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orfeo 6

m a g a z i n e Andrea Tacchi Lorenzo Frignani Luigi Locatto Luca Waldner Nicolò Alessi Discover

Cremona Heartland of the violin

N° 6 - Autumn 2015 English Edition

320 color pages Size: 24 x 30 cm Price: 90 Euros

The first five editions of Orfeo Magazine encompassed in a book Click on the image to order your copy Founder and publisher : Alberto Martinez Art Director : Hervé Ollitraut-Bernard Publisher assistant : Clémentine Jouffroy. Contributor : Marc Zammit French - English translation : Meegan Davis French - Spanish translation : Maria Smith-Parmegiani Website: Contact:


orfeo From the Editor


m a g a z i n e Vetro o porcellana (served in a glass or in a cup)? asks the barista... We are in Florence in the company of the distinguished luthier Andrea Tacchi. He explains that he prefers his morning “caffè lungo” served in a cup, and his “ristretto” in the afternoon served in a glass. He adds, with a smile, that Italians have some thirty different ways of ordering coffee. The same degree of refinement is to be found in Italian lutherie, where history, art and culture come together. The city of Cremona is its beating heart; the world’s most renowned hub for stringed instruments and birthplace of Antonio Stradivari. I discovered that all of the luthiers with whom I was fortunate enough to meet shared the same dream, which I would summarise thus: tradition at the service of modernity, and modernity at the service of tradition. When on the road in northern Italy, I had to make some painful choices and limit my visits to just four luthiers. But there are so many more that I would love to interview! I hope that Lodi, Bottelli, Grimaldi and their peers will all forgive me: I would dearly love to come back to meet with you and chat over some more delicious Italian coffee… In porcellana, prego. Alberto Martinez

Andrea Tacchi, a   s Andrea Tacchi lives and works in Florence. Before coming up with his own models, he trained as a guitar maker by visiting the finest luthiers working in Europe. This research-based approach complements his scientific focus and insatiable thirst for innovation. But what really drives him is his love for the guitars from the golden age of Spanish lutherie and profound admiration for the tradition of craftsmanship that runs deep in his city.

scientiďŹ c approach

His penchant for mathematics led him to explore the geometrical laws underpinning the shape of Spanish guitars.

Orfeo – Tell us about your career. Andrea Tacchi – Ever since I was a child, I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I started studying engineering but I soon dropped it so that I could learn the art of lutherie with Ricardo Brané. I then travelled around Europe and visited the workshops of luthiers in Spain (Ramírez, Bernabé and Fleta), England (Romanillos) and France (Bouchet and Friederich). I think that it was my time spent with these latter guitar makers that really left its mark. I spent hours and hours in their workshops and what I learned from our conversations made a huge difference to my life as a luthier. But when it comes to the quality of the timbre, my real points of reference are Torres and Santos. The other major influence is this city itself; not only the luthiers of Florence, but also the artists and craftsmen of the city, all those who work miracles “with their hands” on a daily basis. The Florence of my childhood was astounding, with cabinetmakers, engravers, jewellers, all kinds of artisans throughout the city, all busy in their little workshops, and passing on their expertise and their “bottega” from father to son,

generation after generation. Today, because of tourism, rent prices are so high and they have so little work that the workshops have been turned into pizzerias. Orfeo – How did your guitar “Coclea” come about? A. T. – I looked at the great Spanish guitar makers in such depth that once I realised that the shapes of Baroque guitars and violins obeyed certain geometrical imperatives, my penchant for mathematics led me to seek the underlying geometrical rules in those guitars. Quite early on I realised that there was a correlation between the guitar’s curvature and body length, and I worked out an optimal shape, a kind of mathematical “ideal” which, curiously, corresponds precisely with one the Santos guitars that I was fortunate enough to examine. That gave me the basic shape for my “Coclea” guitars. It goes without saying that this is but one aspect of the instrument’s construction; the bracing, neck angle, soundboard profile, every element plays a role and there are dozens of variables. The name “Coclea” (Latin for “snail shell”) comes from the small spiralled, hollow part of

Š Victor Vidal

The guitar’s curves are all correlated to the length of the body.

