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orfeo N°


m a g a z i n e Dominique Field Jean-Noël Rohé Olivier Fanton d’Andon Thomas Norwood Discover Montmartre

N° 7 - Spring 2016 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 : Christian Descombes French - English translation : Meegan Davis French - Spanish translation : Maria Smith-Parmegiani © Camino Verde Website: Contact:


orfeo From the Editor


m a g a z i n e Is there such a thing as a single French school of lutherie today? Are the guitars made in France as recognisable as the ones from Granada or Madrid? In France, guitar makers all seem to approach their craft as a form of artistic expression, blaze their own trails, make their own styles of instrument and seek their own signature sounds (“a lifetime’s work” in the words of Daniel Friederich). Birds of the feather, then, regardless of what any proverb might tell you, do not necessarily flock together! Despite their differences, the guitars crafted by French luthiers all share excellent length of sound, an elegant timbre and breath-taking woodwork. So there really is such a thing as a “French touch”. For this seventh edition of Orfeo, we invite you to join us on a promenade through Montmartre, the Parisian neighbourhood of Robert Bouchet and Dominique Field, and we offer you interviews with four French luthiers whose guitars stand proudly as shining examples of quality and refinement. Alberto Martinez

His workshop is in Paris, on the slopes of Montmartre, just a stone’s throw from Robert Bouchet’s old studio. He was a privileged beneficiary of the latter luthier’s advice and recipient of Bouchet’s famous workshop notes, or “Cahier d’atelier”, which he subsequently passed on to the Paris Museum of Music.

Dominique Field, leader in French luthe


Scoring the neck before the ebony fretboard is affixed. Orfeo – Tell us about the influences on your work. Dominique Field - I have been greatly influenced by Robert Bouchet. I especially liked the guitars that he was making just before he added the arched bar under the bridge. He had achieved a sound that I felt was close to the ideal: a responsive instrument, full-bodied, powerful, balanced‌ It had traditional seven-strut fan bracing, but was asymmetrical: not all of the braces were of the same height; they had progressively higher profiles the further up into the highs they went, creating an asymmetry that delivered prefect balance. He made some absolutely fabulous guitars. And then there are his guitars fitted with the arched bar under the bridge, and it is true that with these instruments he achieved extraordinary sustain. He produced a very personal, utterly

magical timbre, something that had quite simply never existed before him. In 1982, as I was working on my seventeenth guitar, Robert Bouchet started sending some of his customers to me for their guitar maintenance (replacing frets, adjusting saddles). In this way I got real hands-on experience with about fifteen Bouchet guitars; a tenth of his entire production! So I feel that I know them pretty well. What he had understood right from the outset was that the guitar was an object to which you could add true artistic value. His guitars were homogeneous: the heads, the rosettes, the dimensions, everything flowed beautifully and formed a consistent, perfectly executed whole. In some ways such homogeneity is actually the hardest thing to master, the ultimate challenge, the final frontier in lutherie! I am not trying to imitate his guitars but some-

“Homogeneity is actually the hardest thing to master, the ultimate challenge, the final frontier in lutherie!” Rosette of a guitar built in 1991. The very first guitar that he ever made is still kept in his studio.

thing that I certainly took on board from his work is the idea of always creating asymmetry, ensuring that there is differentiated mass and stiffness from one side of the soundboard to the other and – perhaps my greatest take-away lesson from him – his insistence on aesthetic excellence! Orfeo – How do you brace your guitars? D. F. - My usual fan bracing pattern has five struts to it and one oblique harmonic bar, like a simplified version of Fleta’s bracing. I add a triangular support so as to bolster the part of the soundboard that lies behind the bridge, and two small supporting plates in front of the bridge, that part of the guitar with a persistent tendency to sag. Depending on the type of wood that I use for these parts, whether stiff or supple, I can alter the sound of the guitar. I also ensure a solid structure around the fret-

The inside of his usual model, before the back is added.

“My usual fan bracing pattern is like a simplified version of Fleta’s bracing.”





(1) His customary bracing. (2) Experimental soundboard with extrastrength bracing. (3) Regular back. (4) Experimental back with slanted struts.

