JohnPaul Trotter went down to Del Mar, CA to pick up the newest guitar from Pepe Romero Jr., and he took photographer Lisha Riabinina with him. Here’s JohnPaul’s story:
Upon stepping out of the car this past Friday morning and looking up the ornately tiled stairs leading to Pepe’s “workshop” it feels as though you’ve stepped into a different world. I use quotation marks around the word “workshop” because the house is much more than just a place where guitars are constructed, it’s more of a guitar compound that has been channeling good guitar karma for decades. It was originally the home of the late Celedonio and Angelita Romero – the founders of the Romero guitar dynasty. It has also been (and continues to be) the main rehearsal space for all iterations of the Romero quartet, and is now the residence of Pepe Sr. and Celin, as well as being the workshop of luthier Pepe Jr. Pepe greeted us at the door and welcomed us into the atrium of the house where his workshop is located. There on the bench lay his most recent creation, the guitar that he just completed for GSI, glimmering in the sun – a grand presentation. Before picking up the guitar and giving it a test-drive, Pepe gave us a quick tour of the workshop, where he showed us the wood he stores (about 3 years worth just in that location), some of his current projects, accolades, and told us the stories of the beetle-kill wood that he has used to construct benches and to veneer the walls.
We then made our way up the spiral staircase to enter the main house, where we found Celin casually playing guitar in the kitchen, stopping just long enough to give a warm welcome. As we continued to meander through this historic home we entered another room and were greeted whole-heartedly by Pepe Sr. – quite an unexpected treat!
Pepe Jr. and I sat down in the large living room (or main practice room – though every room could be called this in this house) to get acquainted with his new “Centenario” model. Even though it was just freshly strung up it was already bold, powerful, dynamic, remarkably responsive, and extremely lyrical – a very impressive guitar. Pepe Jr. explained the changes he’s made in design from the last round of instruments he’s constructed – expanding the lower bout and adjusting his approach to the bracing, always searching for an improvement to make the very best guitars he can possibly create. Just as we finished talking about the physical changes to the instrument, Pepe Sr. joined us and I, of course, invited him to play on it. Turns out that this is the tail-end of the process that every guitar of Pepe’s goes through – It’s finished, strung up, then taken upstairs to let the family play on it, discuss it, compare it to guitars that have influenced them all in decades past. It’s not until this is done that the guitar is considered born and ready to be released into the world. This was my first time being involved in the Romero ritual of seeing one of Pepe’s guitars being sent off, but not my first performing virtually the same ritual back here at GSI with the rest of the staff. Once I arrived back in Santa Monica with the guitar in hand later that day, we all joined in and played the guitar here as well. We look forward to finding this guitar its next new loving home!
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