This is a travel report from a weekend trip to Madrid. I got it to my 40th birthday from my wife and so we had a nice weekend in Madrid from June 23rd to June 26th 2006 – so all details are from this time and maybe partly outdated! When I use addresses, you will find a long and somewhat strange notation of addresses, but if you take everything between the two | given at each address and C&P it into http://maps.google.de/ you will get a printable city map with the correct location. I am a guitar maniac and I wanted to visit the capital of guitar making to see all the great luthiers at work. We started from Munich airport, which was fully infected by the Soccer World Cup as you see on this picture:
2 hours later we arrived at the Spanish capital and got immediately both infected and familiar with the great way of living.
I had some addresses from the webpages of the “constructores de guitarra“ but it turned out to be hard to find them all – later more to this… We checked into our “Hostal Victoria” www.hostal-victoria.com that was cheap (50,- EUR per night and room) and perfectly situated in the center of the city. The first address to go was obviously José Ramirez, | Calle de la Paz, 8, 28012, Madrid, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spanien | www.guitarrasramirez.com
I had the chance to play first a “Modelo SP” for approx. 5.000,- EUR and later on a masterpiece of approx. 15.000,- EUR. The label of the Estudio is here:
Here are some more impressions of the store:
Including some pictures of the workshop:
In general, the visit at Ramirez is a must for everyone, but it is missing the old patina and a bit of the authentic feeling of an old Spanish luthier as the shop is prepared a bit for tourists. The guitars were very fine to play, surprisingly light weighted and of high quality. The prices of 5.000,- EUR for an Estudio are far to high and the masterpiece by far not as good as e.g. a Dammann although the price is in the same range. But still Ramirez is one of the places to go!
As people told me at home, my guitars have somewhat the look of an old Esteso, I had to go and see the three Conde Hermanos as they are the inheritors of Domingo Esteso. So I went to Conde Hnos, Sobrinos de ESTESO, | Calle Atocha, 53, 28012, Madrid, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spanien | www.conde-hermanos.com to see, how they are doing now and I was shocked:
I stepped in and the smell of cigarette smoke was so intense, that no guitar feeling at all came up. It felt more like a degenerated bar than a guitar shop. Anyhow, I played one of their Estudios at the price of 6.800,- EUR and I was very disappointed. The Frensh Polish was poor, it had bubbles all over, the machine head was sitting bevelled and the guitar was not at all the experience that one expects in connection with this great name. But my guitars have the same body hape and dimensions – funny for me to see this:
After that, I was trying to find the address of Paolino Bernabe in the city map and made my way there with the public Metro.
After approx. 6 km of walking at 41°C I finally found Paolino Bernabe, | Calle del Loto, 15, 28029, Madrid, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spanien | www.bernabe-guitars.com but there was nothing to see:
I was very disappointed but promised not to give up. At night I found a container with a lot of rubbish that came out of a reconstructed building and YES: The yellow pages of Madrid! So I searched for Bernabe again, but found no entry there….
The day ended with some frustration but also with good memories to the Ramirez experience. Next day, I decided to start with José Romero, | Espoz y Mina, 30, 28012, Madrid, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spanien | (no own webpage, but details at www.zavaletas-guitarras.com/files/jrom$.htm ) that I had passed already the day before, but it was closed then.
I was happy to find it open and I entered a fantastic world:
And the master himself, just busy renovating one of his own masterpieces built in the 80ies:
What a wood, hey!
Very interesting was the display of old historic guitars with some nice pieces:
The display with some experimental guitars as well. The picture is made of two single pictures, because the display was protected with a glas that had so many reflections that we put it on one side for the first picture and on the other for the next. I merged both pictures but the strange guitar in the middle has ONE neck only in reality!
This is a José Ramirez from the late 1890:
Another Ramirez from 1927:
And a Alfredo Rodriguez (c. 1900)
I played one of Romeros Estudio Guitars which was far better than Ramirez’ Estudio and the Conde Hermanos one. The price was a “low” as 2.800,- EUR which is a real bargain for such a guitar! And after some “conversation” ( I used my hands and a bit of Italian, he just spoke Spanish) he gave me one of his handcrafted Flamencas as no classic one was available. This was THE experience of the trip! Unbelievable! So handy to play, so much power, so fine and nice in the low volumes and so strong when played forte… whow! The best guitar that I ever played – no! The next best to my teachers Dammann… and the price was at 6.800,- EUR From the entire trip, this was the most authentic experience. José is very friendly and his guitars are fabulous! So I was curious whether this could be topped by another one? I went on to Conde Hnos, Successores de ESTESO, | Calle de Felipe V, 2, 28013, Madrid, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spanien | www.condehermanos.com and found a nice shop close to the palace:
But the people inside where just interested in their lists and gave me an Estudio to play for – I don’t remember exactly… 5.500,- EUR or 6.500,- EUR and it was – to say it short – CRAP.
After this again disappointing experience, I went on to one of the addresses that I picked from the container and headed to Manuel Contreras II, | Calle Mayor, 80, 28013, Madrid, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spanien | www.manuelcontreras.com and found a very nice store:
It was Contreras who made the José Ramirez guitar, that Andrés Segovia bought later, so he is really an address to go!
I found a very interesting experimental guitar, that was built for Abel Carlevaro. He wanted a guitar, that looked like a piano and the “sound should come out around the instrument, not only from the sound hole” as the people told me in the shop. I was astonished, that a world class guitar player knows so little about his instrument to ignore, that the top produces the sound and not the inner of the guitar. So the guitar has sides, that are approx. 1 cm wider then the soundboard, opening a gap around the top plate. As you see on the fretboard, the luthiers cut it in a circle, as they usually do with sound holes. This small detail unveals the problems, the luthiers had with this instrument. Anyhow, they built 15 of it for Carlevaro and his students. I played it a bit and it sounds strange. A bit like my Ovation but with a steel-like sound and as if it was filled up with cotton…
I passed the large picture wall (look for David Carradine ;-)):
and got the “Seria Premia”, the 10th anniversary piece to play, which is one of their top class instruments.
It was extremely heavy (above 2 kg) and hard to play as it is normal for professional instruments. The sound was in my opinion the second best after Romeros masterpiece, but I am sure. Others will find it the best one. The construction of this guitar was interesting, as Contreras uses double backs and double sides to build a separate sound body within the “normal” body. So when you look inside, you see spruce but at the back you find brazilian rosewood… The price of this piece was at 7.900,- EUR when I remember it right…
The quality of craftsmanship at Contreras was extremely high and I liked the guitars almost as much, as Romero’s.
And, funny, I also played a Estudio that was missing the D at the first string! Due to some resonance of the guitar body it faded after 1 second… but this can be fixed and it was a great guitar for a reasonable price of approx. 1500,- EUR.
So this is the end of my report! I hope you liked it!