Guitar Making in Spain

Title Image - Guitar Making In Spain - A course taught by Jose Romanillos

This last August the Romanillos Guitar Making course was held in Sigüenza Spain. Sigüenza is a small town about 100kM northeast of Madrid. The course was actually about 3kM from Sigüenza in the Hermanos Maristas monastery. This is a 2-week intensive course where you are completely immersed in the art of the Spanish guitar. José Romanillos, along with his son Liam, Gerhard Oldiges, and Josep Melo taught and helped the class of 20 from 13 different countries with all areas of construction. There was heavy emphasis in top thickness and bracing for the true Spanish sound as well as choice of wood.

Hermanos Maristas Monastery

Hermanos Maristas Monastery

Class members starting work on their guitars. I arrived about 2 hours late on the first day of the course thinking it would probably be just a day of getting settled in. Walking into the workroom I found every body was already busy at work on their guitars.
After some quick introductions I was shown my bench and José advised what areas to concentrate in the first days. There was no messing around here!
José teaches the old school ways of guitar making using almost all hand tools. The tops are held and flexed between the thumbs of the two hands until they are “just right”. Then the bracing is applied and the top is flexed again until José Oks it. For me it was a wonderful thing to be taught by one of the masters and also one who held no secrets. Click this link for a view of the top and back bracing. Working on the Rosette Channel
Note the individual "peones"Note the individual "peones"
An interesting technique taught was the top to sides gluing process. The top is cut to the exact finished dimension and set on the Solera (work board) with the neck attached. The sides are bent using Fox benders (bending irons are available if you really want the old school experience) and then set on the Solera with L shaped brackets around the perimeter of the top holding the shape. Individual peones (glue blocks) are then applied around the perimeter of the top with fish glue. Fish glue has a very quick tack time so you just hold the little guys in place with your fingers for about 15 seconds and then move to the next peone. Jose uses an alternating small and large peone, I was told this was to trim a little extra weight and José thinks it looks good. It does add an interesting dimension visually in my opinion also.
This was a very demanding and gratifying experience for me, as Jose said at the beginning of the course…we will all be crawling on the floor at the end of these two weeks, but I promise it will be an experience you will never forget. I was putting in about 12 hours a day and certainly wasn’t working the most. There is some preliminary building you are expected to have done to bring with you, including a mostly completed neck. The diagram for this calls for a v-joint to join the headstock to the arm of the neck. This was a challenging operation but one that proved to be very rewarding also. Preliminary work - creating a v-joint to join the headstock to the arm of the neck.
I would highly recommend this course to anyone that is interested in classical guitar making. I actually went hoping to learn some of the techniques could be applied to steel string guitars. I believe some can be applied, but also came away with a new found love for the classical too. I know the one I brought back will not be the last I build.

Here is José admiring an original Antonio de Torres guitar in his collection. The class was invited to his house to see ”what was left” of his shop and some of his instrument collection.

José Romanillos has been making guitars for forty years and he is regarded as one of the world's finest luthiers. Many leading recitalists, including Julian Bream, have played his instruments. He is also a foremost historian and over the last twenty years has written books, articles and given many lectures on the subject of Spanish guitar construction and history.

José Romanillos inspecting a finished guitar.
José Romanillos has retired from teaching guitar making.  His son Liam now runs the company.  To find out more about Romanillos guitars:  Click here.