28 Feb PRACTICAL TIPS TO CHOOSE YOUR FLAMENCO GUITAR
This article as an advice and assistance, we would want to dedicate it specially to all the flamenco fans of our website, and also companies selling guitars around the world that know us and who with many of them we share an opinion and criteria of how to choose a good flamenco guitar.
Leaving aside the commercial issue and basing on our daily experiences in this wonderful world of artisan flamenco guitar, we want people who are initiating and those that have somehow been badly advised by “professors” employed by guitar factories or for those companies that sell guitars, which we call “seasonal guitars sellers” as it is the case for seasonal clothing, for they to know the reasons and opinions of a true professional in the world of flamenco guitar, with the sole aim of helping to avoid mistakes and deceptions in this world of marketing, which unfortunately is becoming increasingly aggressive and ruthless. This way you can have wide knowledge to decide to choose between one or another guitar depending on your budget and personal taste.
For all this, our article is not related with the commerce of one or two firms, this article is based on the best of our knowledge and experience of many years and the study of new and used guitars, to what relates to measures of optimal scales and chords height that you need in a guitar to ensure that it is comfortable. In this article we also want to defend the great number of good and outstanding craftsmen who work or have worked in Spain, Europe and around the world, so that in this way it serves as advisory, otherwise this article would become a commercial hoax truly elaborate to redirect potential customers towards the products with which we obtain largest commercial margin. There are many companies that because of failing to get the discount they want from these artisans of the guitar, that do a wonderful job and offer their instruments with an unbeatable quality / price relation, do not mention or recommend them, causing them an unfair damage.
From Solera Flamenca we choose to follow a different working policy and strategy, since we believe that our business and benefit must be based in a true and selfless advising for the client, and not in his opportunist misleading.
TOPIC 1: SOUND OF A FLAMENCO GUITAR
The sound of a flamenco guitar is perhaps the most controversial issue to treat, since personal taste will be the determining factor in deciding on one or another guitar. Generally, in a flamenco guitar, we hear a less clear and sharp sound than in a classical guitar and this is because the basses (string 4th, 5th and 6th) must tremble (in its certain measure) so that the sound is “broken”, comparable to that we could hear the “quejío” of a cantaor, instead the trebles (string 1st, 2nd and 3rd) should always show a clean sound and free of this trembling. We want to highlight and emphasize that the guitar should be played with the usual push to avoid an excess of trembling, which occurs when a chord push is exerted with too much power over the strings.
Regarding the basses, we could divide the sound into two big groups: the deep basses and bright basses. A great guitar always has a perfect balance between these two qualities, depth is the sound coming from inside the guitar making it vibrate, instead brightness is a more superficial sound that gives the instrument that metallic character so nice and necessary in a good flamenco guitar.
In the trebles we can differentiate between sweet / hot and those that instead are bright and aggressive. In either of these two groups we will find qualities to value such as: the sustain (length of a note after pressing it), richness in harmonics along the fret board, volume and projection of its notes … that would make us decide for one or another guitar depending on our preferences and the sound that better results from our style of playing, since for a person with a playing in which predominate strums and thumb would be preferable to have a guitar with a very different sound than what would require a person with a more lyrical and expressive style in which the silences and spaces between notes predominate, where the sustain and harmonics that come out from the guitar will be determining factors to take into account. Thus, we conclude by saying that it is very difficult to recommend what kind of sound is better than another on a guitar, it depends exclusively on the personal taste of the guitarist and his particular way of playing the instrument.
TOPIC 2: SCALE LENGTHS AND GEOMETRICAL SHAPES OF THE FRETBOARD
We will not talk about exact measurements regarding the fret board (650 mm, 660 mm, 670 mm, …) not shapes or thicknesses thereof, to recommend which is the best measure because the anatomy of each person and his hands is different, as well as their size, and that would be a false advice to the customer, driving towards the instrument that we sell.
Our work allows us frequent contact with many guitar artisans, as well as guitar pro players and fans for who the lengths of the scales in the neck or fret board are somewhat indifferent, easily accommodating to them, because between a guitar with a scale of 670 mm to 650 mm, there is only a difference of 20 mm divided among all frets, and represents a minimum distance to what it is easy to adapt, the craftsman builds his guitars with various templates and is the client who has the choice between either scale length.
