Something big is brewing in Madrid and it smells like wood, steel, varnish and...pure art!

By Massimo D'Angelo

Being dedicated to the world of guitars over the last few years, one of the great efforts made at Guitars Exchange has been to try to cover not only massive fairs like NAMM in Los Angeles, but also to take a closer look at initiatives and fairs that are smaller, and ‘more human’, with special attention - and affection - to those events where the big players and protagonists are the luthiers and their creations.

Since the first edition of the Holy Grail Guitar Show
in Berlin, back in 2014, our love of this profession has been more than evident. That took us to a series of interviews with the great maestros of the guild and we even undertook our own adventure with one of them, entering the world of fabrication and giving life to The Axe Factory, a web series with 14 episodes where we show- in a very unconventional way - how an electric guitar is made from the start.

The U.K., Italy, Germany, France...each country has a fair of reference and it was about time Spain also got down to work. For this reason we have found Diego Vila (Vila Custom Guitars & Basses) and Daniel Cabezas
(Bacce Guitars), President and Secretary of the LuCE association (Contemporary Luthiers of Spain) respectively, to tell us how the idea of a fair ‘Made in Spain’ came about to bring together the Iberian excellence - and not only - of the world of fabrication of artesanal contemporary instruments.

We invite you to read the interviews of these 2 maestros in their field, and of course, to participate in the Luthier Guitar Show
that will take place on the 13th and 14th of October at the Matedero Madrid cultural centre. We will be there and you...are you going to miss it?

1. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Before talking about the Luthier Guitar Show, we would like to take a step back and ask about LuCE...What’s it about? When was it born and to what aims?

Diego Vila:
In 2015, a group of Luthiers got together with the intention of creating a platform that would allow us to share our common experiences, communicating, and joining forces to get a closer look at our work, and claim the model of craftsmanship and of excellence, working together.
This initiative has served to prepare ourselves and improve the way luthiers interact with each other - we are usually rather solitary - . Now we are more efficient economically and we help each other out.

2. G.E.:  How many luthiers participate in the association?

Daniel Cabezas:
At the moment somewhere above 20, although, evidently it’s not all that there are in this country. In Spain we have more contemporary luthiers than we tend to think. The idea is to keep growing and to have more professional luthiers join us to share knowledge and pull for a more recognised profession.

3. G.E.: In what state is the Spanish market for selling hand-made instruments?

Regarding the supply, I would say very interesting. Spain is the cradle of the guitar and the level of luthier craftmanship is a reference in the global panorama. Regarding contemporary instruments, the panorama is more interesting and promising. There are many experts building with imagination, taste and technical excellence with international levels of quality.

Guitar sales are changing, with oline platforms which offer luthier guitars, which is a very interesting novelty. At the association we are trying to keep up with the pace of the times by exploring new ways to sell hand-made instruments. That’s something interesting that we are keen on promoting, that the luthier supplies more of their instruments, bringing them out of the exclusivity of the workshop.

4. G.E.: Let’s talk a bit about your trade to clear up a few doubts...Why should we consider a hand-made guitar as a valid alternative to an instrument from the ‘big brands’?

The big question. If you want the short answer, it would be because each hand-made guitar is unique. The somewhat longer answer could be: as a general rule. we must realise that we play in another league, especially if we’re talking about industrially made guitars, at prices lower than €1500. From that price on, there comes the need for the musician to have a custom made guitar, with selected materials, exclusivity, and of course with a performance more adapted to the person who orders it.

The alternative is simple: in a luthier’s workshop, there will be a person listening to your needs, and you’re going to get a guitar with the design you want, with the material you’ve chosen, and a finish that you like the most; although many don’t believe it, the price is quite affordable compared to the same attention and work put into an industrial-made ‘custom’.

5. G.E.: Many think that your target audience and ‘natural curtomers’ are exclusive and uniquely professional other words, can anyone order a guitar from a luthier, no matter their expertise?

Yes, anyone can order and especially enjoy getting the most of a guitar made by a luthier. They are not guitars for beginners, you have to know what you want and what you like. With that one exception, in terms of performance, aesthetics, tone, and playing comfort, the experience is substantially better with the luthier’s guitar.

6. G.E.: Some people think that the big brands offer a guarantee against a hand-made guitar. That guarantee is the value of the instrument on the second-hand market. Is there a second-hand market for instruments made by hand?

Fortunately less luthier guitars are sold second hand. This is because - as a rule - whoever orders a custom guitar doesn’t do this to get rid of it in the short or medium-term. They only do that for real economic needs. Unfortunately, the depreciation of second-hand luthier instruments is the same (sometimes bigger) than second-hand instruments of industrial made brands. The lack of knowledge about the profession and the cultural environment associated to marketing the big brands favours this state of affairs.

7. G.E.: Let’s talk about the Luthier Guitar Show. Is it the first ‘public’ initiative by LuCE? Who is the fair aimed at?

We have done other things for the public with LuCE, but it was rather testimonial. This is the first big initiative for the public. It’s the first time something like this is done in Spain, with such a wide selection of luthier instruments. All the instruments, effects, first-rate amps on display at the exposition can be seen and tested on the spot, in the best conditions.
Furthermore, it is the only sample of contemporary musical instruments ever to take place on our turf and we hope it will be a reference point for fans, admirers, musicians, enthusiasts, and those passionate about guitars.

8. G.E.: How did the idea come about?

After participating in different international fairs and having seen how many countries organise their own annual luthier fair (or even two sometimes), it was clear to us that we here in Spain had to put together our own event. Although they made some attempts in the past that unfortunately didn’t go on, on this occasion we focus on a different organisational model based on the Great European Fairs for Luthiers.

9.G.E.: What are the similarities and especially the differences with other initiatives and European Fairs?

The similarities are in variety, and to be able to see and buy on site all the novelties on display by those who participate in the Luthier Guitar Show. But it is fundamentally a different event, it’s not a commercial fair and it is not inteneded to be a simple ‘display’ of material. It’s quiet and it’s aim is to promote a dialogue between professionals and visitors. Each instrument and element displayed is unique and the fruit of labour of the same people you can interact with, there are no emplyees, sales staff or middle men, you can talk to the creators and hear their point of view, what’s behind it all, and better understand the whole process and the results.
The possibilty to easily test guitars at the booths is also something different from what you see in other fairs and we believe it is a very attractive feature for visitors.  

10. G.E.: Will there only be Spanish luthiers or do you have ‘guests’ from other countries?

Although our idea is mainly to boost and make our profession known in Spain (and you will see our list of exhibitors is mostly Spanish), we also believe there must be an international presence. Fortunately, there are some colleagues and friends from various parts of the world who will come to support the event. And we are very grateful to all of them, national and international!

11. G.E.: Any surprises? Such as..?

Yes there will be some surprises. We are working to have live music at the fair... and if we told you more, it wouldn’t be a surprise...

Luthier Guitar Show Official Website