This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
He was the deciding
innovator of his time, bringing various elements of guitar making together in a new design that has
shaped the work of every guitar maker since, and even shaped the growth of the guitar as a concert
instrument on stages and in concert halls world wide. Torres himself might be surprised at how
important his lifes work still is today. !ven now, the vast ma"ority of classical guitars are #uite
close in design to the Torres formula, and even the most e$perimental builders start from the design
that Torres intuitively perfected a hundred and fifty years ago. !ven concert guitarist owe their
work to Torres, regardless what brand guitar they might play, because with the Torres breakthrough
the guitar became a more viable concert instrument, giving a new range of power, dynamics, color
and e$pression for new generations of performers and composers to e$ploit. In the %&th century it
was Andres 'egovia who took the classical guitar into the spotlight of the concert stage world wide,
playing guitars based directly on the Torres tradition, as carried on by (anuel )amire* and later
Antonio de Torres was born in 1+1, in Almeria, on the southeast coast of 'pain. He left his
hometown to eventually settle in the legendary Andalusian capital of 'evilla. He was first trained as
a carpenter. Although he may have dabbled in guitar making earlier, his first professional
instruments start to appear in the 1+-&s, when he was in his mid thirties. He was encouraged by
local guitar virtuosos , especially .ulian Arcas, who recogni*ed his talent, and he took up the career
of guitar making. This cant have been an easy or common career choice then, any more than it is
now. /et there obviously was a market for these guitars. Though there was a thriving classical
guitar culture in other parts of !urope and 'pain at this time, the 'panish classical composers and
teachers such as Tarrega , 0lobet and 1u"ol didnt emerge until later when Torres work was fully
formed. 2hat was going on at the time, especially in 'eville where Torres was working, was the
emergence of 3lamenco as the popular, though serious music of Andalusia. Though he was a
consummate craftsman in all of his guitars, his choice of materials and decoration ranged widely
from the most elaborate and painstaking, to simple work with ordinary materials, like leftovers.
This suggests that he was working according to the customers ability to pay, and that he could build
e$#uisitely for the poor itinerant musician gigging at a 4afe 4antante, or for an aristocratic collector
investing in a prestigious show piece. It also suggests that his instruments were not aimed strictly at
what we think of as classical musicians today. In mid nineteenth century Andalusia the distinction
between classical, flamenco and popular music had not yet prevailed over the guitar 5 these are
distinctions that wouldnt dictate audience pre"udices and guitar builders designs until the twentieth
century. In 1+-+ he entered an instrument in e$hibitions in 'evilla , won a bron*e medal, and it
wasnt very long before guitar makers everywhere were adopting his overall designs as the new
6y 1+-7 Torres was working as a serious guitar maker. This is really the commencement of his first
epoch when he did most of his best work. He was sought after by important guitar players in 'pain.
His instruments made the guitars of other makers before him obsolete. Then, in 1+89, after 1- or so
years, he apparently stopped building guitars. This stoppage was coincident with a civil war and
depression going on in 'pain, which may well have shut down the night life and cultural life that
guitarists and guitar makers needed. (aybe he "ust wasnt making enough money. There is a lot to
indicate that he struggled with lack of funds for most of his days, in spite of his relative fame.
)egardless of the cause, it ended his first epoch. It wasnt until , years later that he resurfaced as a
guitar maker once again, after moving back to his hometown, Almeria. In 1+,- he resumed guitar
making, beginning his second epoch. 2e dont know for sure why he #uit in the first place. 2e also
dont know why he returned to guitar making, but he did finally get back to it, and did it up until the
time of his death in 1+9%. The ma"ority of his instruments that still e$ist are from his second epoch.
9ver his lifetime he made around 1-- guitars that we know of.
Torres was truly a modernist. His guitar designs may seem obvious how, or at least familiar, but
when he did it, it was new, untried. As with many wonderful discoveries, Torres didnt really invent
anything. He simply put things together in a new way. He pulled together the best practices of his
predecessors and contemporaries, put them in proportion and created a new e#uilibrium in guitar
design that looks, sounds and feels as good today as it did 1-& years ago. In fact maybe better,
because now these fine #ualities have been proven over several generations. If you look at the
guitars that come before Torres they all look a bit strange to the modern eye. They might be
characteri*ed by a narrow waist, similar upper and lower bouts, maybe small body si*e, shallow
depth, an odd numbers of strings and primitive interior bracing. However a Torres guitar can and
would blend in visually with any collection of modern guitars today, even after a hundred fifty
years of trial and error. Then again, its not the Torres that would be blending in, but rather all of the
others mimicking the Torres :as the sincerest form of flattery;. The elegance of the lines, the calm
balance and integration of the design elements, together bring a poise uni#ue to Torres guitars.
