I’m delighted to have Jaime Alés Villalonga from Huelva, Spain.
Q1. Could you please tell us a little about your luthiery and its history?
I've always been interested in music and particularly the guitar. I'm a school teacher of music. My passion for the guitar and my hobby of wooden work has led me, without even knowing it, to luthiery. After having been self taught for a while, I wanted to improve more. I decided to dedicate myself to learning from the great maestri of Spanish guitar making such as José Luís Romanillos, Jaume Bosser, Joan Pellisa, Rafael López Porras, Carlos González and others. I attended many courses given by them. I make my guitars following the Spanish traditional method and use a completely artisan procedure (from the production of Rosetta to the finishing of French polish) which enables me to customise all the elements to comply with the preference of each guitarist.
Q2. Please describe your idea of a good sounding guitar, and what you do to achieve it?
The idea of a good sound can be something relative and also subjective. However, in my opinion, a concert guitar should have many different and clear characteristics: Balance (equal presence or strength of basses, middles, and trebles), good projection (the ability that forti as well as piani reach the farthest audience), good sustain, and tonal clarity (round basses and crystalline trebles) etc.
There are many building factors that affect those acoustic results, but for me, there are three priorities: light weight, flexible top (sensitive to the vibration of the strings), and that the density of the top concentrates towards the bridge (more density in the centre and less in the periphery).
Obviously, this is a simple approach, they are other utterly important elements such as the bridge, the angle of the strings between the saddle and the nut, the volume of the contained air in the body, action, tension of the strings, etc.
Q3. Please tell us about your idea of improving playability, and what you do to achieve it?
I think the key is to lose a fear of going to the limits, the width of the nut (51/52mm) as well as the action of 3mm at the fret 12, and, of course, the thickness of the top and a light-weight bracing. The top should be flexible not only to achieve a good sound response, but also to achieve a comfortable feeling in the left hand, because it makes you feel that the strings are "softer".
Q4. Please tell us your opinion about the traditional finishing method (French polish) and new methods (lacquer, catalysed finishing, etc).
I think both have pros and cons.
I use French polish because it gives an excellent result, it's easy to fix and it has an ideal flexibility that a concert instrument requires. Logically, it requires more attention than for example, polyurethane, because it's more delicate.
Polyurethane applied in thin layers can be a good option for flamenco guitars as it resists better the percussive playing with fingers and nails. However, it seems less flexible than French polish and it gives worse results when repaired.
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 think we are very much stuck with some standards (650/660 scales), which are based on models that have proved their efficiency. However, these don't always satisfy all the personal requirements of the guitarists.
In my opinion, scales shorter than 650 have many advantages. Particularly, major comfort at open-strings positions, minor oscillation of strings (which allows you to lower the action even more), and minor tension on the top (meaning that major comfort to play, in the same time, it allows you to make the top even thinner resulting in an even more expressive instrument).
The demand is not very significant. However, I think it's because few people dare deviate from the prefixed models and not everybody is prepared to take the risk of commissioning a guitar with special characteristics without having tried it before. I think it's a matter of unfounded fears.
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?
I'll explain in parts:
A good instrument should be made with suitable woods, thus the cut should be perfectly radial in all the pieces. We identify it by checking if the streaks should be straight, parallel to the longitudinal axe of the instrument, and on occasions, some transversal "waves (core radius)" to a streak. There are very beautiful instruments with spectacular backgrounds being cut tangentially, but from a structural point of view, it's hardly suitable.
In the same way, a quality instrument needs a selection of high-quality materials: ebony for the fret board, natural born for the nut and saddle, as well as for the edge of a stop tailpiece.
The instrument will be well elaborated with careful finishing. If the roseta is handmade, probably, it goes with the other decorative elements to match, such as painting, joins or head cap.
Almost always, we forget that the label of the guitar provides us a lot of interesting information. An authentic and quality handmade instrument tends to be signed and numbered to be identified by the guitar maker.
ABOUT THE SOUND:
The idea of the sound can be something subjective. Having said that, I think that a good instrument should have a good projection, a balanced register, and a good sustain. Generally, we can find these in instruments with little weight and flexible tops, with a pronounced angle of fall at the bridge... to mention some external and perceptible aspects.
Q7. Do you offer any 'after-sales' service to customers - particularly customers who are nervous about making a substantial investment?
My guitars are totally and indefinitely guaranteed against possible manufacturing defects.
Q8. How does the increasing rarity of some woods, rosewood for example, impact on your methods, and the quality of the end product?
I don't think that the quality depends absolutely on the species. The quality consists in, as I understand, the building model. There are magnificent instruments made by different woods. The other thing is that we have a preference of sound which is determined by particular species. But, I insist that I consider it a subjective question.
Q9. How do you see the future of this beautiful tradition in the 21st century?
Good question. I hope that good musicians keep appreciating the value of artisan work which can go farther than anything industrially manufactured, in terms of art. However, it is a shame that in the country of the Spanish guitar, we still don't have any official schools of guitar making to secure the future of this profession. Until now, the twenty-first century, it has still been a oral tradition.