Book Review: The Granada School of Guitar Makers

The Granada School of Guitar Makers

This is a guest article by John Ray, a Canadian guitar maker who lives in Granada, Spain.

One of the things we all agree on, be we players, builders or fans of guitar music is that we love beautiful books about guitars. If those books give us great information about the artisans who handcraft guitars and what goes into a great guitar so much the better. I am talking about books like "The Spanish Guitar" (a catalogue of the 1992 exhibition in New York and Madrid) and "Masterpieces of Guitar making" (the Grondona and Waldner book). The latest in this style of book is "The Granada School of Guitar-makers" edited by John Ray and published by the Granada provincial government. The book is beautifully produced, informative and all texts are in Spanish and English. It is now available in all English and Spanish speaking countries and in Japan and China just to mention a few others. For the most part it can be ordered through fine guitar dealers and sheet music retailers. Here is a list of retailers who can get it for you in the UK. "". As for other countries the updates of how to get the book are found on this page: "". Below are guitarist Javier Riba's thoughts on this book.
John Ray

"Andalusian guitar-makers have played a fundamental role in the configuration of what we call today the "spanish guitar". Andalusia is not the only piece of the puzzle but without the pioneering work of makers like Francisco Sanguino (Sevilla in the 18th century), the Pagés dynasty (18th and 19th) or José Pernas (Granada in the 19th century) - just to mention a few of the better-known ones - we would not understand the decisive contributions made by Antonio de Torres from Almeria. He established the definitive design and characterised the sound of our instrument and these remained the ideals, with minimal modifications up until the middle of the 20th century.

After this period, Andalusia once again becomes the key to the survival of traditional values in guitar-making. Two new factors should be considered: on the one hand certain experiments and changes are wrought in other traditions which affect the body shape, materials, bracing systems, thicknesses, etc…. in an attempt to increase even further the volume of the instrument at the expense of beauty and versatility of tone. The other factor is the industrialization of all or part of the process of making the guitar, mass production which has reduced the costs but has also impacted negatively on the quality. In this context the andalusian makers have remained for the most part untouched by these factors, keeping the artisan tradition alive and remaining true to the fundamentals of what Torres established.

Currently, the most numerous and prestigious group in Andalusia, even in Spain, can be found in Granada. Also, documentation seems to show centuries of unbroken traditional guitar-making, an element of great value in terms of the passing on of ancestral knowledge. Master-apprentice relationships through various generations have allowed the survival of artisan techniques and methods in Granada whereas in other places these have been lost. This heritage has perhaps encouraged a certain feeling of unity, of a school of thought which this book defines and puts into perspective.

So, the central idea of this book is to clarify what the "Granada School" really is. The answer comes in two approaches or tones: the aesthetic, in the poetic and moving prologue written by Angel Gilardino (in my opinion, the most valuable essay in the collection) and the the historical in the essays by Aarón García, David Gansz and Javier Molina. The central part of the book is where it becomes testimonial in the chapter Guitar-makers of Granada which is based on the interviews with the guitar-makers carried out by Alberto Cuéllar.

This book does not say everything there is to say about the "Granada School" as that would take a scientific study to determine all of the organological aspects involved but it does establish a concrete direction that could be pursued and above all is a living testimony to the Granada guitar as it is today."