Interview with classical guitar luthiers: Gerhard J. Oldiges (Germany)

Interview_classical_guitar_luthiers_Gerhard_J._Oldiges_Germany

I’m delighted to have Gerhard J. Oldiges from Germany.

 

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

Like quite a few makers of my generation I started working on a kitchen table in the mid-1970s. A few years later, after finishing University, I was offered a place as apprentice in a master's workshop. After passing all the examinations and obtaining the German master title I opened my own workshop specializing in building traditional classical guitars. I met José Romanillos during a masterclass in Belgium in 1988, and later, together with a friend, translated his famous Torres book into German. José Romanillos and I became good friends and after several masterclasses in Córdoba, Spain he asked me to join the classes, later in Sigüenza, as his assistant. All these helped tremendously to shape my ideas about traditional guitars and their construction.

 

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

Well, in my opinion, the prototypes of good sounding guitars exist already and they have done for many years, made by Guitar makers such as Torres, Hauser, Santos Hernández, just to name a few. These great makers created instruments that are still to this day mysterious in their high qualities, and that's why it's important to continue these traditional techniques.

 

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

Playability mainly depends on the player's skills and experiences. I can provide a good sounding instrument but ideally the final setup would be best done according to a players requirements.

 

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

French polish is a method we can do easily in a small workshop, new methods definitely require at least semi-professional equipment and additional workspace. Most of the modern materials are not very healthy while working with them and I try to avoid them. For building traditional guitars, as I do, I prefer French polish, both for aesthetic and tonal reasons.

 

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?

After the super long scales in the 1970s and 1980s, 650 mm became a good standard that is playable for most guitarists. Shorter scales are not a problem to build and most models can be made with shorter or longer scales within certain limits without losing very much of the sound. To find the correct strings for shorter scales might be a more serious problem and it could that you lose some of the easier playability that you gain with a shorter scale by a stiffer string feeling.

 

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?

They are right, it is confusing. Although nearly everybody is talking about the sound of a new instrument, the very first impressions are about playability - action, string tension, setup, tuner function etc. And then, as a second impression, after playing a few notes one starts to realize some aspects of the sound. When a player is seriously considering buying a new guitar a lot of homework has to be done to find out WHY he/she wants to buy a new instrument. Just checking a new or alternative guitar by playing the usual pieces at double speed only results in finding out that the old guitar is much better than the one just "tested". A sensitive and slow approach to a new guitar offers a better way of exploring the potential of an instrument and what can be done with it. Some guitars may have an initial "Wow-effect" and sometimes there is nothing behind this very impressive and dominant WOW. Other guitars may be not so impressive or even neutral on first sight but after a while can turn out to do everything a player wants. That is to be determined and what is more convincing to the player.

 

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

Yes, depending on the situation, the instrument, the customer and his responsibility for the new instrument. 

 

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

Luckily I am in the position to have enough material for the rest of my life although some of the more precious materials are coming to an end in a few years time if I am not careful enough with the use. 

 

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

I hope everybody is doing his or her best in building or playing good sounding guitars.

Gallery: 

Interview_classical_guitar_luthiers_Gerhard_J._Oldiges_Germany

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