Last Update: 06/24/03
How did you get into guitar construction? This is the question I hear most often from visitors in my shop. It is a valid question, as every guitar maker I have ever talked to has a different story to tell. I actually played flamenco guitar several years before curiosity of guitar construction got to be a very real passionate curiosity.......................... I was a very dedicated trumpet player since the 6th grade. In high school my passion was classical trumpet. I especially liked the Spanish music of the Bullring, called paso doble. I loved my Spanish trumpet music. I did quite a bit of performing for school concerts, civic clubs and private parties. My music teacher Mr. Ken Woesner would accompany me on the piano. At other times, my sister, Delia, would be my accompanist. Then! I discovered the Flamenco guitar! Spanish music of the bullring led me so naturally to flamenco, the music of the Spanish Gypsies. The Bullring music almost goes hand in hand with flamenco. I played the trumpet all the way to my freshman year in college. In the late 50s I was listening to flamenco guitar all the time, I bought an affordable guitar and decided the flamenco guitar was for me. I took lessons to learn to apply my knowledge of music to the 6 strings of my guitar. ...................I located my really first good teacher of flamenco guitar in San Francisco. Adonis Puertas, of Malaga Spain. I studied 2 years with Adonis, and then he told me I should go to Spain, to really get the feel of real flamenco. I did travel to Madrid, studied one year with a great master teacher, Rafael Nogales. I asked Don Rafael to teach me all the many different styles and variations of flamenco, (toques) old and modern. I still prefer the flamenco of the 50s and 60s. It's more robust and says a lot more with fewer notes. While in Madrid, I very often visited the guitar shops of the famous guitar makers that I had heard about. In one of the famous shops, I was invited to play on a 1932 Santos Hernandez guitar. It was an awesome haunting sound on that guitar. I made some good friends there at this shop. I went there again and again. The guitar maker worked by himself, and liked to talk while he worked. He liked to ask me questions about America, and I used to ask him questions about his work. I became fascinated about the Art of guitar construction. You might say that I truly learned by watching, although at the time I did not really know I was learning. After a year in Madrid, I came back to Fresno, California, In the San Joaquin Valley.............As I went about my business doing gigs, teaching flamenco, and missing Spain. I seemed to, for some reason, be very intent on studying every aspect of my flamenco guitars. I looked inside the guitar with mirrors, tapped the guitar everywhere to hear and feel the vibrations. Out of nowhere came a thought to me. I felt I could build a guitar! Why not, I had seen guitars being built. I bought all the books available about guitar construction, there weren't many, now there are! I bought wood, materials, and tools. It really takes years to outfit a shop, as I soon found out good tools are expensive. But a guitar maker soon learns that he must make a lot of his own tools. I built my first guitar in 1971. To the eye, the guitar looked not so great. To the ear, the guitar had a beautiful sweet long sustain sound. I was encouraged not by the looks of the guitar, but by the sound. While playing this guitar for a group of people, a gentleman asked me if I would build one like it for his daughter. I told him I'd be happy to. But all of a sudden, fear hit me like a bolt of lightning. What had I gotten myself into? What if my first guitar's great sound had been beginners luck, a fluke, just a plain accident of nature! And here I was, giving a stranger a dollar figure for the guitar he wanted. I was lucky again, this time a pretty nice looking classical guitar with a very strong and nice sound............................Not too long after that and several guitars later, an astounding thing happened. One of the world’s greatest Maestro of the flamenco guitar came to Fresno to teach at California State University Fresno. I could not pass up the opportunity to study with world-renowned Flamenco artist Juan Serrano. I made arrangements to take private flamenco guitar lessons with the Maestro. Over the years I studied some 4 years with Dr. Serrano. One day I got up the courage to show him a flamenco guitar I had just finished. He played it and he said it was a very nice guitar. Then he gave me all kinds of recommendations as to what I should do next time I build, what he thought would improve my guitars, and what the sound should be that I should strive to build into my guitars. As I found out years later, when he brought me his late father's guitar, a 1948 Miguel Rodriguez to restore, he had been watching my progress, waiting for the day that he thought my skills were at a level where he could have confidence in letting me work on his father's guitar. His father, also his teacher, was a professional flamenco guitarist, Antonio Serrano, known in the flamenco circles as Antonio el del Lunar. The restoration was a success. The 1948 Miguel Rodriguez has a wonderful old flamenco sound. Also now, I'm very happy to say Juan Serrano, is playing a flamenco "negra" in concerts, that I built for him. That is how I came to be involved in what I call "my art of guitar construction." I have never had to do it for a living. I have always done it for the Art that it is, for the love of my art! I don't care to have brutal deadlines. I build at a slow pace, so I can truly enjoy each step. I build in the traditional old way of the Spanish guitar maker, one man making one guitar by himself. It becomes a very spiritual way of life!
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