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In Memoriam: George A. Smith

In Memoriam: George A. Smith

December 7, 1930 – May 18, 2023

by Maria Gonzalez-Leon, Peter Tsiorba, and David Franzen

Originally published in American Lutherie #150, 2023


Photo by Peter Tsiorba.

It is with a heavy heart that I attempt to put into words what George meant to me in my life. His love, his knowledge, not only of music and instruments, but also of the history of our country and Portland, Oregon, was truly incomparable. His absence is deeply felt, and I find myself yearning to call him, as we used to speak at least once a week. He selflessly gave me so much of his time, love, and wisdom on various subjects, including history, music, and politics — fortunately, we shared the same political views.

George came into my life in an improbably way. Approximately forty-five years ago, I was in search of a roommate, and in response to my ad about a room for rent, he brought one of his friends to check out the place. From the very first moment, we connected over our shared passion for classical music, particularly the guitar, and I discovered his exceptional talent as a luthier. I knew that we were destined to be best friends forever.

George’s knowledge of woodcrafting, particularly in constructing guitars, banjos, and even a couple of harpsichords, was beyond compare. Generous with his time, he was always willing to share his expertise with anyone interested. Throughout my life, George remained a constant source of support during challenges and successes. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams and further educate myself to earn professional degrees.

I fondly remember the times when my daughters were young, and we would visit George’s house. My daughters and I hold memories of sitting together and watching him skillfully paint one of his harpsichords. It was a delightful experience as he patiently explained the process to the girls, answering all their questions about music, instruments, and the intricacies of construction. His love for sharing knowledge was evident in those moments, but it was George’s warm and loving nature that made those moments even more special. Beyond his musical talents, he surprised us with his culinary skills, and I particularly loved the bread croutons he made — they were so delicious, I would eat them like popcorn. Those cherished memories with George will forever remain in our hearts.

As the years passed, I relocated from Portland to California and even lived in Spain for a time, but despite the distance, our friendship never wavered. George was always curious about my experiences, especially when it came to flamenco music, wanting to know every detail of the music I heard in the Romani neighborhoods of the Alicante. He had a way of making friends effortlessly, and his warm-hearted nature endeared him to people from all walks of life. He cherished friendships and had an astounding memory for details, recounting stories from his youth. George’s passion for music and life extended beyond the boundaries of his immediate circle. He corresponded with people from all over the world, exchanging stories about music and sharing his vast knowledge.

I feel incredibly grateful to have had George in my life. He was not only and dear friend but also an exceptional human being who left a mark on the lives of those he touched. Though he is no longer with us, his memory and his legacy as a luthier and a friend will forever be cherished in our hearts.

Rest in peace, dear George.

— Maria Gonzalez-Leon

Photo courtesy of Peter Tsiorba

I met George Smith in the mid 2000s. During that time, lutherie knowledge, along with everything else in the 21st century, was steadily migrating into digital ecosystems. Video content, tonewoods, tooling, building techniques... it all seemed only a click or two away. Knowing George Smith connected me to a very different era of lutherie, one where supplies and tonewoods were elusive, and information hard to find.

I recall this story of one of George’s early tonewood orders. A certain gentleman in Los Angeles advertised European spruce and other supplies to luthiers. When one thinks of a supplier, one might expect some shelves with inventory awaiting shipment. Well, this particular supplier typically had nothing to ship. At least not right away. Incoming orders would be banked, and once enough payments had accumulated, the “supplier” would place larger batch orders for his presold wares. It would take some months for the tonewoods or tools to arrive from Europe or another unknown locale. Once received, individual orders would be shipped to customers. Lag time from order to fulfillment? By modern Instacart standards, eternity! And in case you were curious about the grading methods applied to your tonewood order, yours is the next set on the pile.

Thank you George, for doing your part, carrying lutherie knowledge across all those decades, and for leaving us with lessons in patience, frugality, and perseverance.

— Peter Tsiorba

George Smith was someone I have known pretty much my whole life. I was a young boy when I first became aware of him in our local guitar community. He was a distinguished looking gentleman wearing a mariner’s cap and he loved to talk about stringed instruments for as long as you would listen, and he made many different kinds himself. When I looked at him I wouldn’t have necessarily thought he looked like a movie star when he was young. But early photos of him proved otherwise. He had sort of a Leonardo DiCaprio look to him. I imagine he was popular with women.