“The name “Coclea” comes from the small spiralled, hollow part of our ear.” Coclea N° 379, built in 2015.

our ear, the cochlea, just next to the auditory nerve. When choosing my timbers, I use a device - widely used by the luthiers of Cremona and piano makers - that measures the speed of the wood’s sound. It is a sort of chronometer, and it measures the time taken for sound to travel through a given piece of wood. Thanks to this instrument, I can obtain useful information, enabling me to select the fastest pieces of wood for my guitar tops. The faster the wood, the greater its potential for transmitting sound waves without energy loss. It really is incredible, the variations to be found in different sections of the same tree. And here again, this is but one item of important information to factor into the choice of soundboard wood. In addition, it was precisely this information that led me to envisage soundboards comprising four strips, employing only the fastest segments of wood. Torres built guitars with tops made of four strips of wood. Given that gluing wasn’t causing any problems, we can guess that he was selecting the best parts of each piece of spruce at hand. Indeed the Coclea Thucea model came about after making that very observation. Orfeo – Can you explain the idea behind “Coclea Thucea”?

Intricate details and beautiful colours make Tacchi’s rosettes quite distinctive.

The back of this Coclea is made of wenge; it’s a wood that is widely used in Africa for percussion instruments.

Coclea Thucea “Homage to Scriabin”.

Rosettes with a patchwork of motifs inspired by the great luthiers

A. T. – “Thucea” is a word that I came up with to describe a blend of red cedar (thuja plicata) and spruce (picea abies). The idea is to combine spruce’s excellent sound quality - superior to that of cedar, I think – with cedar’s efficiency in terms of elasticity and rapid sound transmission. For the outside sections, where there is less energy, I use cedar for its lightness and agility, and in the central section, under the bridge, where the sound is formed, I prefer to use spruce. Orfeo – And your “Scriabin” model; how is that one different?

“Cerulea” (cerulean), guitar dedicated to China. A. T. – As the name indicates, this guitar pays homage to the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, whose pieces for piano I greatly admire. The basis is a guitar built much like a “Coclea Thucea”, but with a very personal rosette, a patchwork of different rosette motifs. I see the guitar as a whole, and the care that goes into its construction and into its sound quality need to be reflected in its decorative aspects as well. Orfeo – Are your guitars crafted in the traditional Spanish method? A. T. – I followed that method for thirty years, but over the last decade or so I have been

building my guitars by starting with the back and sides, and then adding the top last, closing it like a lid. The advantage is that when the soundboard closes off the guitar, the rest of the body is already solid and stabilised. There is no longer any tension and the top is thus freer. I have seen Torres and Santos guitars built in this manner. It really is quite logical; when you build a house, you start with the foundations and then finish with the roof! Orfeo – Why is that that you also produce copies of Garcia, Simplicio or Bouchet guitars, over and above your own models?

“I recently experimented with carbon fibre, but it was not very convincing.” A. T. – Because there is so very much to discover in them! I believe that we can learn in the process of making them, just like art students who learn by copying the works of the master artists in museums. If you want to make a serious copy of a guitar you need to start by measuring the thicknesses, examining every little detail, and little by little, you find yourself becoming really invested in the process, and you try to understand each choice made by the luthier. It was truly a pleasure to work with Robert Bouchet; he was such a cultured man, endowed with great sensitivity and an excellent musician; I had access to his famous workshop diary, the “Cahier d’atelier” before it was published, which inspired me to make, in 1994, a first guitar as a tribute to him. Indeed, my guitars pay homage to his work, but they are not true copies as such, since I didn’t stick to the original details: I make the underbridge bar a bit shorter; I use different thicknesses… Ultimately the sound is closer to that of my own models than of his guitars. However, I don’t make copies of Torres guitars; one day, maybe… In a Torres you

Above: experimental carbon fibre lining. Below: Bracing with reinforcing struts in an X-formation.

find everything a guitar should be; it’s the ultimate. I’m waiting for that call, which must come from the inside; it’ll be like a coming of age, and the time isn’t yet right. Orfeo – Which woods do you use? A. T. – I use a lot of rosewood (Indian or Brazilian), satinwood, maple, wenge and sometimes cypress for the back and sides, and cedar and spruce for the tops. I like wenge very much; it’s a wood that is widely used in Africa for percussion instruments. Quite early on in my career I understood that wood can vary greatly from one piece to the next and so I started cutting wood of consistent quality myself and storing it in sufficient quantities for my needs in a bid to obtain consistent outcomes. I recently experimented with carbon fibre, too. A 6/10 mm sheet of carbon fibre glued to the back improves rigidity enormously. But in the end I decided to give up on it: not only were the results not very convincing, but I also learned in the meantime that handling carbon fibre can be a health hazard. I have also tried out other ways of lining the back: rosewood on rosewood or spruce on rosewood, as had been done by another great luthier, René Lacote, in Paris in the nineteenth century.

