I began taking flamenco guitar lessons in '57, and built my first guitar in '58. This started me on the road to self expression that has lasted for over 55 years. Today being middle aged, it's becoming more clear to me why I have chosen this path. Sometimes I think it's not so much my ability to make choices, but rather a higher design that directs my choice. Perhaps I could have become a mechanic or a doctor, but in retrospect, I believe this was the best choice.
I'm satisfied with the endeavor of trying to build the very best guitar. Practicing this wonderful craft has taught me many things, but the most important one has been patience.
The motivation to build in the Spanish style started with playing the flamenco guitar. And, I have kept playing in this style for my entire career. My biggest reason for building in the first place was to gain a better guitar to play. Sound was extremely important to me, and there were no guitars readily available in the late 50's that had a great sound, and a price I could afford. To inspire me to create music, I felt the need to build a guitar with the sound that I heard in my head. After a 25 year search, I finally built it. But by the time this magnificent instrument was born, I had already become so accustomed to building, that I now satisfy my playing habit as I fine-tune my new instruments.
I played flamenco guitar for about 17 years while studying the rudiments of construction. I did my tour of Spain in 1965 and traveled to Madrid to learn a more Gypsy style of flamenco guitar music from Paco Del Gastor.
I grew up transcribing and playing Sabicas' music off his records, and in 1961 I was offered a position in New York by Fred Reiter of Morro Music Corp. to transcribe Sabicas' music. I felt I was too young at the time to move to such a big city without any living arrangements and later in '65 I made a Madrid connection to the Spanish elements. I lived and breathed this art for the three months I was there. Everyday would find me studying with Paco, learning another falseta in the modern Gitano rhythms. Paco accompanied Juan Amaya at the La Zambra night club in Madrid when I was there. I traveled to Moron de la Frontera to meet Paco's uncle Diego. I stayed there a week and enjoyed playing guitar with the Gypsies, but I felt lonely for Madrid with its more affluent food and housing.
So it was back to studying with Paco until my departure. This was a thrilling experience for me and I would recommend a trip to anyone who has the flamenco bug. What made it so real for me was that I had a good technique before I went, and this made it easy for me to pick up new falsetas from the local guitarists. Paco was very pleased that I would have the falseta he showed me up to speed the next day. All my lessons with Paco were based on show and tell. There was no written music, and after 43 years I still remember most of what he showed me because of good memory retention. Although I played a lot of solo music, there was a time in San Antonio in the 60's that I worked with an abundance of dancers. A guitarist can develop hands of steel with this much work.
In the late 60's when my professional playing career came to an abrupt halt, I went back into the retail business with my Dad who was in the men's clothing business, and continued in that and other related business' until ....
Finally in 1973, my wife and I moved to San Antonio, and this was the last year of my association with retail. In 1974, all of my enthusiasm for this craft prompted me to make it a full time vocation. This became my life's ambition, along with running a small carpet cleaning service to provide extra support for my family.
In the late 1970's and early 80's, there were many times I would go out to my back yard workshop with ideas how to bring more sound out of the guitar. But since I didn't have a thickness gauge to measure the dimensions of the top, it was hard to judge how thick or thin an area of the top should be. For lack of a better way, I developed an intuitive feel for it by gauging it with my fingers and flexing the top. As I developed more theories about sound, these theories were inevitably confirmed as fact when I had the opportunity to buy a good thickness gauge and inspect the guitars of a few great makers.
These instruments not only confirmed some of my theories, but helped me to identify the top dimensions that were necessary for good tone. Applying what I have learned about sound since 1974, I've been able to refine it even further. I know that once I construct the guitar, there is a final coming together with "The maker and his instrument." The final tuning technique for the top has become completely intuitive for me, and I believe this is where it becomes Art.
I am very blessed to have a supportive wife and two fine sons, who give me the encouragement I need. I never stopped to think that it couldn't be done. For this reason, I've been content to keep building, and God willing, I'll continue to build.
When I first began to build, there were no outstanding books to acquire knowledge. I had to catalog my own information how to make improvements with the guitar assembly, and finally, improvements with the sound. This way cost me a lot of time, but there were some very important things I stumbled on that might have been overlooked with a teacher. I believe that a part of this self training has helped me considerably with being able to decipher the Rodriguez code. Now, I have developed a fine-tuning technique similar to that of Marcelo Barbero that allows me to create a mysteriously pleasing voice in these instruments.