Cumpiano nylon-string Spanish & Classic guitars

Did you know that classic guitars were only known as "Spanish guitars" before 1948? That is, according to the New York Classic Guitar Society, nylon/gut string
guitars patterned after the 19th century Torres models were known simply as Spanish Guitars until the Society began to refer to Spanish guitars made in a
similar configuration to the ones preferred by Andres Segovia (Brazilian/Indian Rosewood back and sides, German spruce soundboards) as "classic." The name
caught on world-wide as the one conferred to
all nylon-string guitars in the Torres configuration. So why do I still refer to a distinction between them? Because some
"classic" guitars are not used for "classic" music, and are not of the Segovia specification. Many of my customers prefer nylon but instead of classical music play jazz,
or ballads, or Latin American popular music like Boleros. So, I refer to those as "Spanish" guitars, and I feel that it's not a bad idea!

Cutaway Classic guitars and Cutaway Spanish Guitars: a Cumpiano specialty

I've found a lively market for my classic guitars among players  whose first instrument was a jazz or steel-string guitar and  as a result, don't want to forgo the features that they have become comfortable with, such as narrow, arched fingerboards, low action, cutaways, stage pickups and distinctive aesthetic design.
    This page shows some distinctive examples:

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Osage-Orange cutaway classic guitar. This project began when the future owner came into my studio with a massive plank of this hard-as-the-dickens, canary-yellow hardwood and traded me part of it if I would slice up the rest for him. I was intigued by the visual characteristics of the wood, and consented. Several years later, I made the guitar, and he fell for it, and bought it! It turned out that he had had an arch-top made from the adjacent slices by a fellow luthier. So he just had to own it's nylon-string cousin!

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Osage orange was represented to be a timber of the Southwest United States. So I tried to lend a "southwest" design and color scheme, with the cedar top and the purpleheart binding. The rosette is flecked with matching purpleheart-color elements, too. The beautiful finish was realized by my longtime partner, Harry Becker.

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A dramatic Brazilian rosewood/ German spruce classic seen below, which features a compound cutaway (note how the side fairs seamlessly and comfortably into the heel). The guitar also features a Fishman dual pickup system (note the small mic in the soundhole). The noted jazz/fusion guitarist, Joe Belmont can be heard playing this instrument, accompanied with traditional South American zampoņas, or panpipes, on the following sound clips from the latest Viva Quetzal! CD Children of the Sun.

Clip one       Clip two        Clip three

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Wedge-cutaway Koa nylon-string:
 

Fairing the cutaway smoothly into the cheek of the tapered heel requires that the side be hand bent in two axes at once. A fairly difficult thing to pull off, but worth it for the unrestricted comfort that it allows when playing in the upper positions. This guitar is slightly wedged, and made from curly Koa.


WRC classic with abalone/marquetry rosette

An abalone/marquetry soundhole on a classic guitar? Outrageous? Not a bit ! Shell incrustation was the norm on European gut-string guitars during the nineteenth century, until Torres established the Spanish style which included only moorish-inspired wood marquetry decorations--but he was not loath to include pearl and abalone on occasion. When carefully blended within a marquetry frame and kept to a tasteful minimum, pearl incrustation can be give a classic guitar a unique, modern look.


Other Custom Classics

Guitarist Chris Berberet wanted a classic to fit his smaller reach better than on the Torres standard 650mm scale classic guitars. So he asked me for a 640mm scale guitar and specified the nut and bridge string spacings. Here are the results of his East Indian rosewood classic commission:

 



Here's his reaction upon receiving his instrument:

"I had the opportunity to tune and play for a little while last night and I am VERY pleased with it. The size of the box is perfect and very comfortable for playing. The neck carve fits my hand nicely, and combined with the slightly shorter scale I am already finding it easier to make the more difficult stretches. And the sound...the sound is wonderful! I am so looking forward to the next year as the sound board opens up - what a wonderful journey this will be! Many thanks for building me such a beautiful instrument that I know I will enjoy for many years to come!"

Several months later, Chris wrote again:

It's now been about six months since I took delivery of my Cumpiano rosewood/spruce Classic guitar, and I wanted to write you to let you know of the enjoyment she is giving me. The spruce top is opening up nicely, and the sound is lively with a lovely separation of tone. It is also very responsive to different attacks, providing a strong sound when played hard, but also a very sweet sound when approached gently. Suffice it to say that I love it, and am finding the guitar is changing and growing as my ability to play it advances.

I have had the opportunity to play it for a few months now side-by-side with an Australian lattice-braced guitar, cedar top and palisander back. This too is a very beautiful, but different, guitar, with a robust sound and great projection, which I am told is something for which the lattice-braced guitars are known. As much as I play them both, I'm continually drawn to playing my Cumpiano more! It may not be quite as "loud" as the other, but I find my Cumpiano to have a lot more "personality", and the evolving character of the spruce top as it opens up makes it more endearing as the weeks go by.

Thank you again for building such a great instrument for me. Your skill and craftsmanship are very much appreciated!

Chris Berberet
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin




 

  

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Here's a graphite soundboard, cutaway classic made with Macassar

ebony back and sides completed in 1999.



A Cumpiano Brazilian rosewood and cedar classic made in 2007