Jose Romanillos and the Evolution of the Spanish Guitar

By Brad Mahon

Originally Published in our Classical Issue

Through a deeply successful professional career—one that includes the titles: luthier, musicologist, author, and pedagogue—Jose Luis Romanillos (b.1932) has earned an important place in the history of the classical guitar. The legendary builder has produced many significant instruments following in the great Spanish tradition—a mold cast by Antonio de Torres (1817-1892)—and has been called “The Most Important Builder of the 20th Century” and “The Stradivarius of the Spanish Guitar.” Guitar Connoisseur was fortunate to secure some of the Master’s time to discuss his influences, inspirations, Torres, Julian Bream, and his historic roles as a builder, scholar, and teacher—a full life that recently resulted in Romanilllos receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Alicante, Spain.

Guitar Connoisseur: Regarding your early days: who were your initial influences? Can you talk about who or what specifically inspired you? Why did the art of guitar building call to you?

Jose Romanillos: I was not inspired by anything in particular, but being Spanish I was naturally drawn to flamenco music and wanted to learn to play the flamenco guitar. Unable to buy a guitar, I decided to make one. That decision changed my life, as after six months of work in my spare time, using the kitchen table as a bench, I finished the instrument. What followed was my decision to investigate the development of the Spanish guitar, how it was made, and also by whom.

GC: Early in your career, Julian Bream championed your instruments; tell us about your professional life before Bream in comparison to your life after Bream’s endorsement—how impactful was he in your career?

JR: Before I met Julian Bream I had already made some guitars in London, Madrid, and Berwick St. James, which had been used in concert work by Carlos Bonell and Gilbert Biberian. At the time I met Bream I was working as a cabinet maker in Salisbury and making guitars in my spare time in Berwick St. James, a village about 20 miles from Semley, the village where Bream lived. On our return to England from Spain in 1968, my wife Marian had found a house in Stapleford without knowing that Julian lived nearby. A photograph in the local press of a Spaniard making guitars in the area brought me to the attention of a musician in Salisbury. He bought one of my guitars and managed to arrange an interview with Julian. He tried one of my guitars and asked me if I was going to make any more. I answered that I was working on four guitars. He asked if he could try them when I finished them. I took the next four guitars I made to show him and he kept one for a month. Although he did not buy this guitar he asked me if I would like to work in the milking parlor where David Rubio had worked for a few months. In 1970 I became a professional guitar maker.

GC: What was your relationship with the maestro? Do you still communicate?

JR: He used my fourth guitar, which was made in Semley in 1970, for the premiere of the piece, Paseo, composed by Peter Racine Fricker, at the Aldeburgh Festival. Three years later he bought the 1973 guitar that he has described as “The finest guitar he ever had…a magnificent guitar.” He used that guitar to make the best and the most recordings of his career. He was a great teacher for me at that time in my early guitar making career. He inspired me, without telling me, just by watching and listening to his deep commitment to looking for beauty in every musical note he played. I found the Parnassus in guitar making with his help. I met writers, poets, musicians, painters, actors, guitarists, and guitar makers. I played cricket with the Bream eleven, and with my own eleven. Twenty years of my life, that seen from a distance, appear as an invisible mirage. We are still in touch with Julian but distance and age came between and we have not seen him for several years.

GC: Antonio de Torres has been called “the most important builder of the 19th century,” and some have called you “the most important builder of the 20th century;” do you see similarities in your respective careers?

JR: Not particularly. He formalized the structure to produce a masterpiece. All I had to do was to understand how he did it and stick to traditional materials.

GC: Your book on Torres is authoritative and so well researched—it is a treasure; how did the idea of the book come to you?

JR: The idea came after I made my first guitar in 1961. I read that Torres was the guitar maker who developed the Spanish guitar and in one trip to Almería in 1973, I visited La Cañada de San Urbano, the district outside the capital of Almería where Antonio de Torres worked in the latter part of his life. I met one of his granddaughters and asked her where I could find the tomb of her grandfather. She did not know where it was, so the following day I returned to La Cañada de San Urbano to see if the local church kept a register of deaths. There was a register but there was no information about Torres. On my return to England, I decided that as soon as I could go back to Almería I would try to find where Torres was buried.

GC: How long did you research your book?

JR: After fourteen years of research, and with my wife’s help, I published my book on Antonio de Torres in 1987.

GC: Your interest in Torres has resulted to three editions/revisions of your book, and much of what is known today regarding the iconic builder comes to us thanks to your research efforts; is there a fourth edition on the horizon?

JR: No fourth edition of my book is planned for at present. There is a lot still to be researched about Torres but that task corresponds to the new generation of organologists.

GC: After all of your explorations of Torres, what do you appreciate most about him as a builder?

JR: His vision to develop the Spanish guitar using the structure of the guitar he found without disturbing the traditional morphology of the instrument. His description on how he used his fingers to “tune” the soundboard follows the Spanish proverb that is “no ciencia sino experiencia”, that is empirical knowledge, the fundamental maxim to follow in guitar making.

GC: Turning back to your guitars, how would you describe the voice of one of your instruments?

JR: What I look for in my instruments is a clear singing voice, well balanced all across the spectrum, with a warm tone and a quick response. To me, these are the characteristic qualities of the ideal Spanish guitar.

GC: As you are very aware of the great Spanish guitar making tradition—its history and progress—how has the sound evolved/changed over the years? Additionally, what important landmarks have occurred in Spanish guitar construction?

JR: I am more than aware of the Spanish guitar making tradition and the development over the centuries. I have published two works in English that deal with part of that history: my book on Antonio de Torres, published in 1987 and translated into German, Japanese, Italian and Spanish, and the Dictionary, The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar, about Spanish, plucked and bowed musical instrument makers, published in 2002 covering the years 1200 to 2002. The fundamental landmark was the introduction of the system of struts in the form of an open fan as a means to reduce the thickness, that is, the mass of wood of the soundboard which made the lower bout of the guitar more responsive and conserve the energy passed from the strings. A form of fan-strutting in the center of the lower bout can be seen in a vihuela de mano made by Francisco Sanguino in Sevilla in 1759. This strutting system was rapidly accepted and followed by guitar makers in Andalucía to produce vihuelas and guitars. This instrument can be seen in the Haags Gemeente museum.

GC: Similar to the last question, what have you noticed regarding guitar building over the past generations—what has evolved and/or changed?

JR: Personally, I do not think that there has been any improvement in the Spanish guitar since the time of Torres.

GC: What do you see happening in current classical guitar building scene that excites you?

JR: Excitements, none, only curiosity. Every guitar maker should feel free to produce whatever it takes his/her fancy or wish. I cannot comment on the so-called classical guitar building, as I am only concerned with the Spanish guitar. It will be interesting to read the definition that people give to the classical guitar and why. Time and common sense will tell the value of the instruments in the end despite the pressure of publicity.