A very personal bracing style used by Tacchi.

Guitar body awaiting the soundboard..

This page and next two pages: Guitar N째 226, built in 1999, a Simplicio replica.

“When copying, you try to understand each choice made by the luthier.�

The N° 371, built in 2014, a replica of a guitar by Enrique García.

“The Florence of my childhood was astounding, with cabinetmakers, engravers, jewellers, all kinds of artisans throughout the city.� Andrea Tacchi

Lorenzo Frignani: rediscovering the pleasure of music A luthier since 1986, Lorenzo Frignani lives and works in Modena. He builds and restores plucked and bowed string instruments, chiefly guitars and violins.

“I make about four violins and five guitars per year.”

“I work with guitars as well as other string instruments, like the luthiers of old once did.” Over and above his own guitar models, his passion for the Spanish golden age has led to create replicas of guitars by Manuel Ramírez and Enrique García. As a man of culture and a collector, he has organised several exhibitions and written books on string instruments. He is also a consultant and court expert for Italian courts. Orfeo – How did you get into lutherie? Lorenzo Frignani – I was learning the guitar on a very modest instrument when one day a friend with a Masetti guitar – a family of luthiers working in Modena since 1900 – invited me to come with her to the Masetti workshop for a repair job. My visit to this little “bottega”, the atmosphere, everything that I saw that day, somehow awoke in me the desire to become a luthier. In this city, I’m surrounded by history and culture

and I operate in the same way as all the local artisans. I work with guitars as well as other string instruments, like the luthiers of old once did. It is something of a risk because there are those today who fail to see how you can work on both guitars and violins. Orfeo – Which instruments are more difficult to make? L. F. – They each have their difficulties, and each for different reasons. To make a guitar requires a lot of experience and impeccable construction because it is extremely difficult to make any modifications once the instrument is closed and finished. The same isn’t true for other string instruments: it is generally easier to open them and alter the thicknesses or bracing. But it’s with the restoration of antique guitars that things get truly complicated: on the one hand,

Guitar N° 154, 2006, “Concert” model: Italian spruce, Indian rosewood, French polish and Alessi tuners.

“My goal is to build a guitar just like the original, capable of reproducing as similar a sound as possible of the original.” there is this difficulty working on the instrument’s interior; and secondly, the fact that guitars are less valuable (compared with violins and ’cellos) means that it isn’t always worth paying for costly repairs. The net result is that we see, all too often, vintage guitars that have undergone absolutely disastrous restoration work. Orfeo – When did you take an interest in guitars made by Spain’s master luthiers? L. F. – In Italy, interest in the Spanish guitar got off to a slow start. I think that it really only began after the Second World War, with Segovia. You need to remember that here in Italy we had our own master luthiers who were still making guitars modelled on Romantic guitars, completely oblivious to the work done by Torres. Guadagnini, in Turin, continued building these guitars

right up until 1940! It was Segovia who brought this influence to Italy, and got luthiers like Pietro Gallinotti into building this kind of instrument. Personally, I saw my first ever Simplicio or Santos in a museum; it couldn’t really have happened any other way. Orfeo – What drives you to make replicas of guitars by Manuel Ramírez or Enrique García? L. F. – My goal is to build a guitar that is just like the original, capable of reproducing as similar a sound as possible to that of the original. After having examined the original, the challenge is to come up with the properties of the original’s sound (both its qualities and its imperfections), over and above the aesthetics, and to give the guitarist who plays it the impression that it is in-

“I enjoy making copies because these guitars are perfectly suited to a certain repertoire.”

deed the original instrument. The advantage is that the instrument is new, not old, which eliminates all those tricky preservation issues, and it costs significantly less than the original. I enjoy making copies because these guitars are perfectly suited to a certain repertoire and we are treated to that special sound that has become so rare these days, the sound of a bygone era, quite simply magnificent. You can also introduce variants that personalise or “modernise” the guitar; you can keep some aspects traditional and yet tailor them to today’s aesthetics of sound. This is a relatively new idea in the world of guitar but which is actually common practice when it comes to quartet instruments. Orfeo – What are you own guitar models like? L. F. – When making my guitars I am guided by the fact that people are forgetting the heritage and origins of the instrument. We have all but forgotten the pleasure to be found in music; music has become forced labour, necessary for

Guitar N° 220, 2015 – “Concert collection” model: Italian spruce, Malaysian rosewood, French polish following special preparation of the top, with Exagon tuners.

