Interview with classical guitar luthiers: José Antonio Fuentes González (Spain)

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I’m delighted to have José Antonio Fuentes González from Barcelona, Spain.

 

Q1. Could you please tell us a little about your luthiery and its history?

I taught myself to make guitars after a trip to Cuba in 2004. I had worked as carpenter/cabinetmaker for more than 15 years, so I knew quite a lot about woods and different ways of working with them.

My early guitars were beautiful pieces of work in terms of the finishing quality but the sound quality should have been better. So I kept doing research on how the sound reacts on the solid surface like woods. 

After some years working on my own, I met a retired gutiar maker called Patrick Hopmans, and he taught me a lot of things about the traditional Spanish guitar making method. 
I'd like my guitars to be a continuation of the Spanish classical/flamenco guitar making tradition. However, sometimes I don't discard the possibility of making small experiments using new materials such as carbon fiber or a different fan bracing system from the traditional one, like the one designed by Kasha-Scheneider and others.
I'm currently using a design based on Santos Hernández, Miguel Rodriguez (Córdoba), and Marcelo Barbero.

 

 

Q2. Please describe your idea of a good sounding guitar, and what you do to achieve it?

A good sounding guitar for me is the one which does many things by itself, on your behalf, when you play. Meaning, a guitar which generates a good amount of pleasant harmonics for our ears. 
How do I achieve it? Well, by selecting very good materials. The tops, especially, are very important, reducing the thickness to meet the effective balance between the resistance and flexibility, using adhesives which act efficiently as a sound transmitter, etc.

 

 

Q3. Please tell us about your idea of improving playability, and what you do to achieve it?

There are many factors that affect playability, such as: the tension on the tops, the tension of the strings, the angle of the neck, the resistance of the neck to the tension, the action, and it is important that all these things are balanced. 

 

 

Q4. Please tell us your opinion about the traditional finishing method (French polish) and new methods (lacquer, catalysed finishing, etc).

For me, the best finishing method is French polish because of its very thin and flexible coating which lets the timber vibrate freely. The disadvantage of it is that it is very difficult to work with, requiring many hours of work, plus it is very delicate, and can be damaged so easily. 
All of my concert guitars are made using this method. For the other type of guitars, I sometimes use nitro-cellulose. I like the synthetic one the most, because it doesn't spoil the guitar with a thick coating and it is also flexible. I don't like polyurethane varnish because I find the coating surface too solid, it kills the vibration of the tops.
 

 

 

Q5. Please tell us your opinion regarding shorter-scale guitars such as 640, 628 and 615mm in terms of playability, design, sound quality and volume. Is there an increasing need to cater to smaller-handed or female players?

I make many guitars with 640mm scale, especially, for people with small hands and women. 
I think there is no big difference comparing to the guitars with 650mm scale. Just take into account that it is necessary to make small modifications of the pattern design and the tension on the tops because the tension of the strings is a bit lower.
Personally, as I have small hands, I prefer guitars with 640mm scale. I usually play the electric guitar. The most comfortable guitars for me are Gibson or similar ones with 628mm (24" 3/4) scale.

 

 

Q6. Many readers say they end up being very confused after trying many guitars. Could you give us some advice on how to examine the guitars' sound quality and playability at a shop or luthier, from the guitar-maker's point of view?

It is normal that you feel confused after testing many good guitars. The advice I can give you would be that you shouldn't test a guitar and buy it on the same day. Don't try more than three or four guitars continuously. Eliminate the guitars you don't like in the testing process. And, especially, try to feel the emotion that each instrument transmits. It is a good idea that you try the guitars without knowing who the makers are because usually, when you know you are going to test a guitar made by a famous brand it will sound psychologically better than the one made by un unknown brand. But, sometimes, you can find very good instruments at a reasonable price even though the guitar was made by a less prestigious luthier.

In terms of the quality of craftsmanship, that is — whether the guitar is well built of not, this can be seen at the first sight. Also you can notice playability from the first moment you play the instrument to test.

 

 

Q7. Do you offer any 'after-sales' service to customers - particularly customers who are nervous about making a substantial investment?

All of my concert guitars are guaranteed for life, always, and when the instruments are looked after in appropriate conditions.
I devote all my life to guitar making because it is my lifelong passion. I'd like my guitars to stay alive for many more years than me on the planet.

 

 

Q8. How does the increasing rarity of some woods, rosewood for example, impact on your methods, and the quality of the end product?

The problem of obtaining a quality timbers to make guitars has existed for many years because of the exploitation of the tropical forests.
However, it is possible to get many alternative and sustainable timbers under FSC certificate, which are of very good quality. 
I don't use Brazilian rosewood because it is banned from logging. I use Palo Santo from India, Amazon and/or Madagascar which gives me very good results. 
I think it is a very good thing to regulate the deforestation because without it, in a few years we won't have any timber to continue our job.

 

 

Q9. How do you see the future of this beautiful tradition in the 21st century?

The future of the tradition? Well, generally speaking, any artisan work is in a tight corner in Spain.
At present, we are suffering a big economic crisis.

However, none of the factories would be able to achieve the quality of a maestro artisan, and that's why I believe in the future of artisans-made, top quality instruments that are unique in the world. Making unique pieces, small works of art, which stand out from the rest because of their sound quality and exclusivity.  

Comments

I checked their site and they have really nice guitars, happy to be related to Patrick Hopmans

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