GC: Staying with current guitar happenings, who are some of your favorite builders today?

JR: I admire and have a personal affection for Manuel Reyes of Córdoba. I love to hear flamenco music played on his guitars, and of course, my son Liam whose instruments carry with them a youthfulness and continue the tradition of the Romanillos sound.

GC: Speaking of the Romanillos sound, are you still searching for a particular sound, or did you make the instrument you always wanted to?

JR: Yes, I always made my guitars for myself and I have achieved that particular sound that I was looking for, and it seems that particular sound has been appreciated by musicians.

GC: Did you achieve your goal as a builder?

JR: Yes, I have achieved more than I ever dreamed. After more than fifty years fate has been generous with me to put in my way La Medio Siglo guitar, made two years ago, that has responded to the experience gained over the years to produce my greatest guitar. It is so free to respond, so generous with energy, so human in its singing and so benevolent with its sound. I made it as a present for my wife Marian and myself for our fiftieth wedding anniversary.

GC: Not only are you a legendary builder, but you also share this knowledge with others by offering workshops and courses on guitar building—you chose to be generous with your knowledge rather than secretive. How did this all come to be? What made you want to share this information? Why teach?

JR: I had no training on anything in my life with only five years of primary schooling. I learned my cabinet making by watching the elders in the workshop. When I was invited to give a teaching course on guitar making in Canada in 1981, I thought that it would be a good idea to explain my guitar making techniques. I like to help in what I can and share my experiences in the hope that they can be of help to others.

GC: Regarding your book on guitar building: you share your knowledge of instrument construction openly via your workshops and courses, yet your generosity as a teacher does not end with these classes and seminars; you’ve also released videos, and now you’re working on producing a method book on how to make a Spanish guitar too. Please tell us about this project: how did it come about? Where did the idea come from? Was it a natural progression from the workshops? Was this always the next step for you as a teacher?

JR: The lack of recognition of the importance of the instrument itself, of those who have made them over the centuries, led me to write and publish, with the help of my wife Marian, a dictionary about Spanish musical instrument makers. The book about my own guitar making method followed on naturally after the dictionary. Four years ago my wife and I opened a Museum, in Sigüenza, Spain, with the help of local authorities, exhibiting 32 vihuelas de mano and  Spanish guitars from the Romanillos-Harris Archive. The contents of Santos Hernández’s workshop are also exhibited in the Museum. We have built up an Archive of information and cataloged more than 600 guitars and vihuelas, mainly Spanish but also from other countries. It is this work, over more than forty years, which has motivated the University of Alicante to honor me with a doctorate honoris causa.

GC: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

JR: The idea behind writing the book about my own method of guitar making was that I wanted to share my experiences and difficulties that I  encountered as a self-taught guitar maker. This book has been on my mind for many years and I have been preparing it for some time. Finally, it has taken place and we hope to see it published this year. I hope that people will enjoy reading my book and perhaps someone might be inspired to live his dream, like I lived mine, to make the perfect guitar.

GC: Finally, you have inspired so many; who or what inspires you these days?

JR: I am very interested in the vihuela de mano, in its history, development, and construction. I feel that this instrument has not received the interest that it deserves from musicologists and organologists. Although it is the traditional strutted guitar that has received most attention by acousticians.

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Aaron Green: “Consummate Classical”

By Steve Rider

Aaron Green is one of those rare and lucky people who discover their passion in life at a young age. He began building guitars before leaving high school, and that passion has led him to the pinnacle of the guitar world. Humorous, insightful, and dedicated to music and luthiery, Aaron’s patrons are happy even to wait for two years to acquire one of his handmade masterpieces.

Guitar Connoisseur: It seems that you had an idea that you wanted to learn to build guitars at a very young age. Can you tell us about when that idea first took root and the time in your life between that and meeting Alan Carruth, the man who would take you on as apprentice?

Aaron Green: I went to Colonial Williamsburg when I was about twelve, and that was the first time I’d ever heard of building instruments. They had a musical instrument shop with someone making violins and  harpsichords. He passed around pieces of maple and spruce and had people tap on them and it seemed amazing to take hunks of wood and make musical instruments. It planted the seed earlier than any research on my part. It got me thinking somewhere in my subconscious about it. Later on when I was playing electric guitars as a teenager and was trying to decide what I would do after high school, I met a friend who made some comment about guitar makers making a lot of money because guitars cost a lot of money, which also piqued my interest.   That notion was disabused quite early on by my first teacher, Alan Carruth; in fact the very first day I met him.

GC: Alan took you on and you studied with him for three years. Can you tell us about that time in your life and how your craft developed early on?

AG: Alan was in a lot of ways the perfect person to show up, because he’s an incredibly easy going man, incredibly generous, no guile about him, just a  lovely person.  He also happened to be a really accomplished instrument builder.   Most builders, including me, specialize.  Alan can and does, build everything under the sun.   I would go to his place in Denham, after I got my driver’s license, on Friday afternoons for a couple hours and just work on the guitar. I didn’t have anything in the way of woodworking experience or knowledge and basically just jumped into the deep end and started working with hand tool because that’s how Alan builds. I built a twelve string acoustic guitar. I remember thinking, How hard can it be? And I found out right away!

I was about halfway through the guitar when I understood that this was what I really wanted to do. We went to the Guild of American Luthiers conference in June of ’92 right after I graduated high school.  . I hadn’t planned on going, or rather wasn’t actually invited. Alan’s brother-in-law was going to drive out with him and ended up having to bail for some reason.  The road trip was from Denham Mass. to Vermillion South Dakota in a minivan carrying a bunch of instruments, including some massive basses and other  instruments by Carleen Hutchins.   That particular conference was a joint venture between the Guild and the Catgut Acoustic Society.  Carleen was one of Alan’s most significant teachers and I had heard all about her. So the combo of the road trip and getting to meet this lady, whom he revered, then going out and meeting a bunch of instrument makers was more than I could bear to miss out on. So I went  and it was this huge watershed moment for me in a lot of ways. One was I got to see what other builders were like. I also got to see a wide range of instruments, which made me decide to build classical guitars. I saw a guy playing Bach and it was actually watching his hands move. I was still thinking like a guitar player at that point. It was just so cool to watch and of course the music is timeless.    One maker from Boston that came out to South Dakota was Tom Knatt.  He  actually taught Alan early on in Alan’s career and mainly focuses on  classical and flamenco guitars. Tom plays flamenco and about that time I first heard that music and saw him employ the technique known as rasqueado; the finger roll strum that really identifies Flamenco and is quite impressive. It really grabs your attention if you’ve never seen it before. So all lot of it was just getting the visuals and seeing the instruments that other people were building. Classical is one of the most difficult styles to build. It has so much stacked against it. Nylon strings are pretty lousy compared to steel strings as far as producing sound so it’s very challenging to make a nylon string guitar that functions on the highest level. Also, the demands of the musicians can be incredibly particular and unforgiving.  Not that there aren’t really great steel string players out there, but the challenge of the classical guitar really appealed to me.