Frignani uses X-pattern bracing, similar to the bracing found in folk guitars.

A rosette freshly glued to the soundboard of a guitar in the making.

Retaining traditional aspects but tailoring them to today’s aesthetics of sound producing virtuosos. Speed and volume are not what we enjoy about music and yet they seem to have taken on more importance than the beauty of the sound. It is time to stop this trend and opt instead for making true music, music that gives the listener goose bumps, music that stirs the soul… My goal is to make instruments that incite guitarists to rediscover this beauty. I use materials of the highest possible quality, pouring my finest skills into them, so as to craft the best possible instruments. From there, it is up to the musician to contribute his or her sensitivity, culture and technique. Both parties need to be committed to this quest for “beauty”.

I make two guitar models: one is called “Concert” and the other “Concert collection”. For the latter, I use my best wood and indulge in more sophisticated woodwork. Orfeo – Do you add any other personal touches to your guitars? L. F. – For the “Concert collection” model I prepare and slightly tint the wood before applying the French polish, just as I do for violins. Staining the wood gives greater depth to the varnish and brings out the wood’s grain. Perhaps the most personal touch is my bracing pattern, in which the struts are arranged in an X-formation,

Replica of a 1910 Manuel Ramírez guitar, ready to be closed:

“I also like tailoring the sound of a guitar to the guitarist who will ultimately play it.”

top in Italian spruce, back and sides in Brazilian rosewood, sporting Alessi tuners.

a bit like in acoustic guitars. I find that I can thus improve the highs and achieve greater balance all the way along the neck. I like to create quite neutral guitars so as to give the musician as much latitude as possible. There is one other detail on the inside: I reinforce the top end of the soundboard with a fine layer of maple so as to avoid the typical splitting problem occurring on either side of the neck. Instead of maple, I sometimes add parchment, which was widely used as a strengthening layer in lutes and also in Naples, for lining the sides. These days I build

my guitars in the “Spanish” method, whereas I started out making the entire body first and then fitting the neck onto the body last, as per the “French” technique. I also like tailoring the sound of a guitar to the guitarist who will ultimately play it. If a customer so wishes and if compatible with my guitar building process, I can, for example, deepen the bass or make the trebles more assertive. And it can be done without altering my guitar model or the bracing pattern that I use.

In the foreground, a guitar built by Locatto for his son, a copy of the Torres N째 111.

Luigi Locatto, in pursuit of perfection

His guitars, too, take their inspiration from the great Spanish masters, but his dream is to add that elusive finishing touch which would transform his models into definitive instruments.

His guitar model is greatly inspired by a 1904 García.

Above and left, Guitar N° 239, built in 2012 for guitarist Gabriele Natilla.

Luigi Locatto is a man from Piedmont, a region surrounded by the Alps where the Po valley is nestled, famous for its excellent wines and cheeses. Drawn to the outstanding quality of his woodwork and his vast experience, numerous collectors have entrusted him with the restoration of their vintage guitars. Orfeo – How did you come to lutherie? Luigi Locatto – Ever since I was a boy, I have enjoyed working with wood, and working with my hands. Around the age of ten, I started learning the guitar in Turin and it wasn’t long before I got the urge to build my own guitar. It was a disaster: badly glued, awful woods, all hammered together with nails… But when I was about 18, after having read a few books and dismantled my concert Ramírez, I started making acceptable instruments and at the age of 25 I decided to become a professional luthier.

The bridge decoration is very similar to that of a Simplicio.

“I like the idea of a light, free soundboard, without too many braces.” Orfeo – What are your points of reference in guitar-making? L. L. – García and Simplicio. My guitar model is chiefly inspired by a 1904 García. I like the sound of a Simplicio, very Spanish, very rounded, but that of a García is even more elegant. I believe that this is partly due to the shape of the body, which is slightly taller, more elongated, which I think influences the harmonics and timbre. García guitars are lighter than those of Simplicio and the weight is distributed differently. On the whole, a García is more like a Torres. The Simplicio sound is already more modern, more aggressive, stronger. Just a quick glance at his portrait is enough to understand the character of his guitars!

