When my great granduncle Manuel Ramírez died, his officials, Modesto Borreguero, Santos Hernández and Domingo Esteso, continued for some years in his workshop with Manuel Ramírez’ widow.
As far as we know, Filomena Vera Cervelló, Manuel’s widow, was not a guitar maker. But Manuel’s workshop became her property; Filomena reopened it on 16th May 1918, two years after the death of her husband. As what she sold was the name of Manuel Ramírez, and her officials were not yet known since what they did was to reproduce the work of their master not having developed their own work yet, they reached an agreement with his widow of mutual interest, according to which in the label of their guitars should appear “Viuda de Manuel Ramírez”, and at the same time they would write their initials inside so they would obviously be acquiring individual recognition; even though, being in the Ramírez workshop, they still used his templates, designs, techniques and materials. It is easy to deduce that, being as they were excellent guitar constructors, no wonder they had had a great teacher, when they achieved recognition by themselves, not in the shadow of Manuel, the three of them set up on their own, and of course developed their own models and obtained well-deserved fame.
According to data at my disposal, the first to leave was Domingo Esteso; he opened his workshop in Gravina on June 1919. It could be that he became independent on this same date or later, on January 1920.
The next one was Santos Hernández; he opened his workshop in Aduana the 26th January 1921, where he remained until it disappeared.
Modesto Borreguero, the last to leave, opened his workshop in 1924, to move later between 1927 and 1931 to Duque FernánNúñez 5, place that was lost during the war.
The workshop of the Manual Ramírez’ widow remained until Modesto Borreguero left in 1924. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any information about what happened to her after that date. Maybe she died, and that was the reason why Borreguero became independent.
I met her son; Enrique Borregureo that worked in the workshop of my father, his place was next to mine. During my apprenticeship he was a great help to me. He was a shy and very serious man. Every time he saw me in trouble during an operation, he chose some tools and he came next to my place, he silently fulfilled the operation so that I could observe, and after that he went back to his place leaving me with my recently learnt job. From what I know about Enrique Borreguero, he had inherited the nobility of his father, I have no doubt that Modesto stayed with his master’s widow as a question of loyalty.
Another curious fact, and for me very endearing, is about the first house I owned in Espejo Street, it was a charming attic I was immediately in love with, from its balcony I could enjoy the stunning views of the top of the Teatro Real. The owners had inherited it recently after the death of one member of the family and it was for sale. And then I arrived, full of illusion and willing to lower the price, as it is customary, although it does not always work. And in this case it looked like they were not going to discount a single peseta, until they knew my name was Amalia, and the owner started to cry really touched, and she decided to make me a substantial discount because my name was just the same as the previous deceased owner, whom she appreciated a lot, and talking about it, it turned out that she was the wife of a guitar maker… of course I asked his name and he was Modesto Borreguero. So for 13 years I lived in the house of the last official of my great granduncle Manuel that stayed with his widow until the workshop was closed.
Well, I like to introduce personal and close by details in my writings, as they are the human side of stories. It is not all going to be data, because behind them are the people that give them sense. And after this digression, we are going to go back to the starting point of this guitar story.
The thing is that the origin of this family practice of writing the initials of the officials in the inside of the guitar was an initiative of Filomena Vera and her officials, Manuel’s disciples.
Two generations later, my father, José Ramírez III, resumed this custom for quite different reasons. In our workshop, as in many other traditional workshops, there were always several artisans working, among officials and apprentices. It was at the end of the 60s, when my father, to meet the growing demand of his guitars that already had a three year waiting list, decided to train a numerous group of young people to turn them into guitar makers and that would take part in the realization of his work, the way they did in traditional workshops of painting, sculpture, architecture… where the master carried out his job with the work of his helpers. This is the way the Sixtine Chapel was done by Michelangelo or the Portico of Glory by Master Mateo, to mention a few examples.
The reason why my father decided to give a wedge to each of his officials with their initials to print them in the inside of the guitar they did, was that this way he knew who had constructed each of them when he revised and made the last touches. This way, when he found any flaw in the construction, he knew who he had to turn the guitar to correct it. And, of course, to make sure of the skill of his officials, although all those that had reached the category of official had demonstrated their skill, otherwise they wouldn’t even had been accepted as officials or apprentices. This, of course, was an incentive for the officials when it came to maintain the excellence in their job, as they knew that the master would not pass anything that did not gather the quality he demanded.
