Technique Focus – Boost Left Hand Efficiency

When working out the choreography to a new interpretation there are a few aspects of left hand technique that can dramatically improve efficiency. One of those aspects involves a similar idea often referred to as ‘planting’ for the right hand. For example, when playing a rapid and repeated pim arpeggio (like in Asturias), it is common practice to place all three fingers down in a group to stabilize the right hand and to create one efficient gesture instead of three separate actions. The basic rule is that as we move away from p and towards a across string we plant fingers down so the right hand fingers are prepared. Essentially, we stabilize the right hand as we move away from the grounding of p and i.

Applying this concept to the left hand is equally important but the ‘planting’ occurs as we move from finger 4 (pinky) towards finger 1. Theoretically, if only finger 4 is down on the fingerboard, the left hand is not as stable as it would be if another supporting finger were to place somewhere nearby. For example, if we had to play a descending group of chromatic notes 4321 on a string, placing all four fingers before playing reduces the motion to a relaxed gesture of releasing fingers away. If we were to place 4321 down in a sequential fashion, it is not necessarily ‘wrong’, but it would augment the motion of the left hand into many placements and releases, rendering it less efficient. A bit of a mess.

Subscribe to get access

Read more of this content when you subscribe today.

Some related posts:

Six String Journal’s Complete Technique Course

Featured Artist and Interview – Tariq Harb

Tariq Harb, an acclaimed Jordanian-Canadian guitar virtuoso, is arguably one of the finest young guitarists to emerge on the scene these last years. Always polished, always musical, Tariq’s playing has been praised on many stages across the world and he’s been lauded as “Canada’s next classical guitar superstar” by CBC Radio’s NEXT! Fortunately, Tariq had time to spend sharing some of his journey with Six String Journal readers. Hope you enjoy this one!

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
With the classical guitar, my story is a bit unusual. It started at 26 years of age, having restarted my violin training 2 years prior, at age 24. I write “restarted” because I actually picked up theviolin at 6, for 2 years until I was 8, then I received an electric guitar as a Christmas gift from my mother, and all hell broke loose LOL! Anyways, what drew me to the guitar in general at first was Slash, the guitarist from the LA rock band Guns N’ Roses.What drew me to the classical guitar was the classical/jazz guitarist Roddy Elias, who happened to be my composition teacher during my undergraduate violin degree at Concordia University. Basically I left the violin twice for the guitar!

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
Baroque, Latin American and Spanish repertoire. I also enjoy playing the blues quite a bit.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Currently I’m performing on a Douglass Scott, 2018 spruce top guitar and on a Martin Blackwell, 2019 double cedar top.I use Savarez CR 540 strings mainly, and I also like the La Bella 2001 and Argento series normal tension basses.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Slash at first, for sure. The lyricism in his solos on their records was an incredible ear-opening experience for me. The discovery of “goose bumps” even, happened first as I remember from his playing on those cassettes. What an incredible feeling! That same feeling was experienced at a high level of intensity later in my life, when I was listening to Itzhak Perlman, playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas on violin while I commuted to work, training to be a Mutual Funds Advisor, which prompted me then to pursue music as a full-time profession. Those two musicians have left a lasting impact on my musical character on the whole, I would say.Today I cherish recordings by many great artists. Classical solo recordings by Julian Bream, John Williams, Andrés Segovia, David Oistrakh, Glenn Gould, Hélèn Grimaud, Daniel Barenboim, Amandine Beyer, Itzhak Perlman, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifitz, Josef Hassid, Nigel Kennedy, Kazuhito Yamashita, Janine Jansen and Paco de Lucia come to mind at this moment.

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of?
I am actually most proud of two of my latest releases: my album “Copla”, an all-Spanish repertoire recording, and my “Harb Plays Carcassi Studies” recording and educational DVD. The latter is an educational DVD first, made possible through a collaboration with Diego De Oro, owner of De Oro Music Publications. The performance tracks from the DVD have been compiled and released as a separate album. I’m also happy about a recent YouTube video recording I did of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565 arranged by Edson Lopes and recorded by Drew Henderson in a beautiful church in Toronto.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
I really like the sound on Florian Larousse’s Laureate Naxos album. There is something magical about the sound there! I also like the sound on John Williams’ “The Great Paraguayan” album. Even though I’m not a big fan of the Smallman sound, somehow Williams makes it sound regal.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
I’m very excited about a tour that I got selected for next year’s season, which I can’t really share the details of because it hasn’t been officially announced yet! I’ll share all the concert dates on my website ( once they’re made public. Prior to that I’m looking forward to officially getting back on stage, November 2020 in my second home Montréal, at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur, a gorgeous church that is perfect for guitar, and that I’ve always dreamt of performing in after attending some concerts there. I also can’t wait to perform concerts that were postponed due to the pandemic, including an Aranjuez concerto performance with the Orchestre Symphonique de l’Isle. Next year will be their 20th season anniversary, so it worked out even better!For new records, I’m planning on recording an album consisting of my original compositions (the score to “Spirit”, a five-movement work for solo guitar is now available via Les Productions d’OZ: and pieces that are dedicated to me by other composers (like “Hyperion” by Harry Stafylakis: I’m also planning on recording an all-Bach album, sometime in the near future!

Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
40 hours a day, à la Ling Ling! (@twosetviolin reference) Jokes aside, a morning practice session is important for me to maintain a healthy routine, which usually lasts between 3-4 hours. After that, anything goes; I can play through pieces in the evening, which sometimes turn into performances if I am outdoors (!),or not play at all, because of teaching or other tasks. The morning session is quite consistent so that would be the real practice time that I do.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you are still working on?
Oh, I’m working on it all the time! I don’t think there is such a thing as not practicing at all yet still having a polished technique, unless one is on tour. What is also true, I find, is if I practice well, say during one full winter season, the coming spring and summer seasons I often find myself just playing, and not really practicing methodically, which is ultimate fun as you may know! Then however, come the fall season, I start feeling certain aspects of technique need maintenance, and so on the cycle goes. It’s a way of life more than something separate from one’s life, at least in my experience. Having said that, there is no real struggle pertaining to playing the instrument. It is more of incorporating it in one’s life, if one chooses, in a way that enhances the quality of one’s life and improves it. I guess reaching that point and finding a working balance might be considered a struggle at first.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
For me the more complicated the music the easier it is to memorize. But that doesn’t apply to the music of J.S. Bach! Simpler or easier repertoire is easy to sight read ‘a tempo’ and does not require special attention allotted to either hand. So my eye doesn’t have to leave the page and therefore I’m not encouraged to memorize it. In general, playing a piece, reading it multiple times usually imprints it in my memory. If there are tough spots I tend to use visualization, both visualizing the score and both hand movements on the guitar.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
Yes. I have several editions published via my online store (, including my most recent edition of the Carcassi 25 Melodic and Progressive Studies, Op. 60. Arrangements of music by Vivaldi, Albinoni, Bach and others are also available. I have an arrangement of Britten’s first Cello Suite that I am excited to publish once the royalties are sorted out. I also have some compositions published via my store and via Les Productions d’OZ, mentioned above.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up? 
I usually try to visit what I like to call ‘the five pillars of technique’ when I warm up: scales, arpeggios, tremolo, left-hand slurs and some rasgueados. I do a bit of each at a comfortable pace and try to enjoy the feeling of gravity helping me out executing each of them.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I try to relax on the day of the concert and do minimal practice. Back stage however, I do some breathing exercises and usually like to have an orange or a clementine; they hydrate really well and therefore help with the talking part during a concert, as I do like to say a few things to the audience about the pieces I perform!

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
I like to file my nails to a blunted shape with a bit of a ramp on the index and middle fingers (pictures attached). I also attach a piece of a ping pong ball under my thumbnail to re enforce it.

Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Revisit the basics often and apply variety in your playing. By that I mean be creative with the way you practice, the way you handle the guitar, the way you warm up. Don’t do the same thing over and over again, especially if it’s not yielding consistent positive results. If possible, learn another instrument well, especially one that is not from the immediate family of the guitar. By doing that you are providing enough variety for your brain to stay healthy and encourage plasticity, which in turn improves your learning abilities when you go back to the guitar.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
All the simple and advanced studies and lessons by Sor, Aguado, Carulli, Giuliani, Carcassi and Coste are important for young students to play well, because they will help in understanding and learning to navigate the guitar’s interface successfully. They will also teach, by osmosis, sort to speak, the idiomatic nature of the guitar and it’s idiosyncrasies.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
The recordings of the great old masters: Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams are essential for every classical guitarist to know well, simply to become aware of the coloristic and expressive possibilities of the instrument early on.

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
“Music in the Castle of Heaven” by John Eliot Gardiner was the last book I read.Two of my favourite authors are Paulo Coelho and Clive Staples Lewis.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 
Yes, I exercise 4-5 times a week doing either a run outdoors, or engaging in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which has become a game changer as to how I can incorporate exercise after guitar practice. Exercise usually happens in the afternoon after my morning practice session. I don’t follow a particular diet as I do pretty much eat everything (thankfully no allergies). But I do prefer a more protein based meal before performance. I find if I have mainly carbohydrates before a performance, I tend to feel heavy overall and a bit lethargic. A high-protein meal gives me sustained energy, and a clementine or an orange before going on stage keeps me hydrated and keeps my mind sharp.

Do you meditate in any way? 
Not so much, every now and then I do meditation. But it has never become a steady routine.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Spending time with close friends and family, cooking, swimming, enjoying the outdoors, watching thought-provoking movies and space documentaries, and occasionally annoying my cat through forced affection LOL!