GC: Carruth once said about you  “I was always impressed by his use of color and proportion in design and trim work.” What is your approach to these?

AG: The best way would be to say that I take everything that inspires me from builders who come before and then create my own aesthetic within that framework, sort of be a continuous line from what came before. Pretty much everything I’m doing is about standing on the shoulders of those who came before me in a way that’s unique to me.  At a casual glance, there isn’t  very much identifiable about one guitar vrs. another, the guitar looks like a guitar.  But the greats still managed to create an identity that is unique to them and  that is definitely what I want to do. Just copying other’s instruments is not of very much interest to me as a builder, though it’s definitely the way you want to start.

GC: It seems that your relationship with Dennis Koster has been very rewarding. Can you tell us about how you met and how he has been involved in making you the luthier you are today?

AG: Pretty early on in my career it became apparent that I needed to have as much exposure to great musicians and great instruments for me to really figure out what I was supposed to be doing.  So I got involved with the Guitar Society.  It was my way to meet lots of guitarists  and see a lot of instruments. And again, it was like being tossed into the deep end of the pool. They were talking about things that I had no ability to really grasp, but the information was still there when I was ready for it.

As a duty of the being on the board of directors for the society, II drove to New York to pick up Dennis for a concert in Boston. It was the society that was presenting him and as such had to arrange his transportation. I jumped at the opportunity and  kind of lied and said I was going to be in New York already and I would be happy to drive him back. I honestly expected everyone to decline, because I was an exceeding eager young guitar maker. He would be stuck in a car with me for four hours while I was working him over. But apparently they didn’t see it that way, so I  went and got him. Dennis is a lovely and generous, wonderful guy. He’s a true artist. What really counts in his life is music, art, and being an artist. He’s a very active teacher as well. So when I met him, I told him I was a guitar maker and he said, Sure, I’ll take a look. And he played it and said, Oh that’s really nice. And I know a brush off when I’m getting one, so I pressed him a little more. I kept pressing him, and finally he started to get really specific. He laid stuff on me that I was nowhere near capable of understanding how to approach, or how to rectify. Nonetheless, here it is, this is what’s not right, gave me some examples of better guitars. I think he liked my tenacity and the fact that I could take a beating and come back for more. He was always very nice about it. But other guitarist in New York City didn’t really care about your feelings. It’s New York City, after all! I knew that this was what I wanted to do and I was going to do it, hell or high water.

Dennis was very young when he met his teacher, Mario Escudero. And I think he had that same experience with Mario early on. As a result, due to his determination to become a great Flamenco guitarist he was performing at a young age and was already a very good guitarist, on his way to becoming a great one.

GC: In addition to building your highly praised classical and flamenco guitars, you are also skilled in restoration work. Can you tell us a bit about that?

AG: I work on restorations with Karl Franks, a brilliant luthier from the violin world and a good friend as well. We have done a number of high end, very difficult jobs, and we tag team on them. I’m the guiding force behind it with my specific knowledge of guitar, and Karl being the microsurgeon with a bag of tricks and big time chops  from his time doing fiddle work.   He has this ability to sit down and be as patient as he has to be. He can “out-patience” anything. It’s very rewarding to take dead instruments and breathe life back into them.

The building and restoring and dealing of guitars, they all kind of dovetailed together. When there’s a really good instrument around, I want to see it. That’s one that’s great about being near New York City. One of the people that Dennis introduced me to early on was Beverly Maher with The Guitar Salon. She was very kind to help me on my way of understanding the work of significant builders of the past.

GC: Would you say that your restoration work has influenced your building?

AG: Yes, that’s a great question. I would say without a doubt, because once you start to see what can go wrong with an instrument and how difficult it can be to fix it even under the best of circumstances, it gives you pause when you’re making your own decisions. The guitar is not an instrument that is intended to be taken apart from a design perspective and many of the choices we make only compound that difficulty.  People don’t realize how important it is to be able to disassemble an instrument. A violin is easily taken apart and that’s a main reason why we have four hundred year old violins. They can be taken apart, the problems can be addressed without compromise, and they can be put back together. Where as in the guitar, a lot of repair work is done through the sound hole, which is like brain surgery through the nostrils. It’s doable but not an ideal situation by  any stretch of the imagination.

So, for us to be able to take guitars apart and restore them, and have those guitars be valuable enough for people to want to go through that time and expense is very rewarding.. It has been a great experience. It has helped me learn as a builder why those old guitars are the way they are and also what choices I should be making in my own work.   You see a lot of things that work and those that simply don’t.

GC: You were involved in selling the very famous 1951 Barbero ex Sabicas guitar. Could you tell us about the history of this instrument and your experience with it?

AG: Well, that is a legendary guitar, and I was very lucky that I got to learn from it. I knew the owner; he was a student of Dennis’. And this was a guitar that players were talking about and builders were copying, but none of them had ever seen it or heard it.  Richard Brune discovered the guitar or more to the point, identified it as Sabicas’ guitar.   He restored it in the early 1990’s and wrote an article about it, drew up some plans and  launched it into legend.  It was used to record this landmark, legendary album and then disappeared. What happened was that Sabicas gave it to a friend and that friend sold it to his student, who was a college kid.  The college kid grew up to be a famous doctor and later in life, took up studying with Dennis. It was an unbelievable opportunity to get to know that guitar personally as I’m one of only a few who has.  Notoriety aside the fact is that it’s a really successful guitar.  Incredible actually.   As a builder it’s really hard to know what you’re shooting for if you’ve never experienced it. When Dennis played that Barbero…first of all, it’s a cannon. It’s incredibly alive. It’s got very very fast attack. The notes are super sharp but have a tremendous weight, a real depth to the notes.  . And it’s a very versatile guitar. Dennis played a  percussive, even aggressive piece in the rhythmic form known as “bulerias”, which in the context of the nylon string guitar, is as close to flat out rock and roll as you are going to find  and then went straight into Bach, the guitar just morphed right along with him. For a guitarist this demonstrates a guitar that is an  incredibly sensitive and flexible vehicle of expression.  I had no idea how anyone could ever achieve that, but I saw that it was possible. It was right there in front of me. I’m a big believer in the power of intent, that if you put a huge amount of energy and focus into achieving something that you’re going to manifest it eventually. So I went down that path, and as I got closer to it, I would make decisions that put me even closer. You know, as a dealer I get to see a lot of guitars. And I will listen to it and then look inside and think, how did they get it to sound like that by doing it this way? I could never get that through the method they used. Every builder has to find their own path.