“I feel that these little braces add less weight and make the sound brighter.” board, with sizeable bars, which gives me more control over the neck’s vibrational speed and delivers good tonal separation and greater precision. Orfeo – And what’s the rationale for these little supports glued to the ribs? D. F. - This was a solution that I came up with as an alternative to having “double sides”. I feel that these little braces add less weight and make the sound brighter. It is almost as if the guitar were tuned slightly higher, without altering the balance between the fundamental frequency and its harmonics. All this comes down to personal choice: there certainly are guitar makers out there who have achieved excellent results with laminated ribs (Ramírez, Friederich…). Orfeo – Do your guitars have any other unique construction features? D. F. - The notches in the nut are different for each string. What’s more, I give my fretboards a slight twist in order to give the bass strings more room. I don’t always make the same rosette; I change the design from time to time, but always in keeping with the same overall style. Orfeo – Which woods do your prefer to work with? D. F. - I make only one model. For the back and ribs, I only ever use rosewood because it is a timber that results in powerful instruments, with good projection. For the tops, I use spruce, by and large, but I have also been known to go for

red cedar and the outcome – while slightly different – has been just as good. Orfeo – Even though you have no shortage of orders for your guitars, you continue to experiment; why is that? D. F. - I am always looking to improve my guitars, but any modifications that I undertake are thoroughly thought-out in advance: I know precisely which quality I want to enhance or which shortcoming I want to minimise. I only ever implement these changes once I am sure of the result. Orfeo – And yet I have seen some exceptions, such as this unfinished soundboard, here… D. F. - It is a soundboard fashioned out of a most beautiful wood, but I accidentally went and made it too thin and so I abandoned it in a forgotten corner somewhere. It was a pity because the rosette had already been inlaid and it looked superb. Some time later, I thought to myself that García and Torres worked with extremely light, fine tops and used the bracing to strengthen them. So I made some very robust bracing for it, adding cross-bars, and leaving very little wood free. My wife (guitarist Catherine Liolios) has so much faith in me that she has sold her guitar and is waiting for me to finish this one! Orfeo – Do you adjust your tops to a given frequency? D. F. - On some new guitars, there might be one note that doesn’t sound quite so good and this is often because there are two areas in the gui-

The slightly twisted neck and nut slots are designed to optimise string height.

Mould for gluing the back’s reinforcement and bracing.

Adjustable system for affixing any type of bracing to the soundboard.

He prefers rosewood for both its aesthetic and acoustic qualities.

Attaching the ebony fingerboard requires perfect alignment.

The rosette has just been completed on a red cedar top.

“I use spruce, by and large, but I have also been known to go for red cedar and the outcome – while slightly different – has been just as good.”

Dominique Field’s signature: elegant lines, quality materials and exquisite woodwork.

“The soundboard opens up as it ages and the tone drops, much like a person’s vocal cords.” tar that resonate at exactly the same frequency. When two frequencies are identical, they cancel each other out and the sound dies much faster. However, this defect may correct itself over time. The opposite is also possible: that the problem appears later whereas everything was previously fine. The reason for this is that the soundboard “opens up” as it ages and the tone drops – much like a person’s vocal cords – and the frequencies change. This is why I don’t try to match the frequency of the soundboard with the body, or any other factor, because I know that it will change as time goes by; the guitar top’s register will drop; the frequencies will change; and the wave pairings may develop or disappear. Orfeo – What is your view on antique guitars? D. F. - The truly beautiful guitars, the Torres, Esteso or García guitars, are just as noble and significant as they ever were, even though we will never know what they sounded like when they were new. What I find most enriching about them is that they can help me to understand their creators’ approach to lutherie and the rationale behind the choices that they were making. My work follows in the footsteps of that highly refined Spanish guitar making tradition, an exquisite blend of first-rate craftsmanship and artistic expression.

Montmartre: the district of Dominique Field and Robert Bouchet.

The Bohemian

The district of Montmartre, located on a hill in the north of Paris, seems to have escaped the passage of time and to this day is home to houses hidden behind foliage, to leafy gardens, picturesque streets and a bohemian spirit nourished by a past in which artistic movements and counter-culture flourished.

