|In Memoriam: Manuel Velázquez
1917 — 2014
I am honored to memorialize my friend Manuel Velázquez.
Manuel was born in Puerto Rico as one of thirteen children. He said that at age five he told his father that one day he would build a guitar. His father knew woods, so he learned from his father and began building the guitars he’s known for. He also was playing the guitar and his father told him that he had to make a choice. “A man cannot run two horses at the same time.”
His first shop in New York City (year) was on 3rd Ave. I still have his business card from that location and a bill with his stationery.
I met Manuel when he worked in Noah Wulfe’s shop on 57th Street in the late ’60s. He was building guitars and doing repairs and charming guitarists with his stories. He loved to tell about selling his first guitar for under $15. And by the ’60s he was getting $450 for his instruments. As the years passed, his guitars sold for a whopping $1000 and up as he became better known.
Noah Wulfe loved Manuel’s guitars and was very influential in promoting him. He advertised Manuel’s guitar’s in the New York Times and in Guitar Review. When Noah passed the mantel to me, I also praised Velázquez guitars and sold so many of them that I soon became known as “the Velázquez lady.”
I know several guitarists who bought their first Velázquez guitars, in the ’60s for under $1000 and are shocked when they discover what they’re now worth. To me, they were always underpriced and still are.
Not only were his guitars selling to classical players, they were also discovered by steel string players and then rockers. Any steel player who bought a nylon guitar from me, always chose a Velázquez.
In 2009 I sold Keith Richards a 1956 Velázquez, chosen from twelve guitars he tried. He played it on his “steel wheels” album and said in an interview in Guitar Player magazine, “He’s the end, man, such a cool cat”. I relayed this message to Manuel in this foreign language he didn’t understand, from a man he never heard of. I then translated it into Spanish: so he would understand that Keith is very famous and loves his guitar and was sensitive enough to choose his from all the others he played. Keith heard that special sound that all Velázquez guitar lovers know, “the sound of angels singing” as someone called it. Manuel was always listening for “the sound” as he tapped the top to find the desired resonance that characterizes his guitars. Besides the clarity and balance, there is. That purity of sound that he was able to bring forth from the wood.
I have customers, one in particular, Peter Williams who has a Velázquez guitar from each decade. When I first began selling guitars, I knew that one day Manuel’s’ guitars would rank amongst the great masters. And command the prices they deserve.
In 2008, when Paul Polycarpou and his crew made the wonderful documentary about Manuel called Manuel Velázquez: A Tribute to a Legend. It was filmed partly in his shop and partly in mine. Manuel talked about how he talks to the wood and the wood talks to him and his fingers tell him when he has the desired quality of sound .Virginia Luque was specially invited by Manuel to play in this homage video because he felt a connection with her in their shared love and passion for the instrument and the search for the true sound of the guitar. At the end of the video he said so movingly, Guitar is my life, my soul, it is my life.”
— Beverly Maher
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