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zaterdag 11 juni 2011

Vicente Arias Castellanos 1833 - 1914

A special Vicente Arias event has been held in Florence 2005.
This marks the growing popularity of this important builder.
There are 28 instruments known in existence all over the world.
13 instruments were to be seen at the event. Organized by
Stefano Grondona. I was invited but I had a performance.

As far as I know one of the 3 Vicente Arias guitars with a double 
back. I bought this one on a flea market in Belgium being not fully
aware of its' value and tonal qualities. Arias was the only luthier in the 
19th century whose work came close to rivaling that of Antonio de 
Torres. The other two double back guitars do have two holes in the
inner back and are both made in 1900. Javier Riba owns one in
pristine condition. It has never been out of Spain. Check youtube!
The Granada based luthier John Gray made a copy of that guitar.

Vicente Arias liked the use of green in his bindings. He often
repeated himself but not in the design of his rosettes. Most of them
differ from each other.  The sides are bookmatched as can be seen.

The exquisit workmanship of Vicente Arias cannot
only be admired by the way he made his instruments:
His rosettes are a challenge as well!
When he had some trouble with his health he ordered 
two rosettes at Manuel Ramirez's workshop.

I haven't seen labels of the later guitars that had to be
built in Madrid so if someone comes up with a later
label picture I would be very pleased.

And here it is! Found on the internet.

This back shows us the typical darkcoloured Rio Palissander
that was used being so common in the 19th century.
The tuners are a replacements.

A nice shot of the inlay work on this guitar.

For those who are willing to take a chance in copying
Vicente Arias: Feel free to use these measurements
and let me know your results!
But remember the thicknesses of the parts used
are thought to be very critical with this luthier.
Further in this blog better drawings with more
information regarding dimensions. In 2013 The Granadian
guitarreros John Ray finished a copy of the Arias of
Javier Riba. He ended up very close and as the lacquer
still has to loose its'  solvents it even will get better!


A view from the inside.
I hope that I pleased the forcers for Vicente Arias'
guitars to know a bit more about these remarkable guitars.
I still hope that someone comes up with a site dedicated to
this great luthier that also gives us the pictures of most of the
instruments of Arias still in existence. The double transverse
bracings in the lower bout have vanished in the other two
double back Vicente Arias guitars made in 1900.

Clearly visible here is the odd placing
of a double bar in the lower bout which is thought
not to be original but I doubt that regarding
the glue traces and the modelling of the bars.
After having restored a 1898 Vicente Arias
(a new fingerboard as the former restorer didn't
use the right scale ment by Arias) I discovered
the same double bar in the lower bout also
in this guitar. It has to be there!

I have this instrument for over thirty years now.
At the time I purchased it on a flea market I didn't
have the money to have it properly restored.
Though I'm a lot more expierenced now I certainly
would have had it done by restorers like
Bernhard Kresse. But on this picture you can
see I did my best at that time not even being
aware it was such a valuable instrument. 

Some pictures taken during the restoration process:
Clamps placed on the outer back to prevent more
cracking in the future. The picture at the bottom
shows the guitar the way it came to me with a
partly loose back allready.

Worldwide I allready got a lot of requests to make some
drawings of this guitar with dimensions of course so here
they are. Please take notice that the two transverse bars in
the lower bout are supposed to be non original.This was a
remark Bernhard Kresse made but he immediately responded
that with this sound he would let it be this way.
The stiffness of the spruce used for the top of this guitar
has never been determined so I cant' answer that
question.  The thickness has been mentioned on the
drawing itself. According to John Ray the thickness
of the soundboard is only 1,6 mm. I measured it around
the sound hole which in fact is not reliable!

As has been stated earlier and can be seen from the
other pictures provided allready, this instrument has a double  
back. The inner back was made from one piece of wood
and it was completely flat as opposed to the outer back
that is convex as is still common. The space between the
two backs is around 15 mm. The depth of the soundbox
gradually goes from 90 to 95 mm (outer dimensions -
to lower bout.)

woensdag 2 juli 2008

Nicolas Bonafon around 1840

The fully restored Nicolas Bonafon guitar.
It has all the details of a mid 19th century guitar.
In my opinion most parts aren't original anymore .
It was quite common to modernize older instruments.
E.g. the hightened fingerboard and the head.
"Die Geigen- und Lautenmacher vom Mittelalter
bis zur Gegenwart" is a very useful Dictionnary.
You can download it but it is not a very easy
task. It shows the following text:
Bonafon, Nicolas. — Paris. 18. Jahrhundert Eine Viola,
die dem Aussehen nach dem Anfange des 18.
oder Ende des 17. Jahrhunderts angehört haben dürfte,
trug den Zettel : Abb. 49.