Orfeo – What are your preferred bracing patterns? L. L. – I prefer symmetrical bracing. There are so many different ways to modify the sound that I prefer to work with the thicknesses of the soundboard or struts, but retain a symmetrical fan pattern. I like the idea of a light, free soundboard, without too many braces because I am not really looking to improve power; I’d rather focus on the beauty of the sound. Orfeo – What is your vision for the guitar? L. L. – My philosophy is to keep building on what the great luthiers of yesteryear have already done and, if possible, add a personal touch so as to achieve a slightly more modern

The breath-taking quality of Locatto’s woodwork is noticeable in the instrument’s every detail.

Luigi Locatto and his wife, Laura, at home in Pino Torinese.

“We must never lose sight of our roots; our task is to add our own building block to the edifice that has been under construction for centuries.�

sound without losing the sound of the Spanish guitar. Just look at how things are with the violin: nobody would even dream of changing the sound of the violin. Why would anyone change this sound when we love it so much, this sound that moves us and which resonates deeply within us? It’s an issue of culture, of sound references, of emotions we’ve experienced, of history… If you get me to listen to a sound that is alien to my culture, beyond my understanding, then it probably won’t move me. We must never lose sight of our roots; our task is to add our own building block to the edifice that has been under construction for centuries. We tend to think these days that all this is newfangled is good. If I build a guitar while thinking “the guitar needs a bigger sound”, then I can start afresh and think about how I’m going to go

about it: I can contact engineers, surround myself with all the latest sophisticated measuring devices, throw all of the data into a computer but, at the end of the day, I run the risk of forgetting that what I actually wanted to build was a guitar. Orfeo – And so what should a luthier do, if just starting out today? L. L. – It’s true that there is big demand these days for a guitar offering a great deal of volume. For luthiers just starting out, this is a problem; they need to choose the path that they want to follow: toward a boom-boom guitar or toward a traditional guitar. They need to listen to what their heart is telling them to do; otherwise they run the risk of losing their identity. It’s a widespread problem, not just a guitar problem. Our

In 2015 he built a guitar as a tribute to the Torres model “Cumbre”.

His guitar N° 230 (2011), inspired by García’s guitars.

society no longer views culture as an essential value. But that isn’t the only choice before young luthiers: they also need to choose between the more risky path of continuously experimenting with minor adjustments here and there, which is a brave thing to do, or, rather, to always make the same guitar and end up settling on a unique, signature sound, which can be very gratifying. Orfeo – What is your take on copying vintage instruments? L. L. – Copying something is not the same as identifying with something. I don’t copy my father, and yet… I am his son. We share the same values, even though I will always go about things in my own fashion. For example, when I look at a guitar by García, I say to myself “this shape is perfect”. That doesn’t stop me from tweaking it, flattening out this curve a little bit with a view to bringing down the overall tonality, making it darker, for example. Among violin-makers, this type of reasoning is fairly mainstream. My dream is to be able to make little improvements on traditional guitars in a bid to create the perfect instrument.

Locatto has made 270 guitars to date, as well as a handful of violins.

Luca Waldner, the luthier with young musicians in mind Upon graduation, he started out as a concert guitarist and teacher, but quickly dropped everything to focus solely on lutherie. He studied pre-War Spanish guitars with an absolute passion: Arias, Santos, Simplicio, García, Ramírez… until he came across his ultimate point of reference: Antonio de Torres. Set up in a small town in Lombardy known as Ponte in Valtellina, Luca Waldner works solo. He employs modern techniques in his workshop, such as vacuum gluing and automatic temperature and humidity control. These methods are consistent with his goal of reducing production costs to a minimum so as to make his guitars more accessible to young musicians. Orfeo – Your work is greatly inspired by Torres, is it not? Luca Waldner – For me, Torres is a luthier who is right up there with Stradivari or Guarneri. His absolute understanding of the guitar can be seen in every detail. When you look at his guitars, and

Luca Waldner started learning the guitar when he was 12 years old. He went on to earn a diploma from the Castelfranco Veneto Conservatory, where he studied under Stefano Grondona.

The idea behind the “Almedina� model is to make a concert guitar while stripping away anything superfluous.

