About my instruments
My main approach to early plucked instrument making is closely linked to my experience as a professional lute player. Many years of studying different repertoires on different instruments has allowed me to develop a very clear mental image of the ideal sound I am aiming for and translate it into my instruments. When an instrument even slightly deviates from that ideal sound I make subtle changes until I am completely satisfied (more on that below). This kind of work is very time consuming but very much worth the extra effort in the interest of the best possible quality of sound. I do not make any so called "student" instruments since I take no joy in working below my skills. All my production consists on professional concert grade instruments.
Although the business side of the trade is important in order to make it viable, I am more interested in creating instruments with no compromises that satisfy me and my customers in all respects.
As a consequence of this personal approach all my instruments are tried and tested by myself during a period of some days in order to insure their highest sound quality as well as their excellent playability.
I have travelled to many important museums in Europe with the aim of studying most of the models in my catalogue. There are many subtle clues on those instruments that represent a great source of inspiration and that cannot be reflected and fully understood from a drawing. It has always been clear to me that one cannot fully capture the fundamental nature of an instrument from a contemporary attitude and methodology. Consequently, I constantly study and research the techniques that those old craftsmen used and how they translated into the essence of the instruments they produced.
About my current catalogue
I believe that every historical model has its hidden secrets that are difficult to uncover without plenty of experience and insight into its particularities. For this reason, I keep my instrument catalogue to the minimum necessary, making sure to bring out the best sound out of each model and its true potential.
Relation with customers
Since I have been a customer myself many years ago when still a lute student at the conservatory, I perfectly know what is like to be “on the other side”. The experience of commissioning an instrument comes with a lot of expectation and hope. Both professionals and amateurs expect that instrument to be a source of intense musical pleasure (hopefully for a lifetime) as well as a tool that helps them bring out their best musicianship. Being aware of all this, I take enormous efforts for it to be true and try to accommodate individual wishes, tailoring each commission to their expectations within the historical background of each instrument.
On first approach I try to inform my customers about the best instrument for their needs. A couple of months before starting their instrument a further, more detailed discussion is maintained until we both agree upon the finer details. At this stage I send pictures of various suitable timber choices for their instrument. Obviously this last stage is always better carried out personally by visiting my workshop and it is the choice I enjoy the most since I always appreciate a personal contact with the future owner of one of my instruments.
Once the customer has chosen the timbers and I start construction I also send very frequent updates of the building process and so that he/she can see how the instrument is developing. One the instrument is finished and has passed all the tests of sound and playability I keep it for some time in the workshop to make sure it is stable and ready for delivery.
By the time the instrument is in one piece and before polishing and applying the finish I put the strings on and evaluate the sound it produces for a while. At this stage and once the strings have settled, I play different styles of music within the repertoire of the instrument in order to evaluate some parameters that to my view are essential for a top professional instrument. Some of these aspects are:
-Sound quality of each individual note that, in my conception of sound, translates into a broad spectrum of low, middle and high harmonics. This is perceived as a rich full sound to the ear.
-Balance between registers.
-Uniformity of timbre between each individual course. This makes possible to play a musical phrase that carries into different courses with no audible difference in tone color.
-A singing quality to the sound with good sustain.
All this is done not only by trusting my own ears but also with the help of technology. Two high quality Neumann microphones are connected to the computer in order to analyze those parameters and keep records of them for future reference.
Setup and playability
As important as the quality of sound are the physical aspects that will create the perfect playability and easiness of tune of the instrument. The height of the strings (usually measured from the fingerboard to the upper part of both the 1st and last strings at the 8th fret) has a tremendous influence on how much effort the player has to make to fret the notes. This is generally called “action” and, if too great the instrument will be very uncomfortable to play and, if too low buzzes on many notes will occur. This balance between the two extremes is one of the most difficult aspects to adjust correctly and requires some trial and error to get it just right. An adequate choice of fret gauges and the height of the nut are also very important. I have found that in order to make these adjustments right one needs to use a trial and error procedure until a perfect playability is achieved.
Smooth turning pegs
Another aspect that is too often overlooked is the perfect and smooth turning of the pegs. This is even more important for professional players that need to be able to tune their instruments quickly and effectively in all kind of situations. This is another aspect that as a professional I am very aware of. In order to achieve perfect turning pegs I subject them to a special treatment to make them more resistant to humidity changes.
I also have developed a proprietary formula for a peg compound that is much more efficient than the commercial one that is usually sold for violin family instruments. This peg compound is included with each of my instruments.