Sunday, February 22, 2009

Guitarras Mexicana

I spent the last week in sunny Mexico, Puerto Vallarta in particular.

There I saw many really nice guitars; guitarrons, requintos, bajo sextos, tresillos, vihuelas, and huapangueras to name a few. I have limited but usable Spanish, and when I explained to virtually any player that I make guitars, they happily handed them to me and explained when and where they had bought them. The vast majority came from Paracho, which is no surprise; that town boasts several thousand builders, some 3rd and 4th generation builders.

What was surprisingly to me was the fact that quite a few guitarrons came from Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, specifically Guitarrons of surprising beauty and quality. If you’ve never been down there and need an excuse, Ixtapa hosts an annual guitar bash that is reported to be a pretty amazing party – Check out this link for more info.

Of course these axes were working instruments; it makes sense then that these instruments are well cared for but heavily used. There are not many fancy woods, and no end to end bling on these babies, just solid performing woods and designs. Since these are virtually all nylon string instruments, the majority I inspected were plain Cedar backs and sides, (And the big guitarrons and bajo sextos probably need to be for those guys to haul them around and play them night after night!). There were a couple of guitarrons made of a heavier hardwood, both from Ixtapa, and the owner of one said it was Granadillo, and maybe it was; either my eyes weren’t that good or I’d had too much Tequila by the point that conversation took place!

A couple of models which got me thinking: First, the requintos romanticos were very cool, kinda the Mexican version of a Django guitar and with a very nice voice indeed. I saw several soloists pulling great leads on those guys, and the large oval sound hole is striking indeed.

And the vihuelas, ahhhh the vihuelas; from the top they look more or less like a standard nylon string axe, but turn ‘em around and you find this beautiful, deep bowl back. The projection of those little guys was noticeably better than a lot of the other sizes and shapes I heard and saw played.

Not long ago, a customer brought me an 1848 German parlor of unknown make; I loved the shape and size, and it too had a deep bowl back like those vihuelas; the shear use that little thing had seen made me think that we might be missing something about that shape...

The curve of the back culminates, more or less, at the waist, meaning both front to back and side to side, the bowl is greatest at that point; this of course puts that point pretty much dead beneath the sound hole as well. Now this stuff might be common knowledge to y’all, but it sure wasn’t to me and it makes me think that I would do well to do some experimenting one of these days. There are plans for quite a few of these South American stringed instruments and expanding ones horizons is always a good thing, don’t you think?

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