Here's the restored Bonafon guitar with it's unfinished soundboard.
I leave it this way because I'm looking for someone who has a good solution
in treating the marks that has been left by wood insects.
The guitar has been gamma radiused so there aren't any living
insects left, hopefully! Regarding the age of this guitar: suspects are
that the fingerboard mounted up to the soundhole is not original.
The Dictionnary "Vanne" mentions Bonafon as a Paris based luthier.
A pochette (travel violin) is known to be made with the following label:
Nicolas Bonafon (sic) Luthier à Paris 1799
V. Etiquette n° 62."

For the back and sides I used the wood from
another older guitar that was of little value.
The orange colour I obtained with a staining process.

A close look at the bridge where I restored the
outer parts and even made new dots with ivory
inlays to have it close to it's original condition.
Even the soundboard is not free from wood insect traces.

The back of the head with the EON Tuners
with ebony tuning knobs. The design of this head
resembles that of some René Lacote guitars as
well as the later produced Thibouville Lamy
instruments (around 1860)
It is clearly visible that the head is not exactly
centered with the neck. Suspects are that the head with
these later tuners is an addition as well.

A nice picture of the sides that shows the uneven depth
of the soundbox along this instrument.

Here's the Bonafon guitar in its authentic situation.
The bridge ends have disappeared.
The fingerboard is in bad shape.
The sides and back are too far
gone as a result of wood insects
Though this guitar was not that expensive I decided
to bring it back to life and in a playable condition.
It was worth all that trouble!
A nice warm and clear tone with remarkable
sustain comes from this instrument.
Tonecolour and balance between the different strings
proves to be absolutely astonishing.

On this picture you can see I removed the fingerboard
and back allready. I presumed the sides could be used
again but that would have been a lost case.

The back of this guitar also shows the holes
made by wood insects. The back was also damaged
too far especially on the ends.
It was a one piece back as can be seen
on other pictures I've included.

The original label on the new two piece back.
The wood came from an old german guitar that was
furthermore of little value.

The well known EON mechanics were fitted on
this instrument. Just by selling these ones I
would have all my investments in this guitar back!
Note that the tuners appear to be mounted the wrong way.
In fact, no: This is the way these tuners work the proper way.
Compare this to the same tuners on the Thibouville Lamy
guitar also on this site.

Again the old situation: The sides just broke off with
little effort. 

Here are the newly made sides.
I bowed them with the soundboard plantilla as a model.
The original back that looked much better than it really was.
Still beautiful to look at as it has a fine grained and striped
piece of maple. (second picture)

To reassure people who really want to
stay close to the original. The poorly
conditioned inner part!
This guitar would have ended as garbage
and another reason is that there are numerous
guitars of this age still in existance!

The back finished with the new wood parts.
The struts are the original ones

Augustin Claudot guitar (1810 - 1820)

This french early romantic guitar has been built
by Augustin Claudot who was a member of the
well known Claudot Family of violin makers atMirecourt.
Though affected by wood insects this particular
instrument still has a wonderful sound.

This picture clearly shows us the soundboard before restauration.
In fact I was forced to make some radical decisions regarding
reparation. It all worked out very well!

The back of this Augustin Claudot guitar has been
done with maple as are the sides of this instrument.
This whole instrument has been treated with
Gamma rays in order to kill eventually existing
insects. It should last now for the future.

As on his violins Augustin Claudot allways stamped
or branded his instruments. His violins are said to be made
with nice woods and great craftsmanship.

A detailed shot of the bridge that clearly shows
that there are no bones used. The neck angle has to be
perfect in order to be able to play comfortably.
It still does!

Manuel Contreras 1 (1983)

This Manuel Contreras date from 1983, the time Manuel 
Contreras I was in charge. Cedar topped guitar and Brasilian
rosewood sides and back. A 65,5 scale is provided and
of course an ebony fingerboard.

These kind of coloured rosette was most used on guitars from 
Contreras around these times. However the exact rosette as
this one we haven't been able to find yet.
The soundboard has been provided with a traditional 5 fan bracing.
These 2A class guitars seems to posess a bit more the traditional
Madrid (Jose Ramirez) sound and I can confirm that but only
the real beauty of its'  sound was detactable after I removed the
rather crudely placed scratchplates (even layer on layer on the
higher string side) and the exchange of the badly modelled
bridgebone. Absolutely handbuilt but not by Manuel Contreras
himself. The guitars that have a hand signed label are the 
premium concert guitars but often built by Ignacio Rozas.

