Yale Collection’s 1857 Masterpiece from Antonio de Torres, Father of Classical Guitar Luthiery

October 15th, 2014

By Alan di Perna

Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado, known in classical guitar circles simply as Torres, redefined the guitar’s design and status as a concert instrument in the middle of the 19th century. His innovations in areas such as fan bracing, top design, and bridge placement greatly enhanced the instrument’s tonal potential, setting the standards for the classical guitar as we know it today.

This 1857 Torres from Yale University’s collection is typical of the legendary maker’s “first epoch” output, from the first phase of Don Antonio’s career, also known as his Seville period (1852–1869). Modestly adorned and elegantly simple in design, it has beauty that emanates from within.

“The Torres guitar came to us from Victor Rangel-Ribeiro,” says Yale Collection curator Nicholas Renouf. “He became a best-selling novelist in the Nineties, but he also had a passionate interest in Baroque music and founded the Orpheus Music Shop in New York. Mr. Rangel-Ribeiro had a wonderful collection and also sold us a guitar by José Pernas, from whom Torres is thought to have learned guitar making.”

Originally from Almería on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, Torres relocated to Seville sometime around 1845 and eventually set up shop at No. 7 Calle de la Cerrajería. (He later moved to other locations.) The guitarist and composer Julián Arcas was one of his earliest clients and champions, and consultations between the two men helped shape Torres’ almost obsessive focus on the guitar’s top as the most tonally significant part of the entire instrument.

In a famous demonstration of this principle, Torres once constructed a guitar with back and sides made of papier-mâché to demonstrate how much of the sound came from the top. And while Torres didn’t invent fan bracing, his refinements coaxed more sonorous resonance from the instrument than had been previously heard.

Like many Torres guitars of this period, the Yale Collection’s 1857 instrument boasts a top, back, and sides of cypress. The back is made of three pieces of cypress separated by narrow ebony strips. The bridge, body binding, and understated soundhole adornment are of rosewood, and the neck and headstock are mahogany. The rosewood fingerboard has 18 brass frets and a 25-inch scale length, and the nut and bridge facings are ivory.

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