GC: How has the art of Luthiery changed from those old masters to builders like yourself today?

AG: That’s a good question. I think it’s changed in a lot of ways. I think the internet has made it infinitely easier for people to learn, even in the time that I’ve been involved. That was the biggest challenge to me, finding someone to teach me. Now you can find everything through a Google search and that can’t be a bad thing. That being said, the ones who had to go out there and really figure it out such as the previous generation to me, they had to spend a lot of time catching up to where the Spanish builders were at.   And then in a lot of ways eventually surpassed them because they nothing other than their own tenacity.. Kind of the Japanese way, someone doesn’t teach you, you steal. And when you do that, it’s yours, you own it. It’s not an abstract concept that someone is laying on you, you’re actually going out there and realizing it. So that’s, maybe, an advantage that they have, if you can call it that. People who make it through that system do so because they make it so.

GC: What materials and techniques do you use in the construction of your guitars?

AG: Well, I’m pretty spoiled. I do have a huge stash of tone woods that I acquired over the years, being very young when started. I had little to spend my money on besides buying wood. You pick it up little bits at a time over the years and one day you look and say, I’ve really got a ton of wood here! That trip to the Guild conference in 1992  there was a benefit auction.  Someone had donated six sets of Indian rosewood. I would have given anything for that rosewood at the time. I went to this little watering hole that had slot machines and I had  three dollars. I played the slots, hoping to hit it so I could go buy that rosewood.  I was eighteen, broke and figured karma would get me through.  It didn’t and I was out my last three bucks.

GC: As some species of wood become harder or impossible to source, do you see alternate woods coming to be the norm for builders of the future?

AG: I think so. I’m actually looking at that issue myself right now from a couple of angles. One of the things I’ve been doing for the past few years is trying to engage the government in a way that’s beneficial to the people in the industry. Not really changing any laws at all, but just creating compliance pathways so that the government knows that we’re not part of the problem. The history of the government issues with guitars is easily forgotten, but when they put Brazilian rosewood on Apendix 1, which in effect took everything that was totally legal and fine and made it illegal overnight with absolutely no retroactive pathway. There was no way to be compliant in a real world, reasonable sense of the term. At first, it was seen as an unmanageable piece of legislation so it basically wasn’t even enforced. Later on, the powers that be at CITES thought we were all a bunch of criminals, frankly. Things got blown way out of proportion on both sides of the fence. People thought that officers were going to come and take away their guitars and wood and stick them in jail. And when I actually spoke to the guy at Fish and Wildlife, they were thinking we were out there slashing and burning, raping and pillaging, and basically thumbing our noses at the government, which of course is something they don’t take very kindly to. What I told him was that there was no way for people to get on board, so how could they expect anyone to be on board? What I hope for is that people who are not criminals to have a very clear and workable way to identify themselves as such.  

But in the future, it might not even be wood sources we are using for instruments.  The fact is that these forests are disappearing, certainly in any commercial sense of the word, for reasons that have nothing to do with guitars.  Perhaps it is only a matter of time and evolution that we will have to move on to other materials.

GC: What are you looking for in the wood you use that makes you say, yes this is for one of my guitars?

AG: I like the traditional materials. They’re traditional for a reason: Brazilian rosewood, for example. However just because it’s the “right” species  doesn’t mean it will make a great stringed instrument. I go more by the qualities of the wood versus the species. A good piece of wood has to have something about it; it wants to be a guitar, it has soul. I tell people it’s potential. A good piece of wood can make a great guitar, but you can also screw it up.

GC: What do you have going on now, and are there any plans for the future you’d like to tell us about?

AG: I am working on increasing my profile in the guitar world or re-upping is perhaps a better way of putting it.  I used to be very active in guitar events, festivals,  concerts etc and eventually I backed off due to other interests in and out of my career.  I’ve always been busy but I’d like to think that was more from focusing on the quality of my work than being at all the guitar shows.   But in business you can’t neglect that side of things forever and I am feeling far more inspired to be a part of that again.

To learn more about Aaron Green Guitars please visit: aarongreenguitars.com or vintageclassicalguitars.net

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Greg Brandt: A Luthiers Journey

By Steve Rider

Speaking with Greg Brandt is an insightful and enjoyable experience. A man with four decades in the luthier role, his knowledge of his materials and how do employ them is vast and deep. He’s an individual who was called at an early age, by his own two hands, to build stringed instruments and derives a joy from his passion for guitars that lights him from within.

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Guitar Connoisseur: You don’t look like a man who could have four decades into lutherie. How old were you when you initially got into the field?

Greg Brandt: I turned sixty last year and when people hear that, they say that I don’t look nearly that old, which I appreciate hearing! I think that it’s just that I love my work. As a kid, I had always made plastic models and eventually, I made balsa wood and tissue paper airplane models. At some point, I made a dulcimer kit. I was in my late teens when, through a long cascade of serendipitous events…including a stranger handing me a piece of paper with the title of David Russell Young’s book “The Steel String Guitar: Construction & Repair”  and, two weeks later, walking into Ren Ferguson’s guitar shop in Venice, CA… I realized that people built guitars. Once I understood that and realized I had my days free, I thought:  what could be better than playing a guitar that you built!  I got Dave Young’s book and found that he lived a few miles away. He helped me with materials and my many questions. It took me two and a half years to finish that guitar! When I was about halfway through it, maybe the box was complete, I had a late night, inexplicable experience where it became clear to me that my hands knew this work. It was just the beginning of a series of doors being thrown open for me, and my butt being kicked through them. At that point, I was pretty sure I was not going into the family business. [He ends with a laugh.]

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GC: What was the draw for you?

GB: I always loved music. I started singing in choirs in elementary school and still do today. I heard The Beatles and, like many kids, every tennis racket or garden rake became a guitar!  I’m a first generation woodworker. I come from a family of film editors. They worked with their hands, but they certainly weren’t in the shop in the middle of the night tinkering away. I eventually got a guitar and taught myself to play. As I got older, I decided I wanted to build a guitar without having any idea what was involved, because I was just being drawn into this. And, here’s a book that’s telling me how to do it and the author lives not very far away and is willing to help a little bit! I didn’t have any tools or real space to work. I would save up money for this chisel or that clamp. I worked on my cutting board in the kitchen and on my low coffee table, but it was happening. I simply thought: I know and understand this. I left the restaurant where I was working and got a job at a new woodworking store based on the half a guitar I had made so far. I always tell students, get a job in a tool store so you can learn about tools and get a discount, or get a job in a restaurant so you can eat for free! Through the tool store, I met my teacher and, after 6 months of whining, I wore him down and he took me on as an apprentice. After that, I just kept going.

