Classical Guitar Luthier Interview: Bernd Martin (Spain)

Classical guitar luthier: Bernd Martin (Spain)

I’m delighted to have Bernd Martin from Granada, Spain.

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

I had always been enchanted by Granada. I arrived in the city in 1976 thus. I started to learn to play the piano at an early age. The passion for Spain and its culture led me to the guitar and I decided to try my luck at it. I made my first guitar at the workshop of José López Bellido, the patriarch Eduardo Ferrer's son-in-law. After completing my apprenticeship, I started my own business, always working on my own until 2002 when I started to teach my son Lucas Martin.

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

The characteristic sound of the Spanish guitar originates from the great maestri A. Torres, M. Ramírez, and Santos Hernández. It's a timeless sound, suitable for any music in any period that makes the guitar a universal instrument.

After having played, analysed, and understood the guitar of the old maestri, we keep using the same traditional guitar-making techniques which allow us to achieve that sound.

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

To make a guitar that is easy to play, the building itself is important. For instance, the angle body-neck it is particularly important. Then there are adjustments of tension, the shape of the neck, fretting. Our guitars are considered very easy to play. This is achieved by studying the technique of old maestri, with the help of professional guitarists.

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

French polish suits me because of its sound, beauty, and easiness of restoration. We don't use synthetic varnish, except for the neck, under the layer of French polish to give a exquisite touch.

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?

We are specialists in making guitars a la carte, enabling us to personalise different measurements (scale, distance between strings, neck's shape...). Also we've added some new types of woods to our models: for example, sneakwood for finger board which we combine with the body of cypress. This is for our concert model.

As for short scale, we have made many guitars of 640 or 630. We achieved good results. However, we recommend 650 for concert players, and 660 for flamenco professionals because of the optimum sound quality and projection.

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?

The choice of a guitar is something very personal. The ideal, for a guitarist of a certain level, is that "an instrument comes to you", so to speak. We have seen many times that there are people who try passages with their own guitar and they struggle. Nonetheless, when they try our guitars, they can play them easily. This shows that the guitar is good.

Of course, there are more objective criteria: a combination of general characteristics, the balance melody-chords and basses-trebles, tonal homogeneity, sustain, and playability.

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

Our production is limited and results in unique pieces. This fact allows us to register and follow the 'after-sales' of each guitar, offering a perfect maintenance, including varnishing.

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

We have no shortage of any wood. We have a stock of woods of all kind up to 25 years old. Moreover, Madagascar rosewood is a perfect alternative for the forbidden woods of Brazil. Also Indian rosewood, curly maple and cypress give us an excellent result.

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

The technical level of researching and building of the guitar never has been this high. Moreover, there are an utterly wide range of choices. I see the boom of "historic conscience of the guitar" positively in relation to the sound. Currently, recordings with historic instruments and criteria proliferate, and there are more editions of classical literature about the instrument. In summary, I think the profession of "guitar maker" enjoys good health and continues on the right path.