I worked on this article with the intention to demonstrate and validate the evolution of the flamenco guitar as an instrument these days, namely the flamenco guitar as it developed now as opposed to the standard classical flamenco guitar conception.
Note* If you are sentimentally attached to the cliché standard guitars please don’t read this article.
This article is meant only for those contemporary guitarists who are not satisfied with conventional cliché guitars, for those of progressive avant-garde taste and for enthusiasts of innovation and up to date art.
I dedicate it to the memory of my preceptor who always encouraged the practice of existing, performing, playing and thinking out-of-the-box.
I will start by quoting the third paragraph from the following AG link:
which outlines accurately the whole concept:
“…As the whole spectrum of novel flamenco guitar techniques and its nuances are ever changing, now more than ever there is a need for pioneering and delving into fresher criteria to portray what playability means in the precise context of this post-Paco de Lucia´s era we live in…”
To make clear in detail the subject matter, I will include some YouTube videos and other related links to present in depth the topics been discussed.
As some old flamenco techniques became obsolete with time, so guitars became out-of-date as well when new requirements became prominent
Back in the 60’s Paco did already replaced the traditional cypress guitar for what is known today as the flamenco-negra (a rosewood back and sides guitar with a thicker body than the one used then http://www.rdiaz.org/rdmagazine5-22jul12.html#magazinerec1
That was certainly a further historical step in the evolution of the flamenco guitar.
Just to consider one between many of the obsolete aspects in the Spanish guitar making at present:
we can clearly say that with the exception of AG (since 2014) in more than 100 years there has been zero research or development in the flamenco guitar lutherie field related to the use of newer raw materials to make guitars. In my my opinion, this is due to a serious lack of desire to improve the classic prototype and also because of the huge investment necessary for such research.
We have been more than 100 years without anybody asking:
Why a neck HAS to be made out of cedar?
Is it Ebony really the best raw material for a fretboard?
Is it ok to keep using for flamenco guitars a design of a bridge which is 95% identical to the classical guitar one?
Besides some players opting for the conventional flamenco-negra and others regressing by stubbornly insisting on the doubtful “greatness” of cypress as an “immovable truth”
as history repeats itself, for a while we, the flamenco players were forced to only be able to get a “choice” out of many same of the same of the same outdated guitars, all made with the same conventional raw materials, the same flaws in tuning, measurements etc.
From all of that futile effort in “trying guitars”
over and over, or falling pray to illusions such as “the quality vs price ratio"
up to thinking that a guitar with fresh wood
could work well provided it was made by a “well-known luthier”.
To me and to many all of that was like a nightmare, a nightmare which Paco himself did also went through, as we can see in the Paco de Lucia Interview with “El Pais” Newspaper (Watch "...Actually I Don’t Like the guitar which I always play on stage..." http://www.rdiaz.org/rdvideo1353.html)
Where Paco answered as follows:
Interviewer.- Which is your main guitar...?
(question n. 4, see link below)
Paco de Lucia "...I have many different guitars and very good ones actually, but I always have one with me...
It's like a women you live with but who don't really like much... because I really do not like this guitar too much, but on the other side I know how this particular guitar will respond me on stage.
The saying ‘best known evil than an unknown good’ applies here. In fact at home my guitar it is a rough and hard to play guitar, when I'm relaxed at my place I can't play this guitar at all...
But when adrenaline is there (on the stage) I need a certain comfortable pulsacion of which I became used to, and that's why I use it only for playing on the stage.”
That anecdote was hilarious. Not to mention the old misconception of “general setting” a laughable idea we “flamenco professionals” had back then, about 20 years ago…
I am sure that anyone reading this now with factual experience on the field will identify and acknowledge all these facts. I remember that back then as a guitar buyer we took it as ok that we would be having to "fix"(meaning having to perform major modifications like re-fretting, re-leveling etc. generally with another luthier who would do the job) and that happen on each and every so called “great flamenco guitar” from day one of our ownership
In fact, the guitar that Paco generally used for his gigs has at least10 major modifications which were not there originally.
This means something to me.
What have we learned?
Today, I am thankful to witness that all of that was not “eso es lo que hay” or “this is the way it is” but it actually was the way THEY (the luthiers) were and certainly not the way that it HAS to be.
