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We went this time to the workshop of the very nice Syrian guitar maker Ahmad Alhajibrahim. He has been living in Granada for more than 20 years. And it was here that he tells us he discovered his two new loves. The city and the guitar.
Now he has his own guitar workshop in Granada where he has started to develop little by little a guitar with his own personality and where he develops his passion for the instrument and for guitar making.
So I am Ahmad Alhajibrahim.
A guitar maker of Syrian origin.
I arrived in Granada in September 2001 and I had to
change my life. I came to another land,\Nlearn a language and learn a lot of things.
And among many, many things that I have known here in Granada,\Nit was the guitar that impressed me with the showcases that Granada has and the\Nguitars all over the places, many people carrying guitars…
And I’m a lute player too. (Arabic Oud)
And I’ve been playing the Arabic Oud since I was five years old.
I think that’s my thought was that here is the best\Nplace to live in the world for me.
And there began little by little\Nmy attempts to build an Arabic Oud.
I started to study the subject for a long time on paper, looking for information\Nto build my first Arabic lute. I bough my first lute wood, and\Nfirst pieces of wood, and try to cut it up to the size of a lute.
I went to a wood workshop in La Chana (Granada neighborhood) to cut the wood and they did not\Ncut it for me because it was too hard
I had to look for someone to cut it for me and they cut it for me.
And I started to do my first lute on my own.
I had to make the mould…
I was working with basic tools and\Ndidn’t have a lot of knowledge.
And little by little I was starting to make my first lute and it took me almost six months to\Nto build the first lute body.
That’s what the sounding box is called.
Okay, I started with the body first of all,\NI’ve started with the hardest part so I know what I’ve done.
the first body in six months. you need to glue the staves together\Nthe staves and glue them back together again, glue and peel them off.
And in the end I got my first one and I got my first lute.
And it sounded good.
The thing is I always missed something as I’m self-taught.
So I think I lacked a lot of knowledge\Nand that’s when I started to look for guitar makers\Nto see if they would teach or not or whatever…
And there was no luck, in many cases\Nbecause I had to work too, and I need to go on with my life
So I was a little bit…
Until the year 2017 that I had already built some\Nfour-five lutes sounded very good but
there were always faults in some places that I didn’t know\NI didn’t know why and I didn’t know how to correct them in the Arabic lute.\Nand and then I started looking cause I was stuck
Then, in a coincidence, I met guitar maker Pavel Gavryushov in a restaurant and I had to ask him if he teaches me.
And he said yes, and I went to his workshop, he started to teach me and since then I fell in love with the guitar.
I don’t know what happened, but I’ve totally given up the lute.
Although I love it very much and I’m going to continue\Nlove that instrument, but I think it was destiny that made me..\Nfate that led me to take up the guitar.
I think compare to the lute that I used to make, for instance,\Nthe details that it has and the… and how well studied the guitar is.
I think it’s an instrument…
I don’t know if it’s perfect but it’s a very well studied instrument.
Very well made, very delicate and very good and it needs\Na lot of knowledge to make a good guitar.
The lute, it seems to me, got a little bit frozen over time.\Nit stayed in a phase that nobody has taken it up.
And I really…
I’d like one day to take it a little bit forward again\Nforward but I don’t know how far I can…
The guitar is pretty advanced
Quite studied, quite varied.
There were changes and they were not random variations.
They’re well thought out and well done variations between\Nfive struts bracing or seven of three on old guitars and…
It’s a world to me, incredible such a delicate stage.
For example, a change of a tenth of a millimetre in the top can change the entire sound of a note.
It’s a… it’s a very good thing.
It’s a very…
Really, I was so impressed and passionate at the same time about it.
It took me a long time because I was doing learning classes one day a week\Nand at the same time I was making my own workshop little by little.
I’ve started in a garage actually\Nand then I had to have it in better conditions.
Both the humidity and the temperature\Nof the place are very important things.
And with Pavel I was making my first\Nguitar and I finished the first guitar with excellence.
So, it was a very good guitar.
It’s owned by a friend of mine who… because I don’t play the guitar.
Everybody tells me it’s a shame to sell your first guitar,\Nbut I say it’s a shame to leave it unplayed, haha
the guitar someone who plays it has it and it’s being carried by someone who is\Nenjoying the guitar, and he always tell me nice things about my guitar
that it’s a nice one.
And he always tells me it’s your guitar not mine hehe
So, I learnt making my first guitar with Pavel\Nand I did it well.
And after that I started to make my own guitar.\NActually the plan was to make a lute.
The dream was to make the lute.
but that I have changed.
The guitar is… it even has changed my thinking.
even my wife at home says to me: enough with the guitar!!
my children… and everything.
I really learned, uh, with my teacher.
Well, each one in the end, I think that every guitar maker comes from\Na school that marks him and what marked me was my teacher.
My teacher has marked me a lot, of course I\Nalso was influenced by the guitar from Granada.
My teacher has taught me that you have to work with a lot of discipline.\Na lot of discipline, there has to be a lot of discipline.