Here are some of the design features that came together in his work, which together can be thought
of as <Torres.<
• The plantilla, the shape of the body: He came up with outlines that are both visually
pleasing and subtle, and that also fit nicely to the physical si*e of most guitarists. It is larger
than most of his predecessors. The si*e proportions between the upper bout, the waist, and
the lower bout are still followed by nearly every classical guitar maker working today.
• The body depth: The depth fundamentally determines the air cavity inside the guitar, which
is a ma"or factor in the guitars voice. It also affects the comfort of holding the guitar.
• String length: The 8-&mm string length that is commonly accepted today is near what most
of his instruments were. This affects not only the left hand reaches, but also very
importantly affects the tension with which the string pulls on the bridge and sound board.
This is an essential element of tone production. In 'panish the term for string length is tiro
de cuerda, the pull of the string.
• The fan bracing: Torres didnt invent fan bracing, but the way he laid it out on the sound
board "ust makes so much sense. And maybe it behaves like its namesake 5 abanico 5 a fan,
pulsing air toward the listener.
• The thicknesses: Torres worked the wood #uite thin. This made the guitar very alive,
although maybe more delicate.
• The arching of the top and back: The strength that is gained from this arching helps
enable this e$tra thinning of these plates.
• The bridge: The bridge is an architectural study all by itself. The length, width and height,
the length and thicknesses of the wings, the elevation of the bone saddle above the slot, the
lower elevation of the string tie holes= all of these details had been grappled with by
generations of guitar makers before, but with Torres things fell neatly into place.
• The neck angle: This is one most important points in the engineering of a guitar. It must
take into account the fingerboard thickness, the sound board arching, bridge height, and the
bridge saddle>tie hole differential. The neck angle determines the string action above the
frets and the character of the sound influenced by the angle of the strings pulling against the
• The materials: He took special care in the selection of the sound board wood, but didnt
seem too concerned about matching, or other cosmetic issues. Also he used cypress, maple,
rosewood and other woods for the back and sides, without clear preference.
• Decoration: He could do the simplest rosettes and bindings, or he could do the most
elaborate, but it was always "ust right in the conte$t. And probably "ust what the client paid
• Etc.: !very other element counts 5 the neck thicknesses, nut width, shape of the neck,
carving of the heel, peg head angle, string spacing, combination of materials, tuners or pegs,
finish, etc., etc.
There e$ist today enough fine e$amples of Torres guitar to offer a window into the world of his
sound, sound that distinguishes Torres guitars from any others, including his best imitators. There is
a genius in that sound that is more than the sum of the parts. Although he was a gifted craftsman,
with work impeccable and e$#uisitely balanced, there is a sound to a fine Torres that transcends the
design, materials and craftsmanship. And that is the genius.
2hen listening to an old instrument, finding the special beauty of sound that cant be found
elsewhere, its a kind of time travel that raises as many #uestions as answers. Is this sound from its
age, something thats grown with time and seasoning? 2ere materials vastly superior then, all
virgin timbers, aged for generations? Have our ears, our ability to hear, changed with the bustle that
civili*ation, industry, technology, and ambition assaults us with? Have our standards been lowered
with the distractions of the whole world at our fingertips, have our tastes been dumbed down with
blunt concepts like loudness, brightness, power? @id those old guys know something we dont
know? Ao answers here. All we can do is play the instrument, drink deep of the li#ueurs it offers,
and take away what ever we have ears to hear.
Torres guitars have been appreciated since the beginning, and in fact hes been vastly imitated, even
counterfeited. (anuel )amire*, 'antos Hernande*, @omingo !steso are maybe the best known of
the 'panish makers from the early %&th century, and later Herman Hauser in Bermany essentially
copied Torres, gradually refining and tightening up elements of the construction of the guitar. The
guitar as Torres redefined it gradually became speciali*ed, though probably not until after his
lifetime. 4lassical guitar music, as apart from the more popular music and flamenco playing of his
day, gradually became a separate thing. Buitars have gotten segregated through speciali*ed use. It
was the players who steered the developing history. At first it was likely the 3lamenco guitarists of
'evilla that influenced Torres. 0ater, Arcas, Tarrega and 0lobet were Torres contemporaries whos
opinions mattered, and they went on to use the new e$pressive power of the Torres guitar to take
guitar music in a classical or romantic direction. This new guitar was a resource that helped to shape
the music. those 'panish teachers and composers influence the following generations. It was with
'egovia, and later .ulian 6ream, becoming the most influential classical interpreters through
recording and worldwide touring, and through their power as performers and their contacts with
composers that the guitar gained a world wide audience. These two spent most of their careers
playing Torres influenced guitars.