A moveable point of contact on the harmonic bar, enabling extremely fine adjustments to the guitar’s sound.

view them in the context of financial hardship in which he was working, it’s almost a miracle. He was a bolt out of the blue for the history of music! When you look at his earliest known guitars, you can’t help but think: Where did he come from? What had he been doing previously? His first guitars certainly bear no resemblance at all to first guitars. They don’t look at all like guitars numbered 0 or 1; they are already perfect instruments, right from the start. Even more astonishingly, he was in Almería, isolated… Almería in 1850 was just a desert, with no electricity, in the middle of nowhere! How could he have come to such perfect knowledge of the instrument? From the very outset, he know exactly what he was doing, and he had a profound knowledge of wood, and absolute pitch… Torres was a kind of genius who sprang up out of the desert with tremendous musical ability and intelligence. We guitar-makers are deeply indebted to Romanillos because much of what we know stems from his work on Torres. Orfeo – How many Torres guitars have you examined? L. W. – I must have seen fifteen or twenty Torres guitars in total, and restored six. The act of restoring one gives us the chance to delve into the original luthier’s work. But it is still up to us to interpret what we see in that work. Copying the shape, using the same woods, the same bracing, the same proportions; that is not enough to

come up with an identical instrument. And the sound? Can it be the same? It’s like anything in life: just because a master chef gives you his recipe for “pasta all’aglio”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that yours will turn out the same! As far as I’m concerned, there are only two guitar-makers, other than the Spanish masters, who managed to achieve outstanding results: Hauser and Rubio. Orfeo – How did your “Almedina” model come about? L. W. – From the outset, I saw that there was a cultural problem. Guitarists have lost touch with the history of the guitar and have little chance of hearing guitars by Torres or Simplicio. And so they blindly follow current fads. In the 1990s it was Kasha; nowadays it’s Smallman or Dammann, with carbon tops, lattice, Nomex or whatever is in vogue. These instruments are not guitars and what they produce is not music; history will one day consign these instruments to the scrap heap. It was from these observations that “Almedina” was born. I said to myself: there’s a need to reach out to young guitarists, to address those whose ear has not yet been corrupted by today’s faddish instruments and offer them a real luthier’s guitar, with a beautiful, traditional tone and a reasonable price-tag; those youngsters at the conservatory who, because of their financial circumstances, have had their musical sensitivity and their technique shaped by instruments of poor quality: hard, heavy, colourless, devoid of “pianissimi”, obsessed by volume.

A very traditional bracing style, precisely executed.

The “Concert� model is more refined and has more sophisticated decoration.

“There’s a need to reach out to young guitarists, to address those whose ear has not yet been corrupted by today’s faddish instruments. “Almedina” is my solution to this problem: a true luthier’s guitar, with a superb sound, weighing just 1.1 kg, as beautiful as possible for the lowest possible price. It is no humble study guitar; it is a true, quality guitar crafted by a luthier, finished with French polish, using choice woods: spruce for the soundboard, cedar for the neck (Ed.: with a zero fret) and maple for the body, as in violin lutherie. “Almedina” takes its inspiration from the pre-War guitars: Torres, Santos, Simplicio, García… Perhaps the sound that springs most to mind is that of a Torres, that of a Spanish guitar, as Romanillos would put it. You wouldn’t go buying poorly made shoes for your children, lest you ruin their feet. And the same goes for the guitar. I have already built nearly 40 “Almedina” guitars: students and teachers alike are delighted with them. Orfeo – Which other models do you build? L. W. – For professional players, I have a concert model, which is more refined, using premium quality woods: tops of spruce cut from Val di Fiemme, like Stradivari, and more sophisticated decorative elements. It isn’t built in accordance with the classic Spanish method: I firstly set the ribs onto the back and I close the body by lastly adding the top, as Torres did with some of his guitars. They are given an initial layer of oil-based varnish, like violins, and then I finish with shellac French polish. At the moment I’m trying out one of my ideas on the concert guitars: they have a moveable point of contact on the harmonic bar. It’s a bit like the sound post in a violin except that it doesn’t connect the top to the back: this little

piece of wood alters the point of contact between the (open) harmonic bar and the soundboard. By shifting its position, the player can change the vibrational mode and make minute adjustments to the sound of the guitar. The aim is to optimise the mechanics of the soundboard. Orfeo – Do you also use cedar for the soundboards? L. W. – No, cedar has never been a wood of choice in lutherie. Quartet instruments, harps and pianos have always used spruce, which is a resonant wood offering superior sound projection and is therefore more suitable for soundboards. It’s a bit like Nomex, a fibre that is best known for its flame retardant qualities. But just because Nomex saved Niki Lauda’s life, it doesn’t mean that it should be used for making guitars! But like I say, history will sort all of this out for us in the end… Orfeo – Have you tried to achieve greater volume in your guitars? L. W. – No, there is no such thing as a guitar that lacks volume; yet again, this is a crazy obsession of our times… Have you ever heard of any luteplayers complaining that their instruments aren’t powerful enough? Orfeo – What is the accessory that you use to fasten the strings to the bridge? L. W. – This is one of my own inventions, “StringPlates”. It’s a system that protects the top from any damage if a string breaks and ensures a constant, optimal angle of the string on the saddle.

