In August 2017 I wrote an article titled ‘Humidity and your classical guitar’, and ever since then, I have been recording local humidity levels. In a previous article, I explained the system and mix I use for in-case humidity control. In this article, I want to give some feedback on the readings I have taken.
I did not record humidity levels every day, but only when there was a meaningful movement from the norm. I live in the Johannesburg area of South Africa and the general average humidity here is 60%. The average highs are 70% for 3 months of the year, and the average lows are 45% for another 3 months. However, from time to time the conditions change dramatically to averages of more than 70% or less than 25% for a week or so at a time.
During the last 2 years, I have recorded 241 humidity readings and these reveal the following:
61 readings were 65% or more of which the highest was 81%. 48 readings were 25% or less and the lowest of these was 10%. However, and this is an important ‘however’, the highest in-case reading was 62% and the lowest was 41%. So, although the average in-case humidity of my guitars was 51% compared to an external average of 47%, my instruments were protected from protracted levels of over 65% or under 25%. When the external humidity was 81%, the in-case humidity was 62%, a 19% difference. When the external level was 10%, the in-case level was 41%, a massive 31% difference.
Another major benefit of in-case humidity control has been that the levels the guitars have to deal with change very slowly compared to sudden and drastic external changes. A sudden drop to 10% can cause a hand-made guitar to crack and a sustained level of 80% plus can loosen the seams and frets, change the fret-board inclination, and make the instrument sound soggy and buzzy.
So, there you have it. Even in a moderate climate such as Johannesburg, in-case humidification is definitely needed.
Every week I search the internet for material that could instruct, inform or inspire intermediate level classical guitarist like myself.
It is getting harder and harder to find material that I haven’t already included in my site content at some time or another. My main sources have dried up considerably of late, but I guess that folk like Simon Powis and Bradford Werner are so well known that most amateur players subscribe directly to their sites and don’t need me to curate their material.
In my search this week I rediscovered classicalsuitar.org and although it appears to have been dormant since 2018, its content remains useful. In 2009 Christopher Davis wrote a post entitled 21 Tips for Better Guitar Playing. Most, if not all 21 ideas are covered, often in more detail, by other bloggers and teachers, but it is handy to have them all together in one concise form. So, it’s worth reading through his list at https://www.classicalguitar.org/2009/11/21-tips-for-better-guitar-playing/ and then spending some time viewing his other offerings. Thank you Chris.
Some time ago, I came across this article on Classical Guitar Corner on Spot Practice that I found very helpful. Dave describes Spot Practice as:
‘Spot practice is a lot like slow practice, but with one important difference: while slow practice reduces the tempo to give your fingers more time to make the movements they need to make and to identify problems you couldn’t notice when playing at faster tempos, spot practice removes tempo as a factor altogether.
Here’s how spot practice works: when you get to a tricky spot in a passage (something slow practice should have helped you identify as a trouble passage!) we want to STOP. Completely pause right at, say, that difficult left-hand shift. Then take it step by step, without the tempo: (1) Determine exactly the movements your fingers need to make to get from where they are to where they need to go; (2) Begin to prepare your fingers over the strings they are going to go; (3) Shift positions and carefully and in a relaxed manner place your fingers to land the shift; (4) Repeat. That’s it! The point here is to give your fingers the time they need to make that shift accurately’.
To read the full article on Spot Practice and view the video, just click HERE
Allan writes; ‘Bar chords are strenuous. They take strength and endurance. They are hard to get right and easy to get wrong. But there are ways to make them more likely to work. If we use our bodies well, bar chords can be, if not comfortable, at least doable’.
It’s hard to execute Barre technique correctly and I have found them very difficult in certain positions. So, any help with this appreciated… Thanks, Allan and Matthew
Some time ago, I exchanged emails with Jim Giddings of Denton, Texas. Jim composes music for classical guitar, much of it with a decidedly Latin American flavour. The difficulty level of his pieces is mainly Intermediate with a few more suitable for the advanced beginner.
All his music is available free of charge and HIS SITE is worth visiting to browse through his collections. To get an idea of what his compositions sound like, go HERE.
Of the four instruments I imported from China, I have sold two, given away one, and have the best of them all still for sale …at cost.
Yulong Guo recently won second place at the 2018 Festival Internacional de la Guitarra de Granada. He is China’s premier luthier and he designs and makes beautiful concert grade guitars. The A-Echoes Double Top Classic Guitar is a fine example of his art and craftsmanship.
I am making this guitar available at cost because I have decided that Classical Guitar SA will be a non-commercial service to the amateur guitar community.
Click HERE for full details of this beautiful guitar.
Thanks to an article in GuitarTalk I became aware ofChordU, a new site developed and managed by Bitan Sardar. In his words, it is a powerful engine that ‘automatically recognizes chords for any song using cutting edge technology.’