Whenever George heard an interesting instrument, he always wanted to borrow it overnight to study it closely and measure it in his shop. I believe that through this process he learned key information. When I played for him he usually seemed more interested in the sound of the instrument more than any particular piece of music being played. George was always very kind to me, and generous with his time. We had long conversations about world history, or even the history of the buildings built in downtown Portland. He remembered when they were erected, and what businesses went in them, and which ones failed, and who replaced them, his memories reaching back decades. Talking to George was never boring. He usually knew more on many subjects than I, and he seemed to have a somewhat encyclopedic memory. In addition to making stellar-quality guitars, he also made harpsichords and virginals. I remember a beautiful harpsichord of his being played at the Marylhurst musical instrument show. He once told me harpsichord construction can be thought of as akin to flamenco guitars in some ways in how they respond. Frequently cypress is used to offer a quick and lightweight response. When I told him I bought a clavichord at an estate sale, and I said it seemed rather quiet, he told me to bring it over and he would take a look at it. When I did, he decided to replace the soundboard right then and there, so we got to work together on a low-risk fun project together. It is a sweet memory sitting on the floor looking through his stash of strings, and gluing in the new soundboard, all in the same day. The clavichord ended up sounding pretty much exactly the same as before, but I wouldn’t trade the memory.

I have owned four of George’s guitars over my career. The first was an African blackwood spruce guitar. When I listen back to my recording of the Chaconne, or Rodrigo’s Fandango, I think to myself, how could I ever have parted with it? I am touched to now own his final instrument, which seems to me to be the perfect mixture of all the ones that came before it. The top is made of some of the finest European spruce you can find anywhere, and it had been aging in his upstairs stash for over fifty years. The back is made of Malaysian blackwood, which seems to my ears to support upper harmonics better than African blackwood. Maybe it’s a little lighter; I can hear a little bit of Indian rosewood qualities in it, along with the power of blackwood. When I slice the string at an angle, that silky/airy quality that many guitars can lack is there in spades.

Last summer during Covid, he was having trouble getting around upstairs in his house where his wood stash was kept, and he called me up and asked me to come over and help him sort them into matched pairs. We worked a couple days at that. There was some amazing looking wood there.

Afterwards, we relaxed in the nook just outside his kitchen and we had a couple Black Butte Porters together. I don’t really like beer, but with George it had become sort of a tradition. I think we complained it wasn’t the old recipe.

I spent time with him twice in the last two weeks before his passing. I am so grateful I did. He said he didn’t have long. In spite of his quickly declining health, he seemed quite lucid and warm. He didn’t seem scared. He would occasionally exclaim he was angry about it, but it was just a brief flash, and then he was back chatting away. We reminisced about everything we had talked about over the years. We shared a couple Obsidian stout beers together on the last two visits, and dolmas as snacks. He mentioned when he grew up in this town, it wasn’t very easy to find quality guitars. George never used to like to talk about his age, but in our last conversation he mentioned he was thirteen years old at some point in World War II. It kind of puts things in perspective. I think he was ninety-two. That’s a long life, and he added beauty to the world in such a lovely way. His guitars will long outlive me. I am grateful for his long friendship.

I will miss you, George! I hope you feel ease and a fantastic bliss wherever you are. Feel free to visit me if you can.

— David Franzen

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In Memoriam: Rick Turner

In Memoriam: Rick Turner

July 30, 1943 – April 17, 2022

by GAL Staff, David Bolla, and Steve Klein

Originally published in American Lutherie #147, 2022


Rick Turner epitomized the imagination, courage, and determination of a lot of people in the Lutherie Boom generation, people who dove into guitar making before there was detailed resource material, before there were sources of parts and specialized tools, before there was a supportive community of generous and knowledgeable makers. He joined the GAL early on and spoke at our 1980 Convention in San Francisco, then again, twenty-four years later, at our 2004 Convention in Tacoma. He wrote a long-running column for American Lutherie called “Electronic Answer Man” in the 1990s. See this issue’s Web Extras for photos and links.

— GAL Staff

Photo by Jonathon Peterson.

My first Guild of American Luthiers Convention was in Tacoma, Washington, in 2004. I stood outside the auction preview room, speaking with a small group of young luthiers around my age. I hadn’t been to Roberto-Venn yet. In fact, I got the call I had been accepted to the guitar-building school while at the convention. I was just there to learn as much as possible as I considered a future career path.