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GC: Were there any particular challenges you recall needing to overcome in your early years?

GB: No more than the normal challenges of finding a teacher, saving money for tools and materials, and learning how to be a craftsperson. [He laughs.] It’s important to get the hours of repetition in, of doing something repeatedly so your hands learn the work. Even in one’s early twenties, it’s scary being broke and daunting to do something that there really wasn’t a roadmap for. I remember being terrified of the idea of bending wood. How in the world does that happen? I had to be convinced that I had a lot more important things to worry about. One of the most important things, then and now, was finding a teacher. When I started doing this, there was no internet, no online courses, very few books, no DVDs. All the information seemed to be behind the walls of the big factories. Getting the information and eventually developing my own path was always the challenge.

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GC: Why did you choose to focus on nylon string instruments instead of other varieties?

GB: I came to this as a steel string guitar player, so I always assumed I would make steel string guitars. When my teacher initially took me on, he insisted that I build a nylon string as well as a steel string guitar. He was mostly a nylon string maker so he was adamant about that. That first nylon string guitar I made was the first nylon string guitar I’d ever held, and I was stunned! I was taken aback by how much volume came from this light little box! It was SO different from everything else I was used to playing. For the first few years, I split my time between steel and nylon string guitars. I finally decided that I needed to plant a flag in one camp or the other. This was in the mid to late seventies. Even then, it was clear to me that factories could build great steel string guitars in a production setting, but they couldn’t do that with nylon string guitars. They need to be more finessed than a production setting would allow. So I thought there would be more money in it for me if I planted my flag in the nylon string camp.

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GC: For those of us who don’t know, what are the differences between a standard acoustic guitar and a classical guitar, and why are they important?

GB: In very broad strokes, a steel string guitar is generally a bigger body guitar and it’s built with an X brace to stand up against the greater tension of the strings against the top. The strings go through the body and are held to the top in a mechanical fit with the bridge pins. Nylon string guitars are generally smaller and thinner pieces of wood. Traditionally, they are built with very delicate little fan braces. People are doing different things now: lattice bracing, using carbon fiber, double tops, flying buttresses, but in a broad, traditional sense, classical guitars are braced with little scrawny pieces of wood with the strings tied to the bridge and attached directly to the top. And if everything is going right, it’s on the cusp of exploding! A nylon string guitar has an inherent bass response, so you try to bring out the treble. It’s the opposite on a steel string guitar; which has an inherent treble response, so you try to bring out the bass.

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GC: Let’s talk about the instruments. What is your design strategy?

GB: There are a few major points in my building a guitar. There’s the structural aspect and how it’s put together. There’s the acoustic aspect which is deciding the sound I’m after and working the wood to achieve it. There’s the functional part – how it feels and plays for the player. And then there’s the aesthetic part, which is how the guitar basically looks and its overall presentation.

In my guitars, I want bright yet thick and substantial trebles, a quick speaking bass and good response across the fingerboard. What still interests me the most is a fairly traditional style of building. I’m still intrigued by fan braces. I’m not interested in instruments that are loud for loud’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, I want my guitars to be loud, but I don’t think that volume alone should be the top criteria of whether your guitar is successful or not…especially when it means giving up tonal color and other musical aspects of the instruments. What interests me is working with traditional fan bracing, thicknessing individual tops, and tapping, carving and voicing my tops and bracing until I get the response that I’m looking for.

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GC: Would you say that there are aspects of design that set you apart from others in your field?

GB: I have a sound that I strive for that pleases me. Ultimately, what we hear and are drawn to is completely subjective, so I am less interested in trying to please everyone as it’s a losing battle. I have an opinion of what I like to hear. If I am happy and it pleases me….it will please others, too. Everybody has their own recipe. You can talk to ten different guitar makers and get fifteen different ways to get a guitar built, and they all work. Classical guitar players are a unique bunch. Often, they will be fine with makers doing whatever they want on the inside of the box but the outside better look like what Segovia played 60 years ago! I’ve done it backwards. I experiment and try to achieve my voice with a fairly traditional design on the inside. For the past couple of years, I have been working on doing different design work on the outside of the instrument. And in that respect, my guitars are starting to look different than what is traditional. And that’s been a lot of fun and very interesting.

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GC: What about materials? What do you look for in the materials for your instruments?

GB: When I was in my apprenticeship, my teacher took me and showed me good wood and explained why it was good and how it benefitted our work. Then he took me and showed me lousy wood and made sure I understood why it was lousy and the problems it could cause. He explained the sound and structural qualities of wood and what made them work…or not work. When I went to him to buy some wood, he pulled out all this junky wood for me to buy. I reminded him that he just got finished teaching me on why this was crappy wood and I didn’t want to buy his crappy wood!  I think he was just trying to get rid of his old wood! I’m happy to build with Indian Rosewood all day long. I have a great source in India for forest grown wood and it’s a tremendous wood to work with. Over the years, I’ve also been lucky to collect some really nice, old, Brazilian Rosewood too. A lot came from my teacher’s shop after he passed away and some from other makers that are selling their wood. Often, you get it by hook or crook. It’s a beautiful material to work with as well. It’s a harder wood. In a certain respect, it might have more of a tendency to crack and often needs to be babied through the build process a little bit more. I also use other Rosewoods such as Madagascar and Amazon. I have beautiful European Maple and some very old Curly Koa. My tops are either European Spruce or Western Red Cedar. I’ve collected a lot of Spruce over the years and I can get amazing Cedar all the time.

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GC: What was the inspiration to get more artistic with the inlays in your guitars? Was it difficult stepping outside of strict tradition?

GB: When my teacher passed away, he had an ocean of traditional mosaic rosettes that he had made for him. I took over his rosettes, partially as a path of least resistance, but also as an homage to him. I feel like I’m visiting with him every time I use one of those rosettes and I still find it sweet and touching. I never found myself drawn to making mosaic rosettes. I had an apprentice who worked with me for many years and she was also interested in building steel string guitars so there was some fairly constant investigation of what steel string makers were doing. When you get beyond the well-known factories, you see that the small shop steel string makers have a huge amount of latitude with the woods they can use, the designs they can come up with and the inlay work. There are a lot of people doing stunning and tasteful work. Like I said earlier, nylon string players often want to see what they expect to see. I’ve been trying some new design work for a couple of years now. They started as guitars with different style rosettes that I really liked. I decided that I wanted to go beyond the rosette and put some of the design elements on the back and butt of the guitar too. Most of these guitars have been guitars that were made for shows. Some people really like the work and I’m sure I aggravate some others too – which I understand and is fine with me! I continue to refine aspects of these designs as well as try new ones. It’s been a lot of fun and a very interesting time in the shop. Not only does the work intrigue me, but many people really seem to like them as well. Of course, I’m perfectly happy to build more traditional work too.

