Approach to making
As a maker, I am self-taught. Self-teaching is my natural inclination and the way I learn fastest. By the time I started guitar making in my early 30 s I had already learned a number of arts and crafts, so I had no worries about the crafting aspect, although I didn't know how long it would take to be able to produce a really fine musical instrument. In 1993 I began by studying the guitars of Antonio de Torres to gain insight into the fundamentals of traditional spanish guitar-making - from then on, the experience of making itself became my teacher. I found that my guitars improved steadily from batch to batch as I experimented, and I learned to trust my instincts more and more. I continue to work in this way, always adjusting and refining, and usually the ideas work to move things in the right direction. I am more instinctive than scientific in approach, although I do make notes about various things, particularly the pitches of the front and back during construction and afterwards - this has been very useful for subsequent fine-tuning.
In this process of learning, the input from guitarists has been very important, since they opened my ears to the qualities necessary in a fine guitar, and gradually, as a result, I have been able to develop my own faculties for critical listening. You can only change something if you're aware of it. Once you're aware, you can try and build in the change. Just how you do that is a combination of experience and instinct.
It is very important ( for me ) to conceive a clear idea of the sound I want to create, not just as a series of descriptive words, but to actually try and hear the sound in my head as far as possible, to imagine the various parts of the guitar vibrating, and to bear this in mind during the process of making. This habit of keeping the sound concept in mind whilst making keeps the work fresh and interesting and enables the me to tailor a guitar to an individual. I am always seeking to improve on what I've done before, not out of frustration, but because it is natural. Seeking to make "the perfect guitar" I don't find very useful ( except as an abstract idea) since there cannot be only one kind of perfect guitar - but trying to embody the best musical qualities in a guitar at any given time, for a particular set of circumstances, materials, players' requirements, is stimulating and challenging. There are a whole range of different tonal possibilities to explore, which no single guitar can provide, and consequently it is necessary to experiment to discover some of them.
As well as sounding and looking good, to be excellent, the guitar needs to be technically good from the player's perspective - such things as neck profile, string spacing, string action height and especially string feel, are the things which deliver ease of playing, so I give a lot of attention to these matters. Musicality is something that is felt or perceived , and not quantified. A musical player can do wonderful things with a poor instrument, but if the instrument responds very musically as well, that is a better combination! Certain observable qualities can be stated as being important for musicality e.g. good dynamic range, a wide tone colour palette, a quick response, good tone and balance, focus/separation =clarity, projection, evenness, playability and volume, none of which of themselves can provide musicality, but which need to be present. And let's not forget beauty and character, the less definable aspects which lend a guitar its individuality and which communicate with the player and the listener. I have increased the power and volume of my guitars considerably over the years, but this was never my primary concern and so it has not been done at the expense of beauty of sound, or sacrificing balance. On the contrary, the balance has been improved and the tone is richer, most notably in the bass and middle register.
The shapes of my later concert models 12 and 13 ( the larger of the two) are the latest incarnations of a shape which was originally inspired by a 1932 guitar by Domingo Esteso. I say "originally" because I have revised and re-sized it several times - the first plantilla based on this guitar was number 4, then 5 and 7, 12 and now 13. I mostly use 12 for both classical and flamenco guitars. !3, the slightly larger model produces a more expansive, but slightly less focussed sound, for those who prefer it.
Model numbers 8 and 10 are inspired by two very different Torres' guitars, one from each of his two building epochs. Model 08 is based on F.E.13, a small and elegant guitar which Torres made in 1860. Miguel Llobet may have owned this guitar, but later it was owned by Hauser I who used the pattern for his own instruments. Model 10 is based on a guitar from Torres' second building epoch, S.E.83 built in 1885. This was an eleven-string guitar with a much larger and more robust shape, although not large by today's standards.
I have not used 10 for some time ( because I altered the mould), but I continue to use 08 which is a genuinely small-bodied guitar whose shape I have recently revised.
Recently I have added a Santos-Hernandez shape, model 14, derived from the 1929 guitar which I restored, and used it for a flamenco guitar. Even more recently model 15 came along in response to a customer's wishes - it comes from a steel-string guitar, and has that look - a shorter body and a fuller lower bout.
In addition to making fan-braced guitars which spring from the spanish tradition, I also build designs that evolve from traditions in other parts of 19th century europe. The X-braced design by the Roudhloff brothers, who trained in France and then set up shop in London, inspired me to investigate further, and it has borne fruit in a number of guitars, small, medium and large, which have proved its suitability as a design for both for classical and "cross-over" guitars ( for flamenco guitars with their low string height at the bridge, you can't beat the spanish fan-braced model). I've also built a couple of cross-over guitars using a pattern with long parallel bars which bears similarities to the work of the famous french maker La Prevotte and also to a guitar by Roudhloff which I worked on recently. The principle of the two types, X-brace and long-bar is similar, since they both attain a longer vibrating length for the top, increasing the working area, thus lowering the pitch of the top and enabling the whole top to be better supported than with a spanish fan-brace for the same resulting body resonant pitch. Sounds good? It is.