As we stood there, a man wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt under a sport coat approached. He kindly took time to speak with us for a while about guitars, sharing his opinions on some of the topics we were discussing. He was much older than anyone else in the group, but it wasn’t noticeable by his demeanor. Only his graying hair and weathered face informed us of his age. He hung out for nearly twenty minutes, laughing and smiling with the rest of us.

The following day, I attended the final lecture of the week. It was highly anticipated, as Rick Turner, one of the great legends of the trade, would be speaking about his vision of the future of the industry and innovations on the horizon. I was in awe as the man who had casually joined our conversation the day before took the stage, commanding the audience as a giant of the craft, larger than life.

I only met him that one time, but it was a formative encounter. It was humbling to have someone who had such influence on an industry stop to speak with kids who were just entering it. I’m saddened to hear of his passing, but I am happy I had the chance to speak with a man, if only for twenty minutes, who had such an immense impact on music and instruments.

— David Bolla

I first met Rick Turner fifty years ago at a Prune Music guitar show in Mill Valley. From then on, his door was always open.

I will miss his open information sharing. For instance, I first heard about cyanoacrylate glues from him, long before Krazy Glue was even a product.

I’ll miss the synchronistic hook-ups that just seemed to happen around him. In the late ’80s he introduced me to Gibson’s new CEO, and that led me to reconnecting with Ned Steinberger and the creation of the headless project which continues today. In Rick’s shops over the years, I’ve met musicians and craftsmen; many I now call friends.

I will also miss his forever-forward thinking. Just how do we accomplish the task at hand? He made the sub-bass string pickup for the first electric harp guitar that I built for Michael Hedges.

Rick was a pragmatic, unapologetic self-promoter, but he held the door open for so many of us to pass through, with a smile and with encouragement.

The passing of my old friend helped me remember just what his friendship, his ideas, and the sharing of his research has given me. He was the glue.

— Steve Klein

Young Rick Turner, 1966. Photo courtesy of Rick Turner.
Lecturing at the 1980 GAL Convention in San Francisco. Photo by Dale Korsmo.
At the Healdsburg Guitar Festival, 2000. Photo by Jonathon Peterson.
Lecturing at the 2004 GAL Convention in Tacoma. Photo by Jonathon Peterson.
Rick Turner (left) at GAL HQ after the 2004 GAL Convention in Tacoma. Also in this photo: Tini Burghardt, Richard Glick, Todd Rose, Geza Burghardt, Cyndy Burton. Photo by Hap Newsom.

Rick Turner was an active GAL author.
Follow this link to see a complete listing of his articles.

An interview from 2007 on the NAMM website.

Story on Rick Turner Guitars website.

Beau Hannam Remembers Rick Turner

Published online by Guild of American Luthiers, 2022


I only met Rick Turner once, in Oct 2021, and I found him delightful. He greeted me with a hug. That surprised me; it’s not common for a guy his age on meeting someone for the first time. I admire flora drawings, and a few months prior I had commented on his post where he proudly showed his ex-wife’s book of trees with amazing illustrations by her (Eye Spy a Tree: Welcome to the Arboretum by Amber R. Turner). I guess he remembered that comment, as while we were talking in his office about guitar history and what we love in lutherie, he reached down and gave me a copy of the book.

Unaware of his history with Alembic, the Grateful Dead or his Model 1 guitar, I first came to know Rick through his posts on various forums and Facebook and his often-forceful advice, particularly on the advocacy of the use of hot hide glue and epoxy. Indeed, his “glue list” remains an unequaled educational resource on which glues to use and where to use them.

It is strange when a giant dies as it forces us to realize the importance of knowledge gained over a decades long career and that some of it is now lost. Looking back, I realize some of my fundamental building principles have been influenced by his teaching: His back-slanted saddle (about 7 degrees), carbon fiber in various areas, and his use of epoxy in building, especially for large surface glue-ups like fingerboards are all based on rock-solid common sense.

He was forceful at times for the same reason any person who has been a luthier for decades is when they give advice to someone starting out in the industry who hasn’t yet the capacity for listening or learning. It is truly frustrating and something teachers have dealt with since the first sea creature crawled onto the land, looked back, and suggested to the second sea creature that they follow. But sometimes people, be they our children, friends, or strangers we try to give advice to, can only grow through pushing through a problem then seeing, acknowledging, and understanding the warned-about folly for themselves. Seeing, acknowledging, and understanding are the steps the mind needs to take and some people need to live them all fully. It is probably best to work through each step on your own, but being giving an Easter egg of advice which allows you to jump to the understanding part is a gift often not accepted, and rarely seen as the gold that it is. We are surrounded by fools gold on the internet. But Rick’s advice was always 24k.