Slopes of Montmartre

The parvis offers splendid panoramic views of Paris

From the late nineteenth century through to the 1920s painters, sculptors, writers and musicians all found themselves in a thriving creative hotspot, while bourgeois Parisians found it a vibrant place of life and entertainment. Montmartre still retains its vineyard, producing the one and only Parisian wine: Le Clos Montmartre. The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur Montmartre is easily spotted from afar thanks to the white dome of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, overlooking the whole of Paris from its hilltop perch. Despite becoming practically synonymous with Montmartre and standing proudly as the district’s emblem, the Basilica was not actually completed until 1914. Prior to its construc-

tion, numerous underground tunnels – a reminder that for centuries gypsum had been quarried here to beautify the city of Paris – needed to be filled in. The Basilica, designed by architect Paul Abadie, is built entirely of Château-Landon stone, which whitens with age and is cleaned by rainwater. Inside, visitors can admire one of the largest mosaic in the world, created Luc-Olivier Merson, and the immense organ by Cavaillé-Coll. The belfry houses the “Savoyarde”, France’s largest bell, which is three metres across and weighs nineteen tonnes. The parvis spreading like a terrace in front of the Basilica offers splendid panoramic views of Paris. Visitors can reach it by taking the funicular – or climb the stairs if they are feeling fit.

The MÊtro entranceways and the hillside steps are part of Montmartre’s allure

From the late 19th century, bourgeois Parisians found it a vibrant place of life and entertainment. Windmills and cabarets The wind-whipped hillock of Montmartre was once peppered with windmills where people had come, since mediaeval times, to have their wheat ground into flour. Made redundant by the industrial revolution, the last two surviving windmills were the Blute-Fin and the Radet, together known as Le Moulin de la Galette (1622), which was ultimately turned into a cabaret. Their quaint charm attracted bourgeois Parisians not only for leisurely Sunday strolls, but also for more raucous evenings filled with dancing, drinking and entertainment. Le Moulin de la Galette has been immortalised by such famous artists as Renoir, Van Gogh, Utrillo and Toulouse-Lautrec. One of the best-known cabarets is Le Lapin Agile, open since 1860. This cabaret was to become the regular haunt of painters like Renoir, Utrillo, Braque and Picasso. Le Chat Noir was another well-known cabaret in the early twentieth century. And let us not forget Le Moulin Rouge, still in operation to this day, located at the foot of the knoll since 1889, which is still one of the most famous temples of music and dance. Its iconic posters were designed by Toulouse-Lautrec and its line-up of singers included Mistinguett, Joséphine Baker, Maurice Chevalier and, later, Édith Piaf and Yves Montand. It is the home of the can-can, a dance whose performance was only permitted if the dancers were wearing suitable undergarments!

Le Chat Noir cabaret poster, designed by Steinlen.

Le Moulin de la Galette circa 1900.

Mademoiselle Églantine’s Troupe, lithograph by Toulouse-Lautrec.

Le Lapin Agile cabaret, in continuous operation since 1860.

Le Bateau-Lavoir: at the very heart of the artistic avant-garde movement.

Le Moulin Rouge is still one of the most famous temples of music and dance.

Picasso painted The Young Ladies of Avignon (1907) and most of his early cubist works while residing in Le Bateau-Lavoir Montmartre and its artists We would be remiss to talk about Montmartre without mentioning the artists who have frequented it or lived there. Renoir and Van Gogh had several studios in Montmartre. And we have already mentioned Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted the cabaret dancers and produced so many drawings and posters of the period. But if there is one place that has truly left its mark on the history of art, it would have to be Le Bateau-Lavoir, a ramshackle little abode on the hillside that was bursting at the seams with budding young painters and their models. Picasso doubtless remains the most famous of it residents, having lived there from 1904 to 1909: it was here that he painted The Young Ladies of Avignon (1907) and most of his early cubist works. Juan Gris and Van Dongen were also regulars in the rickety dwelling. This merry troupe would receive visits from friends, art dealers, poets and clients. The steady stream of invitees included poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob; collectors of

Le Moulin de la Galette today.

Tomb of Fernando Sor.

A street in Montmartre, circa 1900.

