hand-crafted vs hand-made guitar

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
el baroda

hand-crafted vs hand-made guitar

Post by el baroda » Fri Oct 27, 2006 2:55 am

I've noticed that some guitar makers advertize their guitars as "Hand-crafted in ...". Their catalogues, however, show that only their top-of-line models are hand-made, which suggests that the rest are factory-made. So,my questions are: (1) What is the distinction, if any, between a hand-crafted and a hand-made guitar? (2) Can a factory-made guitar be rightfully called hand-crafted? Thanks in advance for your valuable comments. Best regards.

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Fri Oct 27, 2006 3:49 am

This is a very well discussed subject. However, it is always coming back. First, any Spanish guitar needs to be hand-crafted or hand-made. You do not put the pieces of wood in a machine and get a guitar. To understand the distinction, one must learn how guitars are made. I have a simple way to describe it:

1) Guitars can be made by a single luthier in a small shop, using hand tools, and maybe a small router and a band saw. This is what some of the luthiers I have met in Granada, Seville, Madrid, etc. work. This is how I work. Guitars done this way, are devoted a lot of time and care, specially in the set up, tuning, etc.

2) Guitars can be made in an artisanal shop. That is, a shop of about five or maybe up to ten people of which two or three are master luthiers and the others are apprentices, or advanced officers. In these shops, guitars are made the same way they are made by a single luthier. The difference is that there is a systematic approach to making the parts. That is, some of the parts are made by the apprentices, and officers, (those parts cannot be wrong because they are made in molds, using templates, etc.). the assembly and closing of the guitar is made by a master luthier. This guitars are as good as the ones made by the luthier alone, or almost as good. These shops produce anything from 4 to 6 guitars per day. Guitars made this way, pass a quality control by a veteran master, or the owner of the shop. Time devoted to detail is less, but the construction methods usually guarantee a very good product. Most of the master luthiers owners of these shops sign all the guitars produced by his or her shop.

3) Guitars can be made in a large factory, of maybe 20 to 30 people, in which the work has been designed as a production similar to the way, a car is assembled (most cars a pretty dam good!!). Normally, there is one or two master luthiers, and everyone else is dedicated to make a portion of the guitar. The quality control is done in batches. Since they produce maybe 30 to 50 guitars or more per day, they only inspect a few and extrapolate the results to the others. This is the case of most of the gutiars in the market. The luthiers usually do not sign these guitar labels.

4) Guitars can be made in a large factory, of maybe 200 people selected everyday from among more than 1,000 aspirants waiting at the door. They are selected independtly of experience of knowledge. Everyday, they are fired and invited to wait at the door the next day. Their payment is sent to their families living in another region. The state owns the factories. In other large factories, the workers are offered large quarters to sleep and live for a time. Payment or salaries are made in species and part sent to their families. The state owns the factories. These factories can process in many cases 300 or more guitars per day at a very cheap or almost slave labor. These guitars are found all over the world and sell for about $50 each or more, and include carrying bag, method, etc. The quality control is non-existing. The State uses its powers to get leverage to sell these cheap guitars in other countries without paying the proper taxations, etc. Some of these guitars can sound ok, others end up as bird nests in their owners' backyards. You get what you pay for. Beware of those.

That is my personal definition of what I see in the market today.
Last edited by Pepe Vergara on Mon Nov 06, 2006 8:25 pm, edited 4 times in total.

Guitar Slim

Post by Guitar Slim » Fri Oct 27, 2006 4:09 am

Where do some of the more respected steel-string mass-producers like Martin and Taylor fit into this scheme of things. I would expect the same level of quality from a high-end Martin as I would from a workshop-made classical, although not the same quality as a one-off luthier-built one.

But a lot more Martins are sold than most brands of quality classical guitars, so they must be producing them on a larger scale.

And what kind of attention does a medium-priced model like a Martin D28 (approx. $3k) get, compared to the high-end models priced closer to fine classicals ($5k and up)?

Anyone know?

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Fri Oct 27, 2006 4:20 am

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Fri Oct 27, 2006 4:24 am

Slim: I did not mention names on purpose. I do not know too much about steel string guitars. I was refering to the Spanish guitar only (classical or flamenco). Email me personally, and we can talk about it. I think Bob Taylor has been very vocal about what he does in this factory. I have seen one hour videos interviewing him. He shows the factory and even he recognizes that he is an engineer (mechanical) first, and then a luthier. He is an honest man that makes and sells lots of guitars. I do not know about Martin much.

el baroda

Post by el baroda » Fri Oct 27, 2006 4:27 am

Hello, Pepe. Nice to hear from you again. As always, you've been very helpful. Am I right then in assuming that my Admira guitar (advanced student model) falls in the third category, judging by the size of the company and the absence of a signature on the label? And one last thing, if you don't mind, will a category 4 guitar (cheapo) ever be described as hand-crafted? Muchas gracias, amigo.