Since the advent of social media, I have seen a pattern. Lutherie and Life’s nuggets of wisdom are most often found not in systematically structured philosophical essays; they are found in what seems at first glance insignificant posts, in tiny ad hoc responses to a some other question, and in the beauty of a short, well reasoned and decisive answer to a seemingly unrelated topic. Search for the small things, in the big things. And vice-versa.
Sayonara Rick. Don’t get epoxy on those heavenly clouds. —

Photo courtesy of Beau Hannam
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In Memoriam: Jeanette Fernández

In Memoriam: Jeanette Fernández

November 26, 1944 – August 14, 2022

by Ronald Louis Fernández

Originally published in American Lutherie #147, 2022


Jeanette Fernández, a lovely lass born Jeanette T. Wilson in Glasgow, Scotland, died in Anacortes, Washington, last summer. While not a luthier, Jeanette was heavily involved in the international guitar trade for three decades. And she was a big fan of the Guild.

Jeanette left school at age fifteen when her father died. She worked in banks in Glasgow and London for six years, then got a loan and immigrated by herself to Montreal for the 1967 World’s Fair, Expo 67. She was hired by the anthropology department at McGill University and ran the office for almost ten years under three different professors. I was a Ph.D. student there when we met, and we were married in 1973.

In the early 1990s, Jeanette became an essential part of my Spanish-guitar import business, Fernández Music. Jeanette handled the accounting, packing, and a lot of customer relations. She accompanied me on visits to stores and suppliers in the U.S. and Europe. She got to know “all the usual suspects” in our industry.

Jeanette Fernández at the 2011 GAL Convention in Tacoma. Photo by Cyndy Burton.
At the 2011 GAL Convention in Tacoma (l to r): Ron Fernández, Jeanette Fernández, John Park. Photo by Mónica Esparza.

Part of our business involved being the American representatives at the Anaheim National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show for Esteve Guitar and Juan Hernández Workshop from Valencia Spain. At NAMM, Jeanette got to know many of the international suppliers and customers located in Japan, Germany, Argentina, Mexico, France, Canada, Australia, Britain, Spain, and Portugal. She dealt with everyone in her Scottish-accented English, but also on occasion in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

We frequently traveled together to do business with guitar makers in Valencia, Madrid, and Portugal. She had a special relationship with Spanish guitar maker Felix Manzanero and his wife Soli in Madrid, and with Luis and Graça Penedo, who were involved in the Portuguese guitar world.

While the giant NAMM Show in Anaheim with 90,000 attendees was a part of doing business, the Guild Convention, in contrast, was a great pleasure for Jeanette. She loved meeting old friends, attending the concerts, living in the old dorms, eating in the Commons, and the nights at the local bars, ice cream shop, and restaurants. She especially looked forward to the auction on the last night. When we would get a new issue of American Lutherie, she would go through it to see the people she knew. She felt very comfortable with all the characters of the luthier brotherhood.

She was also the camera person on our French Polish for Guitarmakers DVD. She always refined my writings. She had an innate insight into the English language. Any success of our guitar business I fully share with Jeanette.

And she always made me a better person. —

(We always loved seeing sweet Jeanette at the Conventions, and will miss her kindness and gifts of chocolate this summer. — The GAL Staff)

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In Memoriam: Chris Herbert

Chris Herbert

Nov. 22, 1955 - May 30, 2022

by The Herbert Family

Published online by Guild of American Luthiers, July, 2023


Chris Herbert was probably Denver’s premier guitar repairman. He moved to Denver in 1980 from Columbus, Ohio, with excellent woodworking skills and a love of music. He was mentored at the now defunct Feretta’s Guitar Store where he learned his craft and began his career. He took to it very quickly and became the go-to luthier for almost every guitarist who played vintage instruments in Colorado. He worked on guitars for countless Colorado musicians, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Hot Rize, The Nacho Men, The Mother Folkers and many, many others. When touring musicians came to town, he was always the one they called — Jewel, Mason Williams, Andy Gibb, Duke Robillard, the Subdudes. When Mason Williams asked how much he owed, Chris said, “Just play me Classical Gas!” That was Chris.