You have to respect a lot numbers to make a good guitar.
You have to respect uh.. things that… for example, in Granada, every guitar\Neach guitar sometimes has its own name…
Every guitar has its rosette…
Every guitar has its head…
this why, and this why… That I also have to know, I have to do it.
as the people that make\Ninstruments, I have to have my personality
I always like walk beside my teacher, but I don’t like the shadow.
I have never liked the shadow.
I like independence too, because\Nindependence means creating more…
I don’t know if I always have to make the sound the way my master likes it.
I prefer to make the sound the way like to the person who’s going to play the guitar\Nand I try to do as much as I can to bring the instrument\Nto the musician to play it and that he likes it.
A good guitar
have to have a few well stablished criteria
before the sound comes in it has to be well constructed.
The top must not collapse
The wood must be dry so that it does not\Nappear cracks over time with the humidity.
The guitar can be moved from one place to another and\Nit doesn’t have to change much in relation with the humidity.
The guitar moves.
The wood moves
Then first it has to be well built with good materials,
good glues materials… everything well made.
Second thing, the sound criteria.
It needs to have a good sound quality.
I like it, for example… the thing is that\NI don’t like to make guitars for me,\NI like to make guitars for everybody.
I like a guitar.
that it has dynamics, for example, that you can\Nplay soft when you want to play soft and you can play loud when you want to play loud.
That has a good sustain,\Nfor a classical guitar and also for flamenco.
The flamenco one usually everybody says\Nthat they like the sound to decay fast.
I don’t think that’s the case because there are guitars…
Sabicas’s flamenco guitar, for example, Sabicas played a guitar that sings\Nthe notes. For me I like more that than when he plays chords (rasgueados)
Also it has to have a good timbre, a good\Ntimbre that you feel it’s a little bit sweet.\NWhat I don’t like, it’s a very personal issue, but
for example, the issue about the double top\NI’ve never really got into it because I’ve seen it on the lute too
There is also a very famous Turkish Oud maker
His name is Faruk Türünz, very famous, who has been making lutes with a\Ndouble top for many years, and I’ve never liked it.
it sounds just very loud
I don’t know about the guitar.
maybe it could be something else.
But It’s just that what I’ve been working on\Nis the traditional guitar.
That’s what I’ve done.
I’ve always, I’ve never made a double top guitar\Nto tell you if I like it or I don’t like it, I’ve never done it.
This is my head, one day I was with,
well, my head is here… hahahaha
That’s the head I do and and that head comes from what…
some of my identity as we Arabs, we follow the,\NI think we follow the lunar calendar, long ago before Islam.
Of course, the Arabs have always\Nfollowed the lunar calendars.
So, I believe that the crescent moon always has something in\Nme as a person and at the same time I think it is …
I think it looks very flamenco as well.
And apart from all that
it was in a conversation
with Pavel we were talking about the proportion of the guitar head, how it’s made,\Nhow it was done by Torres
and then I went home and\NI said, I’m going to make the head and see if it comes out nicely.
And I made a head with the golden ratio. Now I can’t remember the exact numbers.
but I have it there on a separate piece of paper,\NI always have it. So I got this head
I think there can’t be a most commun symbol of the city than the pomegranate symbol.\N(Granada in Spanish means pomegranate)
Well, in pomegranate I’ve always liked…
Well, I’m totally in love with the city.
Totally since I arrived in Granada.
I think that the best place for me to live is in Granada.\Nalways and I went to my homeland last year.
And I had to go back to Granada, I said to myself repeteadly: I’m going to go back to Granada\NI’m going back to Granada. In my village…
I can’t believe that with all the memories I have from my village…\Nalready 27 years of memories… almost erased for me. I just want to go back to Granada.
Well, So I went to Laroles (Granada village) with my family for holidays\Nat the time I was taking my first gutiar making classes
I took the paper from my son’s notebook and\Nstarted to paint with the crosspoint method.
I paint a pomegranate.
I went back to a coffee shop to present this pomegranate to three colleagues,\Nthree guitar makers colleagues who were sitting with me.
I presented the rosette to them
I said to them: Look what I’ve come up with and this is what I’d like to do,\Non my first guitar
I had never made a rosette before. One of them says to me:\NYou can’t possibly make that one.
When he said to me that… then I think I’m going to make it today.
I’m going to start today to make it and I went to my house\Nand I made first one out and it’s there in the first one\Nin that guitar that guitar is not closed yet.
I need to close it.
So I took the rosette
And then I showed him and asked him: what do you think?
He says it’s very pretty.
He says is pretty. hehe
It’s black and white
the white is maple
also these squares
It’s maple too.
And I’ve done several and I think I’m going to keep doing the one…\NI’m going to keep doing the pomegranate motif with all my guitars.
I don’t care if it takes me a week to make it.
I think I’m always going to have the\Npomegranate in various forms.
Yes, I think every guitar should have its own rosette.
I don’t like the rosette being repeated.
in fact I now have three guitars.
So this is the third one.
Okay, one, two, three, four, and each one\Nhas a different rosette with the pomegranate motif.