Spanish Guitar Making Today: An Insider’s View
What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase Spanish guitar making? Many people of course think of Spain. For us, we think of our own family. Amalia’s younger brother Mark, took part this last year in a 10-month Luthier Program in Spain, learning the artisan craft of hand making Spanish guitars. We got to visit him there and spend some time in his class. Where this is happening in Spain may be a surprise to guitar-lovers. For those of us who love travel and cultures, Spanish guitar making introduces us intimately to an intricate and romantic aspect of the Spanish culture, which today’s younger generations are discovering and carrying on. Let it introduce you to another side of Spain.
Some History of Spanish Guitar Making
Most people think of Flamenco music and dancers when they hear of Spanish guitar making. Yet it goes far beyond that particular style and genre of Spanish guitar music. The origins go back to classical guitar, which is still very strong and popular in the music world today. This also influences the build of an actual Spanish guitar – there are Flamenco style guitars and then there are Classical Spanish style guitars. Yet to really understand the origins of guitar making, you learn that it’s integrated with the entire family of stringed wooden instruments, particularly violins, and referred to as Lutherie.
The strongest aspect of the history of Lutherie and Spanish guitar making in Spain is geographical. Going centuries back, it has been primarily based in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia, in Granada and in Toledo.
Worldwide, guitar making is referred to as Lutherie – “the making of wooden, stringed, musical instruments, such as guitars, lutes, mandolins and violins”. So a person who makes guitars, such as Mark, is called a Luthier.
Above Image – Mark putting the strings on a newly finished Spanish Guitar.
Overall, lutherie falls into two categories (period and modern), which in Spain can be referred to as violería (making of Gothic, Renaissance and baroque string instruments of Spanish origin, using old crafting procedures and techniques) and modern guitar and violin making (of artistic quality Spanish guitars).
A Region Returning to Spanish Guitar Making
The Luthier program that Mark took part in last year is an exciting new development in Spanish guitar making for several reasons. The biggest one is it’s location. Rather than the traditional and well-known guitar making area of Andalusia, the Escuela de Violeros is located on the other side of Spain, in Zaragoza, and is founded by a collaboration between the Fundación Muslyramus (founded by the Professor Javier Martinez and the world-renowned guitar maker Jose Romanillos) and Fondacion Daniel & Nina Carasso, who are also the founders of the Dannon yogurt company.
Above Image – The Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar.
It was fascinating to discover that hundreds of years ago, the city of Zaragoza was actually a mecca for Lutherie. By the beginning of the 16th century and for several decades, Zaragoza had the highest number of luthiers (or violeros) in Spain, and possibly all of Europe. This was among both Christians and Muslims who co-inhabited the city in those times.
This is just one of many incredible things about the historic and beautiful city of Zaragoza. Getting to visit the city as part of visiting the program, was an exciting and deeper way of getting to know Spain. It is the capital of the Zaragoza province and the community of Aragon. Being travelers who love visiting unique, local places, we especially loved the long weekend to discover the historic city center. Some of the highlights for us were the lovely and historic Ebro River that runs through the city, the impressive landmark of the Basilica of our Lady Virgin of Pilar, and the Goya Museum.
Mudejar Architecture of Aragon
is one of Zaragoza’s most famous landmarks, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Above Images – Views of the Ebro River which flows through Zaragoza.
The Escuela de Violeros de Zaragoza for Spanish Guitar Making
Getting to spend an afternoon in Mark’s Lutherie program was the best highlight of our trip. He had already taken an intensive guitar making course in Colorado with renowned American Luthier, Robert O’Brien of O’Brien Guitars. Yet this program was taking him even deeper into mastering the fine and intensive skills essential for Spanish guitar making.
Above Image – Mark’s first guitar, built in Colorado with Robert O’Brien.
