Classical Guitar Luthier Interview: Lorenzo Frignani (Italy)

Interview with classical guitar luthiers: Lorenzo Frignani (Italy)

I'm delighted to have Lorenzo Frignani from Modena, Italy.

Clicca qui per leggere in italiano.

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

My story begins in 1976 with the discovery of a guitar making workshop in Modena, where I still live. Professionally I started about 6 years later. In 1986 I received my first award in a national competition and from then on I have won many more prizes.

My passion began as a guitarist, having studied classical guitar for five years, and for many years I carried out various construction projects of my own conception.

I also immediately began to collect historical guitars and today I have one of the finest international collections of Italian guitars of the 1800s, which I continue to restore and to study.

I began to study the historical Spanish guitar makers only belatedly, about fifteen years ago.

I immediately became passionate about the work of Torres, Manuel Ramirez, Vicente Arias and Enrique Garcia.

Over the last twenty years I have had many opportunities to see and study original guitars of these makers. Some are also present in my personal collection.

Two years ago a selection of these guitars were exhibited for 6 months at the Museum of Mittenwald in Germany.

I have also restored many of these guitars and this made me understand many details of the concepts, thoughts and sound of these makers, and of their time.

The heritage carries within it many basic things that we can not ignore during the process of building contemporary instruments, even though the concepts sometimes can be modified (or distorted) deeply by the trends.

The tradition, if not corrected, could not be called "tradition.”

This Tradition is very important.

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

The guitar that sounds good is a tool that touches the heart, which gives us emotion, which makes us enjoy the cathartic moment of music, that which makes us desire to hear and feel even more guitar music.

But the guitar that sounds good is a different thing from the guitar that can be used to play.

The modern guitarist needs an instrument solid and powerful with which he can solve the fear of not being heard well enough.

The volume is important but it shouldn't be traded against sound quality.

In recent years this has affected much of the technique, which has become more virtuosic and fast. This has led to situations with sometimes paradoxical results.

There are some musicians I know who play one guitar in concert but a different guitar at home for studying in order to improve the taste and refinement of the interpretation.

So what we see on stage is not necessarily the rule defining "the best instrument…"

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

A guitar that is easy to play should have the right action, finding a balance between comfort and cleanliness of sound with no buzzing. Also the size of the neck is important as well as the scale of string length.

Today, 650mm string length guitars are common, but also the sound performance you get with shorter lengths, such as 640mm, are also absolutely great, and easier to play.

For smaller sizes you need to adapt a new model and its aims.

In addition, the importance of the strings are often overlooked. It's a matter of great importance to the qualitative aspect of the sound and performance.

There are still those who build guitars without taking into account the specific strings and look for suitable strings afterwards for the end product... How can you build a car without knowing what the engine is like?!

The guitar is a beautiful object to embrace and needs a physiognomy that makes it pleasant to touch and smell, soft shapes, elegant aesthetic finishes, in short, a pleasure for the senses and for one's creative inspiration.

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

As I said earlier, to me the guitar must be an "object" pleasant to the touch. I have always used a manual coating with shellac base according to the method known as french polishing.

It is a most delicate varnish compared to modern ones but much more elastic and warm and easy to maintain. It deteriorates over time but for me this should not be a problem. However, a guitarist has to know about his/her instrument.

There are still people who buy a guitar, maybe very expensive, and they forget that, using it every day, it needs periodic maintenance. Nothing is eternal.

We regularly service our cars, but the guitar? ... rarely! Why? ...and maybe we’ve spent more money on the guitar than the car or motor bike.

The luthier is not the devil.

However, more manufacturers than ever use synthetic varnishes, often faster and more reliable for the duration of brilliance and stronger to withstand international travel.

Fewer problems for everyone, I understand... but certainly less artistic.

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?

The short-scales are most topical. Many musicians and instrument makers have realised that a guitar can sound equally good with smaller scales.

I would say that this idea is well supported by the acoustics of many old guitars.

I've experienced that in concert halls what makes the difference is not the issue of a powerful fundamental note but the effect of the sound “projection".

And that is generated by the harmonic quantity and quality of musical notes.

So we have to, as makers, gain insights into all guitar-making elements in order to get a result that does not depend only on high-tech elements.

There are examples of guitars of the 1800's that sound beautiful in the right hands.

And here we reconnect to the importance of the strings and the touch of the guitarist, with nails or without nails ...

The resulting sound is something complex but the resulting impression is even more.

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?

Confusion often begins when you do not know what you want, or what you are looking for.

However, the first thing to carefully consider is comfort - a good fingerboard will make always life easier for the guitarist.

Then the guitar must have a good balance, which is the hardest thing to achieve.

Finally, customers should make sure to check for the sound projection and harmonic quality for his/her expression, therefor interpretation.

The guitarist is always an interpreter and the guitar is his "instrument".

If he/she knows what he wants, and how to interpret, what he/she needs will be obvious.

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

Absolutely! For me it is very important to support the customer and offer all the quality-guarantees of my guitars.

They are my guitars!

I have always worked to customise the settings, restoration, and in many cases I have also worked on the resale of my guitars.

And if the guitar is far away, I always offer my cooperation to those who had to work on my instruments.

I am pleased that at the heart of the relationship with the customer there is especially good mutual trust and honesty. In this way, mutual satisfaction is always guaranteed.

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

In the construction of the guitar is a rosewood timber that we makers know very well and that gives us a lot of guarantees.

I have also always used maple, a wood that I find beautiful, with excellent results every time. It is no coincidence that it has always been used for stringed instruments ...

Today, there are a wide range of alternatives that many colleagues are experimenting. Together with an international team, as part of a project called the "Leonardo Project", we are also experimenting with the construction of guitars with non-tropical woods. It's a serious experimentation on a large number of guitars. The work will be completed in about three years, and the results will be presented here in Modena where I work and I am very curious about the findings.

I believe that a luthier with good experience can always achieve outstanding results regardless of the materials.

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

Guitar making is evolving in two distinct ways: one is determined by sound volume, and the second seeks to optimise interpretive versatility and nuance of expression.

This second, I consider more in line with traditional techniques. The first type, guided by maximising volume, has introduced high-tech tools that leave only the outward shell of a traditional guitar but with the inside made of new materials and with new techniques. Guitars for Formula One! The results are especially interesting for having achieved a greater power, but have yet to be perfected in terms of range of expression.

The second is a type of guitar derived from traditional techniques. I am referring to guitars in the style of the most important makers of the Spanish period, from Torres to the years of the First World War. These guitars are more to my taste. A guitar more intimate, lighter - made in ways that I find more congenial to the expressive nature of this magnificent instrument.

In this spirit, some years ago I developed replicas of some particularly significant original guitars - for example, Manuel Ramirez and Enrique Garcia - and I am currently working on a Julian Gomez Ramirez model - luthiers which I think are very interesting in the historical tradition.

But, as the best guitar is nothing without a good and sensitive performer, I think it is important to observe how the younger generation want to express themselves with music.