For the first time since Covid I recently spent some time in Europe, on an extended tour of France and Spain.
I love Spain for so many things – the beauty of its cities, its food and wine and music, its variety, its climate, its pace of life… but for a guitar nut, nothing can beat the enjoyment of a week in Granada soaking up the stunning surroundings and visiting luthiers’ workshops. I can’t imagine there is another city in the world where guitar makers of the pedigree of the great Granada luthiers are concentrated in such a small area. If you think of the history of classical guitar in Granada, it’s an unbroken chain from Eduardo Ferrer, the ‘founding father’ of the Granada School, through families such as Bellido, Raya, Marin, and Munoz. Non-Spanish makers, attracted by the traditions, culture and craftsmanship, have left their mark too – Robert Bouchet worked with Antonio Marin Montero, and makers such as Rolf Eichinger, Rene Barlsaag, and Pavel Gavryushov have made their way there since. And there are newcomers too.
Very characteristic of the luthiers of this city is that they work in small, modest premises, using the workbenches and tools they have probably used for decades, and their fathers before them. They have no flashy signage, nothing on the outside to tell you of the magic that is happening behind the door. I’ve now met a few of them. They tend to be modest, polite people dedicated to their craft – I’m not sure if they understood that, to me, they are almost legendary figures.
I only had a week in Granada before moving on to other cities. On my previous visit, I had spent a happy hour or two in the Bellido workshop, meeting Manuel and his sons Mauricio and Jesus, and sharing pictures of my own Bellido guitar. I was so over-awed, I didn’t dare touch any of the instruments they had in the atelier. This time I was bolder. My first visit was to Pavel Gavryushov – I was lucky enough to have an introduction from my friend Kirill Voljanin. Pavel was gracious and generous with his time, and let me play a magnificent cedar/rosewood classical of great refinement and beauty of tone. Pavel provides teaching in luthiery and one of his students, Francisco, arrived while we were talking. Far from slinging me out, we had a lot of guitar nut conversation. Francisco produced a piece of old pine he was intending to use for bracing in his next guitar: it had come from the rafters of Torres’s home in la Canada, during recent refurbishment works. Again, the sense of history. For information see www.gavryushov-guitar.com
Leaving Pavel’s workshop, I found in the same building the workshop of Canadian ex-pat John Ray. I want a John Ray guitar! His workmanship is a marvel, the quality of sound of his guitars is really something, and I played a Torres replica he had made to order, which absolutely blew my socks off. Small guitar, massive sound, endless sustain, and so easy to play that it felt effortless. Again, I had a great discussion – he’s such a nice man, modest, self-effacing and courteous but also authoritative, dedicated and driven. Have a look at his website www.johnguitar.com – you’ll soon understand what sort of person he is. Read the ‘my story’ section and above all look at the instruments.
I tried to revisit the Bellido workshop but didn’t think to contact them in advance, so happened on a day when the workshop was closed – sadly. Although I did get a pleasant greeting from Manuel Bellido as he and his wife passed by in the car. Just around the corner from the Bellido workshop is Antonio Marin Montero. I wasn’t sure I’d found the right place – there seems to be no signage on the exterior. I suppose, if you are Antonio Marin Montero, you don’t need to advertise. Another one I wrote off to experience.
Next visit was to Cuesta de Gomerez where, in the past, there was a concentration of shops and workshops. It’s now more or less a thing of the past. The Ferrer workshop is still there, and has a nostalgic wall full of black and white photos of great guitarists. One of the newer luthiers, Ayman Bitar, has a nice retail outlet there (his workshop, which is much more interesting, is a few streets away). But the street is no longer the guitar mecca it once was.
Finally, I had a wonderful visit with Paco Santiago Marin and his son Luis. I have a guitar of Paco Santiago Marin’s – made in 1975, before he had his own workshop, while he was in the workshop of his uncle Antonio Marin Montero. Now, of course, one of the most highly sought-after makers, he and his son work side by side in a tiny and modest workshop.
I don’t speak much Spanish, they spoke very little English, but we spoke guitar.
I showed them video and photos of my 1975 guitar, and Paco retrieved an almost identical instrument from the woodstore – in for repair.
All in all, a great visit to a great city.