!ventually guitar makers have tried to further evolve the guitar. Ignacio 3leta made changes with
"ust about everything in the guitar= the bracing, the weight, the neck "oint and more, with a uni#ue
success. )obert 6ouchet made some small but significant changes to Torres sound board design,
though the overall concept didnt change much. @aniel 3riedrich created a different idea of sound
board bracing, and the role of the sides in the instrument. The .ose )amire* 4ompany took off in
their own direction making a guitar with a long diagonal sound board brace, deep body, laminated
sides, a very long string length and steep neck angle. )amire* made and sold thousands of these
guitars, establishing for a while a different standard for the guitar buying public. Today there are
many innovative contemporary builders who are trying to reinvent the guitar, get more volume out
of it, hoping to bring it to larger audiences. 6uilders like )uck, Humphrey, 'mallman, @amman and
many others are trying to make guitars that are louder at least, hopefully with a full range of beauty
in the sound, responding to the wishes of the newest generation of virtuoso concert players. 6ut
even with all of these new directions in guitar making, the vast ma"ority of guitars made today,
worldwide, are very much Torres. And, all along, there have been many fine builders who have
used their talents to pursue this classic ideal, and make powerful, beautiful and versatile concert
guitars, using the only the design that Torres codified over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Ive built many Torres design guitars, with smaller bodies, with rosewood, with maple, with
cypress. All of the standard assumptions, like you need a big body for a big bass, that maple
produces a soft guitar, that cypress is only for flamencos, that smaller guitars are #uiet, and on and
on= for me all these assumptions are out the window. It is possible to have it all using a
straightforward Torres design.
Its been a while since actual Torres guitars were routinely used in concert. They are in museums, in
private collections, pri*e possessions of individual owners. 6ut Torres style guitars have dominated
classical and flamenco performances all along. At the same time, many things about Torres life and
work were being neglected, slipping from history. 3ortunately the famous guitar maker .ose
)omanillos became fascinated with that part of the history of the guitar, and took it upon himself to
become Torres biographer. )omanillos was born and raised in 'pain, but in the early 198&s moved
to !ngland. He began making guitars there at least partly out of nostalgia for his native 'pain. His
guitar making caught the attention of the great !nglish guitarist .ulian 6ream, who played a
)omanillos guitar on tour and recordings for around %& years. In the course of )omanillos work as
guitar maker, he became more and more curious about the roots of 'panish guitar making, and in
this, all roads led to Torres. The study and research of Torres life and career became a lifetime
fascination for .ose )omanillos, with the full involvement of his wife (arian. They traveled to
'pain, looking at old legal records, finding the sites of events of Torres life, trying to bring back
into awareness the life and accomplishments of Antonio de Torres. The result is a very impressive
biography entitled Antonio de Torres Buitar (aker 5 His 0ife C 2ork, which is now in its second
printing. It is an interesting and well organi*ed study of every aspect of Torres life and work. This
book has stimulated many contemporary guitar makers to <go back< to these basic premises of
guitar making practice, and see what we can learn from the man who did it first, and some say, best.
Another effect of )omanillos book has been to bring many otherwise lost or forgotten Torres
instruments out of hiding, adding a lot of information to the catalog of e$tant instruments. Its raised
the appreciation of Torres among the buyers of instruments, having the net affect of driving the
prices of Torres instruments way up. It has also caused a renaissance of interest among players in
Torres style instruments, and those of his main stylistic descendant, Hauser. Buitar buying is at least
partially a fashion enterprise, and these days there is a fashion swing toward these simpler, fan
braced spruce top, 8-&mm scale classical guitars among guitar players, and conse#uently among
builders, with #uite satisfying music results.
In the last few years )omanillos moved back to 'pain, and is now living there in a small village
outside of (adrid. His son 0iam has "oined him in guitar making, and in interest in Torres. They
have also been giving summer courses in guitar making for a couple of years. As a result of his
research and publishing, the name of Torres almost cant be said without also speaking of
)omanillos. He did a great service bringing to life the facts about Torres life and work, and
conse#uently rekindling a strong interest, among both builders and players, in the potential of a
classically designed guitar with the traditional fan bracing, spruce top and 8-&mm string length.
Though infinite variation is still possible, this Torres design remains an invaluable touchstone of all
of our work with the guitar.
I recently had the good fortune to have an early Torres come through my shop for a time, and being
around this instrument, working on it, coming under the its spell has been revealing. This guitar,
made in 1+-8, was around before chain saws, cell phones in restaurants, before movie theaters, ,+
records or 2alkman, before a few world wars, motor cars and electric lights. If I make a guitar like
this today, I can be pretty confident it will come out well. 2hen Torres made this guitar, it hadnt
been done like this before, and a whole new instrument came into the world. This is thrilling,
hypnotic. The people who have Torres guitars or have worked on them are really in love with them.
Torres himself struggled financially his whole life, and could not have had an inkling of the
influence his work would have on several generations of guitar makers. 2e cant know what the
future of the guitar will be like, but the present owes much to Torres, and his accomplishment is as
relevant, and modern now as it was when he started.
D Kenny Hill, Felton, CA
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.