For more info on Tariq check out the links below:




Online store:
Faculty profile at Concordia University:

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Michael Kolk

Hailing from Canada, guitarist Michael Kolk has been praised by Liona Boyd as, “…one of the most brilliant and expressive guitarists I have heard in my time.” Known for his musicianship, his technique, and his interpretive abilities, Kolk is one of Canada’s top guitarists. Despite the quiet performance scene at this time, he has just launched a wonderful CD of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas. Fortunately, he had a bit of time to share some of his insights with Six String Journal. Hope this inspires you all.


What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings? I perform mostly on a Martin Blackwell spruce/cedar double top from 2015. It’s a very rich, full, warm sounding guitar, but with ample tonal variety as well. I have a really nice Roberto de Miranda traditional cedar as well that was my main guitar since 2007, and I still play it, though not much in concert anymore – the Blackwell projects better. I used Savarez New Cristal/Cantiga for years, but I’ve recently switched to Alliance trebles. I had tried them and couldn’t ever get used to them, but recently I warmed up to them and figured out how to make them work for the sounds I want.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you? Julian Bream was the first big influence – he was the guitarist that really excited me when I was a teenager (aside from Jimi Hendrix, but that’s a different story…) There are so many great guitarists these days, but I guess in terms of influence I’d say Fabio Zanon, Roland Dyens, and then two guitarists whom I’m very close with, my former teacher Jeffrey McFadden, and my long time duo partner Drew Henderson. I’ve learned a lot by playing with both of them and just sharing ideas about guitar,

Michael Kolk and Drew Henderson (HK Guitar Duo) playing Ravel

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? Things are pretty quiet right now – as I’m writing we’re in the middle of the Covid pandemic, so concerts are not happening, and I haven’t pursued online performances. Last year, however, I was really busy with projects. I was playing concerts with the HK Guitar Duo, as well as a couple with a violinist named Laurence Kayaleh, and working on a solo recording of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas which I chose to edit and release myself. Laurence and I also recorded an album of violin/viola and guitar Sonatas by Ferdinand Rebay which was recently released on Naxos. So I’ve been taking a bit of a break from playing classical music and have been exploring creating music by recording rock songs and studying composition. Whether this work ends up seeing the light of day or not, I felt it was important to try writing my own music to develop my creativity, and gain a deeper understanding of music, from a composer’s perspective. I remember Roland Dyens saying in a masterclass that we should all be both performers and composers, and it makes a lot of sense to me. 

Michael playing ‘Round Midnight (Monk/Dyens)

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
These days I practice strategically, mostly. I don’t have as much time as when I was younger, to just sit down and play without a real structure. I usually practice in 30 minute segments. I put on a timer and make sure to get up and walk around a bit when the time is up. If I’m on a roll I’ll sit down right away and do another session, or I might take a break and do something else and come back to the guitar when I’m fresh again. The total amount of time depends on what’s going on in my life. If there are other projects that need attention I may not play much for a couple weeks. When I have performances or recordings coming up I aim for 3 solid hours of practice in a day. If I’m focussed during that whole time, I can’t really handle much more practice. I may play guitar beyond that, but it would be more messing around or playing for fun. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Tremolo has always been a struggle for me. It takes a lot of work to get it flowing and it never feels totally secure. I think some players have a very natural tremolo, and others don’t even though they may be good players. I have to train right hand speed in general much more than left hand, but I guess that’s fairly common.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I’ve recently self published an arrangement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, the 2nd movement Allegretto, for guitar duo. Earlier, Drew Henderson and I had our arrangement of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (selections) published by D’Oz.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
If possible it’s great to have a walk during the day, and a nap. If I can fit those things in I feel pretty good come concert time. Then 15 minutes before the concert I have a banana, and at intermission I have an apple. To keep the blood sugar up.

HK Guitar Duo playing Michael’s Beethoven arrangement

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Well, I think everyone has to find what works best for themselves when it comes to improving at guitar. And it’s not always about drilling technique and being as efficient as possible. Make time to play for enjoyment to keep your enthusiasm. But when you’re feeling sharp and motivated, practice with deep focus and attention to detail. And try not to build up tension – form good habits of posture and relaxation and they will translate to performances. I guess that’s more than one piece of advice…

Michael playing the 1st movement of Cyril Scott’s Sonatina

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate?
I think there’s a standard repertoire that classical guitarists should at least be familiar with, even if they don’t learn all of it to a performance level. Bach, of course, the 19th century guitar composers like Sor, Giuliani, Aguado etc…, the Spanish repertoire like Tarrega, Albeniz, Granados, Rodrigo, and the Segovia repertoire like Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Torroba, Turina, etc…, then music from the Americas like Villa-Lobos, Brouwer, Barrios, Lauro. There’s a lot, and it takes time to get through. At the same time, I think students should also play lesser known music and try to expand their repertoire beyond the classics.

Spanish Virtuoso Rafael Aguirre’s Tremolo Tips

Spanish virtuoso Rafael Aguirre just shared five useful tips for improving your tremolo technique.