More specifically, ChordU ‘uses a complex music analysis algorithm which is mainly based on waveform analysis, beat tracking, spectrogram analysis and machine learning’.
In essence, ChordU
consists of a powerful search engine that accesses the YouTube database, fetches
the music video in question, and then accurately analyses the chords played.
So, all one needs to do is enter the YouTube URL of a particular video, or
search criteria such as title, composer, musician, and so on.
At first glance it looks like it is geared to pop or jazz music and the like, but it is just as good at taking classical guitar (CG) performances and analysing them in just a few seconds. Sometimes I need to work out the chords for a piece of CG music either because I don’t have access to the score or to TABS, or because it’s hard to determine what chords the composer has employed in the piece. Once I know what chords are in play then I can develop the melody, harmony and base lines. When I am working with a score, then a knowledge of the chords helps me to decide on fingering and the flow and movement of the piece. ChordU is very helpful in both these applications.
The site layout is
simple and clean and the functionality largely intuitive, so the best way to
learn about it is just to play with it. However, just as a brief introduction,
here are some of the things you can do with ChordU:
Once you enter your search words or URL, the programme immediately presents a list of results. It either displays a line of the chords used, or a button designated ‘Extract Chords’ next to each entry on the list. Simply click on your choice and if the system already knows the chords then a new screen immediately appears . A confirmation popup appears if it needs to analyse the chords used for the first time. Within a few seconds, it’s done the job and the full screen presents.
On this main screen,
you see the video playing, the chord chart diagrams (synced to the music), and
a whole bunch of options. These options enable you to change the tempo, the key,
the screen layout, whether you want to display simple or advanced chords, and a
download facility (and other features to save, share, and so on).
I enjoy playing ‘Evocation’
so I typed ‘Jose Luis Merlin’ into the search box. Here are the first five
I then clicked on
the performance by Soren Madsen (5th on the list), clicked ‘Okay’ on
the popup, and the main screen displayed. I selected the option (middle right)
to change the layout and here is what I got:
I will leave the
rest for you to discover, but I am delighted with it. Have fun!
Top concert classical guitarists tend to attract the most attention and are best known to the CG fraternity, but top luthiers are seldom spotlighted.
Yet, it takes decades of research, experimentation, craftsmanship, and talent for a luthier to become the best of the best. And, each master grade instrument takes about 200 hours to produce. So, this article is about the top guitar builders rather than the top artists who play their instruments.
My wife has been trying to twist my arm to travel overseas with her, but travel doesn’t pluck my strings unless it’s for a specific reason. So, to try and get into the spirit of it, I wondered where I would I like to go if I could visit a luthier there. I built my own guitar in February 2015 and developed a great deal of respect for master luthiers. I know that I am unlikely to visit any renowned luthiers outside of my own country, but I thought I would compile a list of the top guitar builders still alive today.
Of course (you guessed it), who decides who the best of the best actually are? So, I scoured the classical guitar fora and websites to see which names came up most often as top of the pops. I then arranged them in order of dollar price obtained for their new instruments and then checked this against the guitars currently played by today’s greatest classical guitarists. (another rather subjective exercise that I attempted and wrote about some months ago). The top three will not come as a surprise to anyone, but the other four might.
Matthias Dammann of Germany, the first to build multi-level top (double-top) guitars, and who’s instruments sell for around $35,000 each. David Russell plays a Dammann guitar.
Gernot Wagner, also of Germany, who sells his guitars for about $33,000 each. Jason Vieaux favours his instruments.
Greg Smallman, of Australia, who first developed the lattice bracing system and who’s instruments sell for about $25,000 each. John Williams now champions these guitars.
Jim Redgate, also of Australia, who sells for around $14,000 an instrument. Ana Vidovic plays his guitars.
Daryl Perry, of Canada sells his instruments for about $13,000 and is favoured by Marcin Dylla.
Liam Romanillos, of England, works in consultation with his famous father Jose, and sells for around $12,000 per guitar. Julian Bream has long favoured Ramanillos guitars.
Michael O’leary, of Ireland, sells for about $11,000 and is favoured by Sharon Isbin.
Even if you don’t read any further, it might be a good idea to pause and reflect on the contributions these dedicated Luthiers have made to the classical guitar world. However, for those who would like a little more detail, here are brief descriptions of the work of each luthier listed.
Matthias Dammann (62 years old)
The double-top (sandwich or multiple top) concept of guitar construction has an undisputed ‘inventor’: Matthias Dammann a man who together with Torres and Smallman took the classical guitar in new and exciting directions.
He created his first double top guitar in 1989 constructed with two thin Cedar tops sandwiching thin strips of cedar and then glued together under pressure.
