There may not be many people out there who (like me) want to know about the instruments other people are playing; who made them, the subtleties of their sound, their scale lengths, bracing patterns, and such. I’m a bit of a nerd that way. I love instruments, and I love the adjectives and metaphors used to describe this elusive thing called “tone.” I think that instrument builders are some of the most creative and underappreciated artists. Where would we be without Amati, Stradivarius, Loyd Loar–or in my favorite world of wood and tone; the Spanish guitar–Santos Hernandez, Esteso, Barbero, Ramirez, Reyes, and so on? This page, then, is dedicated to discussion and description of the instruments that I use (and occasionally buy and sell), honoring the practitioners of the luthier’s art, and sharing some of my thoughts on the subject.
If you’re looking for a flamenco guitar, you might find one here as well.
I have owned over 70 classical and flamenco guitars in the past. (I’ve always had to sell one in order to buy another; monogamy just doesn’t seem possible for me when it comes to guitars). I’ve been particularly fond of the builders and sound of Granada. I’ve owned Ferrers, Marins, a Plazuelo, several Bellidos, and a Diaz. I’ve also owned many guitars from Madrid; Ramirez, Condes, a Manzanero, Jose Romeros, and so on. I would describe the Granada sound (in general) as more direct, clean, crisp, woody, delicate, while the Madrid sound tends to be more complex, elegant, dark, etc. (though there are many exceptions). I have owned 2 guitars built by Manuel Reyes in Cordoba, which (in keeping with his lofty reputation) were close to perfectly “balanced,” without any obvious weakness, combining the qualities of Granada and Madrid. I am also very fond of a number of American builders, especially Ron Bushman, Aaron Green, German Vasquez Rubio, and Lester Devoe.
Currently I own and perform with 4 great guitars, 2 blancas (cypress back and sides) and 2 negras (rosewood back and sides).
I play a Reyes model blanca built for me by Ron Bushman in Jan. 2011. This is my third Bushman guitar. He hand delivered it (from California) and I played it the next day in a house concert (videos coming soon). This guitar is very similar to the Reyes guitars I’ve owned in the past, wonderfully balanced; a great combination of fast aggressive attack (or “punch”) and complex elegant tone—woody yet “wet,” macho yet sweet. Ron is a great builder and a wonderful human being.
My other blanca is a 1994 German Vasquez Rubio guitar previously owned by Miguel Espinoza, and used on his two Curandero CDs. Miguel is a friend, and one of my musical heroes. I’ve taken a few lessons from him, and consider him one of the very best guitarists in the US. I’m honored to have his guitar, which I purchased from one of his students. It has a beautiful vintage tone, not as crisp or loud as my Bushman, but more complex and seasoned. Its’ tone really reminds me of a Reyes. It also has a wonderful sense of touch, thin neck, and loose string-tension that make it a joy to play.
I play a Brazilian rosewood negra built by Francisco Manuel Diaz in 2001. Every time I’ve been in Granada I’ve felt like Diaz guitars were my favorite that I found there, and my guitar teacher there (Ramón Jiminez Del Paso) played a Diaz negra, so I was very pleased when I had the opportunity to get this one last year. I understand that Adam Del Monte also plays Diaz guitars. This one has a beautiful tone very similar to a pair of Lester DeVoe negras that I recently compared it to—very firm and rounded notes, but still a bit woody, with lots of complexity, clear loud trebles, with throaty midrange, and strong basses. It sounds more like a classical than any of my other flamenco guitars, but still has an incisive flamenco attack, when played that way.
Lastly, I play an Indian Rosewood negra built by Aaron Green in 2006. This guitar (in my opinion) really has the Granada sound, very similar to a guitar built for me by Antonio Marin Montero (in 2005—see photo above). I believe I like the Green even better. It is very crisp, clean, bright and clear sounding, totally alive and responsive. It doesn’t have the depth or “darkness” of a classical or even my Diaz negra, but it does have a beautiful feminine sweetness and quickness of attack that make it unique; one of the best negras I’ve ever played.
At the moment (and for the last few years) I own only one mandolin, an F-4 model built by Gavin Baird. I have owned 3 Nuggets, several Gibsons, a Givens, etc. I have also owned 2 other Baird F-5′s. I love the purity of tone of my Baird, it makes most other mandolins seem brash and often “tinny.” In my recent recording for banjola and mandolin (Shine and Rise, to be released this August) I used a Baird f-5 belonging to Allen Galton (originally built for me), in addition to my f-4.
I play a banjola built by the inventor of the instrument and master craftsman; Edward Dick (not the Gold Tone Imposters). Mine, to date, is the only 9-string nylon-string. I like to say that I am the best player of 9-string-nylon-string-banjola in the world as long as I don’t let anyone else play mine. It has a beautiful lute-like tone, crisp, woody, sweet, and percussive.