Saturday, October 18, 2014

Madrid Guitars: One of Europe's Treasures

The New York Times has included guitars made in Madrid on its list of twelve European Treasures:

Madrid: Guitars

Crossing the threshold of one of Madrid’s storied guitar makers’ workshops can feel like stepping into the past. Curly wood shavings, from the palest pine to ebony, cascade to the floor as artisans hone a few humble planks into acoustic works of art. It’s painstaking work — all done by hand — with classical guitar models and the methods of making them changing little over the last century. The monthly production of even the most seasoned craftsmen typically maxes out at two instruments per month.
The finished products will someday go out the door, gleaming with varnish and polished metal fittings, to seduce audiences from stages around the globe. But here in Madrid, the tiny workrooms and the simple tools — as well as the last names of the artisans employing them — have often not changed in generations.
My first encounter with luthiers, or guitarreros (guitar makers), took place deep in the heart of Madrid’s historic center, where I went looking for one workshop and found several.
The door is usually open at Mariano Conde’s shop (Calle Amnistía 1; marianoconde.com), a tiny two-level workshop near the Teatro Realm where Mr. Conde, his son — also named Mariano — and two other craftsmen move between molds, saws, planes and files. Prices are 2,800 euros ($3,500) for a standard flamenco guitar to 18,000 euros ($23,000) for his finest classical concert guitar.
Mr. Conde is a third-generation guitar maker from the fabled (and now defunct) house of Hermanos Conde, and his brother Felipe also continues the family legacy at his own shop nearby (Calle Arrieta 4; felipeconde.es). A 10-minute walk away, on the other side of Plaza Mayor, is another cluster of luthiers, including José Ramírez (Calle de la Paz 8; guitarrasramirez.com), Pedro de Miguel (Calle Amor de Dios 13; guitarraspedrodemiguel.com) and Juan Álvarez (Calle San Pedro 7; guitarrasjuanalvarez.com).
A guitar’s colorful mix of woods is less an aesthetic choice than a science. Each element of the instrument’s anatomy has specific physical and acoustic demands, and its maker knows which woods can accomplish each function. It’s fascinating to consider that the materials for today’s instruments may have been purchased by the artisans’ fathers 30 or 40 years ago, just as the German spruce and Canadian cedar today’s guitarreros acquire will sit drying for decades until it’s suitable to be turned into guitars by their children or grandchildren. ANDREW FERREN

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