By mid 1995, he began to experiment with ways to achieve more control over the weight and action of the soundboard. An acquaintance mentioned a material called Nomex, a very strong yet light Kevlar based honeycomb that he then used to replace the strips of wood between the two tops.
Matthias continued his acoustic experiments during 2011 and 2012 and confirmed his theory that new core materials would bring significant refinements in the entire enterprise of guitar construction. His guitars set a new standard by which others still measure their composite tops because Matthias has captured a refined and complex voice and a responsive instrument capable of a dynamic range with great power and projection.
Matthias took up the classical guitar in his late teens and later went to study at the music academy in Frankfurt. Upon completing his studies, he became a lecturer for guitar, conducting experiments on his own guitars as he tried to get closer to what he believed was the ‘ideal’ sound. This combination of playing, teaching, and experimenting combined later to equip him as a master luthier. His major influencers were Daniel Friederich, Robert Ruck, Miguel Rodgriguez, and Antonio Torres,
In 1984 he left Frankfurt to set up a workshop in Eastern Bavaria, and there he devoted himself to creating guitars that he himself would love to listen to and play. In 1988 he won the Grand Prix in the 1988 Paris/ORTF International Guitar Maker Competition.
Gernot Wagner (71 years old)
Gernot began making classical guitars, baroque and renaissance lutes, and vihuelas nearly forty years ago, but for the last thirty years he has focused solely on constructing concert classical guitars of the highest quality. In his early years as a luthier, Gernot became particularly interested in the scientific aspects of guitar making and this fascination with acoustic research has been an ongoing stimulus to his work ever since. However, visually, he has always taken his cue from the guitars of Daniel Friederich, which embody a clear, elegant, traditional aesthetic.
In 1989, he completed the famous ‘Instrumentenbauschule’ (musical instrument making school) in Mittenwald, Germany and was awarded the title, “Master Guitar Maker’. However, from the start, Gernot strove to create powerful, well balanced instruments with a wide dynamic range and a beautiful sound of great clarity and separation. In 1996, he discovered that he could get much closer to this ideal sound when he used an Aramide honeycomb material and used this to construct his first double top guitar.
Greg Smallman (71 years old)
Greg is known worldwide for his innovative guitar designs. Although, outwardly, his guitars are similar to a traditional Spanish classical guitar, they incorporate several innovative differences. For instance, the use of a high arched and carved back for the guitar considerably thicker and heavier than a conventional guitar. This back is made of Madagascar Rosewood, while the top is always made of Western Red Cedar. Also, the light weight of the top combined with Smallman’s unique system of bracing makes the guitar very responsive to input with a full rounded sound. The top of a Smallman guitar is braced using a “lattice” framework composed of balsa wood and carbon fibre.
Jim Redgate (55 years old)
Jim makes both lattice braced and contemporary composite (double) top guitars, all known for their volume, tone, responsiveness, and playability.
Jim has been building for nearly 30 years in Adelaide Australia. His guitars are full of his own innovations and are unique instruments, creating a style and sound all their own. His solid top lattice braced guitars have the brace less, parabolic arched back and sides.This design reduces stress on the soundboard by transferring much of the string force to the body of the instrument, thus allowing the soundboard to move more freely. The tops are thicker than Smallman’s, but supported by a highly refined carbon fibre honeycomb/lattice braced system.
Daryl Perry (55 years old)
Daryl has been a full-time luthier since 1982. Early on in his career Jose Romanillos introduced him to the central ideas of the Torres-Hauser school and he has been working with, and refining, these ideas ever since. Daryl has received a number of awards for his work and has done historical and practical research in Europe and North America.
Liam Romanillos (53 years old)
Liam continues the fine tradition of Romanillos guitars through an ongoing collaboration with his father, Jose. These instruments have long been known for their haunting and romantic sound. Their rosettes are inspired by the Moorish arches in the Mezquita of Córdoba and are all made using natural coloured woods.
Michael O’Leary (about 55 years old)
Michael studied guitar building with Jose and Liam Romanillos, and embarked on a career as a full time luthier not long afterwards. He played guitar from an early age and his son Alec followed a career in classical guitar. Father and son were inspired to create a new style of concert guitar, an instrument built with the goal of bringing the volume demanded by today’s concert artists while retaining excellent tonal qualities. In their guitars, lattice bracing meets fan bracing with wonderful results. They build them with a brace-less arched back and a combination bracing system that pairs carbon fibre lattice with traditional fan design. This produces guitars that are unusually powerful, but with a tonal character that is deep, rich, and traditional Spanish sounding.
The guitars that these seven masters of lutheri build all look remarkably similar… beautifully similar. Their differences lie mainly in their internal structures and soundboard composition and thickness. All of these ‘best of the best’ produce instruments that big-name guitarists treasure and all classical guitarists covert. Their waiting lists are several years long.