C H O O S I N G    T H E    G U I T A R

About The Guitar

The rich Mediterranean heritage brought a variety of different string instruments, and among them, on the Iberian peninsula – the Spanish guitar. The today’s guitar emerged after more than a thousand years of the development, in the beginning of the 19th century. Very soon, from this perfected harmonic six string instrument, the classical guitar came too. The apparition of the guitar is a logical answer to the developing harmony and tonality. As the music went from polyphonic in baroque, to monophonic towards classicism, it gradually started to lean on the already defined harmonic blocks – chords. Accordingly, the instruments that started appearing were HARMONIC, as opposed to MELODIC, and that intensified superimposition of the notes resulted in creation of this harmonic instrument. During the last 200 years, with the development of the new materials, there were no big changes brought to the guitar construction, but there was a million small ones. The construction of the Spanish guitar is a world on it’s own. But first, let’s go to the basics:
The guitar produces the sound by first tensing, and then releasing the string. Since everything in nature goes to the stadium of equilibrium, the kinetic energy is then passed from the string to the front board, over the bridge. Some kinetic energy is transferred over the nut also, but it is a very small amount. As soon as we release the string, it starts vibrating and it transfers kinetic energy to the wood. The front board flexes going back and forth, and starts “pushing” the air towards us. The hole is there to allow the air to enter and exit the resonating chamber, as it’s changing it’s volume while the front board vibrates. The center of production of the sound is more or less the bridge itself, or a geometrical center of the guitar body’s widest part.
Since the speed of sound (kinetic energy wave) through the material of the string is constant, each different length of the string will produce vibrations of different speeds. That different “speed of vibrations” makes different note pitches, and it’s expressed in Herz, (the number of vibrations per second). For example, the open 6th string, regularly tuned to note E has 82,41 Hz, which means that it vibrates so many times per second. The 5th string is 110 Hz, the 4th – 146,83 Hz, ad so on… The open first string tuned to note E has 329,63 Hz, and on the 12th fret it’s 659,25 Hz. The highest note on the majority of the classical guitars is on the 19th fret, the note B, and it has 987,77 Hz. As you can see, the majority of the notes on the guitar are in the bass and middle frequencies of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean that there are no high frequencies. In all the higher part of the spectrum, let’s say from 1000 Hz and up, there are the HARMONICS of all the notes that go to the infinity.(in video tutorial: The Sequence Of Harmonics, i play all the harmonics on open 6th string tuned to note A – 55 Hz). There are 11 different harmonics, audible in 16 different pitches, in 4 octaves above the basic frequency. Depending on witch ones is accented, the color of the tone will be such. It’s what gives life and brings color into music. The more harmonics guitar posses, (meaning that it resonates easily on the determined pitches in relation to the basic frequency), the better and richer it sounds. In tutorial “Tuning, Harmonics & History Of The Tonality, there is a thorough explanation of how overtones influence tone colors. G-Clef-&-Note-AThe guitar has one special auditive peculiarity, it’s perceived one octave higher than it actually is. It’s first harmonic – the octave, is perceived as the basic frequency, because it’s actually louder than the main frequency. Therefore in music score, it’s written accordingly too, one octave higher than it actually is. The note A on the second fret on the 3rd string – is not 440, but 220 Hz, in fact. But in G clef, we consider this note to be the 440 Hz note A, and we wright it in the second void…

