American musician, Joe Weed, returning to Granada 42 years after purchasing a set of instruments there in 1971, revisits guitarrero Antonio Marín Montero, now a worldwide eminence among guitar makers. The two reminisce about both of their careers.
In the spring of 1971 Joe Weed had spent two years at the University of Granada on a California State University international program. Though Joe was officially a political science major he brought his classical guitar with him and spend a lot of his time on it. Then he attended a Sabicas concert in Granada and was immediately smitten with the flamenco guitar. He started taking lessons with a local guitarist. “After six weeks,” says Joe, “it became clear that I had to make a choice. It was either study flamenco guitar full time or get back to class. There was no middle way!” Joe opted for the latter but he never got the guitar out of his system. Today he’s a bluegrass fiddler, a guitarist, a documentary film maker and runs his own professional recording studio near Los Gatos, California.
Before leaving Granada, Joe decided to make the effort and take home a fine hand-crafted guitar from one of the city’s many guitar makers. It was one of them, Manuel de la Chica, who recommended a fast-rising young guitarrero, Antonio Marín Montero. Antonio’s workshop was only 10 minutes from the student apartment where Joe lived, so he walked over. Antonio greeted him in his usual kindly manner and listened while Joe explained what he wanted. Joe’s final comment was, “Unfortunately I’m leaving Granada soon.”
Antonio disappeared into the back room and returned with a dusty guitar case. He brushed it off carefully and opened it. Inside was a beautiful amber-colored flamenco guitar. “A strong aroma of cedar, cypress and French polish rose from the case,” says Joe. “The guitar seemed practically weightless and it was taut as a bowstring. I could feel it vibrating in my hands.”
“The tapa is cedar,” said Antonio, “and the tuning pegs are the traditional clavijas.” Noting Joe’s glassy eyes, Antonio assumed the sale and handed Joe a bag of what looked like translucent corn flakes. “Here,” he said, “mix these with alcohol and oil and it will make the same color finish if you ever need to do any repairs.”
By that time Joe was under the spell of Antonio and his spicy-sweet-smelling workshop. He noticed a pair of instruments, a laud and a bandurria, hanging on the wall. They were constructed of matching woods the same color as his new guitar. Joe was fascinated by groups of strolling musicians he had met in Granada in which the little bandurria played the melody, sounding like a mandolin, with the laud often doubling an octave lower. Both had 12 strings and were tuned similar to a guitar. Together with Joe’s new guitar they formed el trío de la pua y el pulgar, “the trio of the pick and the thumb.” Joe’s heartbeat quickened.
“They look like a family,” he said.
“Yes they do,” replied Antonio, picking up the vibrations. “It would be a shame to break up a family.”
Joe gingerly carried all three instruments back to his apartment. He had just concluded a deal that looks like a miracle today, including cases for all the instruments.
Antonio Marín is in his late 70s today, shorter and grayer but still the consummate gentleman. One gets the feeling that, if he hadn’t been a guitar maker he would have made a wonderful ambassador to the Court of St. James. He remembered Joe’s instrument purchase from so long ago and asked him, “Do you still have those instruments?”
“Still have them? I treasure them!” said Joe. “I’ve used them in a lot of recordings over the years.”
The two of them, guitarrero and guitarrista, spent a mellow half hour chatting about documentary films, guitars, woods, Antonio’s technical innovations, some of the players who have bought his instruments, and the Japanese client who liked Antonio and his guitars so much that when he returned to Japan he left Antonio his Jaguar saloon. Before leaving, Joe asked Antonio what life was like being an internationally renowned guitar maker. “It’s good,” said Antonio. “Life is more tranquilo.”
Here’s a small album of photographs of Antonio and Joe–and the three instruments–from 1971:
Joe Weed records acoustic music at his Highland Studios near Los Gatos, California. He has released six albums of his own, produced many projects for independent artists and labels, and does sound tracks for film, TV and museums. Joe’s composition “Hymn to the Big Sky” was heard in “The Dust Bowl,” a film by Ken Burns, which premiered nationally on PBS November 18 and 19, 2012. Joe recently produced “Pa’s Fiddle,” a collection of 19th-century American music played by “Pa” Charles Ingalls, father of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the “Little House on the Prairie” book series. Reach Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting joeweed.com.