House of Habsburg can be seen on the bridge and neck.

« Mes barrages, on ne peut guère les copier. Il y a beaucoup de travail : c’est une lutherie onéreuse du commencement à la fin.


Antonio de Torres 1867 “It is impossible to make a good guitar without a solid understanding of this underlying foundation.� L. N.

Vicente Arias 1902 Vicente Arias, one of the only luthiers to rival Antonio de Torres.

Francisco Simplicio 1928

The handsomely sculpted head is one of the basic signatures of Francisco Simplicio.

Santos Hernández 1939

“The sound of Santos guitars has always been my benchmark.” L. N.

Paris, April 2014 Website: Contact:

Orfeo Magazine #3 - English edition - Spring 2014  
Orfeo Magazine #3 - English edition - Spring 2014  

Illustrated classical guitar magazine