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GC: The tonal qualities of your guitars are quite striking: deep bass notes, clear mids, and ringing highs. How do you coax such sounds out of your materials?

GB: We all have a basic pattern and style that we start with. Maybe it was something we were taught, maybe it was something we got out of a book Then, over a period of time, whether it’s your tenth guitar or your fiftieth guitar, or hundredth guitar, if you’re paying attention – you start gaining information as well as feeding your intuition. I would always want to experiment, but I would experiment slowly. I would never make two changes at once. Working with wood can be humbling. There are never two pieces that are exactly the same. I would just slowly try things and some I would adopt and some would fall by the wayside. I’ll weigh tops and bridges, keep track of tap tones and aspects of flexibility and stiffness. Some of it, flexing and tapping, becomes intuitive and that comes with time. I brace a Cedar top differently than I brace a Spruce top. I’m aiming to bring different things out of those two kinds of wood which have inherent differences. Regardless of the top wood, I want a guitar that has clear, singing trebles. I want a full, round bass but one that’s not too overpowering. I want a wide variety of tonal colors and an evenness up and down the fingerboard as well as across it.

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GC: To adjust intonation on an electric, you simply turn some screws a few times. How do you go about setting exact intonation on a fixed bridge instrument?

GB: Well, first of all, exact intonation on a fretted instrument does not exist. It’s all a compromise. Equal temperament is a compromise. The F# in a D chord is not the same note as the F# in an F# Major chord. Violin players have no frets, and they can roll their fingers forward and back, sharp or flat, play in tune with their section, and their section play in tune with the orchestra. They’re taught that from the beginning. But with a fretted instrument, it’s a compromise. The string needs to be stretched down to the fingerboard which is going to make it play sharp. So, we figure out how to deal with the compromise by adding “compensation” which is small adjustments to the scale length. I shorten my distance from the nut to my first fret an amount. Because the action is usually higher on the bass side and the mass of the bass strings greater, I put in a saddle slot that isn’t parallel to the front of my bridge but slants back towards the bass side.  Guitar players are used to seeing that on steel string guitars…less so on nylon string guitars. So my string length has compensation on the treble strings and extra compensation on the bass.

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GC: Can you explain the process of how you join your necks and bodies?

GB: Originally, I was taught to build in the Spanish style…..where the heel and the inner heel block are the same piece of wood with slots that the sides fit into. I built steel and nylon string guitars that way! I don’t build in the Spanish style anymore. I have a neck to body joint that is more similar to steel string guitars. It’s not a dovetail but a floating tenon. Matching joinery is cut into the box and the neck, and the tenon is fit. It allows me to be more in control of my pitch angle and other aspects that are important to me.

GC: Tell us about the artists that play your guitars and what sorts of work they’re doing?

GB: I live in Los Angeles, so I have always been in touch with the studio players. Tommy Tedesco bought three guitars from me, the first being the 5th guitar I made. Other first call session players in the business play my guitars. My mom has never heard one of my guitars played in a recital setting, so I can often tell her to go see XYZ movie and she’ll hear my guitar. A lot of great jazz players – Jim Fox, John Pisano, Pat Kelly, Barry Zweig play guitars that I made. Fingerstyle great Laurence Juber plays a guitar of mine.   The biggest “star” that ever bought a guitar from me was Andy Griffith, of all people. I’m happy to get my guitars into any and all guitar players’ hands. Often, I get very good students coming to the shop that are in strong university guitar programs. They’re really important to me, often, more important then a famous name. I know that these players are depending on my guitar. They’re going to be playing it in a concert setting and recital halls where my guitars are going to be most successful. I’m always thrilled to have studio and jazz players play an instrument of mine. And I always find it very, very satisfying to work with people who like nice things, who might want to have something built especially for them, maybe have the chance to pick out wood, and have a guitar build by someone they can talk to and ask questions of, and kick ideas around with.

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GC: Looking back over the past forty years, what is your perspective on your journey?

GB: Well….the journey is still on! I feel really lucky and thankful that I’ve been able to make a living at this and to do the craft for so long. I have been more than on the fringes of artisanal guitar making in America. When I started, there wasn’t anywhere near the amount of information as there is now. It’s great that you can find practically whatever you want in YouTube videos, but it makes it harder for new makers to make a living because there’s so much competition now. Also, I’m thrilled to see women makers doing stunning work in what too often has been a male-dominated craft. I don’t think about retiring. As long as my hands and eyes hold up and I’m doing work that I’m proud of and that interests me –  I plan to keep on building.

GC: What have you got in the works now or going into the future. 

GB: In the short term, I have some shows coming up. I look forward to doing shows because it gives me an opportunity to try new things. I have other designs that I want to experiment with, and I will do that. I always look forward to teaching. Craftspeople are always striving for the next peak, the next plateau, then next peak again. That’s what I most enjoy. That and building more guitars!

To learn more about Greg Brandt’ Guitars please visit: gregbrandtguitars.com

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Andrés Segovia: Classical Crusader

The guitar is an instrument with many faces and names. It’s possible that no other instrument can claim the numerous facets of the indomitable six-string. Whether it’s a sleek modern instrument made for the agile shredder, or the roughed-up old acoustic in the weathered hands of a Delta Bluesman, the guitar has a voice to match the artist. The guitar is an instrument that many can play, but few can truly master. These days it’s not hard for us to imagine the guitar in any setting, from campfire to concert hall, but this was not always the case. It took the lifelong ambition of a virtuoso guitarist called Andres Segovia to bring the guitar to prominence in the classical setting.

Going back to the turn of the century between the late 1800s and early 1900s, the guitar was considered to be a parlor instrument, nothing more. Without amplification, the humble six-string could not hope to compete with the piano, cello, or violin on the concert stage. Composers were not creating music for guitar, so classical players were dedicating themselves to other instruments. Segovia described the situation like this, “When I began, the guitar was enclosed in a vicious circle. There were no composers writing for the guitar, because there were no virtuoso guitarists.”

Andres Segovia was born Feburary, 21st 1893 in Linares, Spain. He went to live with his aunt and uncle at a very young age. They fostered the boy well and were supportive of his education, moving to Granada to provide him opportunities to study. At the time, Flamenco was a very common style for the guitar, but young Andres didn’t care for the folk music and instead decided to study classical music. He delved into the works of composers like Fernando Sor, and Francisco Tarrega. Tarrega would be a great influence on Segovia’s life. Tarrega had even responded to a letter from Andres’ family, accepting an invitation to visit them in Granada, but passed away before he was able to make the trip.

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Segovia began giving performances at a young age, despite his limited repertoire at the time. Not being able to find a teacher he considered adequate, he decided he would be his own pupil and instructor in one. Segovia once said, “I was my own teacher and pupil, and thanks to the efforts of both, they were not discontented with each other.”