The Wood

Of course, the most important thing on the guitar is the quality of the wood itself. On both classical and the flamenco guitar, the front board is always made from some soft wood, that flexes easily, like spruce, or cedar. Not that it has to flex, but it has to resonate as well. The resonance of the material depends of it’s crystalline structure, and it’s regularity, to transfer kinetic energy better. The wood itself has no crystalline structure, but it has the wood grain, and the equal fibers in it work as the crystal grill. Wood-4-Guitar-Construction Here we come to the most important point of this subject, the wood for the front board has to have been dried for at least 30 years – naturally. The slower the drying process is, the bigger are empty spaces inside the wood structure. Any acceleration of this process would leave chunks of dried sugars inside these spaces in the wood grain, and that would kill the resonance (imagine toilet paper chunks stuck into pipe organ tubes). And where on Earth are you going to find the half a century old wood, that’s been dried properly? All the European rain forests were almost entirely cut down until 1935, there are only few places in Germany, France and Switzerland left, and it’s next to impossible to get it today. Lately, when a several hundred years old tree is cut, they make an auction, and the highest bid gets it. The part of the trunk used for musical instruments is only from 1 to 4 meters of the tree’s height. Cypress-Guitar-BackIt’s quite a long story, and as my guitarrero Lazarus is used to say: “You can easily find a good “guitarrero” today, but the quality of his instrument exclusively depends of how much he loves you, and what wood is he going to use…” The stacked spruce wood on the photo has been dried naturally for 50 years, and it’s close to half a million EUR worth. On classical guitars, the wood for the sides and the back is “not that important”, per say. On the best classical guitar they are always made from Palo Santo wood (saint stick). But on flamenco guitar, the back definitely is important. The flamenco guitar’s back side resonates as well, and the sharpness of the tone is gained with that responsive back side. Of course, the best option is the cypress wood, and there are many varieties of it from all over the planet. Until recently, there was a lot of South American cypress, my guitar is made from it. But that stock is now gone, and the majority of the world “guitarreros” reached for other sources, from around the world…

Choosing The Guitar

I have received many questions about how to choose the guitar properly, from students that are buying the nylon string guitar for the first time. Let me first say that a properly hand crafted instrument, from high quality wood, just CAN’T COMPARE to any serially factory made guitar. Of course, the price is according, the good quality hand made guitar always costs in exes of 5000 $, but through time, it’s price will go up, not down. Almost ANY GUITAR you can get for UNDER 1500 $, is going to be MADE OF PLYWOOD, (the hand crafted guitar will be made from massive wood pieces, of course). And in a few years the plywood guitar’s price will go down. Even if you find one with massive wood front board, that wood is never dried properly, and it will still have the three-ply on the sides and the back. First, the glue that holds the wood sheets in the three-ply – kills the resonance, and then the perpendicular wood grain among the layers – further prevents it from resonating. That’s why all the guitars made in factories are all very much alike – there is A VERY LITTLE DIFFERENCE among them. In music shops all around the world today, you can often find a 800$ nylon strings guitar that sounds NO BETTER than a 150$ one! The “flamenco models” of many factory brands are more expensive than classical guitar models, and it’s for no reason – they both sound like ____ anyway. That fact made me produce this small guide on how to make a flamenco guitar out of a classical guitar, with a little knowhow. And with a little bit of luck, you can possibly get a good one for even less than 200$… The-Neck-View First and foremost, do not hurry! A good guitar can not be found in one day. I advise you to tell the salesman what you need – a cheap classical guitar that sounds strong and sharp. Then perhaps wait a while if necessary, so it arrives to that shop. Check how it sounds in higher position first, precisely while playing scales – forte on the 9th fret. It should sound sharp, but also as lyrical and colorful as it can, enabling you to play melodies well. You should check it’s neck too. It should be straight, but it should be SLIGHTLY BENT INWARDS. If it’s too flat, you won’t be able to lower the saddle, since the strings would be hitting the frets, and buzz while vibrating. If the guitar is sharp and responsive, and it has the warm and colorful basses, you have found your instrument..! A second thing is – chill out man, you are NOT GETTING MARRIED! You can always sell that guitar and get another one. The guitar is an expandable thing, and even the best guitars can be replaced, so no reason for getting exited at all…