All photos courtesy of the Herbert Family except as noted.

He worked mainly on S. Broadway, but in his later years, preferred to work out of his home. He built a few custom instruments in the early days, and his second custom guitar is now owned by Nick Beier of San Diego. He also collected Golden Era Martin and Gibson guitars which are now worth a fortune; many of these went into his friends’ collections. His favorite guitar was the Blackguard Telecaster.

Everyone who knew Chris commented on his love of old instruments and the care that went into fixing their myriad problems that developed over the years. He was a perfectionist and it showed. For years, he was a certified Martin repair person and had an excellent relationship with Martin and their longtime employee and historian David Musselwhite.

Chris called himself a humanist and felt a strong sense of compassion for displaced and oppressed people. He cherished his abundant friendships with local and nationally recognized musicians, good buddies, and neighbors, and his close ties to his siblings.

Chris was a fan of other builders, including Denny Stevens. Denny also lived in Colorado, but tragically developed ALS and passed away in 2009. Chris owned a 1973 Denny Stevens guitar, which was the last guitar in Chris’ estate. The Herbert Family kindly donated it to the Guild of American Luthiers, in memory of master luthier Chris Herbert. It was sold in the Guild’s Benefit Auction in July 2023, the proceeds of which go to further the Guild’s mission of information sharing among luthiers like Chris. —

At the 2023 GAL Convention Benefit Auction. Photo by Steve McElrath.
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In Memoriam: José Luis Romanillos Vega

In Memoriam: José Luis Romanillos Vega

Madrid, June 17, 1932 — Sigüenza, February 12, 2022

by Don Federico Sheppard, Kevin Aram, Josep Melo I Valls, and Mónica Esparza

Originally published in American Lutherie #146, 2022


The mortal essence of noted guitar maker, historian, and author José Luis Romanillos has passed from this earth. I was privileged to get to know him well over the last twelve years, first having been invited by him and his wife, Marian Harris Winspear, to their home to study the museum collection devoted to the workshop of Santos Hernández and other great Spanish makers of the 18th–20th centuries; and later to organize concerts and bring young guitarists to spend some time with the master, and to get autographed copies of his masterpiece dictionary of Spanish guitar makers. His invitation to sit at his right hand for the concert of Canadian guitarist Jeffrey McFadden, marking his 85th birthday, is one of the great honors of my life, and one I shall not soon forget. I am indebted to the GAL for inviting José to Tacoma in 1995 where I, along with many Guild members, were able to meet him, “up close and personal.”

José at his shop in 2012, when students attending his last workshop visited one evening. He’s holding a quilted maple guitar called “La Culé,” owned by Josep Melo. Photo by Mónica Esparza.

I came along a little too late to attend one of his guitar-making classes, but I have had the opportunity to present a few of my guitars to him. It is not often that you meet someone in their late eighties who has the enthusiasm of a sixteen-year-old, but that was José as I knew him, when seeing fresh new work. We share common friends in Geza and Tini Burghardt, and to be honest, when warmed by a fire in his living room, I can’t recall talking about guitars at all; our conversations instead revolved around historical figures, our common friends, and unsolved mysteries of guitar history.

And then along came Filomena! For those of you who do not follow Spanish news closely, Filomena was a once-in-a-century snowstorm that buried the northern half of Spain in two feet of heavy snow. José and Marian’s boiler decided to quit just when it was needed most, and the tiny village where they live has no snow removal equipment. Panicked phone calls went out for help, but most of the country was literally frozen. It was only with the good luck of having a caring neighbor that wood was hauled to the living-room woodstove, saving the old master and Marian from freezing to death. The back-and-forth phone calls eventually calmed my nerves, but also brought me to the realization of the level of dedication that brought José back to Spain late in life to do some of his best work, documented in the recently published book by Josep Melo. He spent his last years living in “España Duro y Profundo” (Hard Core Spain).

The last concert I was able to facilitate in Sigüenza featured Czech guitar master Pavel Steidl. Pavel’s guitar needed a small adjustment and José offered his workshop, located in another house in the village. José was feeling the weight of his years, and we navigated the rough streets very carefully. It was the last time I saw him in his workshop. As we walked back to the house, I saw the two masters deep in conversation and gave them a wide berth. When we returned to the house, Marian produced their 50th wedding anniversary guitar, a remarkable instrument with several distinct features, including a rosette with double arches, four-piece sides, and exquisite rosewood salvaged from wood originally cut for bandurrias. José began the finishing process with egg white, and so happy was he with the sound, that he halted further French polishing for fear of damaging the instrument’s sound. Pavel must have played that guitar for an hour. We all realized what a special moment this was, and not a word was spoken. Everyone in the room was drowning in tears. As I drove Pavel to the airport, I found the courage to ask him what he had discussed with the master, walking, with difficulty, back from the workshop. Pavel replied “He said, ‘I am going to fight all the way to the end.’”

