Interview with classical guitar luthiers: Teodoro Pérez (Spain)

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I’m delighted to have Teodoro Pérez from Madrid, Spain.

 

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

We are a family-run business devoted to makeing hand-made classical and flamenco guitars established in 1966.

Biography:

I started to work at the school-workshop of José Ramírez at "Nº 2 Concepción Jerónima street" in 1966. I was making string instruments such as lutes, bandurrias, etc.

When I was considered ready to work, José Ramírez III sent me to the workshop at " General Margallo street" to work as an apprentice under the direction of the greatest maestri of guitar making, who were working for José Ramírez III at his workshop. 

In 1969, after passing some tests, I was promoted to be a "Oficial de primera". After that, I began to make different models of guitars with signatures G.P.M. or nº 13.

This period was a pleasant experience for me, meeting maestri Andrés Segovia, Narciso Yepes, and the other well-known classical and flamenco guitarists in person.

In 1991,after 26 years working with José Ramírez III, I decided to work for myself.  At this time, my instruments were introduced to the world. 
Currently, I'm working with my sons, with the signature of “TEODORO PEREZ”. Sergio has been working as guitar maker since 1998, and Beatriz as an administrator as well as guitar maker since 2005. My son-in-low Marco Antonio Tejeda joined 4 years ago.

In my 47 years as a luthier, I formed a series of apprentices and keep doing so with my sons.

 

 

 

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

There are many factors to give good sound quality to the instruments. 

The details to take into account (though these are just part of it):

  • Selection and natural drying process of woods. If the timber is not dried properly, the guitar may have problems of reduction or dilation in the future. The periods of the drying process of our woods are, for example, 10 years for a top of Canadian red cider, 20 years for the neck.
     
  • The top is one of the most important parts, and each luthier represents his/her essence with a different thickness, braces, and bracing methods.
     
  • Another important element is the neck, with its related height of the strings for the best playability.
     
  • In terms of Varnishing, we use French polish, the artisan technique which covers the guitar without reducing the sonority.

 

 

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

Our guitars are designed to be very comfortable to play. To achieve this, we pay special attention to the thickness of the neck and the action, depending on the preference of the clients. Also the player's playing style has to be taken into account because nobody has the same touch.

 

 

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

The finishing method of our guitars is French polish, which is a natural varnish more delicate and lighter than a synthetic one. It also gives better sound projection. I have never used other lacquers.

For the flamenco guitars, we usually use Nitrocellulose o synthetic varnishing, it is rather a matter of tradition. However, I have used French polish for flamenco guitars too. I always give some advice to my clients explaining the resulting effects on the instruments, depending upon their request and preferences.

 

 

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?

Currently, 650mm scale has been standardised. However, I keep making guitars with scales from 528mm (in the case of alto guitars) to 664mm. It is a very small proportion of my entire production, but the demand for short scale guitars is increasing, day by day, in the Japanese market, as they look for more comfortable guitars.

For example, to make a romantic guitar with 628mm scale, the way of making the body is not the same. As mentioned previously, we are always concerned with the playability for each model of our guitars.

Our company offers standard guitars. However, of course, we make customised guitars according to the preference of our clients: scale, timber, varnishing, action, etc...

 

 

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?

Firstly, make sure what kind of guitar you're looking for; a student guitar or something more? Needless to say, a student guitar is a good choice if you are student or you can't afford much money as there are very good guitars nowadays, in terms of the price-quality relationship, for the first year of the study. These guitars are partially or entirely manufactured in a factory.

If what you desire is a guitar you can enjoy for many years, investing in a hand-made guitar is a good choice because of the special attention to the selection of the material, drying, and the building process as I mentioned previously. Obviously, the price the guitar made with such attention differs from the one without it.
To distinguish between a hand-crafted guitar and the one which is not, it is necessary that you gain experience and know many guitars. It is important that you can see/choose the woods, details of the bridge, saddle, the refinement of the neck, etc (otherwise you trust the luthier).

We give our clients a certificate which shows the guitar was completely and carefully made by hand.

Lastly, we advice you don't be afraid nor be in hurry to test guitars because it is important to choose the right one. Even though the guitars are made in the same way, by the same luthier, they never sound in the same way. Each guitar has its own nuance.

 

 

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

Our guitars come with a total guarantee as protection for a possible building defect.
We provide a certificate of hand-made quality and attention, also to let our clients know that the guitar is made of a "living" material which may undergo changes if the guitar is exposed too long in an inadequate ambient humidity. We certify the quality of the guitar construction but not the damage caused by an inadequate handling of the instrument.

For example, if the guitar is exposed in an ambient with a humidity at 30 or 90% for a long time, it can be damaged. We make our guitars in an ambient humidity of between 50 and 60%. It is easy to find out if the instrument has been handled carefully or not.

 

 

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

Obviously, I have to assume that there was an exploitation of some species. And there has to be a regulation, it is better for everyone. As we mentioned before, those material are "alive" and the environment deserves to be respected in this sense.

There are other choices of material which are equally spectacular in tone and appearance. What we have to take into account when we make a guitar is its density and conductivity of sound. 

Currently, many magnificent guitars in sound quality are made of Palosanto of Madagascar (Dalbergia Baronii), Cocobolo (Dalbergia Retusa), India (Dalbergia latifolia), etc. However, these woods are already under exhaustive control of origin.

If each time there are more regulations and paperwork in order to export and to buy an instrument, in the end, it has to have an effect on the price of the products.

 

 

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

It is a difficult time for everybody. In the recent years, many "guitarreros (guitar makers)" have appeared and discredited the essence of quality handmade guitars that I learned from the great guitar makers of Madrid.

The quality hand-made guitars that I believe in will continue to be recognised as valuable. And a professional who knows the world of the guitar will keep appreciating and looking for them. In my case, I am relaxed because my job as luthier is rewarded with the continuity by my sons.

 

 

 

Luthier Teodoro Pérez  

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