The Escuela de Violeros de Zaragoza is an initiative of the Muslyramus school. The guitar making workshop was just along the outskirts of the city and a comfortable bus ride from the center. It was a pleasure getting to meet and talk with the Professor Javier Martinez, a rapidly-speaking Spanish man with a warm personality and a huge heart for music and his students. He went around giving personal attention to each student’s work; an invaluable contribution to the students’ success.
Composed of two spaces, the large workshop had a classroom area in one side and the actual workshop in the other. Placed throughout the workshop were the work tables where we got to watch students on their particular instrument. Mark described to us how the class-setting is especially dynamic for learning because they help each other in their progress. While the student ‘in the lead’ regarding progress on a guitar tends to fluctuate, they are encouraged to spend time helping each other if they find they are at a further stage of the building process. This reinforces the learning when they’re helping each other.
Of twelve students in the class, almost half were from other parts of the world. The international reach is one of the goals of the program, while also keeping alive this important artisan craft key to Spain’s culture and heritage. Students get access to the workshop space during class times and get to learn from guest speakers and established masters of Spanish guitar making who are brought in periodically to spend time with the class. On several occasions, they also enjoyed field trips to related businesses, such as Maderas Barber, the largest instrument wood-provider in Europe, located just outside the city of Valencia.
Above Image – Good friend and classmate, Dany. These guys know how to have fun.
It was amazing to see all these students working in such detail on their guitars. Each one was at a slightly different stage and yet the detail and intricate precision involved in each step, was remarkable. Anyone could see the amount of concentration, dedication and passion it takes for a person to love and master this craft.
The Influence of Our Family on Mark’s Spanish Guitar Making
There’s nothing more inspiring than seeing someone you love pursue their dream. The benefits of doing what you love were so obvious in Amalia’s brother Mark. His passion and dream has been Spanish guitar making for some years now. Yet how does a young man, born and raised in the USA, come to know his dream is to make Spanish guitars?
We were fortunate to have a culturally diverse family. Our dad is from the US and our mom is from the Dominican Republic. Our abuelo (grandfather and mother’s father) was originally from Spain. From there, our interest in Spain developed, especially beginning in our twenties. Mark also loved music from a young age and learned how to play classical and Spanish guitar. This influence especially came from our mother, who has been playing the Spanish guitar and singing since she was a child. She still plays to this day and so does Mark.
Above Image – Amalia and Mark’s mother with one of Mark’s handmade guitars.
Mark’s experience at the Escuela de Violeros de Zaragoza, was ‘instrumental’ to say the least (get it!). It furthered his experience and skills in ways he needed. Inspired by our Spanish family’s name, Del Riego, and an important past female family member referred to as La Riega, Mark has La Riega Fine Woodworking for continuing his craft. If you’d like to reach him, please leave a comment below.
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Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling
We’re Amalia and Eric – a traveling couple who moved from the US to Denia, Spain. With our combined skills of travel consultant/writer and artist/film producer, we share resourceful stories to inspire and support your travel dreams. Let us know how we can be of help.
Very nice, Amalia. I learned more from this piece than I did visiting Zaragoza – twice! Thank you, and wishes for continued success for you & your brother. This link is to an Asturias article I did last year. Perhaps it will inspire Mark to explore more of the region (if he hasn’t already.) https://travelingboy.com/travel/the-heart-of-asturias-spain/
Hi Richard. Thank you for enjoying the article. I’m so glad that it was insightful!
And I love your article on Asturias. Both of my brothers and I know it very well since our grandfather was from there and we’ve been to Covadonga and the lagos. Our grandfather was from the tiny village of Tuña in the area of Tineo, to the west of Oviedo. Google General Rafael del Riego, our 4th great-uncle, and you’ll learn the history our family has in the region. Thanks to our grandfather, we have dual nationality and are able to live in Spain.
You can enjoy more of my articles about Asturias, here: https://www.movetotraveling.com/?s=Asturias
I’m so excited that you have enjoyed and appreciate this lesser-frequented part of Spain. And I hope you continue to enjoy more time there and that our blog can be useful to you in your travels around Europe. Please let me know if you have any questions I can help with.