Classical Guitar Luthier Interview: Elias Bonet Monné (Spain)

I’m delighted to have Elias Bonet Monné from Barcelona, Spain.

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

Everything began when I needed a luthier to fix problems of intonation of the guitar I was studying with. This destiny took me to the workshop of Yagüe brothers. Mr Raúl Yagüe accepted my request and the guitar was left perfect. Eventually, we became good friends and one day I ordered a Yagüe guitar. I was wondering if he would accept my commission, but to my great surprise, he answered: Do you want to build your own guitar by yourself? If you do, I will teach you.

Of course, I replied that I did. This was how Mr Raúl Yagüe opened his universe to me, and infected me with his enthusiasm for guitar making. He became my maestro, but also he wanted to be my friend.

Among lights and shadows, at the workshop, I met people who were very influential to my life as a luthier. Raúl introduced me to Mr Juan Antonio Reyes Torres, yet another excellent luthier who also opened the door to his workshop to me, and who I also have a good friendship with. Feeling the support by both maestri, I opened my own guitar workshop in March 2009.

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

Answering to your question, it is hard to say. It is something subjective that makes me happy when I play a guitar. I mean, some guitars are appealing, and some other not, but in other's hands, this could change. On an objective sense, what makes an excellent guitar, in my eyes, is:

  1. Hi capability to produce harmonics. I mean, depending on the position of your fingers, the strength of the attach, the place of the string where you pluck, and the amount of nail you use, you should be able to modify the colour of the sound. This is because depending on all those parameters, some harmonics sound and some others don't, and this makes the differences in tones.
  2. Elasticity. The guitar must be soft and sensitive to your body. This is the way to be emotive on the play. There must be a lack of tension among all the woods of the guitar, to allow it to vibrate from the head, to the bottom, and from the top to the back.
  3. Tuning. The correction of the bridge when gluing it must be super accurate in order to asure a right tuning of the guitar whenever you play strings on air and on 12th fret together. Playing the first movement of "La Catedral" is a good trick to find guitars that are not well compensated.
  4. And for sure, not the last, and not the less important, the instrument must be made with love.

As you see, I am not really concerned about loudness. I make guitars directed by the spanish traditional system. A big amount of Torres, a little bit of Bouchet, and all what I can of me. I prefer a good projection than loudness.

And the use of good wood. Not double tops, nor carbon fibre, kevlar...whatever. The more plastic you put into a guitar, the more plastic it sounds.

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

Comfort. You must feel comfortable when playing. When that happens, the musician usually forgets about the instrument, and is only concerned to play music. In order to reach for that, I just make them as perfect as I can, according to the directions I found out in my career.

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

I'm not interested in what is not a French polish.

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?

Short-scale guitars usually tend to have enormous tonal richness and beauty. The disadvantage is that they reveal more clearly incorrect intonation of an instrument and a player. In general, the strings' tension is low, resulting in a more beautiful sound but with volume-loss.

Nobody has ever had the inconvenience of having hands that are too small with my guitars so far. Everybody who tries a guitar of mine is surprised at its comfort and playability. In fact, I send part of my production to Japan, I know my clients there, men as well as women, have small hands. Women's hands are even smaller, but Japanese women's hands are much smaller!!

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?

In my opinion, the first impression of a guitar is very important. The impression of the first second. You have to remember this feeling. And after playing for a while, if the instrument invites you to keep playing, that is a good sign.

Check the intonation by playing the notes at over 12th fret combined with open strings (e.g. play first and second movement of The Cathedral).

Playability: you shouldn't have to make any effort to play the guitar.
Tonal richness: test all the possible tones on the same string.
Assembling: look at the detail of the building quality, whether it is well finished, particularly the inside. It says much about the attention the maker pays to the instrument.

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

Obviously, a client will receive any necessary "after-sales" service. If it refers to the return of an instrument because of the inconvenience, then I don't accept it. I let my clients try an instrument as much as they need before taking a decision, but once it is sold I don't accept the return just because the client changed his mind. The other case is that the instrument has any problem, but it is so rare that it has never happened to me.

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

It doesn't affect at all. I have never used Jacarandá. It is rather a bad wood for the life of a guitar. It tends to crack by the change of the humidity. It's unstable. There are many alternatives that sound the same or better than the Brazilian rosewood which is exported under regulation. Moreover, nobody has placed an oder a guitar made by Brazilian rosewood. In my case, I don't use any wood which I have to be worried about the extinction.

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

I see it healthy, strong and very active. The European industrial revolution caused big damage to the artisan in general. However, and luckily, the industry has been recovering its production at a small scale since a few years ago. And I celebrate it!