We can never say that a guitar maker builds his entire guitar with a “standard” scale and valid for everyone because the guitar craftsman really makes the guitar according to the needs and preferences of the customer, be it a company or an individual. So the biggest factor when choosing between guitars with one or another scale is reduced to the tastes and preferences of guitarist and never of the seller.
TOPIC 3: DISTANCES BETWEEN STRINGS AND NORMAL HEIGHTS
This is also a very subtle issue to address. It must be noted that when we speak of string heights are referring to the separation distance between the string and the 12th fret and between the string and guitar in the bridge area.
This is also a very subtle and interesting topic to tackle. Same as it was discussed in topic 2, we can not talk about exact measurements, if we observe and compare different sizes and heights of the strings in various guitars on our website, you will observe that are very similar to each other but with minor variations, even guitars of the same craftsman and model. Throughout the years have passed through my hands guitars with heights and string distances really different to one another, guitars with 10 mm in height between the strings and the bridge and 2.5 mm in height at the 12th fret, which I have found very comfortable and guitars with 8 mm and 3 mm bridge at 12th fret with which I felt uncomfortable and yet other guitarists have seemed very comfortable with them, so we come back to comment and provide that every guitarist is different and comfort using a guitar with a certain string height depends on many factors.
Of course we must consider the strings height presented at certain points of the guitar and that are within a normality of between 2.5 and 3.2 mm in height at the 12th fret and between 7 and 10 mm on the bridge, without being better than another, it will be decided by the guitarist himself.
These measures may vary according to the type of construction of the instrument by the artisan, and where we have to take into account many factors, the ‘solera’ used, the natural density of the wood used, etc. And the human factor itself, as in the case of artisan guitars, they may vary in distance and height from each other. The passage of time, weather conditions (heat, humidity, temperature changes) string tension used, etc. can cause significant variations in the instrument, also depending on the quality of the materials used. The instruments built by renowned craftsmen with prestige, for them experience in material selection and top quality cured woods, is less common for their guitars to suffer alterations over the years.
If someone tells you that a new guitar is a better purchase than a used guitar and argues saying that in the latter is customary and required to have the intervention of a guitar maker to adjust the fret board, ebony or something else take up precautions, since it is a lie, most used guitars are perfectly found in 95% of cases and have not suffered any movement in its neck and no intervention is necessary (even in guitars over a hundred years old), and this is indeed normal, since the neck stays in place as long as it is not modified by the previous owner for he preferred and used for many years a tension higher than usual (thus increasing the risk of the neck to arch), anyway this could be solved in many ways that need not be explained here, but in a situation of this kind we prefer to miss the chance of buying this guitar, because the type of repairing that is needed to solve the problem usually alters the quality their original sound, in which case we recommend buying it at a lower price than the price that each artisan has in the market, an issue also discussed in this article.
Regarding the best way to know which guitar is more comfortable for yourself, there’s no better way to have the opportunity to try different guitars for different heights of strings, lengths and, if possible, from various artisans, in order to able to compare them and see which one fits more comfortably to our type of touch and push to conclude the best choice.
This is only possible when you have the opportunity to sample a wide variety of guitars from different times and guitar builders, as you can well do it in Solera Flamenca or visiting the workshops of the luthiers who occasionally have some guitar built for one of its customers and pending to deliver that you could try out, or some guitar out of sale serving as a model test sample for customers who visit the workshop of the guitar craftsman, of which you will always receive a warm welcome and in many cases will offer the possibility of continuing the process of building your own guitar with its extensive range of variants and features, and this is certainly a nice experience that you can enjoy. A good craftsman will never recommend anything until he has listened to you and know what you’re really looking for, your needs, your tastes and preferences, that unlike some companies or businesses in this sector, based his goal in selling what they are interested on or have available without any advice or counsel, for which we recommend the following steps:
STEP 1: Look for advice to friends, amateur or professional with experience and inform yourself through social networks, forums, etc.
STEP 2: Contact the first companies, more serious and professional in the flamenco guitar sector, with a wide experience gained and based in market research and situations experienced in this field that like us, can show their clients that the most important thing is to get a guitar with which they feel fully satisfied even if this acquisition does not take place in our company.