The way to solve this dilemma was that -being encouraged by Paco himself and with the help of a very expert team of thoughtful luthiers and supporters http://youtu.be/padGxcG7nyg?t=14s - we started to question from top to bottom all of the stagnant traditional ways of guitar making, with the aim to reestablish playability as THE most important asset in a flamenco guitar
and consequently finding something way much better than the archaic standard proposition. Also, by going in the opposite direction of many of the conventional Torres notions
and diverging from any other kitsch idea
and forfeiting for good the ghostly stereotypes and all the prejudices put forward by almost each and every well known luthier here in Spain as well as outside of Spain
*The outcome could be proved: today is possible to re-invent the flamenco guitar design for the benefit of us, the players.
Next, I will enumerate in order of importance, the 10 most significant and valid findings in the avant-garde flamenco guitar making today.
I)The Maple Fretboard
At least 60% of the playability attained and its resulting enhanced “Pulsacion”
is interconnected with the fretboard setting, and consequently it’s also in correlation to the raw materials with which is made, in my opinion the maple fret-board design represents a crucial factor to get an easy to play status all the time, as opposed to getting it out of a fluke which was a rule in the past.
As a prove of the completed research on the field about the fret-board, you can see the following eleven different fret-board options, each one of them far superior to the conventional Ebony fret-board. On this list, the first five proved to be the most easier to play, being the maple fret-board the one standing as superior to all.
Two additional videos regarding the new fretboards:
II)The Sound Portal
The sound port increases the quality of sound in the instrument to both, the player and the audience
by reducing the bad harmonics generated otherwise inside the harmonic box of any traditional guitar. With it, sound waves improve considerably making the instrument more efficient, as one can hear a whole new range of overtones
which in partnership with the inner air resonances of the instrument
display the purest sound from the instrument.
The new extra flat maple bridge
which I consider the heart of the avant-garde guitar, just as with the maple fret-board. The maple bridge represents another decisive factor to attain precision while performing, and the highest potential in resonance for every note range including its role on the percussions to be played “Golpes” in the modern flamenco techniques
To demonstrate the research done on this essential component of the guitar, next you can see nine different bridges (the first five of them currently used for diverse nuances of sound). Each and all much finer than the old-fashioned rosewood bridges.
IV) The Flamed Maple Neck (Stradivarius Style)
This provides a softer performance and also is essential to the physical balance of the guitar when placed on a horizontal posture as shown here:
V)Carbon Fiber Right Hand Saddle
Replacement once for all of the outdated and dark sound bone-saddle, which –in my view- was just an unimaginative “preference” born out of obsolete traditional dogmas, plus scarcity of ideas which luckily enough for some players now belong to the past.
Additional video to exemplify the faster response of the carbon fiber nut:
VI) A.G. New Fretboard Division
In the following picture you can see Paco de Lucía testing the first prototype of AG new fretboard division in the summer of 2013: http://www.rdiaz.org/rdfoto90.html
Here is an easy test you can do:
And this is an example of what one can play with such an exact tuning fret-board
The problem regarding the inherent inaccuracies on the fret division measurements used by all guitar makers in Spain from last century till now has been a subject carefully and conveniently avoided to talk about to obviously save face.
Next you can see a sample of the exclusive A.G. exact measurement division for each fret
Enter Scale length in mm 650
Distance From Previous Fret New Scale Length Distance from Nut
Fret 1 36.48201156
Fret 2 34.43441591
Fret 3 32.50174398
Fret 4 30.67754552
Fret 5 28.95573233
VII) Scalloped Fretboard
This design prevents cracks on the top, which often happened since more than 100 years ago up to the present. The following are some pictures to prove that statement:
1) Torres 1864
2) Marcelo Barbero 1953
3) Arcángel Fernandez 1969
4)Paco de Lucía’s Guitar –Model Conde Negra 1975 (played for many years and also has a big crack on the upper right side of its top)
VIII) The Liberated Top
This aspect brings the player to another dimension of vibration and response of the instrument as shown on the following videos:
The liberated top along with the inclusion of the Norwegian top
This gave birth to a whole new concept of male and female tones:
IX)Wooden Left Hand Saddle
To understand well the reasons for all of these transformations and changes
I suggest you to watch the following video:
“Paco de Lucia’s style vs. the traditional flamenco guitar performance”
I hope that all this work and sincere effort will be useful to you in the present and in the future as it’s meant to be used by any player who desires to enjoy a different perspective and experience while playing guitar.
This article is not intended to discredit or to criticize anyone, as I believe that I have the freedom to express my points of view based on what I have learned from my personal experience playing hundreds of guitars of every kind for many years, as well as to share what I learned from my preceptor and teachers. I believe that sharing knowledge is the key of success
Just in case someone whimsically disagrees with me, the following video and the challenge contained therein is my message or answer to him