Andy Culpepper is a very talented US luthier who builds an exceptionally well-made instrument, firmly rooted in the traditional Spanish style. Andy believes that the best guitars are still modeled on the designs and ideas of Antonio de Torres (1817-1892) and admires him for his constant experimenting with different ideas. Andy prefers also to work in a traditional manner - very few power tools, and as much by hand as possible to achieve the maximum amount of control over the quality of his work. His guitars are assembled by first joining the neck to the top to precisely establish the center line of the guitar. This assembly is placed face down on a solera, or workboard, and the sides are slotted into the heel block, and glued to the top with individual glue blocks called tentalones. Finally the back is fitted and the box is closed. The bridge is glued on before finishing, because Andy likes to play all of his guitars "in the white" and refine the voice by sanding the top if necessary. Finally, the entire guitar is finished in French polish of shellac, applied completely by hand with the traditional muñeca, or cloth pad.
Prior to building, Andy started to play classical guitar as a teenager, and later transitioned into flamenco - he even studied flamenco in Spain and has since done a good amount of performing - solo, accompanying and dance. As with many luthiers, Andy's first guitar was to build himself an instrument to play on but after showing the guitar around, he began getting orders, and so eventually decided to become a full-time luthier. His formal studies were done with Richard Cogger, a classical and flamenco guitar maker in Ithaca. Andy shared work space with him for a couple of years before establishing his own shop where he continues to work today. So his guitars are truly a "players" instrument, very easy to play and responsive to both the left and right hands.
This latest flamenco guitar (named "Najmat" = "stars" in Arabic) has many references that depict the journey of the Romani people out of India, through the Middle East into Europe and eventually to Andalusia - the birthplace of flamenco. Some of these features include the mosaic design in the rosette which is ornamented with Arabic stars (hence the name of this guitar, "Najmat"), as well as special carvings on the headplate and bridge wings (which resemble the headshape - itself reminiscent of many architectural door designs of sacred places of worship in southern Spain that have welcomed both Moorish and Roman Catholic devotees over the centuries). A small sound port on the side is an homage to the hand tattoo of Camarón de la Isla (see photo in gallery), one of the greatest Spanish Romani flamenco singers of all time who performed together with Paco de Lucía and Tomatito. As imagery-rich as this guitar is aesthetically, it is also a tremendous instrument for sound and playability. It is lightly built with immediate response and plenty of volume which make this guitar very "flamenco" - just listen to Andy (in the video below) as he demonstrates the instrument just after he had completed its construction. Enough said!