Berlioz lived there and he is buried in the Montmartre cemetery next to Fernando Sor modern art Gertrude and Leo Stein; art dealers and gallery owners Vollard and Kahnweiler; as well as painters Braque, Derain, Vlaminck, Modigliani, Lipchitz and Le Douanier Rousseau. Montmartre and its musicians Musicians further swelled the ranks of Montmartre’s bohemian wildlife. Berlioz lived in Montmartre, and was visited there by his friends Liszt and Chopin. He is buried very nearby, in the Montmartre cemetery, next to Émile Zola, Nijinski and Fernando Sor. On the street named Rue Lepic is the firm Vandoren: since 1905 it has been manufacturing reeds for clarinets and saxophones and its

products have become a gold standard for musicians the world over. And for us guitar aficionados, Montmartre shall always remain the home of Robert Bouchet, painter, musician and luthier, who had his workshop in Rue Ordener, and of Julian Gómez Ramírez, who worked in Rue Rodier, just a few hundred metres from the belovèd hill. We cannot end our little tour of Montmartre without mentioning Amélie Poulain, the main character in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film. Tourist companies offer walking tours that afford visitors a chance to see where it was filmed and help preserve the collective memory of the district as it once was.

One of Paris’ many Wallace fountains, gifted to the city by British philanthropist, Sir Richard Wallace.

The corner store that featured in the film Amélie as Monsieur Collignon’s shop.

Olivier Fanton d’A

Andon, a unique luthier Olivier Fanton d’Andon is quite different to other guitar-makers; very intuitive and a perfectionist in the extreme. He learned the art of lutherie solo in Nice with the help of a few old books and started out by restoring Baroque and Romantic guitars.

Mould used for crafting rosettes.

He has designed and created a vast array of tools so as to avoid errors and facilitate the work. While he makes everything himself, he quite readily resorts to all manner of electric machines to make life easier. The search for perfection permeates every aspect of his work, right down to the last detail. The guitar that he submitted in the 1986 edition of France’s prestigious craftsmanship contest left the panel of judges speechless and earned him the supreme title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France. In the instrument’s rosette alone there were more than 35,000 tiny pieces of wood! Orfeo – Where do you get the inspiration for your rosettes? Olivier Fanton d’Andon – The rosette for the 1986 competition guitar was inspired by a basrelief from the Carolingian dynasty that I had seen in a history book. A friend helped me design the mosaic and work out how to create it. I had to cut veneer strips just 4/10th millimetre wide and it took me 120 hours to make! Apart from that, the usual motif for my rosettes comes from the Baroque guitar. It is a style of marquetry known as “pistagne”. You can often

see it on seventeenth-century French school guitars and, in particular, on those crafted by Voboam, who used a diagonal ebony and ivory alternating pattern. I had already proved that I could create mosaics with extremely intricate designs but I find that none of that detailed work can actually be appreciated from a distance; you can only really see it up close. So I decided to change tack, and since I had begun by restoring Baroque guitars and I had a soft spot for them, I opted for the age-old pistagne motif. Orfeo – Your bracing is also very unusual. O. F. – Yes, I use radial bracing, a bit like a double fan pattern. My first bracing pattern took its inspiration from a Pacherele guitar (nineteenth century); it only had three transverse struts, nothing else, not even any reinforcement under the bridge. Since I found the result less than satisfactory, I started experimenting and looking for the soundboard’s vibrational nodes. I thought that it would be better to glue braces to the outside of the soundboard so as to be able to alter them easily. After a month and half of tapping on the guitar top, gluing little

“I use radial bracing, a bit like a double fan pattern.�

“Each individual element of my bracing is specially shaped to fit snugly into the curvature of the top or back.� This guitar, currently under repair, affords us a glimpse of the perfection hidden within.

braces around the bridge, adding bits of wood here and removing them there, looking for the exact spots in which to brace the soundboard, I eventually came across the ideal configuration. From time to time I would ask two friends – both guitar teachers – to listen to the outcome. Once I had identified a bracing pattern glued onto the outside that was working fine, I set about repro-

ducing it on the inside of the guitar top. I later discovered that Michael Kasha had come up with a similar solution but I think that his version was more complicated than mine. Not all of my struts are the same. They’re broader and lower-profiled on the bass note side of the guitar, which offers greater flexibility, more elasticity, without compromising strength. For the treble