Rafael discusses and demonstrates these five key points:

  1. Study tremolo as if it were not tremolo.
  2. Work on retaining consistent tone and color from each note.
  3. Make your tremolo sing.
  4. Make sure each finger maintains equal proximity to the strings after plucking.
  5. Don’t let the thumb stroke displace your hand position.

Check out Rafael’s Six String Journal Interview for more brilliant insight from one of Spain’s finest guitarists.

Artist Profile and Interview: Mateusz Kowalski

When the words “spectacular” and “breathtaking” pop out in a review by Classical Guitar Magazine, there is something special afoot. It so happened that the review was for Mateusz Kowalski’s brilliant performance among brilliant performers during the EuroStrings Competition in London last year. He took first place. Mateusz’s playing evokes such a wide range of emotions – joy, melancholy, nostalgia, excitement, and I am ashamed to admit it as a fellow guitarist, envy is in there, too. His interpretations are alive with imagination and intuition and it is clear that he possesses absolute control of his fingers. His videos are binge-worthy if you have the time.

Mateusz recently sat down to share some insight with Six String Journal readers about his philosophies and his journey so far. Enjoy.



When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started to play when I was six. My older brother and cousin played the guitar, mainly rock and metal music. I wanted to be like them and play the guitar too. In addition, my mother worked in the office of the local philharmonic, so I had a constant contact with musicians, I could hear them practicing, rehearsing and performing.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing pieces which leave some space for the performer to show their personality through them. For me, it doesn’t matter which period does the piece come from. I find all the musical languages (styles of different epochs) to be interesting, effective and beautiful.

It’s also important for me to make every piece I play personal, I always try to put my feelings, my experiences into the interpretation. My aim is to never play “empty” notes.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I have two guitars I use on regular basis: 2015 Karl-Heinz Roemmich Model Exquisite Spruce Top and 2017 Sakurai Masaki Model Mastro RF Spruce Top. I string them with Savarez Cantiga Premium Basses, 3rd & 2nd Alliance and 1st New Crystal. All Normal Tension.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

Among musicians who have influenced me the most, I find my two guitar teachers to be the most important. Dariusz Schmidt taught me for 12 years and then Ryszard Bałauszko taught me for 5 years after that. They showed my the musical path I should follow and provided me with the principles which I stick to to this day when interpreting music.

When it comes to famous guitarists – I grew up listening to Assad Brothers, Julian Bream, Andres Segovia, and John Williams. Among non-guitarists the most important ones who have influenced me are: Arthur Rubinstein, Maxim Vengerov, Frans Brüggen, Giovanni Antonini (as a conductor), and Il Giardino Armonico (Ensemble).

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd?

So far, I have recorded one CD album “Mateusz Kowalski Classical Guitarist” and, of course, this is the one I’m most proud of. It was premiered in September 2019. The album comprises a collection of pieces important to me, reimagined and interpreted anew. The track list features compositions by Bach, Giuliani, Tárrega, Barrios, Piazzolla, Ponce, Assad and Schubert. The album published by CD Accord is available via Naxos Classics Online store, on Spotify, Amazon Music and iTunes.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

I have just finished my online social media project (FB + IG)  “A week with Guitar Salon International”. I premiered eight videos recorded with them on seven different guitars. I described every guitar from the player’s perspective and wrote a couple of thoughts about the pieces themselves.

The next big project will be recording my second CD for the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin. It’ll happen this year, in September. The CD will contain Chopin’s Mazurkas op. 6 and 7 transcribed by J. N. Bobrowicz (first ever transcription of these mazurkas) and the most important compositions (a couple of world premiere recordings) of the greatest Polish guitar virtuosos of the nineteenth century  – Jan Nepomucen Bobrowicz, Felix Horetzky, Stanisław Szczepanowski, and Marek Sokołowski. Extremely hard but also extremely beautiful pieces.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

The time is spend on practicing is dependent on many different factors, but it is usually somewhere between two to six hours. Let’s say it’s four hours on average. I try to spend at least an hour to 90 minutes working on my technique every day, which is about playing various exercises, drills, or speeding up fast parts of pieces I play – gradually, with metronome. It’s basically trying to exceed my limits, push my technical boundaries every day.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

It’s making sure, that at all times, it’s the technique which serves the music and not the opposite. I believe that’s an aspect of the guitar every guitarist should be working on, all their lives.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

The fastest way for me to memorize a piece of music is to practice it having the sheet music put somewhere else, in the other room, for example. Then you are forced to remember as many bars as possible, otherwise, you’d have to stand up and walk to the place where the scores are at.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

I have plans to publish my edition of Franz Schubert’s Musical Moment No. 3. Many guitarists ask me to do that, so I will, very soon.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?