As his mastery of music grew, he began to follow the works of composers who had transcribed music meant for other instruments into music for the guitar. It was one of Segovia’s goals to bring the guitar to what he considered to be its rightful place among other standard classical instruments. He combined styles of fingertip and fingernail picking to expand his tonal range. His playing grew in depth and nuance and his performances showed that the guitar was no instrument merely for pastime entertainment, but a fully expressive window into the artist’s soul.

Watch Andres Segovia demonstrate the versatility of tone his style could produce with a classical guitar.

This pursuit of transcribing existing works enticed working symphonic composers to write music explicitly for his style of classical guitar. Segovia is quoted as saying this, “(The) goal was to create a repertoire which was not a repertoire by guitarist composers – with the exception of Sor and Giuliani. Tarrega was not a big composer; and the other composers were not very musical. I began to ask the real composers – symphonic composers – to help in creating the repertoire for the guitar. The first to answer positively was Torroba. He was then a young composer of great talent. The first composition he did for the guitar was the dance in the Suite Castellana.”

Torroba would go on to write some two-hundred pieces for Segovia over the years, leading a host of composers in his wake. VillaLobos wrote a concerto among his many contributions. Castelnuovo-Tedesco rivaled Torroba in his contributions, numbered at one-hundred-twenty. Ponce, Tasman, and Turina also provided their talent to feature Segovia’s masterful playing.

With the compositions of these artists and more, Segovia would have a repertoire of over three-hundred pieces with which to choose from. He provided his own contributions as well, especially from his transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach.  According to Graham Wade, writer of many books on Segovia, “Segovia was particularly enthusiastic about editing and performing music by J.S. Bach, especially when he discovered H.O. Bruger’s edition (1921) of the lute works. In 1935, he premiered his own monumental transcription of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne from the Violin Partita in D minor, BWV 1004.” It was this performance which achieved his goal of elevating the classical guitar. The masterful performance of Bach’s work transcribed especially for guitar left audiences, and critics alike, speechless.

A player such as Andres Segovia needs an instrument to match his ability. As a young man, Segovia had already gained experience playing venues in his native Spain. By the time he moved to Madrid, he knew that the Benito Ferrier guitar he had been using was not capable of attaining his desires. He decided to go to the guitar workshop of Manuel Ramirez, a story which would be related many times over the years, and would become part of his legend.

Manuel Ramírez (Spanish, 1864–1916) Guitar, 1912 Spruce, rosewood, cedar; Total L. 96.5 cm (37 5/8 in.); L. of body 47.9 cm (18 7/8 in.); L. of string 68 cm (26 3/4 in.); L. of lower bouts 26.9 cm (10 9/16 in.); L. of middle bouts 18.9 cm (7 7/16 in.); L. of upper bouts 22.1 cm (8 3/4 in.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Emilita Segovia, Marquessa of Salobreña, 1986 (1986.353.2) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/503283
Manuel Ramírez (Spanish, 1864–1916) Guitar, 1912

Segovia approached Ramirez, asking for the best guitar with the intention of renting it, in response to which Ramirez laughed at him. Segovia had come without even a letter of recommendation. Segovia began to play, attracting the attention of another patron of the shop, one Don Jose del Hierro, a violin professor at the Royal Conservatory. Del Hierro complimented him on his playing and asked why he didn’t abandon the guitar in favor of the violin. Andres responded that he was dedicated to the guitar in the way of Tarrega, and would not be swayed from it. Ramirez, witnessing Segovia’s skill and determination, took the instrument back down and handed it to him saying, “Take the guitar kid. It’s yours. Make it flourish in your hands with your good work. Pay me back with something other than money. Do you understand?”

And that is exactly what Segovia went on to do. He played the 1912 Ramirez guitar for many years after that. In 1924, he was visiting Munich, Germany, and caught some performances there where the musicians were using Hermann Hauser guitars. He paid a visit to the renowned German luthier and showed him his 1912 Ramirez. Several years later, Hauser gifted him with the guitar that he would use on his American tour in 1933. The guitar was then given to close friend, U.S. Representative, Sophocles Papas. Papas eventually gave it to his classical guitar student, Charlie Byrd, who used the guitar on several recordings. The prolific luthier would send Andres two guitars every year for thirteen years after that, but none would meet the exacting standards of the Maestro. In 1937, Hauser finally made the guitar that Segovia would call “The greatest guitar of our epoch.” Segovia would keep his 1937 Hermann Hauser with him until 1961, when a microphone fell on the beloved instrument. Andres claimed that it never sounded the same following the incident.

1937 Herman Hauser
1937 Herman Hauser

So, in 1961, Segovia returned to the Ramirez dynasty in search of his final guitar. The construction was overseen by Jose Ramirez III, and carried out by Paulino Bernabe, whose initials are stamped in the guitar’s heel. Bernabe would later leave Ramirez to become a quite sought after luthier in his own right in 1969. The guitar had a 650mm scale with a wider fingerboard than the previous model. It was given the designation of “1a” by Ramirez. The guitar featured a spruce top, ebony fingerboard, and rosewood sides and back. When it was later restored by Aaron Green for the Metropolitan Museum, he described the sound as, “Dark, but with a sparkling quality.”

“The guitar is a small orchestra. It is polyphonic. Every string is a different color, a different voice.” Andres Segovia

The final piece of the puzzle for Segovia fell into place in the late forties, following the WWII years. That was the advent of the nylon string. Before nylon, guitarists were using catgut strings, which lacked a precision in intonation. The nylon strings, however, would allow Segovia to dial in the intonation, leading to a perfection of tuning up and down the fretboard. This advance allowed Andres to further showcase his phenomenal abilities to coax such a wide array of tones from his instrument. Segovia claimed that the guitar was “an orchestra in a box”, capable of covering the places of many instruments.

With decades of work and performances, Segovia had influenced a generation of classical guitarists including Christopher Parkening, Julian Bream, John Williams, and Oscar Ghiglia. He gave master classes around the world including Spain and at a college in California. He would have direct contact with the students who would go on to take their places as top classical players in the years to come. He was known as a very strict teacher, with an unshakable belief in his own style of technique. How intimidating it must have been to hear your name called from the front and come forward to take your place opposite the man who was known world-wide as the premier classical guitarist of his age. His strict teaching methods even prompted criticism from his students from time to time, such as John Williams claim that his methods suppressed the student’s personal style in favor of his own.  But despite any of this, his name was so established as a font of excellence that he even noted he had students all around the world that he had never met.