Deep in the heart of the Alps, the Province of Sondrio occupies the north-west corner of Lombardy.


Cremona, in the middle of the Po Plain in southern Lombardy, owes its renown first and foremost to its luthiers. As of the sixteenth century, they raised the manufacture of violins and cellos to new heights of perfection.

The stunning architecture of the ensemble comprising the Cathedral (Romanesque and gothic, 1332, white marble), the Torrazzo (late eighteenth-century bell tower) and the baptistery.


land of the violin

The coat of arms of the city, surrounded by mythical figures, including Hercules, who is, as legend would have it, the founder of Cremona.

Nicolò Amati was master not only to Andrea Guarneri, but also mostly likely to Antonio Stradivari The Amati Family, the house of Guarneri and, above all, Antonio Stradivari all crafted outstanding instruments, with unparalleled timbre, and gave the violin its definitive characteristics. Andrea Amati founded an exceptional dynasty of luthiers, represented by his two sons, Antonio and Girolamo, and especially his grandson, Nicolò Amati. It was Nicolò who built a generously proportioned violin model with a sound that was at once sweet and powerful. It was perfectly suited to the bourgeois and princely rooms in which the early chamber music concerts flourished. Nicolò Amati was master not only to Andrea Guarneri, but also mostly likely to Antonio Stradivari, whose fame towers unwaveringly above all other luthiers. Even today, there are dozens of shops whose luthiers build quality instruments for a living, continuing the tradition handed down from the great masters. Cremona can

also be justifiably proud of is superb architecture, and in particular the striking ensemble comprising the Cathedral (“il Duomo”) with its façade of white marble, the bell tower (“il Torrazzo”) and the baptistery. The city is home to many museums, such as the “Museo del Violino” and the “Museo Civico Ala Ponzone,” while the Cremona International Violin Making School perpetuates the tradition of crafting bowed string instruments for students hailing from all corners of the globe. For the last few years it has also been possible to study guitar making at the prestigious school - a course offered in a specially equipped workshop. Museo del Violino The Violin Museum, inaugurated in September 2013, reveals the history of the violin and the techniques involved in its manufacture. It also introduces us to

Cremona is a place of museums, music and promenades. In the background, the bell tower keeps watch over the city of Stradivarius.

The “Scrigno dei Tesori” (Treasure Box). Museo del Violino and the sculpture by Helidon Xhixha.

The Giovanni Arvedi Auditorium. All the great names in lutherie gathered in this very room.

The “Sabionari”, one of the five known guitars by Antonio Stradivari.

Guadagnini, Lacote, Fabriccatore and Torres feature among the names in the display cases.

The city is home to many museums, such as the “Museo del Violino” and the “Museo Civico Ala Ponzone” Cremona’s famous luthier families and allows us to admire masterpieces created by master luthiers from all around the world. Thanks to the consolidation of several collections and the donation of Stradivari’s working implements, the museum boasts the world’s most impressive exhibition of exquisite violins. One of the museum’s must-see displays is the “Scrigno dei Tesori” (Treasure Box), which offers the finest violin collection ever imaginable: Amati, Guarneri, Stradivari and all the great names from the world of lutherie in one breath-taking line-up. The other jewel in the museum’s crown is the “Giovanni Arvedi” auditorium. A veritable gem of acoustic engi-

neering, the 500-seat hall combines cutting-edge technology with Cremonese cultural tradition and ancestral knowledge of lutherie. The circular stage and intimate dimensions are of vital importance, ensuring optimal visibility and acoustics for virtually every seat in the house. The recitals held here on a regular basis enable concertgoers to hear and appreciate the true “sound” of the violins from the collection in a unique space where the acoustics are perfect. And finally, there is yet another treat in store for aficionados of the classical guitar: none other than the “Sabionari” guitar, one of the five known guitars by Antonio Stradivari. Maintenance of the instrument, restored in France

RenĂŠ Lacote, Paris 1830.

