The Granada School of Guitar-Makers

This year marks publication of the landmark book on guitar-makers of Granada, Spain. Edited by John Ray, The Granada School of Guitar-makers. (Diputación de Granada de la publicaciones) is a beautifully photographed and researched English/Spanish edition hardcover book that achieves its goal of delineating the history of guitar-making in Granada and acknowledging the lineage of its makers from past through present.

Cover of The Granada School of Guitar-Makers.

Cover of The Granada School of Guitar-Makers.

The book features five essays written by Alberto Cuéllar, David Gansz, Aarón García, Angelo Gilardino and Javier Molina Argente, along with a comprehensive biographical catalog compiled by Cuéllar of 37 local makers. Each maker’s biography includes a photograph of them along with an archival quality set of photographs displaying the front and back of one of their guitars and accompanying details and specifications.

Guitar-maker John Ray.  Photo courtesy of John Ray.

Guitar-maker John Ray. Photo courtesy of John Ray.

The guitar maker John Ray, who settled into Granada in the early 90s by the way of Edmonton, Canada, made his first guitar with José Ángel Chacón in Málaga and opened his shop on calle Solares in Granada with the encouragement of his mentor Rolf Eichinger. Ray’s expertise is in the construction of historic classical guitars and he became inspired to put this book together after a guitar maker festival and exhibition fell through in 2011.   What might have been an exhibition catalog has turned into a fantastic book that not only documents the personalities and influences of technique in guitar building in Granada over the course of centuries but also how history played its part in the instrument’s construction in this city renowned for its guitars.



“When we released the book in May, 2014, the publisher organized for each of the guitar-makers to bring a guitar to the book presentation for that afternoon so that was the closest we came to having a festival and exhibition,” Ray says.

Angelo Gilardino’s beautifully-written essay on the mythology of Granada and guitars opens the book, describing the city of the Alhambra as the “Camelot of the Guitar.” He weaves this lore with the documented history of guitar, which winds through the city as circuitously as any of its sloping streets, with a recount of how Andrés Segovia moved to Granada at the age of ten in 1903 and came into the possession of a Ferrer guitar, five years later.   I will not spoil the rest of the essay but Gilardino offers a compelling description of what it is that defines the characteristics and sound of a guitar from Granada.

Ray says, of Gilardino, “My first teacher, violin-maker José Ángel Chacón, spent some years in Italy working and there he met Angelo and has always spoken of him as being a true scholar of the guitar. I understand that Gilardino spent many hours in Chacón’s workshop. As a musicologist, teacher and composer, he is so much more than a guitarist. Years later, my friend, guitarist and teacher Javier Riba met Gilardino and confirmed very similar reports about the sensitivities and intelligence of the ‘Maestro.’ So when I began to look for authors to write for this book, I proposed that Angelo write a prologue and he accepted. I had the opportunity to meet him when the Cordoba Festival honored him for his contributions to the guitar.

“Gilardino and David Gansz both wrote their articles in relatively short order and having their contributions in hand helped me convince the government representatives put their financial backing behind this project. Miles Roberts was also very generous in helping financially to get started on that well before the money from the government came through.

The Granada School of Guitar Makers.  Interior view.

The Granada School of Guitar Makers. Interior view.

“David Gansz was a great help with this book,” Ray says. “I thought his non-Spanish perspective about the influence we have had on other builders and schools of thought would provide an interesting perspective on what Granada means across the globe.”

David Ganz’s essay on the Granada guitar-maker’s influence takes an expansive look at how the guitar has captured the imagination of the Romantic movement. In the essay, renowned luthier Richard Bruné states his case for Torres Spanish guitar’s evolution out of the Andalucían gypsy flamenco-style guitar and how the Torres guitar-building method came to be adopted by Ramírez Guitars in Madrid. The essay focus on the families in Granada, such as The Casa Ferrer, who continued building using traditional techniques of the Torres tradition. He cites Eusébio Rioja’s research along with José Romanillos and George Clinton’s work in defining how Granada guitars differ from those made in Madrid. The essay concludes with an acknowledgment of the collaborative influence and knowledge-sharing of Granada builders among the international guitar building community and the extent to which Granada has become a city that has attracted many makers with an interest in learning the old traditional ways of building. One of many examples given is the collaboration of French guitar maker Robert Bouchet and Granada guitar-maker Antonio Marín.

