Recently I’ve been approached by a young photographer, Alin Nicolae Purcaroiu. He was interested in interviewing and shooting craftsmen, a species seemingly facing extinction in this place and time. We had a pleasant nice chat and I got myself a nice set of photos…
Last week I had the immense privilege (with and introduced by my friend Miguel Bernardo) of visiting Jose Romanillos. Back home, the arid and almost deserted hills and towns of central Spain with their bitter wind, and that wonderful old man and his sweet wife seem like an impossible dream. The bad news is the museum in Siguenza has been closed due to lack of support from the authorities. There is some hope it will be moved to an university. His long awaited book on guitar construction is finished but the publisher has some health problems and we need to wait a little more.
Señor Romanillos was kind enough to show us two instruments: his latest (I hope not his last although due to frail health and arthritis he is not really able to work much these days) with a multi-piece very old Brazilian body and a stunning wide rosette, and another made of cypress named Marian after his lovely wife. The rosewood guitar had Torres bracing and gut strings. I was too melted to even properly tune the string not to mention playing anything properly but it sounded quite beautiful, with a sweet yet very clear tone. He also showed us his workshop which was very interesting. Not sure what else to say…
I just realized more than five years have passed since I build guitars! My first guitar was a Torres-style made from Italian spruce and Spanish cypress. I recall I was gluing the fingerboard on 1 January 2008 🙂
I dusted it off and asked my friend flamenco player Tiberiu “El Grelo” to record a piece on it:
Recently I received two wonderful (and quite expensive) Japanese tools I’ve been dreaming about for a while.
The kanna (plane) comes from the Tanaka family estate (I read the last master died in 2006) and I think it was the last available for sale anywhere. The dai (body) is unsigned but made from beautiful aka-gashi (Japanese red oak) – notice the ink lines pattern in the endgrain. The blade is laminated from ao-gami (“blue paper” slightly alloyed carbon steel) and kamaji (soft old iron). The kanji reads aka-Fuji “red Fuji” the shop’s brand, referring to the red glow that sometimes appear on Mt. Fuji at sunrise. It is an unsual size, 42mm blade 210mm long body, sort of a tiny smoother – I want to use it for final preparation of the soundboard prior to gluing the braces.
The chisel is made by the famous master Michio Tasai, ao-gami with the body made from several layers of contrasting steel and iron. The pattern is called mokume – “wood grain” and indeed when the bevel is polished on a natural stone the layers can be seen quite well (photo is poor in this regard) and they resemble the growth rings of softwoods. The surface is etched to further emphasis the layers. The tang is beautifully twisted and the handle is a sort of rosewood. This is 12mm width and makes for a classy brace carver 🙂
Roman Boianciuc is one of the most important Romanian luthiers, known for his fine violins and for being the heart and soul of the Reghin factory for decades. Roman also built a small number of guitars, which today are rare and sought after in Romania. Roman took pride in creating lavish decorations. The beautiful rosette of this guitar built in approximately 1982 is very fine in detail, entirely in side grain, and the soundboard purfling uses the same red crosses pattern as the rosette at an even smaller scale. The ebony headstock is beautifully carved. The soundboard is fine Carpathian spruce, the fingerboard is exceptional quality ebony (showing silk across the entire width), S.A. mahogany neck, ebony bridge. The back and sides are a tawny curly wood which might be ovangkol.
Seeing this guitar has been a bit of a shock to me as the red cross /white rhombus motif is pretty much identical to the pattern I now use for the center of my rosettes (see guitars 14 and 15). When I designed the motif I tried to bring a certain Romanian flavor to it. Possibly that Roman thought it in the same way. Still this is not a design that can be seen everywhere, just the use of certain geometrical patterns and common colors used in luthiery. Either way the coincidence is astounding.
Unfortunately there are several cracks to repair on this guitar, five on the soundboard, two on the back. The back is severely lifting from the lining in two wide areas. The binding is coming loose in several areas. The neck has bent upwards creating an excessive relief of 0.5mm, making the guitar unplayable. Fortunately the neck is thick, 23.7mm at the first and 25.5. at the ninth, planing it flat at a correct angle will be problem free.
My friend Maxim Belciug will play on Saturday, 16 April at Fundatia Calea Victoriei. See poster for details.
I recently saw an interesting microscope photo in an endgrain slice of spruce, nicely showing the structure. To my surprise, this was visible with a good magnifier too, and even through a “supermacro” photo. Subsequently I could take a couple macro photos trough the magnifier, getting even closer.
They could have looked a lot better if the wood was cut cleaner. I used a well sharpened knife but the key is to cut thin and slow, but I still pushed too quickly.
You can see that the “grain lines” have pretty much the same cellular structure as the fast growth, just that they are packed tightly and the cells appear to be closed. I suspect there is a high content of resin in the area, which gives the dark color and “cements” it. We all know how it feels to press a nail in a dark line (doesn’t really work, but in between, it goes all the way down).
Each dark line seems to act as a brace then.
I am wondering whether the fast growth areas correspond to the spring period when the tree produces new needles?