The guitar world lost one of its most important figures this month with the passing of Gabriel Fleta Sr., son of Ignacio Fleta and father to Gabriel Jr. Though not as well known as his father Ignacio, Gabriel had a hand in making all of the guitars that made the Fleta name so famous and of course in maintaining the Fleta name and the tradition of great guitars begun by his father.
Born in 1929, Gabriel Fleta was literally raised in his father’s shop, in that the house and shop were one building, first in c/ Calabria, where Gabriel was born, and later at the famous c/ Los Angeles 4 location from 1931. During the terrible Civil War and post-war periods Gabriel studied violin and along with his brother Francisco helped his father in the shop in the repair of violins, cellos, lauds – any string instrument, really, including the occasional harp – and of course the odd guitar (according to Gabriel Jr. this was more than anything about survival – the economy was in tatters and repair work was more readily available than construction work). In 1954 Gabriel had finished his military service and made his first violin (he had studied violin quite seriously as a child), but this was just around the time that his father Ignacio would make the important step of becoming a full-time guitar maker.
According to Gabriel Jr., Gabriel Sr. had a hand in the construction of all of the great Fleta guitars. Working as an apprentice to his father he took over many of the construction tasks while his brother Francisco eventually specialized in French polish, though both brothers were proficient in every aspect of luthiery. Some time in late 1963 or 1964 Ignacio changed his label to read ‘Ignacio Fleta e Hijos’ (Ignacio Fleta and Sons), though this was somewhat arbitrary, as the sons had already been fully integrated into the shop. Apparently the exact date of the label change is unknown even to the Fletas themselves.
Gabriel had studied the violin quite seriously as a child, and later spent six years studying the guitar as well. Gabriel maintained his love of the violin, but as the workload in the shop became ever greater he eventually put away his instrument as the lack of practice time took its toll on his tone. According to Gabriel Jr. his father simply couldn’t countenance producing a less than beautiful tone and preferred not to play at all. He also had a great love for opera and vocal music.
Gabriel Jr. remembers his father as a very forward looking man who, as he told me, never seemed old (Gabriel mentioned that he embraced new technologies and was apparently about to buy himself an iPad) – an energetic man who in addition to preserving the very important legacy of his father was also open to improvements in guitar construction and who eschewed conservatism for its own sake. And of course one of Gabriel Sr.’s great legacies has been to hand down the Fleta tradition to his own son, Gabriel Jr., who now continues building Fleta guitars.
Our deepest condolences go out to the Fleta family.
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