Alberto Cuéllar’s essay delves into the compelling, dynastic history of guitar making in Granada, starting with Antonio Marín Montero working as a 14-year-old, floor-sweeping apprentice in Don Claudio’s workshop during the 1940s. Cuéllar manages to create a memorable narrative that delivers a clear picture of how each maker grew into his craft and what personal mark they contributed to Granada guitar-making.

“Alberto Cuéllar knows many of the makers in Granada as he is the third generation of players from a family there,” Ray says. “I am especially pleased with the quality of the interviews that Alberto conducted with the current makers in Granada.”

Aarón García’s essay on the old Granada school of guitar-making delineates several of the city’s most important historical guitar makers over the course of two centuries. He draws a link as to how the innovations that arose in Granada came to eventually influence other schools of guitar making in Madrid, Seville and, Paris, to shape the development and sound of guitar as it is known today.

“Aarón García is a musicologist who collects instruments from cultures everywhere and he has a special love for the historic Spanish guitar—specifically those made in Granada,” Ray says. “He began making guitars some years ago and is uniquely qualified to write about the old masters. I met him years ago while I was working with Rolf Eichinger.”

Finally, Javier Molina Argente’s essay on Baza’s guitar-makers traces the history of guitar making in this historic town, located within the province of Granada, starting from the 16th century and touching upon several of its important makers, such as Rafael Vallejo (1789-1792), whose guitar-psaltery commissioned by King Charles IV of Spain, can be viewed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  Argente also points out Baza’s notable concentration of 20th Century guitar-builders.

Photographs for the book were taken by Alberto Juárez. “Alberto was recommended to me very early on,” Ray says. “He was very open to our suggestions, especially to the assistance of Thomas Holt and I am very pleased with the results. It was actually Alberto’s suggestion that we include a portrait of each maker, something that became essential to capturing the personal feel that the book has.

The Granada School of Guitar-Makers.  Interview view.

The Granada School of Guitar-Makers. Interview view.

When asked about the current state of guitar-making in Granada, Ray says, “The Granada School is a tradition and a feeling that we are from the same roots. However, the apprentice model of learning your craft in the shop of a Granada master seems to becoming more of a relic of the past. Years ago, when workshops were staffed by many workers, opportunities existed for new workers who were willing to start out at the bottom. Later, around the time of Eduardo Ferrer’s death many makers began working alone or only with apprentices from their own families.

Casa Ferrer.  Photo by Julia Crowe.

Casa Ferrer. Photo by Julia Crowe.



“I learned from Rolf Eichinger. When there were workshop ‘managers,’ new workers were welcome. Now that most workshops are one-man shows, there is little time for teaching. To make a decent living at this you need to spend many hours very efficiently and teaching can take away from that. I think that is why lutherie schools are so popular these days.’

For those who covert a Granada-made guitar of their very own, Ray advises emailing a maker in advance of arrival in town to arrange a visit. “As small shops, it is best to see whether or not a guitar is available.”

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For more information on John Ray Guitars.

To obtain a copy of The Granada School of Guitar Makers, please visit any one of the following distributors:

Wholesalers:

Aura Guitar Shop in Tokyo, Japan http://www.auranet.jp/wp/

Alberto Cuéllar in China http://www.jitamen.com/

Strings By Mail in the US http://www.stringsbymail.com/

Timeless Instruments in Canada http://www.timelessinstruments.com/

Wheeler Custom Guitars in Australia y NZ http://www.wheelerguitars.com.au/

Piles LA in Latin America http://pilesla.net/

Anglo-Spanish Guitar in the UK http://spanishguitar.co.uk/contact.html

Grahl und Nicklas in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Retailers:

Strings By Mail in the US http://www.stringsbymail.com/

La Guitarrería in France and Belgium

La Stanza della Musica in Italy

Haus der Treckel in the rest of Europe

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Panoramic view from atop one of the towers of the Alhambra in Granada.  Photo by Julia Crowe.

Panoramic view from atop one of the towers of the Alhambra in Granada. Photo by Julia Crowe.