A beautiful piece of wood has been used for the back and
sides which makes this instrument a beauty.
Narrow grained top with one well repaired crack beneath the bridge.

A non signed label which could point towards a guitar
second to their top model (2A) and most likely made 
by one of his workmen. Absolutely handbuilt anyway.

The head that looks the same as on the 1A model.
And of course the Fustero tuners and the inlay in the head
that can be found as well on the 1A model. However the
outer ends on top of the heads are normally a bit sharper
on the later Doble Tapa models but the earlier ones do show
more similarities. The outer heelform isn't the same
as on the double tapa models of the mid eighties.

A nice shot of the Fustero tuners that are hand engraved
as was done by this company from Barcelona on their
higher end models.

A shot of the back that still  is in pristine condition.
The soundboard shows some play wear but nothing
serious. We compared this instrument with the somewhat 
later double tapa models and the plantilla (contours)
of the body differs from these models which can mean
two things. As in a small workshop like Manuel Contreras
had the use of only one soundbox model would be most
explainable. What is of relevance is the comparison
between a slightly earlier signed Contreras and this one.

On the sides the use of  Brasilian rosewood becomes
even more obvious. Nicely matched as was common.

The use of this Brasilian rosewood for a non signed guitar
is of course remarkable. There are no markings inside this
instrument so the mystery is still there but anyway:
Playability is great and the sound can concur that of
a signed instrument from the Contreras workshop.
Probably Contreras worked the same way as Jose
Ramirez did: If there were any flaws on the 1A meant
guitars they were labelled 2A or not signed. On this
guitar the "flaw" could be the ebony used for the
fingerboard, in fact third quality because of the small
spots that can be detected at various places. It is of
course not of any influence to the sound of this one.

Juan Estruch Concerto model 2 1972 / Juan Estruch 1920 / 1930

A 1972 Concerto II model of this Barcelona based
luthier. In fact a factory made instrument but with the
quality of a hand built one. In pristine condition as it has
hardly been played. 65 cm scale and a traditional
7 fan bracing with no closing ribs. Individual blocks
are used to glue the top to the sides. The spruce top in 
combination with the ebony fingerboard seems to 
cause cracks alongside the fingerboard as is the case 
with this guitar. Though not that loud, the sound is
very complete and even. Good woodwork inside.

Quality of the woods used is great although indian rosewood.

The Torres head and the strange "bulb" above the top nut.
I used this move on an old Juan Estruch in order to be able
to place  a 64 cm fingerboard instead of a 65 cm finger-
board that in fact was original but gave a wrong octave pitch.
The tuners are of a cheaper quality but they work well.

A quite heavily decorated bridge.

Good (enough) tuners that do their job well.

The pattern of the rosette that comes back in the bridge.

Juan Estruch ( around 1925 )

A fairly old Juan Estruch but with the round label the
company used from 1920 until 1954. Adress: Calle Ancha 30
Barcelona (Source: Romanillos). In the mid twenties of the last 
century Juan Estruch Sastre imported wood and materials 
(from 1919) and guitars (1923-25) from Telesforo Julve 
and by seeing the typical bridge inlays this could have 
been one of them. Even the carving of the bridge is identical 
to the TJ bridges. This is more than a coincidence!

It is obvious the guitar has "lived" and will be brought back
to live though there is a lot left to be done. In fact the Rosette
shows us a nice wooden inlay so no concentric circles only!
The extended fingerboard also has a similar design as
the TJ guitars. This guitar has a three piece soundboard.

The back and sides are making this guitar even more 
remarkable as one can conclude the wood to be walnut
but of a higher quality. A cedar neck with a fingerboard 
of a strange reddish color but dense enough to do a good 
job! The same wood I have found on my Telesforo Julve 
from the fifties. Soundboard is spruce, fairly wide grained. 
The soundboard is supported by a 5 fan bracing but all
quite close to each other. The inner heel shows a higher
standard than was usual in the Telesforo Julve guitars.

A "Torres"  kind of head form, Estruch later used for the
Concerto series. Wether if the tuners are original I really
do not know. The headstock is nicknamed: "shouldered".
But in fact a bit crudely shaped so I will make some
corrections to it though I know: not original anymore.
The "original" shape has been damaged on the back
so that's the reason I will reshape it.

I decided to proceed the restoration from this guitar as
the sound is surprisingly good and complete. However
the markings at several places on the back of the neck
and the placing of a new fingerboard urged me to 
relaquer the neck and head. As the head was not treated 
that well I had to remove some damages and decided
to redress the head as a whole to a more Torres-like
approach. Thoroughly cleaning of old tuners in fact
is a must. Here the final result can be seen.