A spacious workshop, kitted out with modern machines. side, I use bracing made of very dense spruce, which is more responsive. Another important aspect is the slope of the harmonic bar; the steeper the incline, the more percussive the sound. Since the guitar top has a cylindrical curve to it and the back has a spherical bulge, each individual element of my bracing is specially shaped to fit snugly into the curvature of the top or back. None of the pieces are ever forced into the position in which they will ultimately by glued. For some time now I’ve been taking a punt and further refining the longitudinal braces so as to make them more supple and the resultant sound is mellower, more mellifluous, and yet it has lost none of its brightness. Orfeo – Why is it that both the tops and backs of your guitars are domed? O. F. – Very early on, I realised that it was best to avoid having two flat surfaces parallel to one another, to avoid having the vibrations mirroring

one another and cancelling each other out. You only need to look at quartet instruments. For the longest time they have been made with curved surfaces to ensure that the sound doesn’t remain trapped inside. Orfeo – Did you ever try using a traditional fan bracing pattern? O. F. – I took thorough measurements of the Torres guitar held in the Museum of Nice and I could go and make an exact copy but, to me, Torres is a guitar-maker of his time, whereas I prefer to go for a more personal, contemporary solution, a guitar that reflects who I am. Orfeo – Which woods do you use? O. F.  – For the soundboard, I only ever use spruce. I find red cedar too fragile and it makes me nervous. There is already enough stress involved in making guitars without going and opting for such a brittle kind of wood. For the back

Guitar-making “à la française”: first build the body; add the neck later. and sides, I like Indian, Brazilian or Madagascan rosewood and figured maple. It is the bracing and method of construction that gives my guitars their signature sound; using this or that wood for the back and sides doesn’t alter the overall result very much. Orfeo – The tools that you use are very modern; is that a conscious choice? O. F. – Routers exist and so do carbide drill bits, so why not use them? What has really revolutionised my way of working and made things much easier is the vacuum clamping system. Orfeo – Tell us about some of the details to be found on your guitars O. F.  – On some guitars I cover the neck with a fine layer of ebony. Not only does it look nice; the ebony actually helps the player’s left hand glide up and down the neck. To make the instrument lighter, I also use quite

unique linings: They are between 3 and 5 mm wide, which is all you need to ensure a solid bond with the soundboard or the back. In addition, I use a hard wood (beech) for the linings that join the back to the sides, and a soft wood (linden tree) for the linings joining the top to the sides. I’m a bit empirical; I don’t do any measuring at all. If there is one great quality with which we human beings have been endowed, it’s our intuition. So why not put it to work for us in the workshop?! Just imagine if there were such a thing as a smart machine that could tell you which wood to use for your guitars, which thicknesses, etc. Where would that leave us luthiers ? Orfeo – Why do you use the French method to build your guitars? O. F. – It is better by far. I would not be able to work with the guitar’s neck already in place from the outset. Not only is the French method more logical; it really is the only good solution. I

Extraordinary woods, flawless woodwork: a masterpiece of lutherie.

“I cover the neck with a fine layer of ebony to help the player’s left hand glide up and down the neck.”

“It takes two to produce a beautiful sound – the luthier and the guitarist.” The guitar that he submitted in the 1986 edition of France’s prestigious craftsmanship contest.

find the Spanish method to be less precise, more rudimentary, undoubtedly a suitable approach back in the nineteenth century, but not for today. You have less control over each step in the process. The only delicate part when using the French method is fitting the neck to the guitar, but once you’ve got the knack, even that part isn’t difficult at all. Orfeo – What sound are you after ? O. F. – I am looking for sweetness, gentleness, and balance across the strings. I am particularly pleased with the way that my lows and middles sound; they have body, authority. Ideally, I would love to achieve the same degree of presence for the highs, but that is a real challenge because the strings don’t have the same energy. I am not out to please everyone; that would be impossible, anyway. It is important to remain true to your aims and not let yourself get distracted. It takes two to produce a beautiful sound – the luthier and the guitarist. And in this regard, Roland Dyens is an example of a player who brings out the best in my guitars.

In the instrument’s rosette alone there were more than 35,000 tiny pieces of wood.

Jean-Noël Rohé a rising star Based in Strasbourg, in the eastern part of France, Jean-Noël Rohé grew up and trained in the shadow of renowned guitar-makers like Daniel Friederich and Dominique Field. At the tender age of 40, he is already being hailed as a deserving heir to France’s great legacy in lutherie.

