We recently received a guitar from French luthier Jerome Casanova that so vastly exceeded our expectations that we had to contact him for the full story. The instrument in question is a historical reproduction rather than a modern original. Obviously, this is nothing unusual – over the years, we’ve seen plenty of these done for Torres, Hauser and the other usual suspects, but this was a first for us as it came from a Vicente Arias guitar under the microscope. Here’s what Jerome told us about the guitars – both the original and the reproduction.
Casanova: This all began a few years ago, when I bought an original Vicente Arias guitar from 1893.
Vicente Arias (1833-1914) is part of the pantheon of Spain’s greatest luthiers of late 19th / early 20th century. His work has often been compared to Antonio de Torres by the quality of his lutherie. Even the famous performer and teacher Francisco Tárrega played on his guitars. For me, Arias was a free thinker: there are no two identical guitars; they are always distinguished from each other by their uniqueness and their aesthetic beauty.
But back to my 1893. There was a huge amount restoration work to do on it before it could be properly played again. To me, “restoration” is to first gather as much information about the maker and even study other known models still in existence, but also on photos, plans…whatever one can get his hands on. This research is conducted through museums of private collections, musicians and by my personal documentation.
As I did my thorough research, a careful statement started to come together, detailing the list of things to do to the instrument. This was my “action plan.” Upon setting the guitar on my workbench, I began my months-long project. During this, no original parts were removed, nothing has been added, and the varnish has been preserved. The goal of the restorer’s work being of course to fade behind the author, not attempt to improve or personalize.
Anyway, after all the elements were complete: the fanstruts glued, the bridge placed, all the cracks closed, the frets dressed and the assembly was finally stable, I believed could finally hear this instrument as it was meant to be heard.
This extremely light guitar (just 1060 grams!) – simple in concept but very distinguished in its body shape, rosette detail and the drawing of the bridge – proved to be an instrument of rare sensitivity. Its sound, very nicely balanced with a warm and powerful tone, immediately seduced me.
From this very first meeting, my desire was born to reproduce this exceptional guitar, complete with its wonderful sound. I proceeded to record in the most precise of ways, the weight, thickness, shape with technical drawings. Luckily, I had all my original notes and experiences from the restoration as well. Before long, the new project was progressing swiftly, but with great care.
In my reproduction, I did not attempt to do any “interpretation” – neither the style, nor the proportions have been altered. The only change I made was one of necessity – the species of rosewood for the back and sides was changed to one that complies more readily with modern international law and regulations. Still, the timber utilized came from a stock decades old. The tuning machines were copies of the originals made by Alessi. The finish is done in the painstakingly traditional French Polish manner.
I hope that this guitar will create in you the very same pleasure that I felt playing the original.
– La Chitarra di Liuteria, Stefano Grondona et Luca Waldner
– The Classical Guitar Book. A Complete History
– A Collection of fine Spanish Guitars from Torres to the Present, Sheldon Urlik
– La Chitarra Quattro Secoli di Capolavori, Giovanni Accornero, Ivan Epicoco, Eraldo Guerci
– The Classical Guitar : Its evolution, players and personalities since 1800, Maurice J. Summerfield
– The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar, José L. Romanillos and Maraian Harris Winspear
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