Making A Flamenco Guitar Out Of A Cheap Classical Guitar

Presuming that you got a good sounding classical guitar, we can now get start perfecting it further. Filing-The-Saddle As you probably know, the guitar main bridge is made from a much denser, and therefore much heavier wood. The denser the material is, it transfers kinetic energy faster and better to the front board. Some bone ornaments are often inserted on it, to make it heavier still, so it’s swing prolongs the vibrations further. On the hand made instruments, both the saddle and the nut are made from animal bone, because of it’s crystalline structure properties and high average density. On a factory made guitar, these pieces will be made of plastic. Height-Of-The-Strings-On-12th The flamenco guitar has lower strings than the classical guitar, so we’ll lower the strings by lowering just the saddle, NOT the nut. You should file it underneath, just by the amount needed to reach around 3,5 mm of strings height on the 12th fret. Be aware that taking off 2 mm from the saddle, lowers the strings on the 12th fret by 1 mm. Since the 12th fret is exactly half of the length, taking off saddle’s 3 mm would lower them by 1,5 mm, and so on… The filing paper for the beginning can be around P120, but you can later use some finer grain sand paper, like P400, or P600. You should try to obtain 3,5 mm of height on the 12th fret for the beginning, though on the best guitars, it’s around 3 mm. But be careful, and on’t over-do-it! You’ll make the strings buzz on the frets, and you’ll have to add slices of paper under it later, killing the sound. The contact between the saddle and the bridge has to be perfect, and it is a VERY IMPORTANT matter. It shapes the whole sound and defines all the dynamics, because the major portion of the kinetic energy transfers through the saddle to the bridge, and then to the front board. The saddle is sloped towards the first string, so a whole millimeter higher for the 6th string, therefore you must file it evenly from below. It’s best to use the 3rd string as a reference for the height. In fact, everything on the guitar is sloped, but better not to start with that, just use the 3rd string. If you have the opportunity, you can replace both the nut and the plastic saddle with animal bone pieces. (it has to be a well degreased bone, exes of fat is removed by soaking the bone for 6 months in acid). As opposed to plastic that was melted and has grainy structure, the bone has higher average density, and crystalline structure. It would be best if you could get ivory, it’s the densest bone from all. Otherwise, the femur bone from a bull is what’s most often used. The nut made from bone wouldn’t change much on that guitar, but the bone saddle on some guitars could do miracle. If it’s massive, (depending of the saddle width, they go from 2,2 mm to 3,0 mm), it’s weight can make the whole bridge substantially heavier, and impact it’s resonant properties significantly. Depending on the guitar you have, it will, or it may not be worth the effort. Anyhow, one very important thing is left to do, to protect the front board when playing “golpes”.Golpeador-Best-Shape Putting a pick guard, or a “golpeador” on it, will protect the wood, but will inevitably kill the resonance. There is one little thing you can do to avoid that, as much as possible. You can make a “golpeador” from two pieces, one for each part of the soundboard. The front board is divided in two, one half plays the basses and the other the trebles. So, dividing the golpeador in two, would permit the board to flex more easily, and it wouldn’t kill the sound so much. Speaking from 3 decades of experience, this is the best shape possible. And here is an honest advice on how you should make the golpe protection: You can see how much i destroyed my guitar’s front board, and I have drawn how the golpeador should have been cut. There are various self adhesive transparent golpeadores, but if you can’t get an adhesive one, it would be best to ask some professional to glue it on for you. Trust me, there is a whole world of knowledge about the wood and different materials, and since you don’t have the tools, and neither the experience, it’s always better to have someone to lean on.

La Cejilla

The easiest way to change the tonality when accompanying singers, is to use the capo, or the “capodastro”. There are many varieties of “capodastros” today, but they are not all good. The traditional flamenco capo is called “la cejilla”, /sehilya/ (the small eyebrow), and it’s made of wood, but what’s most important is the piece of leather glued underneath, that holds the strings. If this piece is made of rubber, it might not hold the strings properly, and they might move when playing left hand legato. La Cejilla also changes the overall height of the strings, so playing in the first position is much easier for the left hand, too. All the harmonics of the entire instrument also change, because of the open strings. With cejilla on, they all have different pitches. On the leather, through time, the strings make indentations, and these “channels” than hold the strings firmly, so they can’t move up or down. The easiest way to make a flamenco “cejilla” is to find some old violin peg, and start from there. Be aware that the peg’s axis has to be perfectly cylindrical, and it’s quite difficult to make by hand, without a lathe. This design, with the peg on the side, is quite new. The traditional design is rounded on top, reminding on an eyebrow, with the peg hole in the center of the top of the wood block. But than the peg is in the way, when playing certain chords. This way, the peg never stands in the way, whatever you play. Traditionally, both the wood block and the peg would have been made of ebony wood, since it’s among the highest density wood known. Ebony tree impregnates naturally after it’s life, it’s first white, and then the trunk keeps sucking water from the soil, and the wood turns black, gaining incredible strength. When it’s really of the best quality, it behaves almost like some sort of ceramic, when carved. On hand made guitars, the fretboard is always made from it. This piece of ebony I used to carve the cejilla’s body (on the left), was not of the best quality, that’s why it’s not completely black, but dark brown. But you can use any wood, just as long as it’s dense, (the one on the right is from beech wood, not very good, though). The cone shape of the peg hole, and the conical peg axis are a world on it’s own, just try to obtain as much friction as you can between them. You can also use the “calaphonium”, or resin that violinists use for the bow strings. When making a hole for the string, take in consideration the space needed for the nod, and create a small pocket for it. Or you can use a lighter, and melt the plastic. It will make a bulb, that will prevent the string from slipping through. You can use second or third guitar string, just the same. I used superglue to glue the leather cylinder for the protection of the guitar neck, but also for the piece that holds the strings. It’s the quickest, but also the lazy man’s way, because the superglue is brittle when dried and it breaks easily, so better try to find some glue suited more for the leather.