Guitar built in 2007 with back and sides of a most surprising rosewood.

2015 guitar with back and sides of curly maple.

“The meeting with Dominique Field in 2001 was a turning point in my career.”

Orfeo – How did you learn your craft ? Jean-Noël Rohé – Initially, I was interested in graphic communication and I studied at the Gutenberg graphic arts college. But the idea of making stringed instruments was always in the back of my mind and one day I went to Paris to meet with Daniel Friederich and ask him how to become a luthier. To my surprise, he advised me to start by learning cabinetmaking before going to a school of lutherie. Looking back, I can see just what excellent advice that was. In France, we have a long-standing tradition of cabinetmaking, with a vast pool of expertise and superb schools, whereas instruction in the art of lutherie is totally by the bye. By studying cabinetmaking, we acquire valuable techniques and learn how to use the very tools that will later prove indispensable for crafting musical instruments. I completed one year of cabinetmaking in Alsace before heading to the Newark College Guitar Making School in England to study lutherie. Upon returning from England in 2001, I met with Dominique Field for the first time; this meeting was a turning point in my career. I immediately fell under the charm of his work and his aesthetic vision. I went to see him quite often and he encouraged me to set myself up as a luthier.

Variations in rosettes, from 2007 and from 2015.

Tie-block and saddle in unbleached bone. My first years were tough: I would make guitars during the week and then work in a restaurant on weekends to earn a bit of money. In 2004 I crowned one of France’s best craftsmen in the Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition and it was from that point onward that I focussed solely on lutherie. Shortly afterward, I met guitarist Pablo Márquez, who had taken over from Oscar Ghiglia as teacher at the City of Basel Music Academy (Switzerland). He liked my work and started sending his students to me. Orfeo – How would you describe your approach to lutherie? J.-N. R. – The way that guitar-making luthiers work is very different to that of luthiers who craft quartet instruments. The latter seek to emulate, as closely as possible, the instruments of yesteryear, the models of Cremona’s golden age. For us guitar makers the idea is, rather, to respond to contemporary demand, which is to produce a guitar offering greater volume. There is thus a trend in modern guitar making to build a very rigid body with an extremely thin top – a bit like a loudspeaker – at the risk of sacrificing some of the timbre of the Spanish guitar. It is then up to each individual luthier to arrive at his own happy medium, choose his own path. The shape of the head takes its inspiration from a gate in the city of Strasbourg.

Orfeo – And what choices have you made? J.-N. R. – The sides of my guitars are reinforced, which renders the body more rigid and enhances the sound projection. Moreover, as I am such a perfectionist, I use a technique for gluing the various strata in a mould, which results in perfect pieces. The drawback is that we are adding weight, which

“The idea is to respond to contemporary demand which is to produce a guitar offering greater volume.” directly affects the instrument’s timbre. We might make gains in terms of sheer power, but we risk losing something of the original charm… These days I’m making triple-laminated sides: the outer stratum is of rosewood; the middle layer has openings so as to optimise weight; the innermost lining is of spruce. I even considered using a layer of Nomex in the middle, but in the end I chose to stick with wood. What I am aiming for is a structure that is both rigid and light, but I always prefer to find solutions using wood, this living material that I love.

a double back in spruce, as Lacote did in the nineteenth century. In order to optimise weight and strength, I am building the bracing into the spruce lining itself.

Orfeo – Which wood do you use for your soundboards ? J.-N. R. – I generally prefer spruce but recently I made some guitars with cedar tops and the result was just as good. Obviously the bracing was not exactly the same. Unlike instruments made of spruce, cedar-top guitars produce great sound immediately; they are more readyto go, whereas spruce tops His typical bracing, with the X-shaped need a little time before resupport under the sound hole. ally giving their best. Having said that, it is true that my system of construction is so rigid that using one type of timber or another – be it for the soundboard or for the body – makes Orfeo – And for the backs ? relatively little difference to the final outcome. J.-N. R. – I include four transverse struts and two In my conventional bracing I add an “X” under the longitudinal central braces that are fitted into the sound hole, which also takes its inspiration from end block. This means that the neck-body ensemsome of the Romantic guitars. The braces in the ble is very rigid, meaning that I can achieve great“X” support the central part of the soundboard, er sound projection. One rather funny drawback to thus countering the bridge’s tendency to tilt forall of this is that I no longer have any room for my ward. labels, and so I’m looking into alternative ways of Sometimes I get the feeling that my guitars all have signing my instruments: perhaps with stamping or a similar sound, regardless of the tweaks I make branding… here and there. I actually quite like the idea that For the first time, I am currently making a guitar with