I love to warm up with arpeggios from Tarrega’s The Complete Technical Studies.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

A one light meal only, playing through all my program with scores and a lot of coffee.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

I shape them by placing a nail file over my strings, then I imitate how I hit the strings, which always gives me the same, rather round shape, with the length of the nail not exceeding the flesh of my finger (only thumb is exception from that rule).

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Structure your practicing. Practice technique separately – with scales, drills, exercises, arpeggios. Sight-read a lot – that’s one of the most useful skills.

Remember that the most important thing is to make your interpretation interesting and valuable for the audience. And when I say audience – I don’t mean guitarists, competition jury members, etc., I mean regular people, who look for sincere feelings in music, who want to experience something beautiful during the concerts. Your job is to make their lives better.  Bearing that in mind, you’ll never lose motivation and you’ll always see meaning in what you’re doing.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

I believe that young/conservatory students should play pieces from all the epochs and they do that in most of the cases. In my opinion they miss one very essential skill – being able to realize a figured bass. It takes some time to be fluent at it, but even spending some time on understanding how it works is very beneficial. It makes you understand harmony better, which is strictly connected to better understanding music in general.


What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

Homo Deus, written by Yuval Noah Harari. Favorite author – Bruno Schultz.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?

I ride a mountain bike and exercise regularly. 😊

Do you meditate in any way?

For me listening to the music is  way of meditating, contemplating.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

Eating out with my wife – finding new places with delicious food and coffee.


NEWS! Complete Technique Video Course Launch!

Six String Journal just seconds ago launched the online video course Complete Technique for Classical Guitar! To celebrate the launch I’ve discounted the course for Six String Journal readers by 25% discount for the next 30 days. If you are looking for a way to up your guitar game, want a massive project for the summer (seriously, what else are you going to do?!), and want to support our site, this is for you.

Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 5.00.27 PM

About the course:

Six String Journal’s Complete Technique for Classical Guitar Course was developed for the advancing beginner with some experience, the advancing intermediate guitarist, and will even benefit those with lots of playing experience. Though music theory isn’t necessary, a rudimentary understanding of rhythm is helpful.

The course consists of primary movement videos where I will teach the foundational movements that you’ll need in order to master classical guitar. These videos cover topics such as free-stroke, rest-stroke, arpeggios, alternation, scales, hand coordination, slurs, and shifts. These are followed by several series of secondary videos where I’ll apply the techniques and movements in various ways to help you engrain them into your own practice. Stringing the secondary videos into a sequence will teach you how to form an effective practice routine that will maximize your results and get you closer to your musical goals.

Course Includes
  • Hours of focused technique lessons with an award-winning classical guitarist, the founder of Six String Journal, and sought-after educator.
  • Over 50 extensively detailed but digestible videos demonstrating essential foundational movements, technique tips, exercises, routines, and how to implement them into your practice, carefully edited in small bite size videos for easy assimilation and viewing.
  • Printable PDF summarizing the entire course with a condensed visual of the material presented.
  • Loads of bonus content from Six String Journal’s Mastering Diatonic Scales.



The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Part 2

Guest Post by luthier John Ray

All photos by Alberto Juárez

The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Part 2

417.jpeg“If in Linares I was born into this world, it was in Granada that my eyes were opened to the beauty of life and art.” Andrés Segovia.

Architectural beauty and guitar music everywhere; centuries of history of the craft, age-old techniques and knowledge passed down in the workshops. People from all walks of life and some from different countries drawn to this most wonderful of instruments and applying their strengths to make this community better; surely these drive the Granada guitar-makers to rise above the rest and forge the stellar reputation that they have. How could we not produce Andrés Segovia, Manuel de la Chica and Antonio Marín? Where else would Antonio de Torres Jurado come to make his first guitar? What other city could Pepe Romero and Eliot Fisk possibly choose as their second residence? Where else can you find a guitar-making competition which brings young builders together to show their best work and to exchange ideas?

I arrived in Granada in 1989 hearing that it was a hotspot for guitar-making and thinking that surely I could learn here. Now in 2020 I am president of the guitar-makers association and my guitars can be found in shops in the U.S., Japan, China, South Korea, Germany, Australia and other countries. There is no doubt that Granada has been a centre for guitar-making for centuries and it still is. As for learning here, I had a long, challenging road and those who helped me get where I am hail from Granada but also from Germany, the U.S., Barcelona, Córdoba and Málaga.