Watch Segovia give instruction to a student in one of his many Masterclasses

Andres Segovia was a man with a talent and a dream. He combined those into a mission to redeem the classical guitar in the eyes of the public the world over. In his long life, he lived to be 94 years old, he never stopped playing, never stopped contributing to that mission. His discography tallies a mind-boggling 195 releases! 120 albums, 22 singles and Eps, and 53 compilations, all told. Add to that his books and transcriptions and you have one of the most prolific musical talents known. He marshalled his virtuosity into showcase which drew composers in like moths to a flame, lifting regard for the classical guitar from folk instrument to a home in celebrated concert halls everywhere. He was a man who was truly on a crusade.

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David Russell: A Guitarist’s Guitarist

By Pasquale Bianculli

“My congratulations on your musicality and guitaristic technique”

– Andres Segovia, after hearing a concert by David Russell in London

David Russell is one of the very few classical players that can be called a guitarist’s guitarist. His concerts attract some of the largest audiences world-wide, drawn by his impeccable technique and brilliant interpretations of music from the Italian, Scarlatti, to the Irish, O’Carolan; from the Renaissance, through the old 19th century Spanish warhorses of Albeniz and Granados, to music composed for him by his friends, Sergio Assad, Carlo Domeniconi and Ben Verdery. His audience includes not only his fans, but many professional guitarists and students who seem to be in agreement with this quote from the Skidmore News (April 11, 2012) on David’s performance at the College, “And far from being merely a flashy display of virtuosity, Russell’s dexterity found its match only in the sincerely wrought emotion of the performance.”

Among his numerous honors, Russell was named a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1997. In 2004, he won a Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist in classical music for his CD Aire Latino. In 2009, Russell was inducted as an honorary member of “Amigos de la Guitarra,” the oldest guitar society in Spain. With his wife, María Jesús Rodriguez, they formed their own NGO (Non-Government Organization, “ONGD DAVID RUSSELL Y MARÍA JESÚS” which carries on charitable work in Africa and India.

Recently, Guitar Connoisseur sat down (albeit on different continents!) with the renowned artist, and via email, spoke about the guitar, the music he chooses to play and the work of his charitable NGO.  What emerges from the interview is a portrait of a guitarist with traditional tastes in music making, a musician who balances true passion for the guitar with pastimes such as golf, marathon running and photography, and a humanitarian unafraid to lend a helping hand.

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GC: I have known and enjoyed your playing for many years. After reading through your website, the past interviews and articles about you, I see that you have many interests in which you participate at a very high level. Music and golf, for instance, have flourished side by side during your career as a performer. Can you compare the “Inner Game” of golf to the “Inner Game” of playing the guitar? What about these two activities is similar (or different) for you?

DR: For me they are totally different. My golf playing is complete escapism. I enjoy my time playing with my friends. I try to play as well as I can, but I really don’t care that much. Guitar playing, on the other hand, is my profession and I care very much about everything I do in that field. I have a few other passions or hobbies: one of them is photography and the other is simply running. I devote some of my time to these activities, but, as with golf, they are pastimes.

GC: At last count your discography contains 16 recordings for the TELARC label…quite an accomplishment! Your playing, both technically and musically, your style and warm tone reflect a love and passion for the traditional repertoire of classical guitar. The choices you have made regarding the music you play differs markedly from many players who feel that “new is better” and being “first” with a new work is the preferable path. What draws you to a particular piece: the period, the composer, or simply the work itself?

DR: All of the above. It is really a combination of everything. Of course it is fun to be the first to record a new piece, but the choice of repertoire is decided in combination with the record company.

GC: Speaking of new pieces, can you tell us what living composers’ music mostly attract your attention and why?

DR: I especially enjoy playing pieces written by friends, as that gives an extra dimension to the music and to my interpretation of it, as I have a personal connection with the composer.

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GC: In one interview you made a comparison between computers and playing the guitar. I thought it illustrated quite well the difference between practicing and playing. If I can paraphrase here, you likened practicing a piece to being INPUT and performing a piece to OUTPUT. Why the distinction?

DR: I try hard to separate the two, because very often we practice while performing and then while we perform, we are thinking about how we should do it, when it should be the other way around. At least for me it works very well if I can practice a piece during a period of time and then perform it, even if it is only for myself. Once you are performing a piece of music, it cannot stop. It has to have continuity and the only important thing is the future, what is about to come. While you are practicing a piece, the ability to analyze what you have just done, correct the wrong things and reinforce the good ones, it is the best way in my opinion.

GC: When did you form “ONGD DAVID RUSSELL Y MARÍA JESÚS”, the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization)?

DR: My wife and I started this 6 or 7 years ago. After collaborating with other people, we decided it was better to have our own organization.

GC: Why another charitable organization? Were there not any organizations that addressed the particular needs of the communities you work with?

DR: We felt we wanted to be very specific and direct with our efforts. Originally we started collaborating with several people we knew who were missionaries in Africa and we helped in their communities by building wells. Of course the larger organizations are very important, especially for bigger projects. Smaller NGOs, like ours, have no overhead. Every single Euro (€) goes directly to the project and we felt we wanted to have a more direct involvement. It gives us great satisfaction to be able to do it in this way.

GC: How did you become involved with the communities in Africa and India that are touched by your charitable work?

DR: All our projects in Africa have to do directly with water, whereas our Indian projects are all to do with education. We have financed the building of four schools in the South of India and we are involved in several schools in the North, especially one in Gujarat, where most of the children are handicapped, and we fully support this school.

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GC: How can readers help?

DR: In our webpage there is a link to the NGO with all the information needed to whoever wants to contribute. One thing we want to make clear is that every penny we receive goes directly to the projects.

GC: Shifting back to the guitar I would like to ask you some quick questions regarding some of your preferences as a professional player:

First, guitar tops: cedar or spruce?

DR: Now cedar.

GC: Strings: composites or nylon?

DR: Nylon

GC: To amplify or not to amplify?

DR: No amplification for solo guitar concerts.

GC: Technique: rest stroke: use it or avoid it?

DR: Use it when it sounds good.

GC: Your best “go to” warm-up exercise?

DR: Parts of scales and slurs.

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GC: Regarding your recording style, what is your preference: record your latest concert pieces first, then take them on the road performing them in your concerts, or concertize first with new music before recording?

DR: My preference would be to concertize first and record afterwards, but it is often the other way round, by necessity.

GC: Do you have a favorite concert venue? Where is it located?

DR: For sentimental reasons, the Wigmore Hall in London.

GC: What new recordings, performances, etc., can your fans look forward to in the coming year? 

DR: I have numerous ideas for a new recording, but I still need to decide together with the record company for the new CD.

GC: It is the year 2022, exactly ten years from now. Where is David Russell?

DR: In the year 2022 I hope I can maintain my single digit handicap in golf, continue to run the odd marathon and still be able to play the Chaconne by Bach.

For more information on David Russell visit his website: http://www.davidrussellguitar.com/

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