Interview with classical guitar luthiers: Sergio Quispe (Argentina)

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I'm conducting interviews with famous guitar makers to learn more about the art of luthiery and our beloved instruments. Find out about the idea of a good sounding guitar, playability, finishing methods, woods, etc. in the words of luthiers themselves.

Today's guest is Sergio Quispe from Panará, Argentina.

Q1. Could you please tell us a little about your luthiery and its history?

Before I entered the Technical College of Guitar at the Universidad Autónoma de Entre Ríos (Argentina), I couldn't afford to buy an instrument to prepare for the music and guitar exams which I was undertaking. This was due to my family's lack of income (9 members). Two of them had already begun their studies at the University outside the Province of oriundez o procedencia.  I learned to be patient from my father who was an electrician and my mother who was a housewife.

Discouraged and sad, I did nothing but sleep to forget.  But it didn’t stay like that, because I had a dream in which I saw myself capable and brave enough to make a guitar. My intuition pushed me to make it become a reality. I took the decision to start working on guitar-making – studying materials and methods of instrument-building from books and the internet, finding similar materials and planning when to start. 

While on my holiday, I encountered a friend of mine who was a son of a luthier. He told me that his father had passed away and his workshop had been abandoned for a long time. Discouraged one more time, I asked him if I could work at the workshop to achieve my objective, albeit without the help of his father. In the emphatic "yes", he proposed accompanying me at the workshop to build a guitar for himself too. The process was very difficult as I had only three weeks, after which I had to go back to Entre Ríos.

I finished my first guitar in 19 days. I managed to recycle woods from doors, old windows, some pieces of old furniture that I found on the street, etc. And guided by the master "Necessity", I managed to make those first notes ring. 

This instrument was not only an important achievement but also was an opportunity to start another project which was more serious and ambitious, "to achieve making a Classical Guitar in the style of Great Luthier Dominique Field". I admire him and his guitars very much. I sold this prototype guitar, and that was how I started making traditional Spanish classical guitars with proper materials. 

Finishing my new guitar, which was the first quality instrument that I kept playing during my music studies, I understood that I could develop a career as a self-taught craftsman.  In the process of my development as a Luthier I got an order from my guitar teacher, more precisely, the guitarist Eduardo Isaac.  This guitar brought me more special orders, as well as helping me improve, and acquire knowledge through experience.

 

 

Q2. Please describe your idea of a good sounding guitar, and what you do to achieve it?

I think a guitar sounds good when it keeps sonic balance in its projection and is acoustically versatile for all styles and repertoires.

The guitar should expose its quality to respond to the demands of the right and left hands of the player helping musical development. A guitarist should find the most reliable means within the guitar’s capability to produce his musical ideas faithfully.  

To achieve a good sound, I work on the link between the top and the rest of the body. The distinct roles of the top and the ribs and back should be differentiated.

The top should be delicate, symmetrical, light, and tough; For that, it is necessary to get a firm wood, which doesn't demand an overload of ribs. It is achieved by very careful selection of the bridge and meticulous and objective craftsmanship, since it is fundamental to the resulting sound.

The body, sides and back should be solid and stable, without absorbing the vibration from the top, and made from the best wood (weight and seasoning) as possible. 

 

 

Q3. Please tell us about your idea of improving playability, and what you do to achieve it?

I can't answer the question of playability because it is not a characteristic of importance to my knowledge.  A Classical Guitar is what it says, "Classical". Such a guitar offers its essential qualities and extra richness in sound can be added by a luthier with his research and experience.

"There is a guitar, for a guitarist" as "there are guitars that transform guitarists" 

I produce only one model. I work according to the evolution of this model because I think this suits my personality and responsibility as luthier. 

 

 

Q4. Please tell us your opinion about the traditional finishing method (French polish) and new methods (lacquer, catalysed finishing, etc). 

I think each Artist looks for the best finishing for his work. All of the finishing materials can work, depending on the requirements of each luthier. But, for me, French polish has worked. 

I think French polish doesn't alter the final product which I try to deliver, but rather it complements my way of building the guitar.

 

 

Q5. Please tell us your opinion regarding shorter-scale guitars such as 640, 628 and 615mm in terms of playability, design, sound quality and volume. Is there an increasing need to cater to smaller-handed or female players?

Short scales can generate new sounds as a result of the tension and length of the strings. Very short scales suffer loss of depth and projection in bass sounds. They can be justified if a guitarist chooses a right repertoire. 

As for the design, I've had no comfort problems with my clients. I think the musicians who I dedicated my guitars to came to me knowing the essential qualities of a traditional classical guitar they were looking for and freely decided.

I'm glad to know that the number of female guitarists has increased lately. So, it has opened up a more open-minded and communicative audience, like music itself.

 

 

Q6. Many readers say they end up being very confused after trying many guitars. Could you give us some advice on how to examine the guitars' sound quality and playability at a shop or luthier, from the guitar-maker's point of view?

Testing many guitars increases expectations, but I'm not sure if you can know which to choose after testing so many guitars in one day. 

To my knowledge,  you should listen a lot, playing discs, attending concerts... Learn your instrument and understand the difference between your own instrument and the one you are testing.

The quality of an instrument is explicit in its complex body. A guitar that shines externally,  should do the same internally, both aesthetically and structurally. One should feel comfortable with the guitar effortlessly, being able to tune without worrying about bad layout of the frets on the fingerboard. There shouldn't be an abrupt change of tone in open scales among the six strings. The guitar should give you an acceptable posture that doesn't excessively absorb the vibration.

All in all, the guitar should be a tool that allows a musician to speak without fear, letting him involve himself in a dialogue without suppressing ideas or emotion. 

 

 

Q7. Do you offer any 'after-sales' service to customers - particularly customers who are nervous about making a substantial investment?

I don't offer any after-sales service more than my work as a guarantee in case of building defects. This guarantee doesn't cover damages caused by carelessness of the owner. No return accepted.

 

 

Q8. How does the increasing rarity of some woods, rosewood for example, impact on your methods, and the quality of the end product?

There is nothing to worry about. For now, we can get enough materials and we can continue with our business.

In case of an emergency of supply , we'll find a way to substitute the imported woods for other domestic ones, or woods of easier accessibility, or regulated ones. 

Adaptation is one of the most important capacities in the development and work of a human being – this is what has happen to the evolution of human being from the beginning of the history.

 

 

Q9. How do you see the future of this beautiful tradition in the 21st century?

I see the future of this tradition as a window to the conscience itself, where  beauty  blooms in the melodies and chords of imagination. 

In this branch of the tree, that we call Culture, circulate histories, anecdotes, images, dreams, poems, kisses, smiles, love, tastes, sunrises, moons, rains... and all the passions that live this beautiful life in the Art of luthiery. For those who arrive in this profession, welcome.  

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Comments

Very nice interview! I can attest that Sergio Quispe is not only a genius as luthier but he is also a wonderful friend.

Felicito por la nota. Se ve excelente la guitarra. Orgullo argentino. Salud! RH

Great interview. Excellent questions and greatt in-depth answers. The perfect tone is very elusive. I have a recording of myself playing autumn leaves with gorgeous tone. Unfortunately I have not been able to replicate the same tone even with my amp and guitar settings set exactly the same.

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