Around the time I arrived the character of the Granada makers and their school of thought was crystalizing around two men and a series of events. Manuel López Bellido and Antonio Marín Montero had set up shop together in 1960 to make guitars, quite a few of which were sold under the labels of Eduardo Ferrer and Manuel de la Chica. As I wrote in Part 1, without the workshops of Ferrer and de la Chica the makers of the following generation would not have learned so quickly nor been so numerous. However, something happened under the leadership of Marín and Bellido which got players and dealers all over the world interested in the “Granada guitar”. These two men, like Eduardo Ferrer, travelled to Japan at the behest of some of their clients there and were an essential part of spreading the Granada tradition of building. Their growing skill and international projection combined with their generosity of spirit resulted in many of the guitar-makers in Granada working with them or learning from them at one time. Some of these trained with Eduardo Ferrer before or after their time with Montero y Bellido (which is what they first called themselves on the label). The death of Eduardo Ferrer signaled the end of an era and left the makers without the focal point that his workshop had become thanks to his strength of character and leadership and also left some of them without a job. For years he had brought the makers together and kept everyone on the same page. That role was filled by the formation of an association in 1987 just one year before his death and was started by 18 instrument makers. The name included the word Luthier because one of the members – José Mingorance – was a violin-maker; the preferred term is guitarrero. The other members were: Eduardo Ferrer Castillo (honorary president), Antonio Marín Montero (b. 1933), Manuel López Bellido (b. 1939), Francisco Santiago Marín (b. 1946), José López Bellido (b. 1943), José Marín Plazuelo (b. 1960), Francisco Manuel Díaz Fernández (b. 1942), Germán Pérez Barranco (b. 1940), Bernd Martin (1954-2018), Antonio Durán Zurita (1940-2006), Juan López Aguilarte (b. 1941), Rafael Moreno Rodríguez (b. 1954), Manuel Fernández Fernández (1930-?), René Baarslag (b. 1947), Antonio Raya Pardo (b. 1950), Juan Miguel Carmona Trapero (b. 1960) and Jonathan Hinves (b. 1956).

47.jpegAnother event closely related to the formation of this association is a an exhibition organized by the same group of makers. This was in 1989 and it helped to consolidate this important group. In addition to those mentioned above, the catalogue from this exhibition includes Juan Román Padilla (1928- 2018) who in an interview in 2012 assured me that he had ordered guitars for his label from the dúo Antonio Marín and Manuel Bellido. Also present was Antonio Ariza Rodríguez (1939-2006) who had spent some time with Eduardo Ferrer before striking out on his own.

Although the term Granada School in reference to the guitar-makers here was used in different publications as early as 1968, it only became accepted or popular enough to be the default description when Eusebio Rioja used it in his book “Inventario de Guitarreros Granadinos” in 1976. This book with its second and third editions in 1983 along with the articles in British guitar magazines of 1977, 1988, etc. all contributed to delimiting who exactly represented the Granada School at the time. Rioja’s first edition was published before any of the foreigners arrived and in subsequent editions he chose not to mention them. However, in the various books and articles that used his information as a reference these great makers were included as they were in the association mentioned above.

The new guitar makers association, formed in 2017 organized a homage in 2019 to this influential group of makers on the occasion of an exhibition of early Granada guitars. The reason for this homage was the explosion of quality and quantity of makers in Granada buoyed by the dedication to their craft of these founding makers and their tireless work to promote it in the world, especially in Spain and the rest of Europe. They are the ones who were responsible for the quality and the reputation even today of Granada as a centre of world-class makers. The opening of the exhibition including a short concert on a 1851 Pernas guitar and a speech by the City Councillor for Culture brought these important artisans to the public’s attention.

Robert Bouchet’s collaboration with Antonio Marín in the 1970s is another turning point for the guitar in Granada. It is unclear whether his influence was more practical or artistic but there is no doubt that Antonio (and others in Granada) build a guitar today which is inspired in some of Bouchet’s ideas and that Bouchet ‘s contacts helped promote Antonio’s guitars which in turn promoted the Granada guitar. Bouchet’s generosity and aesthetic sense (both visual and aural) are evident in the guitars and the work of Antonio and his disciples.

133.jpegAs mentioned, a few foreigners were already here making guitars but at the time of these events in the 1980s that is seems the floodgates opened and everyone realized that Granada was the place to be. Those drawn to Granada from other parts of Spain or elsewhere include Franz Butscher, Rolf Eichinger (1945-2009), John Ray, Stephen Hill, Mijail Kharash, Pavel Gavryushov, Henner Hagenlocher, Andrés Marvi, Mario Aracama, Olivier Marín, Johannes T’Kindt, Evan Kingma, Ayman Bitar and Knud Sindt. To different degrees all of these makers felt the influences of the original Granada School; some even learned directly from the founders.

Before this explosive growth in the number of makers, the craft was passed on through family ties or apprenticeships in the larger shops. This continues today although perhaps to a lesser degree. Jesús Bellido, Mauricio Bellido, Miguel Ángel Bellido, Ana Espinosa Rodríguez, Daniel Gil de Avalle, José González López, Antonio Raya Ferrer, Eduardo Durán Ferrer, Lucas Martin, Juan Antonio Correa Marín, Francisco Díaz, Victor Díaz, Javier Rosales López and Luis Santiago Hernández all have family connections to the original Granada School through which they have learned or at least been inspired to take up the chisel.