“I have overhauled the dimensions of my guitars several times and have consequently had to rework my moulds and some of my tools.�

Once the laminated ribs have been bent into shape, they are glued together in this moulded press.

the signature sound of my guitars has more to do with my hands and my way of crafting them than with the choice of wood or bracing configuration.

own work that he can apply a critical eye thereto and come up with a self-appraisal… it is truly amazing!

Orfeo – Do your guitars display any other unique construction features ? J.-N. R. – The entire soundboard is domed, like on guitars made by Dominique Field or Daniel Friederich, whereas guitars built in the Spanish tradition are flat or arched only under the bridge. Building my guitars with this feature is infinitely more complicated because the sides need to be fitted to a much more complex shape. I think that even Torres made some of his guitars this way, but subsequently simplified his method, so as to have a flat gluing surface throughout. While our way might be more complicated, I think that is worthwhile – from both a mechanical and an aesthetic point of view – investing in a top and back that are curved across their entire breadth and width.

Orfeo – Do you make different models ? J.-N. R. – No, only classical concert guitars, all very well made, impeccably crafted. Aesthetics is also important in this line of work, with everything that that implies: I have overhauled the dimensions of my guitars several times and have consequently had to rework my moulds and some of my tools. It’s a lot of work! Another feature is that the twelfth fret on my guitars is set slightly apart from the body, which means that I can place a full nineteenth fret under all six strings and the overall balance is more pleasing to the eye. My rosettes also have something unique about them: the tiny components in the central mosaic are glued as an ensemble onto a base which is then heat-bent and inlaid all in one step. All the veneer strips that I use are of naturally-coloured wood except for the black ones. The fretboard is slightly radiused, which not only improves player comfort, but also looks better. The most difficult thing is to achieve an aesthetically harmonious whole, a pleasing overall equilibrium. I don’t know if that is a pre-condition for producing fine instruments, but in any case it is the way that I want to work.

Orfeo – Do you keep descriptive workshop notes for each guitar? J.-N. R. – I produce about seven or eight guitars each year. I am currently up to number 75 and I do write notes for each one, but nowhere near as meticulously as Friederich does. What is truly remarkable with him is that he manages to assess his own guitars, in accordance with several criteria, and remain sufficiently objective about his

Adjusting the back before closing up the body. Experimental bracing. Lined back, with a layer of spruce on the inside.

Thomas Norwood, an Thomas Norwood was born in Pasadena, California. He taught himself how to craft guitars by reading Irving Sloane’s book, Classic Guitar Construction and when he embarked on his career as a luthier he started out by building very simple classical guitars, making folk guitars and repairing banjos.

Thomas’ workshop, in the heart of Paris, exudes extraordinary charm.

n American in Paris

“I loved the 1884 Torres SE 69 from the moment I touched it.”

In the 1970s he settled in Paris and he continued honing his skills, visiting both Daniel Friederich and Daniel Lesueur in their workshops. Guided by his passion for old instruments, he went on to specialise in the manufacture of lutes, Baroque guitars and hurdy gurdies and is considered one of the best balalaika luthiers outside Russia. Today, his work is focused almost exclusively on the construction of classical guitars and, over and above the model of his own design, he produces four models inspired by the Spanish golden age: Antonio de Torres, Manuel Ramírez, Domingo Esteso and Santos Hernández. His humility and human qualities are just as impressive as his talent for lutherie. Orfeo – What is your approach to copying guitars ? Thomas Norwood – All of my replicas come about because I develop a soft spot for a particular guitar: I fall in love with the instrument’s beauty and sound quality. For the longest time people were asking me to make a copy of a Torres, but I never did so until the day I was lucky enough to play the 1884 SE 69. I loved that guitar from the moment I touched it. Since the owner was a collector and a friend, I was able to study it at length and it was a real bonus to have the original always on hand for trials.