The outstanding Carutti collection comprises some ďŹ fty plucked string instruments

Louis Panormo, London 1833.

by Françoise and Daniel Sinier de Rieder, has now been entrusted to Lorenzo Frignani. Museo Civico Ala Ponzone Located in the sixteenth-century “Palazzo Alfaitati,” the museum houses the art collection of the Marquis Giuseppe Ala Ponzone. It was gifted to the city of Cremona in 1842. The visitor can admire, among the many treasures in the collection, the “San Francesco in meditazione” by Caravaggio or “l’Ortolano” by Arcimboldo. Here again, we

Antonio de Torres, N° 59 S. E. Almería 1884.

find that there is a pleasant surprise in store for us: the Carlo A. Carutti collection of instruments. What makes it so exceptional is not only the quality of its component pieces, but also their rarity and state of conservation. It includes some fifty plucked string instruments: guitars, mandolins and lutes, crafted by Europe’s elite luthiers of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The prestige of the names to be found in its glass cases is overwhelming: Fabriccatore, Guadagnini, Lacote and Torres, to name but a few.

Nicolò Alessi: precision   His background in precision industry and his love of the classical guitar led him to perfect the design and function of tuning machines I wasn’t aiming to copy existing tuning machines, but rather to start afresh, completely from scratch, and rethink the components of tuners. I am, however, one of very few to make copies of vintage models, but using modern technology. What is most important to me is that tuners be accurate and long-lasting, which is why I continue to put so much thought Nicolò Alessi into ways of perfecting my models, of finding new solutions, new techniques of manufacture, new materials. Orfeo – How is it that you came to produce tuning machines for guitars? Orfeo – Which materials do you use? Nicolò Alessi – I trained as an industrial designN. A. – Stainless steel for the worms, bronze for er and for a while was working for local firms. But the gears and brass or alpacca (1) for the plates. in parallel I was learning the guitar with a teacher The intermediary rings are made of a synthetic from conservatory. After a while I starting having material similar to Teflon. And for the buttons I trouble with my guitar’s tuners, which had beuse various different woods (ebony, snakewood) come stiff and lost their accuracy. So I decided or synthetic ivory. to make some myself and I started looking at I have also created a model called “Simplicio” in how they were manufactured and I came up with sterling silver with a gold wire inlay around the some prototypes. I found it to be a really worthplate. while pursuit and decided to focus solely on that. Next, I created some tuning machines and showed them to some guitar-makers. It wasn’t long at all before orders started coming in, and (1) Ed.: Alpacca (also known as German silver or nickel even though my early creations weren’t perfect, silver) is the name of an alloy comprising three metals they were reliable. (zinc, nickel and copper) that resembles silver. He employs cutting-edge machines and technologies in addition to traditional manual engraving; a blend of modernity and tradition, all of superlative quality. We visited him at his homeworkshop in Luino, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, where he treated us to a mini recital with two of the guitars from his collection: a Hauser II and a José Luis Romanillos.

   and top quality

This 1931 Francisco Simplicio guitar is fitted with a copy, created by Alessi, of the original tuning machines.

A blend of techniques: the process starts on     

the computer and finishes with hand engraving.

“I really enjoy to craft a model that dresses the  Since guitarists often switch to a Drop D tuning during concerts, which exerts quite some pressure on the metal parts, I prefer my gears to be rather large, with 15 teeth, to increase the mass of metal and make them stronger. Moreover, once I have finished assembling the various parts of the tuners, I “run them in” on a machine that spins them at full tilt for a few minutes. Orfeo – How many different models do you produce? N. A. – An infinite number; I can create any shape or design that takes my fancy. What I really enjoy, though, is to craft a one-off model, something that dresses the customer’s guitar beautifully. I always begin by sketching a few ideas out manually, but the process always ends with the computer and the AutoCAD software that I use. That’s how things are done these days. Orfeo – And do you use the computer for the engraving as well? N. A. – No, the engraving is always done by hand. When it comes to engraving, nothing comes close to manual technique. I don’t do it myself; I leave that task to a specialist engraver who learned the craft from her father. Engraving is a skill that requires enormous precision. Here in Italy we are lucky to have a long-standing tradition in the art and excellent artisans, who have inherited ancient techniques that were once used for engraving weapons, swords and armour. Orfeo – Do you, yourself, feel like an inheritor of that Italian craftsmanship legacy? N. A. – Not only of the craftsmanship: in this region, there were countless little high tech companies producing high precision parts, with manufacturing tolerances of around one-hundredth of a millimetre!

Various plates, ready for assembly.

customer’s guitar beautifully.”

Paris, October 2015 Website: Contact :

Orfeo Magazine #6 - English edition - Autumn 2015  

Illustrated classical guitar magazine.