The Masterpiece Is Born

The majority of these tools are made exclusively for guitar construction. My friend and “guitarrero”, Lazarus, has inherited all the tools from his deceased brother, called the Sabre, also a very famous artist and a guitar maker. Sabre founded this shop with Maestro Brana, also an awarded artist who works with Lazarus until today. Lazarero-Working1This “taller” (workshop) with Lazarus, continues to make guitars for over 4 decades now. The SabMar classical guitars are being played on over 30 conservatories all over the world. They just finished this new masterpiece, the spruce and cypress flamenco guitar. Lazarus-Guitar-BackYou can’t get this quality flamenco guitar anywhere in Spain today. Even after they see that I am a virtuoso, and that I dedicated my whole life to music, when I enter any guitar workshop in Spain, I hit a Great Wall Of China. Every salesman in every “taller” will first take out and show you 20 of his guitars, which are all much worse than this. Their price will be in exes of 5000 EUR, and NOT ONE will sound like this. Not because they don’t have them. Yes they do, every guitar maker has instruments made from the best wood possible, but those guitars are not for regular sale. They go to the special people, or for example to Japanese customers, that are willing to offer over 30 000 EUR for a guitar. There is probably around 20 guitarreros today to make this quality guitars, and all their instruments are made in this top quality way, in fact. But there is one little thing they surely won’t mention – they are not all made from this quality wood.Guitar-HeadJust this quality wood, for construction of one single guitar, if some guitarrero would sell it to you, (and he won’t) would cost over 3000. Because he knows that with that wood, he can always make a guitar and sell it for over 5000. But you can not get this kind a wood, because almost nobody is selling it today, and there is maybe just 5 guitarreros in Spain today, to actually have wood of this quality. There is a big world wood crisis at present, but it’s a long story. Lazarus was fortunate to get this spruce wood for the front boards from Carpatian forests in Romania, when he worked on preservation of a medieval monastery there.Guitar-Bottom The back and the sides are from a top quality Spanish cypress, purchased from a colleague guitarrero. Mr. Gerardo Nuñez also has one of SabMar guitars, the same flamenco model, but with wooden pegs. It looks cool, but it’s a nightmare for tuning. Many guitarists later take off the wooden pegs (probably use them for “cejillas”), and revert to the classical mechanism, the design allows it.Gerardo-Nuñez's-SabMar-GuitarLazarus says the same thing as Cristina Y Enrique Ramirez the 5th, that this is a technique, not an art. I think that he exaggerates when trying to demystify the process – this is definitely an art – just the same as playing the guitar. So, nothing mystical about it, anyway…

All these cutouts are from all the guitar front boards that Lazarus made in the last 20 years. This new masterpiece surpassed all expectations again. It’s because of the wood itself, he says. After a few years of playing, this guitar will sound better still. The tone has the body of a classical guitar, and the sharpness of a flamenco guitar, so inspiring, it’s just perfect.SabMar-GuitarThese strings are a low tension Savarez, some terrible set from a not much better factory, they behave like chewing gums, by the way. I can just imagine it with some hi quality medium-high tension flamenco strings, it would sound louder still..?!? So well made, that you almost don’t see the transparent golpe protection, I would trade my guitar for it without a blink. I’m sad to let such a great instrument go, but he needs the money. To make others, he says…

If you are interested, you can use the “CONTACT US” form, or a website’s live chat interface. To buy this guitar, “we have to like you” first, meaning that you can’t be a re-seller, you have to be a guitarist. It comes with the life-time warranty and technical support, completely free of charge. In connoisseur circles, this guitar can be sold for much more than we ask for. We know each and every of our customers, it’s a circle of very carefully selected artists. Some are famous flamenco guitarists, some are classical guitarists or professors, some are students. We’re here for them, and they are here for us, testifying about the quality and craftsmanship. Purchasing this little gem is a great investment in fact, because it’s price will rise as it’s being played, sounding ever better…

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