José’s flower-bedecked tomb on a mountain in Spain. Photo by Federico Sheppard.

José’s ride up the mountain to his final resting place, overlooking the castle of Sigüenza, was attended by a select group of loved ones, including myself. I arrived with only one minute to spare. I suspected that, outside of the family, I would be the only English speaker there, and I was right. I promised to remember every detail. When the time came to place the casket in the tomb, it wouldn’t fit! One of the attendants shrugged his shoulders and produced a plane from the back of the hearse. He ever-so carefully shaved off just enough wood to allow the proper fitting of the master into his final resting place. A “fitting” end to the life of a master who not only tamed a foreign tongue, but who documented the evolution of the Spanish guitar with a series of books, which, frankly, are not likely to ever be surpassed. I was granted my wish to address the assembled guests in my famously bad Spanish, and all I could think of to say, on behalf of the members of the Guild, was to quote the Paraguayan guitarist Sila Godoy: “Death only takes the perishable man, and allows him to begin living in the eternity of his creations.”

The next morning I was invited to an intimate gathering of the family in the Plaza Mayor of Sigüenza to see the flags lowered to half mast at the Town Hall. It was here, under the tall towers of the Cathedral, still riddled with hundreds of bullet holes, that José in years past shared with me his painful memories of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. It certainly helped me to understand why he had abandoned Spain for the UK for a large part of his life. Marian relieved the tension with the story of José’s first guitar, sharing the fact that the first one sold for a mere fifteen pounds! Son Liam, who carries an incredible likeness to José, provided a stoic reminder of the introspective nature of José. Son Ignacio shared the details of José’s life as a fourteen-year-old boy. For an entire year in his training as a furniture maker, all he was allowed to do in the workshop was sharpen tools, all day, every day. I imagined what a treat that would be were I to have a future master of José’s caliber sharpening my tools! As son José was unable to make the journey on short notice, I took his place at the table, which made me feel like the fourth Romanillos son. The conversation drifted to the future, and the concerts to be held in José’s honor, and while the family returned to the cemetery on the hill, I quietly drove back home through the land of castles, wheat, and wool, marveling at the wonder of it all.

Why I have been so blessed, I can not begin to comprehend. The Guild is Great! The Guild is Good ! The Guild is Great and Good!

Goodbye old friend. Your work on earth has only begun.

— Don Federico Sheppard

José in his Semley shop in England, 1990. Photo by Kevin Aram.

I first went to visit José Romanillos at his workshop in Semley, England, in the early 1980s, and over a period of ten years I visited him there on a regular basis. I wanted to learn how to make a Spanish guitar, and he showed me.

He was a mixture of a Spanish and an English gentleman. When I stayed for lunch it would often be pickled rabbit, but the conversation would be about the weather.

It is difficult for me to explain the effect he had on me. He was very charismatic. When he was explaining some aspect of his work, he would draw me in, and I absorbed what he was telling me almost by osmosis.

He had begun his research into Antonio de Torres for the book that would be published in 1987, and on each visit he would show me his latest findings. He gave me a copy of the plantilla for a Torres guitar that he had just measured and I still use this layout today.

At the end of each visit, I would leave with a feeling of elation and this would feed into my work. After some time I would want to see him again and, like a drug addict needing a fix, I would return to learn more.

After the GAL published my lecture on Julian Bream’s 1973 Romanillos guitar, he was very pleased and, together with his wife Marian, suggested that I might like to write a biography of José’s life. I agreed to do this, but at that time they were moving to Spain and communicating by fax and phone was very difficult. I lost my nerve to write the book and the project never happened. I know he was disappointed by this.

Happily living in Spain, José continued to make his beautiful guitars and also to research and write about Spanish guitar making and history. He published a second volume of the Torres book and a number of other books and became the well-respected academic that he always wanted to be. This was something else about his character: He wanted to be more than a successful guitar maker, and attain a higher standing in society.