STEP 3: Draw your own conclusions, keeping in mind that a seller who advises you with sincerity and heart will always show great respect for guitar makers, never forget that the artist or master is the guitar craftsman and not the seller. The seller may adjust the guitar at taste and customer preferences, any merit he wants to attribute to himself on the instrument, either saying that the improvement is the result of adjustments that he has done or is thanks to the advice he has given the guitar maker, we can consider a lack of respect for the craftsman.
To avoid confusion and misunderstanding, we want to make it clear that the artisan guitars of the same builder that you can find in either business or store, are no better or worse in the sense that in a store are superior in quality and in the workshop worse, this is totally false and only attributable to the interest of a particular company, to discredit with falsehoods its competence and this happens with both new and used guitars of the same craftsman. By this we warn about these false reasons of the seller to get the sale of an instrument.
All new guitars are adjusted by the craftsman who gave them life according to their patterns and leaving them so that the customer has the option of a final adjustment of measures according to the particular specifications. This is common in the new guitars, subject to a final and simple adjustment to suit the preferences of the guitarist, task we recommend to be performed by the craftsman himself to avoid any damage that might occur due to lack of experience. We or any serious and professional company that sells flamenco guitars should be able to count on a close craftsman to satisfactorily perform these tasks in confidence.
TOPIC 4: KNOWING THE WORTH OF AN INSTRUMENT TO ENSURE ITS FUTURE VALUE
This is an issue of great interest and subtlety to also treat it with other companies because those who know our pricing policy, know the real price for each instrument and if they don’t find on our website a certain craftsman, we recommend you contact us and we’ll inform and advise you about it, because although it is not frequent, occasionally a guitar which we call “ghost” (guitars from factory with artisans labels) or from inexperienced guitar builders, offering their guitars of low quality, very distant all of the exclusivity that we maintain and we work in Solera Flamenca, so we did not include a section indicating “ARTISAN STUDY GUITARS” that would be the place where they should be exposed.
With respect to prices, we cannot provide specific data and predict the future upward trend. For all our experience and based on an extensive study of sales prices, we have been able to point out a marked increase in prices of master craftsmen flamenco guitars from the 20s to the present. Do not forget that a handmade guitar is not a fashion product and suffers changes in its value over the years, according to its original state of preservation, quality of the instrument and of course the recognized name of the artisan. Therefore we can guarantee customers that buying a handmade guitar is a safe short and long term investment.
A new guitar of a craftsman guitar maker, always will be priced higher than a used one from the same luthier currently active, then the price will vary based on the price their used guitars had when he built, and increase the price or lower it, depending on the quality of these and the number of units available in the market of recognized and prestigious brands. Note also that sometimes the market value of some firms guitars can be manipulated by marketing campaigns, in which the names and images of famous guitarists and guitar concert with their signatures appearing as a promotion method in exchange for guitars at zero cost, we recommend having it fully into account when choosing a particular flamenco guitar.
We encourage you to visit us at Solera Flamenca, or deal with another company that has a wide variety and selection of guitars of various craftsmen and times, this way you can see and appreciate the reality about guitar pricing, and obtain necessary and useful advice for selecting a flamenco guitar up to your expectations and possibilities.
(The guitarist Antonio Moya and Ángel Luís Cañete trying out some guitars at Solera Flamenca)
After studying, informing myself, talking to artisans of the guitar world, listening to various opinions, enjoying the guitar in meetings with top professionals, very good fans and most of the best guitar makers and for more than 18 years that I have been in the study of the ‘toque’, the construction of the artisan Spanish flamenco guitar and craftsman from the time of Don Antonio de Torres Jurado, this is my deliberation and conclusion:
If we undermine and we are unable to assist and cooperate in one way or another, directly or indirectly with all artisans guitar makers who through their efforts and eternal learning and research we have proud to have an important and selective list of firms in the market and end up recognizing for a personal economic interest only two or three firms, we are against our own interests and this wonderful handmade craft, the “Guitarrero” putting all his soul and knowledge of his ancestors and masters, and many years of daily work to give us the possibility that we can choose our best flamenco guitar between them, either new or used.
I finish this article, thanking you and wishing that the comments and advices here exposed may be useful for the selection and choosing of the flamenco guitar you desire.