In traditional guitar making, a flamenco guitar is 90% the same as a classical guitar, who said you can't play all the classical music on a flamenco guitar and enjoy it just as much or more? Has there always been this distinction between these guitars? Why at one point in history was this difference established? We talk about all this from Madera.
who said you can’t play all the classical guitar music on a flamenco guitar and enjoy it just as much or more?
From the beginning of the history of the traditional classical guitar until around the 1950s there was no distinction between the classical guitar and the flamenco guitar as we have it today.
And this seems quite normal when we look at the differences in their construction and we find that 90% of it is exactly the same. And they follow the same construction process.
So why is there so much difference between one and the other in the mind of today’s guitarist and there wasn’t in the classical guitarists of the past? This is worth analyzing.
Let’s look at those parts in the construction that vary from each other.
They are basically three variations:
The choice of a different fan bracing for one and the other.
Many guitar makers use different fan bracing depending if it is classical or flamenco.
A different shape of the fingerboard. Again some guitar makers they like the fingerboard is lower in height, especially in the bottom part.
A different thickness of the bridge that is also lower in a flamenco guitar
The last two have one purpose, which is to lower the action of the guitar. That is to say that the strings are closer to the frets. Because this is very important for the flamenco guitarist who uses a lot slurs technique and they don’t bother much about some buzzing noises it can appear when they play due to the very low action. And they want a guitar very very comfortable to play
And the choice of a different fan bracing is to look for a different sound, let’s say with faster responsive sound. And a lower sustain. And here I’m not talking about less sound projection, but that the note is released earlier, that is to say that it is projected quickly and then released quickly.
The problem with playing flamenco music when the guitar has a lot of sustain, as it is easy to find nowadays with classical guitars made with a lot of sustain, is that for example what is called in flamenco the rasgueado is lost on those guitars and does not sound clear. This effect is also helped by the choice of wood in the back and sides. Cypress which is the most common wood for the flamenco guitar helps the fast response and quick release sound.
But this does not mean that flamenco guitars do not have enough sustain to play classical music. Of course, they do and it can also be the kind of sustain that you like. Because this is a matter of personal and subjective taste. For example, I have known classical guitarists who have bought cypress flamenco guitars because they say that playing baroque music like Bach it is the ideal sound and that it goes very well with the character of that music.
But equally, you can play all kinds of classical styles on the flamenco guitar without any problem and you can greatly enjoy the great sound that these guitars made by great guitarists of history such as Santos Hernandez or Marcelo Barbero or Manuel Reyes, Miguel Rodriguez …. and so many others offer. Also very great guitar makers living and working today.
In the time of my grandfather, the guitarist Pepe Cuellar, I am talking about the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s… classical guitarists such as Andres Segovia, Celedonio Romero (Pepe Romero’s father) Alirio Diaz and other classical and flamenco guitarists who enjoyed both styles would get together to play music in the evenings in places in Granada. And it didn’t matter if the guitar was of flamenco or classical construction, they enjoyed both very much. And they played concerts with both.
Why did they, classical and flamenco guitars start to separate so much from each other from the 60s and 70s onwards?
Well, everyone will have their own theory. I think that in the same way, that flamenco guitarists separated a lot from classical guitarists at that time. And also classical guitar music from flamenco guitar music. As there was also a kind of unhealthy competition between flamenco and classical guitarists… For example, let’s remember those disputes between Segovia and Paco de Lucía. And then also from outside Spain, classical guitars started to be classified very separately from flamenco guitars in online shops, webs, international dealers and so on, so much so that it was like totally wrong for a classical guitarist to buy a flamenco guitar to enjoy his playing.
When totally wrong we have already seen that it is not. it’s rather the opposite. It is totally fine.
If we think of the biggest difference and what can bother the classical guitarist when playing a flamenco guitar, which is the very low action of a flamenco guitar , this can be changed by putting a highest saddle on the bridge and thus you can get a higher and more comfortable action for the classical guitarist and that avoids buzzing noises that we don’t like at all when playing classical music. This variation on the bridge bone can be done by a guitar maker in just a matter of minutes and very easily.
Then the thing of the plastic or wooden golpeador on very old guitars like this one from Santos Hernandez from 1939 is made of maple wood. You may not like it aesthetically. But it depends, for example, I love this one in this Santos. It gives so much character to the guitar!
I have played all my classical repertoire with this flamenco-built guitar without any problem and I have enjoyed so much the wonderful sound of Santos Hernandez’s guitars. For many one of the best guitar sound ever made in history. And I have also enjoyed a lot with other flamenco guitars in our collection, such as the Manuel Reyes.
These particular guitars I am talking about are made of cypress and cypress for me is one of my favorite woods for backs and sides for both classical and flamenco, as it was also for the famous guitar maker Jose Luis Romanillos I remember he also commented on this.
In other words, I would be very much in favor of removing that stigma that a classical guitarist cannot play with a flamenco-built guitar in concerts and recordings or for himself at home… Of course, everybody can and I would love to see the flamenco guitar in classical concerts much more often.