The typical "Valencian"  way of constructing a heel.
The heel is rounded and that would date the guitar
between 1909 and 1945. ( If this is a Telesforo Julve.)
Please note that Marcelo Barbero also used this way
of constructing a heel.

The tuners from which it is questionable if they were
there at the birth of this guitar. So, what to do first:
As the transverse bar under the fingerboard came off
the guitar already had a bad playing action but even
after repairing that it will not solve the whole problem.
The back is partly loose so the invitation lies there:
"Remove me please" then it will be possible to lift the 
soundboard a bit with a reglued brace. A neck reset is
easy when the back has been removed but a Spanish
heel is allways a bit of a problem. These tuners have
been spot as well on a 1920 / 1930 Juan Estruch so 
it could have been possible that some guitars were 
assembled in Barcelona as the other Estruch was a
really high end model of the company.

On this picture the rather strange 5 fan bracing is visible.
Strange in a sense that the 5 bars have been placed quite 
close to each other. Another remarkable feature is the 
placing of 6 clamps in the lower bout in order to
strengthen the two seams of the 3 piece soundboard.

The brace left most likely got loose and as a result the
fingerboard "moved'  under the string pressure as can be
seen in the sound hole. Obviously the soundboard as
a whole shows a sag at that point as a result.

Maybe not that interesting but for two reasons I've included
this picture. It shows an end block which is quite similar to 
those that can be found in the Telesforo Julve guitars and
besides that 6 rather crudely shaped clamps in order to 
strengthen the two seams of the 3 piece soundboard. The 
same feature I found in my fifties Telesforo Julve that
has a 3 piece soundboard as well. It is even questionable 
wether if the builder did this on purpose as there are also 
three piece soundboards on some Antonio de Torres guitars.
Exactly the same shaped end block in my fifties TJ guitar.

It would have been logically that with the loosening of
the now visible transverse brace the soundboard cracked
along the fingerboard as a result of string pressure but
after having removed the fingerboard it became obvious 
that the so called cracks in fact are seams of the middle
part of the soundboard. There was no other way to make
a proper correction of the "moved" soundboard piece
under the old fingerboard without removing it. 
Now the bit deformed whole neck setting  as a result
of string pressure is able to "come back"  to its'
original position. Another problem remains the scale
of the original fingerboard: 650 mm as the distance
between the nut and 12th fret is 325 mm but from
the 12th fret to the bridge bone 320 mm (!) Partly due
to the deformation of the whole neck area but also a
not properly glued bridge distance! I have an ebony
fingerboard already slotted for a 640 mm scale.
I can place that instead of the original and still have
a 2 mm compensation which is normal nowadays.
And remember: In former times there was not taken
care for a compensation as string height was usually
much lower!

I will close the seam on the right properly and make an
insert left as that part will be covered by the new fingerboard.

Securely flattening out this area and comparing
it with the rest of the neck is very important now
as I decided to place the frets before gluing the 
fingerboard. The pictured area is too vulnerable
for hammering in frets even with a decent support.

I have a 19 fret fingerboard now which is very suitable for 
the more demanding musical pieces. As I explained earlier
the scale is now 640 mm with a compensation from the
12th fret to the bridgebone of 2 mm. 

As the earlier fingerboard had a scale of 650 mm I had
to make a solution for the top nut. If you take a closer
look at the first Juan Estruch presented in this blog you
can conclude I used their own method to solve this
problem. Just a small piece of ebony placed above
the top nut so the new situation has a natural look
regarding proportions.

The twelfth fret is a fraction more reachable now but
that can play an important role in some musical pieces.
Next step is to glue the back in place. I think it has to be 
shortened by around 2 / 3 mm for a proper neck reset 
and that won't be a big problem.

The back has been placed and glued. The top has been 
treated with a greyish color remover for bare wood and
that had a significant effect on the color of the top. The 
sound after putting the strings on is typical for the Valencia
guitars but compared to my fifties Telesforo Julve it
has more power in the higher notes. The guitar is not
"shining"  (brightness of the higher notes) the way my 
Jose Ramirez 1945 does but that can have two causes: 
The top still has to be relaquered and the guitar needs
to be "played in"  again!

Not yet the "final"  result as the binding on the back has 
to be redone partly: Gluing on an existing back and giving
the instrument a slight neck reset at the same time means 
an inevitable unevenness at some spots. But the top is
relaquered now. Most of the time I polish the varnish 
after about a year as only then you can get the amount 
of brilliance in the lacquer you want because the lacquer
has to be hardened out. I used an Alkyd lacquer that 
indeed adds to the brightness of the higher notes and
can be removed quite easily if there is a need to.