At this time he started holding summer schools to teach his methods of making to a wider audience. They were hugely successful and he taught hundreds of people to make guitars in his way, which was the Spanish way.

A wonderful man, he will be sadly missed by many people throughout the world.

— Kevin Aram

The beautiful cypress trees facing the tomb of José Romanillos. Photo by Josep Melo.

To the Maestro: With your disappearance we have lost one of the last, if not the only defender and great fighter for the authentic sound of the Spanish guitar, the sound of Antonio de Torres and of Santos Hernández.

To the friend: With your loss we feel a great nostalgia for the blood sausages, that with fried potatoes and red wine, would accompany our infinite and nocturnal talks around the mahogany kitchen table.

And in your resting place, the magnificent and impressive cypresses, trees of welcome, trees of eternity, whose wood you loved so much, stand perpetual guard and remind us all of your open hands and the wisdom that you did not hide. And we feel a profound pain that only the sound of your guitars is capable of soothing.

— Josep Melo I Valls

(L to R): Marian and José with Mónica Esparza at José’s vihuela workshop in 2010. Photo courtesy of Mónica Esparza.

The Madrid-born luthier, José Luis Romanillos, was more than a guitar maker. He was a researcher, writer, teacher, collector of historical instruments, and he loved being a poet. Very few people knew this side of José.

In the Spanish-guitar, or classical-guitar world, he was considered the authority on the Antonio de Torres guitar. He spent most of his guitar-making career studying, pursuing, and creating what he knew and understood to be the Spanish sound. He based his studies and decades of work on the sound that the Torres guitars produced. He would add that the Santos Hernández guitars would be in the same category and both were considered the true representation of what is known as the Spanish sound.

He always believed that the Torres guitar was the true essence of the Spanish guitar. He went on to say that the Spanish guitar not only encompassed an inner part of the maker, but it represented so much of the social and cultural value of its homeland.

José was always in pursuit of knowledge of not only fine guitars, but he also researched and built historical instruments from such periods as the Renaissance and the Baroque. He had built lutes and vihuelas aside from guitars.

In 2010, I was honored with José’s invitation to the grand opening of the guitar museum, Casa del Doncel, in Sigüenza. He had insisted and advocated for so many frustrating years to convince his nearby town of Guadalajara, and the University of Alcalá, to help him create a museum that could proudly display a huge part of Spanish history embodied in a collection of guitars and vihuelas. It now also stores a great part of the Romanillos-Harris instrument collection.

He was one of few (or maybe even the only) Spanish guitar builder who was such a huge advocate of the guitar in his country, and perhaps the world. He was always so willing to share his knowledge and hands-on experience in making guitars with all of us inquisitive minds, who would go to him and participate in his summer workshops.

In his workshops I not only built a guitar under his day-to-day guidance, but he would share with us his interests, findings, and other explorations of all his curiosities relating to these stringed instruments. He oozed the passion for the guitar and strongly lamented his country’s lack of interest in preserving the historical treasures Spain had to offer.

Every visit to José’s would be filled with overwhelming new knowledge of jigs, fixtures, and the construction of the guitar. He would always be filled with enthusiasm and smiles. He loved to joke and got great pleasure and fulfillment in helping all of us who gathered around him and were hungry for answers and inspiration. He gave us his hard-earned experience, and taught us what a marvelous instrument the Spanish guitar is and will always continue to be. He made us feel welcomed and gladly opened the doors to his personal shop and home.

José tuning a vihuela at his 2010 workshop. Photo by Mónica Esparza.

He was a man with many curiosities, talents, and loves. I considered him to be a kind, gentle, and very giving, wonderful friend. As José so eloquently ended his poem that he wrote for the guitar-makers’ workshop of 1995 titled, “El Guitarrero” (The Guitar Maker), he writes:

Deja tu banco quieto. Vete en paz por tu senda

Y escucha tus pisadas que van marcando el son
Y las maderas nobles que usaste en tu empeño
Repetirán: “Has hecho una cancion!”

Leave your bench still. Go in peace along your path
And listen to your footsteps that are marking the sound
And the noble woods that you used in your endeavor
They will repeat: “You have made a song!”

José’s favorite wood was a fine cypress, along with a highly figured bearclawed Swiss spruce. It is no surprise that his grave is now mournfully facing the most spectacular cypress trees.

José, I am forever grateful to have been your student and loyal friend. You will be immensely missed, and may you rest in endless peace.

— Mónica Esparza