Ignacio Fleta was born in Huesa del Común, in the province of Teruel (although many biographies mistakenly have him born in Huesca), Spain on July 31st, 1897, into a family of cabinet-makers – an auspicious beginning for one destined to become a fine instrument builder. In childhood, he apparently showed great aptitude for music, as there are reports that by the age of 8 he was able to play both the bandurria and guitar proficiently. Formal instrument-making studies began at the age of 13, when he left home for Barcelona with his 2 older brothers, Manuel and Bienvenido. He began studying violin, cello and bass-viol construction, largely in the French tradition, from a series of established masters, including Benito Jaume, Etienne Maire and Philippe Le Duc from France. Principles of this training remained with Fleta over the entire course of his life, and his guitars were always constructed using the ‘violin’ method, which utilizes the technique of attaching the neck to the completed soundbox, as opposed to the ‘Spanish’ method, where the neck is attached to the sides at the outset of construction.
It was at this time that Fleta sought to more clearly define his personal style. Developing almost in parallel with Hauser II and José Ramírez III, he gradually moved away from the pure, lightweight Torres design, increasing the overall mass and stiffness of the entire instrument. This was primarily done by enlarging the proportions of the body, most notably in the bouts, as well as by adding braces internally (his tops eventually had 9 fan struts and 4 harmonic bars – 2 upper and 2 lower, while the back had an added 4th transverse brace). These modifications are now trademark qualities that have become associated almost uniquely with Fleta. This added stiffness and mass to the instrument became popular among concert players performing in increasingly large venues, as it provided a thicker, denser, more ‘heavy’ quality to the sound. The tone from these instruments had a way of penetrating deeper into bigger concert halls, giving recitalists greater reassurance from the added power. Fleta gradually began favoring the use of cedar for his soundboards, and by the early 1970’s he was working almost exclusively with cedar. Along with Jose Ramirez III, Fleta is regarded as one of the great cedar builders in history. Despite Fleta’s progressive modifications to the basic Spanish guitar design, he remained positively traditional in many ways. For example, his polish was considered very old-fashioned yet extremely sophisticated, as he utilized a formula adopted from his violin and cello training. Fleta finishes are still highly respected among contemporary luthiers, although very few admit to have the ability or patience to reproduce it themselves.
Ignacio Fleta died in Barcelona on August 11th, 1977. The workshop remained open, and great guitars continued to be produced by his sons Gabriel (b. 21 December 1929) and Francisco (b. 22 July 1925, now retired). To this day, a lengthy wait-list of 20 years is still tended by Gabriel’s son, Gabriel Jr. and so the Fleta legacy lives on, now in its third generation.