“A Dream Comes True” by Finn Wandahl
It was in the summer of 1972. I was a young, promising guitarist at 17 years of age who had just passed the entrance examination for the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music and was now spending the summer in Nice where French guitar virtuoso Alexandre Lagoya had been offering masterclasses every summer. I had not yet fully developed my technique and thus got to play for Lagoya only once. However, I did attend his master class lectures and was even taught by his assistant, a young French guitarist named Yves Chatelain. The lessons were held outdoors, in a wonderfully lush cloister garden porticoed on all sides. It was in these beautiful surroundings, where the lifelong dream of a guitar came to my young mind.
Yves Chatelain was a student of Ida Presti, who – until she died an early death at only 42 in 1967 – was a member of the legendary and famous guitar duo “Presti and Lagoya”. The guitars Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya played were built by Robert Bouchet in Paris, and now Yves Chatelain played Ida Presti’s Bouchet, which he claimed to have been loaned to him after her death. So I had the chance to listen to this wonderful “dream of a guitar” every day and was occasionally allowed to even play it. Of course I was incredibly impressed, and ever since then I have been dreaming of this guitar. A Bouchet is a most exceptional instrument, which is easy and pleasant to play, it has a characteristic, beautiful, singing tone with magnificent clarity and sustain. In terms of sound, Bouchet guitars offer a few very special options, as Julian Bream also recognized at an early age. Over the years, four Bouchet guitars in total were built for him, and he frequently used them for recordings or shows. Unfortunately, one of his guitars was stolen in a New York cab.
Bouchet guitars are extremely hard to find. Throughout his life, he built only 154 guitars and it is therefore a rare privilege to have played one. Moreover, they have become very valuable. A few years ago, I read on the internet that at a Paris auction a Bouchet was sold for 850,000 kr (about $125,000 US). The fantastic sound of Presti‘s and Lagoya’s Bouchets can still be heard on their numerous records or on youtube, where you will find a large number of their recordings. It was, by the way, in Bouchet‘s workshop where Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya met and fell in love with each other.
Actually, Robert Bouchet (1898-1986) was a cabinet maker. He learnt building guitars from a Spanish guitar maker named Julian Gomez Ramirez, who had settled down in Paris. Julian Gomez Ramirez was trained in Madrid where he had been a journeyman in the shop of Jose Ramirez I, and possibly for Manuel Ramirez. In either case, Julian Gomez Ramirez was very influenced by the Torres design, which came with him to Paris and was passed on to Bouchet. If you compare the drawings for a Bouchet made in 1961 to the drawings for a Torres built in 1884 or a Manuel Ramirez from 1912, you will find the shapes of all three bodies to be nearly identical. Who knows? Maybe – inspired by Tarrega – Torres actually managed to design the perfect body for a guitar, just like Stradivarius managed to work out the perfect body for a violin back in his days.
Well, the years passed by and I was still dreaming of a Bouchet. One day I visited guitar maker Kenneth Brogger in Birkerod and tried out two beautiful and impressive Torres replicas he had built. It didn’t take long until we were talking about a Bouchet, which Kenneth Broegger was fascinated by just as well. Brogger told me that Antonio Marin-Montero from Granada was one of his primary teachers, which I found most interesting as Marin himself had collaborated with (and of course has remained influenced by) by Robert Bouchet. In other words: Kenneth Brogger’s guitar making history led straight back to Bouchet.
I had access to sufficiently detailed drawings of a 1961 Bouchet, which I showed to Brogger. After a while we agreed that – based on these drawings, numerous photos and whatever we could find, he was to make a replica of a Bouchet. The project was started, and we had to select the wood. Fortunately, Kenneth has a wide variety of woods at hand for this purpose, and in this context we could draw back on his knowledge of Marin. For instance, Brogger knew that Bouchet had preferably used sheesham for the sides and backs of his instruments. So we decided for a magnificent set of Indian Rosewood of exactly the right tap-tone, which was 30 years old and very dark, almost black. For neck and headstock we picked cedar wood from Honduras as it is very light in weight and thus provides the instrument with just the right balance. Again, this was done in accordance with Bouchet’s ideas. We found a great chunk of Italian fir, originating from the region where Stradivarius obtained the wood for his violins. Although chosen for its tonal qualities, it was also visually striking with some beautiful “bear claw” throughout – a type of watermark in the grain that looks like bear’s breeches. The special bear claw arrangement in our chunk is called “teardrops”. The tuning machines chosen are a precise copy of the original ones, which Brogger had custom-made by Nicolo Alessi in Italy. Nothing detail was overlooked. While the guitar was being made, there were periods where Brogger and I were in contact with each other nearly every day, in a most interesting and exciting cooperation in which even the slightest developments in the construction process were discussed.
The project was completed successfully, and Kenneth Brogger built an outstanding guitar of the most unbelievable potential. I have only had it for less than two months but it already has proven to to be one of a kind. And it is really the same feeling and sound I remember from my youth. It is just a wonderful dream that has come true now.
Written by Finn Wandahl (Photos: Kenneth Brogger)
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