Text by Elias Bonet Monné
Photos by Marta Torrent
Hands are Luthier’s most prized tool. Not only because they shape wooden blocks into a new guitar, but because hands are our best tool to listen to wood.
When I choose the pieces for a new guitar, I do numerous tests and assessments using my hands. I hold each piece to feel the weight; push them to test stiffness; stroke them to hear their voice with my fingertips; knock on them to discover what is hidden in their veins. This is why, if I want to know exactly what each piece of wood can give me, I need to work calmly, taking the time to feel every grain of the soundboard, discovering the best way to make a cut, or to strike with a tool.
The craftsman loves to do a good job for the simple pleasure of a job well done. When the craftsman does not need the acknowledgment of others, he feels free to work with all his soul, attentive to every movement he makes, and this is what will ultimately make him capable of imbuing heart into whatever he does. When it comes to guitars, there is nothing worse than a guitar without a soul. And it is impossible to create a soul if the craftsman does not lovingly work every single piece. Even those pieces that nobody will ever see. Yet he knows they are there.
But not all guitar makers think the same. Some prioritise financial gain over and above product quality. Since the Industrial Revolution the common denominator of all businesses boils down to: more production plus lower costs equals more competitive products, and so, the more you sell, the better you are. This pressure on production erased any peculiarity of individual craftsmen, rendering them mere tools, part of a production line, working to reproduce identical objects. Bear in mind that a guitar maker makes an average of ten instruments per year, that is, high class instruments. The way to increase this production level is to enrol more people into your workshop, or to order prefabricated pieces from other workshops. Or even by commissioning the entire guitar construction abroad. But when that happens, the craftsman has lost all sense of being a craftsman. His instruments no longer enjoy Luthier attention. His hands no longer participate in the guitar-making process. And how could a guitar made in a factory possibly be imbued with a soul? Obviously this practice is not wrong, each and every one of us has the right to choose how to manage our enterprises. In my case, I choose to work alone, making no more than eight instruments per year. I prefer to work on each and every process personally. This is the only way to truly know each detail and virtue, the only way to continue building while bearing every single peculiarity of every single piece of wood in mind. Working hard, but calmly in order to give my guitars the soul that they deserve.
Serial made instruments may have correct sound, but sensitive musicians sense there’s something missing from them. Feeling the difference between handcrafted and factory made is something that only sensitive musicians can do. Factory guitars tend to have very powerful sound, and this is a commonly used trick when selling guitars to the less experienced. It is very easy to make a loud guitar, but it is truly difficult to make a sensitive one. A guitar is an intimate instrument, it is not as powerful as a piano, a violin or a trumpet; and the louder it is, the less harmonics it can reproduce. The tone variability of a guitar is defined by its capacity to reproduce the most harmonics. If a guitar has a wide range of harmonics, the guitarist will be able to modify the tone when playing, and this translates into more expression. These musicians are seeking something very special from inside the guitar. At the end of the day, what a musician needs is the best tool to help him express all his emotions. And I ask myself, how can amusician transmit all his emotion to the audience if the guitar he plays has no soul?
And that’s why there is a new generation of guitar makers in Spain, that want to make just a few guitars per year, working unhurriedly, trying to do the best job possible, for the simple pleasure of doing a good job, because this is precisely what they believe in: guitars with soul.
Elias Bonet Monné, Luthier
Madrid, the 5th of December 2012