Numerous of our guitars passed through the hands of Andrés Segovia, and then they were changed for different ones. We can be talking about more than fifty instruments. The initials printed inside of them stay in the memory of the fans, that is how the legend was created that the guitars with this initials came from the best constructors. But this is not the case. Almost all the guitars that were once used by Andrés Segovia came back to our workshop and they were sold afterwards. Only in some cases that eventuality was mentioned when they were sold, but many others changed hands ignoring that they had been previously used by the master. We kept, to become a part of our collection, only those that were considered historical: the first he used in his concerts, that was the one in his tour around Australia; the first with a cedar top; and the ‘del café’ guitar that now belongs to our distributor in Japan. It can be assured in addition that the guitars used by Andrés Segovia were constructed by practically all the officials that worked with my father and my brother, including my brother, of course.
Afterwards, to avoid annoying demands of a guitar made by one of the officials with these or that initials, my father substituted those stamps by others in which instead of initials there were numbers that corresponded to each official. And the same happened again: before long it was known that such or such number corresponded to one of the guitars used by Segovia, and the corresponding demands were repeated again.
It is not taken into account that, although our guitars have a characteristic and common tone to all of them, each is different in their sound, even being constructed by the same hands and the same materials and measures.
From time to time, my father sent three or four guitars to Segovia for him to choose the one he liked and substituted it for the previous one. In no case did the master chose again a guitar with the same initials, so the official was not important in his preferences.
As we have mentioned before, only the most skilled passed all the exams of the master, at that time my father, to access the category of first officer. The same applies for the officials of my brother, my grandfather, my great grandfather and, of course, my great granduncle Manuel, and my officials nowadays.
All of this reminds me of the story of the guitar that Manuel Ramírez gave to Andrés Segovia when he was still a young and unknown guitarist and it was with this guitar that, only a few days later, the 6th May 1913, he played the legendary concert in the Ateneo of Madrid, and he continued playing with it until many years later it was badly repaired and it never sounded the same. After the death of Manuel, Segovia took it to Santos Hernández to get it repaired and he assured that he had constructed it and wanted to change the label for his own, something Segovia refused to do, although he allowed him to put a small label next to it saying that it had been repaired by him. And later, it was when he took it to repair to a different guitar maker, to the one mentioned above, and it was him the one that made a poor repair, and whose name I don’t know.
This is the guitar that is nowadays exhibited in New York’s Metropolitan Museum, and the one we have made an exact replica.
The truth is that, coming back to what we were talking about, the topic of the authorship of guitars in artisan workshops is quite repetitive, but has no relevance at all.
I am quite unable to imagine that, among the artists that helped Michelangelo in the making of the Sixtine Chapel, there was any mediocre one to whom the master had permitted to give a single brushstroke. It is just as impossible to think that “this or that part” of the Portico of Glory was sculpted by one or other of the helpers of the Master Mateo. In the same way, José Ramírez’ guitars are the work of José Ramírez, and not of his helpers. The master is the one who designs, investigates, teaches his techniques to his helpers, buys the materials, takes care of the process of construction of his work and examines the final result, because, furthermore, he is responsible for the quality of everything that comes out of his workshop. It is not fair that if the guitar is good it is to the credit of the official, but if it is not then it is the responsibility of the master. All of them are the responsibility of the master, this is why we are really careful with the guitars that come out of our workshop and we are devoted to attend the process of its construction and we end up making a thorough review and the last adjustments once they are finished.
We frequently receive e-mails where we are asked the name of the constructor of their guitar, according to the series number or the initials or the number printed inside it. As a courtesy we have always answered to these e-mails, and at the same time explaining how the traditional workshops work, and that, after all, the guitar is a Ramírez. Now, maybe because I am the master of my workshop, it makes it more appropriate to refer to our guitars simply as Ramírez; but not so much for a matter of protagonism, but for coherence, where the gender, male or female, has no place. In a family business such as ours, that has been transmitted directly from parents to sons, this individuality is lost and what is maintained is their common soul, to which each of us have provided with a part or ours, introducing improvements, innovations, experiments. This way my nephews, Cristina and Enrique have already started to contribute with a part of theirs, enriching this common and centenary soul that we are so passionate about. And of course, it remains impressed in our history the contribution of each person that has worked and works with us, as thanks to them we have been able to meet the demand of our instruments with ease. So, it is not a question of initials, but of a workshop where we leave part of our experience and our lives, and this is José Ramírez.
Madrid, 14th May 2017
Monchi, Cáceres, Pedro Contreras, y los dos Tezanos, y el de la derecha, delante,
Note: Thanks to Pablo de la Cruz for the information about the history of the workshop of Manuel Ramírez’ widow.