Replica of the Torres SE 69 guitar.

The Torres replica was built to very precise measurements.

Thomas makes copies of guitars by Torres, Manuel Ramírez, Esteso and Santos.

“The guitars of that era are always nicely balanced but there are invariably some notes that don’t sound the best.” Whenever I decide to make a replica, I start by making an exact copy, as close as possible to the original, using extremely detailed specs as a guide. But later, once I have finished the guitar, and I am more familiar with it, once the sound is right and I’ve had feedback from trusted guitarists, then I have no qualms about making little improvements if I can see that they are possible. The guitars of that era are always nicely balanced but there are invariably some notes that don’t sound the best, and so I try to correct those problems by tweaking the bracing.

Orfeo – Which model is in the greatest demand ? T. N. – The Manuel Ramírez, because it has a slightly more versatile sound, deeper, with better sustain and therefore more suitable for playing a broader repertoire. While I wouldn’t call it a modern guitar, it is certainly a step in that direction. But if the guitarist wants to play pieces by Tárrega, then the Torres model would definitely be more suitable. Often a guitarist will

Purfling detail of the Esteso model.

The Esteso model is the most ornate of all.

He works to the sound of birds singing

Gut fret maintenance on a lute of his own manufacture.

He is considered one of the best balalaika luthiers outside Russia.

be initially besotted with the Torres model and then, after having tried both for some time, wind up preferring the Manuel Ramírez. This was the case quite recently with Pablo Lentini Riva. Guitars by Santos and Torres are difficult to copy because both of these luthiers tended to change dimensions and bracing, probably depending on the wood that they had at their disposal. This means that you can really only ever copy one particular guitar per se. Orfeo – You have just shown us two magnificent copies of old instruments; can you tell us about this ivory lute ? T. N. – This is a copy of a lute made by Georg Gerle (1520-1591), in accordance with the techniques used by luthiers of the Füssen school in southern Germany. I had seen it in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Vienna, and I later gained access to the plans. The client had provided me with a whole, uncut elephant tusk and I had to learn how to slice it into sections and then work the ivory so as to build the lute’s body. I spent

“The client had provided me with a whole, uncut elephant tusk and I had to learn how to slice it into sections and then work the ivory.�

Thomas’ virtuosity can be seen in the unusual curvature of the ribs.

The rosette comprises a leaf motif in motherof-pearl, offset by a background of black shellac.

Copy of a guitar by Nikolaus Georg Ries, a luthier who trained under Stauffer.

Back-lit view of his diagonal bracing configuration.

A rosette in the style of Manuel Ramírez.

“On the outside, it seems to be 100 % Ramírez, but on the inside there are seven braces arranged on a diagonal.” several years experimenting before coming up with the optimal technique for shaping and gluing the sections and then inserting the strips of ebony. The back of the neck is decorated with two strips of tortoiseshell. Even though my label inside clearly indicates that it was built in 1986, I think that it would be no mean feat getting through customs with this lute today! Orfeo – And this Romantic guitar ? T. N. – This is a copy of a guitar by Nikolaus Georg Ries, a luthier who trained under Stauffer. He became well known for his Viennese style guitars in the first half of the nineteenth century. The back and sides are curly maple and the purfling is of ebony. The decoration in the

rosette comprises a mother-of-pearl leaf motif set against a black shellac background. The hardest part to build was actually the ribs, which slope away quite markedly at the heel. Orfeo – Do you also make a Thomas Norwood guitar model? T. N. – Yes, I also make my own original model. It might look a little like a Manuel Ramírez but it isn’t. On the outside, it’s a guitar that seems to be 100 % Ramírez, but on the inside there are seven parallel braces arranged on a diagonal. It is a bracing pattern that I saw on an anonymous Japanese guitar from the 1950s – perhaps an early Kohno guitar. I am pleased with the result: there is good note separation and the sound is very even, all the way along the neck.

The shapes are accentuated by the carefully selected aged rosewood.

Paris, April 2016 © Camino Verde Website: Contact :

Orfeo Magazine #7 - English edition - Spring 2016  
Orfeo Magazine #7 - English edition - Spring 2016  

Illustrated classical guitar magazine.