Classical guitar luthier: Antonio Bernal (Spain)

Classical guitar luthier: Antonio Bernal (Spain)

Interview with classical guitar luthiers: Antonio Bernal (Spain)

I’m delighted to have Antonio Bernal from Sevilla, Spain.

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

I started at an early age. When I was 20 I opened my first workshop in Seville, and I have been here ever since. At the beginning, I only retailed and repaired guitars. With time, I started to understand how to make guitars, since I had dealt with instruments made by world's best makers. Thus, I made my first guitars. I studied this noble profession with the best maestri. I committed to making guitars. With time, my reputation improved and soon after, my guitars started to attract professional guitarists and high-level amateurs, such as Jose Antonio Rodríguez, Daniel Casares and Jorge Drexler... At present, I'm pleased to make guitars for many professional guitarists of flamenco, classical, pop and rock...

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

To me, the best sound is very simple. It is to offer each client what he/she is looking for, or needs, and to know how to transmit it to the wood. When the guitar is finished, I deliver it to the client and see his/her face of satisfaction listening to the sound he/she had in their head. If I achieved to transmit that sound to the wood, that's the best sound for me. It is very complicated because we are all different and we never need the same sound or the same touch.

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

I have been doing this for almost 20 years and I'm still working on it. It's very difficult but achievable in the end. You see, like the sound, each person looks for something specific. What is comfortable for some people doesn't work for others. As I said before, I study each person. I also observe their touch, and from this I calculate the angle of the neck join and the scale (the distance between the saddle and the nut), the height of the fingerboard and frets… It is almost 100% customised to each person.

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

I think the traditional varnishes will keep being used and will never be out of use. I understand that it's necessary to use synthetic varnish for student guitars and those for casual playing so they don't get damaged easily. I offer French polish on request. The varnishes I use most are Polyurethane, Nitro, and the bright and matt finishing. French polish is used only for elite guitars, and the clients of that range often request Polyurethane too.

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 have made many of those guitars, particularly 640 scale for clients of Japan and China. I not only shorten the length but also make the strings closer, and the neck thinner. They appreciate those features because they find my guitars a lot easier to play. I think short-scale guitars are OK, they give a different tonality. It's like 650 scale with semitone-lowered strings, and the sustain is deeper. I quite like them and I'm making more of those guitars.

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?

This is true. For example, I've got many varieties, I offer Cypress, Rosewood or Curly maple made with a top of German spruce or Canadian red cedar for the same price. Since each guitar sounds different, even I find it difficult to decide what to take.

My advice is to have always a clear idea of what guitar, woods and sound you are looking for, and to test only guitars with those characteristics. Though I understand that if you're at a luthier, to try only guitars, say, of cypress or pine tree, ignoring all the rest of the guitars within your budget is difficult. You won't resist the temptation!

I always advise my clients to try my guitars without any hurry, and to talk to the luthier calmly.

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

Of course, I always offer after-sales service for my guitars on the phone, mail, skype, and with the guarantee of total satisfaction. If you are not happy with the guitar, I replace it with another one, of course given that the guitar is in perfect condition.

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

Jacarandá was used in many countries. After the ban, many different exotic woods such as Madagascar Rosewood, and Caviuna are taking up popularity. But Jacarandá's great beauty and sound are impossible to be replaced. I usually use Caviuna with a good result in sound but I have to admit that it's not the same. However, the price is very different too.

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

Here, in Andalucía, there are fewer luthiers all the time. However, it is also true that there are new luthiers who are improving all the time. I hope they make up for those who leave in the future.

Thank you so much for your attention. I invite you all to visit my workshop.

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