Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Torres FE-18 Update

hauser guitar, torres guitar, fe18, fe-18, hill guitarI first made copies of Torres FE 18 (1864) about a year and a half ago, hoping to make a small but concert-quality guitar for gifted kids to play. Frank Longay was pushing me to come up with something for his Suzuki prodigies. I looked through the Torres archives and picked the smallest one I could find. Using the Torres design relieved me of a lot of responsibility in coming up with a body shape etc., and Torres' eye for shape is perfect.

I found the dimensions in Romanillos' book, as well as a very tiny photograph. I blew up the photo until it matched the dimensions, cut it out with scissors, made the necessary assembly forms and built the guitars. I did four instruments in a variety of string lengths, all Indian rosewood and spruce, and I used the rosette and purfling from my preexisting 1856 Torres, a guitar and model that I have loved since first sight.

The resulting guitars were very fine musically and esthetically, credit which should go straight to Torres. The body is not much different in size from a Panormo, but the overall sound is very complete, not at all an "antique" sound. The guitars didn't turn out to be ideal proportions for kid students, but more suited for any person who wants a smaller instrument, easy to play and hold, with a full, rich concert sound, to spare.

hill guitar, torres guitar, fe-18, torres fe18, torres fe-18About a year ago James Westbrook, a guitar historian, author and collector from England stopped by the shop for a visit, and he asked me "What's new?" I pointed out the FE 18 copy,"That's new", and he was looking at it saying "Well, maybe, but it's a little small and some details are not quite right."

I started to explain to him that yes, it was really correct because I had researched this and that, and James said, "Well, I own the FE 18". So that shut me right up, and I had to rewind the whole conversation and ask HIM to tell me what was up, not the other way around.

The long and short of it is, he went home to England and took an exact body tracing, detailed photos, xrays and even took a CAT scan of the guitar, and sent all of this information to me. He even offered to send the original Torres to me to study. This just seemed like a too much liability. Better I work on it here for awhile, then go to England and visit it to get more nuance.

hill guitar, torres guitar, fe-18, torres fe18, torres fe-18I set about getting the rosette and purflings made according to to the photos. I didn't want to do this work myself because it is too time consuming, and I was guessing that I would want to make many of these guitars, so I sent the pictures and measurements to Japan to have them made. This took a while, but when they finally arrived they were excellent, and it was time to proceed.

I made another batch of four with the new information I'd gotten from Jimmy, the refined shape and the new decorations, but each guitar with little differences; 640 mm, 630 mm, 650 mm, maple, Indian rosewood, Brazilian rosewood. The Brazilian rosewood one was made with wood salvaged from an 18th or 19th century desk. I also used some Spanish cedar that I had salvaged from a gold rush era central California bar top, worn down where the beer glasses had been slid over the years, complete with bullet holes. I also had a hundred-year-old German spruce top, so with these old, old materials this guitar echoes with ghosts from two centuries.

hill guitar, torres guitar, fe-18, torres fe18, torres fe-18All of these guitars are fantastic. The original Torres was maple, and my maple version is really adorable. They are all adorable. They look great, the Torres body shape is- as expected - perfectly proportioned. The sound that comes out of this guitar is amazing, it completely defies expectations because of it's size.

The Brazilian FE 18 sold right away, but I still have the maple and the Indian rosewood instruments. I haven't showed them much yet, but I will soon, and I don't think they will last long. I'll probably make more, sooner or later, when these are gone, but it may take a while. It's hard to imagine getting better results.

Kenny Hill
August 31, 2009

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