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Fri Oct 27, 2006 4:33 am

The last category can be seen in many forms. On TV, on the market, on the supermarket, etc. Thre was a video posted several months ago here about a factory in some place in Asia.

I do not know much about Admira. Someone told me once he had a good Admira guitar. I think they are German, or built the way Non-Spanish build them. That is not integration of the neck with the top and back. I think they build the box and attached the neck. I think Fleta and the builders from Barcelona did it that way. It is different to the Granada and Madrid builders.

el baroda

Post by el baroda » Fri Oct 27, 2006 4:41 am

Pepe, Admira Guitars is located, and manufactures its guitars, in Spain. The company advertizes its guitars as "Hand-Crafted in Spain", with the top-of-the-line models being hand-made. Thanks again.

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Fri Oct 27, 2006 5:20 pm

That is right. THey are in Spain now.


Post by zara1900 » Fri Oct 27, 2006 6:28 pm


I must interject that "Pepe's" information is an outstanding description and understanding of the process(es).

As for personal experience(s).....

Being a rather advanced player and having a great amount of experience and understanding of the luthier's craft, art, and business there is indeed much to say for the "artisan-factory" instrument.

However, like all things it is a choice. It is an instrument, a delicate bit of work. The finsest instrument that can be made is most certainly a fully hand crafted one where all details and tunings during construction can be dealt with in minute detail.

An instrument has a soul. Yes it does. This is the voice of experience I assure you it is true!

That said, I recently purchased a fully hand-made, one on one luthier instrument which cracked within one week of its arrival (back crack).

Not to enter into details, but the instrument plays very well, but yes indeed it is frustrating...but there are many things to consider that enter into a new instrument's creation...and wood is a living thing and in a sense never dies...a freshly made instrument, woods used, and many many other things can certainly present issues.

This is beyond the scope of this note however...and not my point of writing.

...I have read of course similar trials and tribulations from the most well regarded hand-made luthier instruments such as Smallman, Redgate, Hippner, et al.

It happens, and it is not uncommon.

Some people criticize(d) Ramirez III's way of doing things...but my Ramirez would certainly outlive me without any problem I am certain.

I am now forced to sell my Ramirez to pay for the repairs made on my new "hand-crafted" luthier instrument which I decided to go with (for reasons beyond scope of this note)....

In short, there is certainly a good argument for the "artisan-factory" instruments. I would never view this aspect as a negative one when choosing one. Ramirez and Alhambra instruments being a prime example....of course there may be consistency issues between similar models, etc., but that is the price paid for "artisan-factory" instruments, and the rub....

...yet does this not exist in "hand-made" instruments as well?

Just a thought.


Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Sat Oct 28, 2006 1:23 am

Hi Z:
I understand your frustration. The truth is that ONE luthier can only make few guitars in a year. I have made only four or five per year during the last five years. If I worked full time on this (I would probably starve) I would make probably 10 or 12. There is some mechanization of the manufacturing of certain parts that can be done without affecting the guitars, but I have chosen to do it the old way. Regarding the Ramirez, I do have high regards for the Ramirez family. I am not sure the current heir is fully dedicated to the lutherie, but rather to the business part of it (it is my impression, I could be wrong). The children of the luthiers in Granada, do not want to make guitars, I heard this complain in Granada just last month. I also have a Ramirez 1970, which I do not change for anything (I do have more than one guitar by the way, maybe too many, including my own made). I think Ramirez shop make very few guitars. I was recently at their shop and noticed most of the guitars were student type or factory made guitars. Very few top of the line. I am not sure if it is because they export them or what. However, I did play the Tradicional ($6,400 Euros), and I loved it. I am not a great player, and that guitar made me sound great. I did not miss a note. So, whatever Ramirez shop does is still very good. Here are couple of pics of my shot at Ramirez'.

PS: I would like to know more about your misshap (no need to mention names) just to learn. Uncontrolled humidity?.
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Guitar Slim

Post by Guitar Slim » Mon Oct 30, 2006 9:21 pm


So is the Ramirez workshop still at the famous address?:

Concepcion Jeronima No. 2

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Mon Oct 30, 2006 9:51 pm

Guitar Slim wrote:Pepe,

So is the Ramirez workshop still at the famous address?:

Concepcion Jeronima No. 2
Hi Slim:
The store is n La PAZ, close to Plaza Mayor. The shop is in another address, I do not think it is at Concep. Jeronima, but I will check. The people at the store are very nice, and Amalia accepted to meet with me, but I had something going at that time, and could not go to her shop.

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