And of course Granada natives and new residents find themselves drawn to the profession of guitar-making usually through contact with the Granada makers. Juan Manuel García Fernández, Aarón García Ruiz, José Luis Vigil Piñera, Juan Labella Manjón, Francisco Muñoz Alba, Sergio Valverde Castillo, Oscar Muñoz Sánchez, Francisco Hervás Hita and Francisco Heredia are examples of this. All of these people have enriched the guitar-making community with their skills and passions. In addition to the more typical origins like carpenters, musicians and cabinet-makers we have incorporated engineers, historians, economists, metal-workers, philosophers, firemen, teachers, linguists, salesmen and weavers to this burgeoning guild.

Some have come, worked here or studied with one of the makers and then moved on elsewhere: Thomas Holt, Matteo Vaghi, Valerio Licari,  Daniele Chiesa, Philipp Neumann, Michael Ritchie, Anders Eliasson, Daniel Bernaert, Sergio Sánchez. In addition to these there are a great number of makers who have visited and been inspired by the work of the Granada school.

Another chapter on Granada might be the more active teaching outside of Granada that many of the makers have engaged in. David Gansz’ excellent contribution to the Granada guitar-makers book (see bibliography) lists makers who have spent time in Granada learning as well as Granada makers who have taught both in Granada and elsewhere.

“The influence of Granada builders has so permeated the world of guitar building – either directly via courses or seminars abroad or via visits to Granada by non-Spanish builders, or via builders studying Granada-made instruments – it is easy to conclude that Granada is in large part responsible for the fact that so many modern builders use traditional Spanish techniques.” – David Gansz


As reported by Javier Molina Argente, the town of Baza in Granada province was home to a number of guitar-makers since the 1980s:  Vicente Checa Aro, José Checa Aro, Vicente Pérez Checa, Ramón García Durán, Antonio Ruiz, and Pedro Martínez Peñalver.

Of course one test of a group of makers or of one maker is particular is how well the guitars sell and who is playing those guitars. The fact that guitars from Granada are in shops all over the world and in the hands of the best players speaks volumes. However, the contribution to the community and the community’s recognition of the makers is also important. Over the years the efforts of the guitar-makers and the different public and private entities have brought to fruition the following incentives and publications.

The Granada School of Guitar-makers is a book published by the Granada Provincial Government in 2014 and an exhibition was celebrated on the occasion of its presentation. A short promotional video was also made.

Gloria Medina Luque organized an exhibition with the collaboration of Caja Rural Bank in 2016 which included included guitars made by historic as well as current Granada makers, concerts and conferences.

The Association meets with conservatory students every two years during the Guitar Encuentro (GNO) at the Conservatory and with the students of CSU’s Summer Arts.

In 2019 the Association of Granada Guitar-makers organized the  exhibition of historic Granada makers and the homage mentioned to the original Granada School. You can visit this exhibition through this link. The name of this exhibition was “Towards a Museum of the Guitar” and is part of a lobby to establish a museum in the city which best represents guitar history and construction in all of Spain (Granada of course).


But when a young virtuoso asks me which guitar is right for him, as long as his eye is quick and his mind is open, there’s only one answer: go to Granada, stay a week and come back with the guitar that has made you see the difference between what you were and what you are. –Angelo Gilardino

The Englishman, Jonathan Hinves, told me, “Although there are many makers here, there is a very positive relationship with an enormous amount of mutual co-operation. Of course, there is always space for personal disagreement but we do get on with each other very, very well”. –George Clinton, Guitar magazine

…but neither of these guitar-building centres, nor any other in the world, can compete with the Granada artisan workshops in terms of quality, specialization, tradition and pure excellence.  –Dr. Aarón García Ruiz

People often ask me what makes Granada so special. I tell them that Granada is the only place in the world where, instead of getting thrown out of my hotel for practicing my guitar and disturbing the other guests, the dueño of the hotel threw out the French girls who complained about my practicing. It’s a place where even the garbage man will ask me whether I play classical guitar or flamenco. Everyone in Granada is involved with the guitar in one way or another. It was no accident that from Granada a Segovia could emerge. –Lisa Hurlong

Now I think we can talk about what makes a guitar from Granada so desirable. Obviously all of this tradition and history gives the makers here resources to learn and perfect their skills. Competition between makers for clients means that each of us does the best we possibly can and make the best instrument possible. The opportunities for young makers to have their work critiqued by veteran builders are endless and this is perhaps the most important point. Advice may be given with kindly intent or scorn but it is almost always helpful. For the most part makers here value the traditional Torres style guitar and shun double tops and lattice bracing. We strive for and excel at achieving balance, beauty, dynamics and especially a broad tonal palette from which the guitarist can draw the sounds he or she requires in order to communicate through music. It is sound that we pursue, beauty and versatility. High end guitar dealers all over the world buy and sell guitars made in Granada

They really do have something special about them. My son expressed some interest recently in trying to create a new strain of plant by combining elements of other plants. His mother and I suggested he read up on Mendel and subsequent genetics work because in science you can always reach higher if you stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Perhaps this is the real secret to Granada’s continued success. So few builders can learn everything that has gone before whereas in Granada all that history, tradition, and techniques is just a stone’s throw away.

Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 3.33.31 PM.png

This article was written with the intention of shedding light on the recent history of guitar-making in Granada and to encourage guitarists to visit this wonderful province in their search for the guitar that fits them like a glove. I hope no one feels misrepresented or left out by the content of the preceding words.

John Ray has been living in Granada since 1989 and has been making guitars for over 20 years. In addition to being well-known for building copies of Antonio de Torres and Santos Hernández guitars he was the editor of the book “The Granada School of Guitar-makers”.



Rioja, Eusebio. Inventario de Guitarreros Granadinos 1875-1983. Granada, Spain, Gráficas Monachil, 1983.

Hill, Kenny. “Visit to Legendary Granada.”

Roberts, John. “The Guitar in Granada.” Guitar. February, 1977.

Clinton, George. “The Guitar Makers of Granada.” Guitar International. September, 1988.

Hurlong, Lisa. “¡Guitarra Granada Ole!” Soundboard. Summer 1990.

Clinton, George. “Bernd Martin.” Guitar International. August 1989.

Wade, Graham, “Robert Bouchet,” in The Classical Guitar: A Complete History, London, Balafon, 1997

Kasulen, Mark and Blackett, Matt. The History of Yamaha Guitars: Over Sixty Years of Innovation. Milwaukee, Hal Leonard, 2006.

“Escuela Granadina de Luthiers” (The Granada School of Luthiers), a series which ran in Guitar International magazine from September 1988 through July 1989.

Mairants, Ivor. “Granada: City of Guitars Makers, Part 2.” Classical Guitar. May/June 1984.

Huber, John. The Development of the Modern Guitar. Westport, Connecticut, Bold Strummer, 1994.

Ray, John. The Granada School of Guitar-making. Granada, Diputación Provincial de Granada, 2014 Includes articles by Angelo Gilardino, Alberto Cuellar, David Gansz, Aarón García Ruiz, Javier Molina Argente.

Promotional video for the book The Granada School of Guitar-making.

Martínez, Alberto. Orfeo Magazine No. 8

Valentí, Evaristo. “Granada guitar-makers: the first foreigners”

Featured Artist and Interview with Thomas Athanaselos

Hailing from Greece,  guitar virtuoso Thomas Athanaselos recently took some time to share his thoughts about his journey with guitar. Equally comfortable playing jazz arrangements, his own evocative compositions, and classical repertoire, Thomas’ playing is musical, fluid, and direct. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about him here.


When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started playing the guitar at the age of 11. My influence was a teacher in primary school who always accompanied the school choir with his guitar and he really seemed to enjoy it. Next year my parents just signed me up for a Music School. As time went by I realized my passion for the guitar and music generally.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I have always loved playing various music styles from different music periods. The last years my repertoire includes music from the 18th-19th Century but also contemporary compositions of mine and other composers.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Over the last years I’ve performed on a guitar built by Vassilis Sigletos (GR) and I use Knobloch Actives (Carbon) high tension strings.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Throughout the years I have also played the electric and acoustic guitar, so my first influences were guitarists like Steve Vai, George Benson, Robben Ford and Al Di Meola. At the age of 16 when I focused on the classical guitar, guitarists and musicians from 18th to 21th century like J. S. Bach, Augustin Barrios Mangore, Fernardo Sor, Isaac Albeniz, Joaquin Rodrigo and the great Paco de Lucia had a big impact on me. Of course, I can’t dismiss Astor Piazzolla’s music.

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of?
I recorded my first album ‘In Memoriam’ in 2018, which received very good reviews so I could say for sure that this is the recording I am proud of. Recordings are always hard to satisfy you 100% so I hope the next one will be even better.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
Right now due to the situation Covid-19 caused, we are facing a different routine and lifestyle which is something new for everyone. That makes it difficult to arrange concerts so I am focusing on composing and studying new repertoire.

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
I am always careful to keep my mind and my fingers in a good condition. When I have arranged concerts I practice every day 2-3 hours.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I don’t have any specific way to memorize music. Sometimes the harmony and the melodic line of the piece makes it easier to memorize it. In any case I try to be careful and concentrated when I first study a piece. Many repeats and slow playing also helps me to find the details and deeply understand the score.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
Yes, I have published four compositions of mine through Bergmann Editions.
You can find the scores here: Bergmann Editions.publications.jpg

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
For sure, I always try to take some time to relax on my own and not to get in touch with many people. This helps me to stay calm and concentrated on my program. I like to play some scale exercises or some slow tempo parts of the pieces. To me  these are the essentials. The ideal preparing for me is maximum 45 minutes before the concert.

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
I think young players should first start training their brains. They should try to create their own personality in music generally and this will lead them to new paths of playing.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
As our ancestors used to say ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. So I always try to exercise because it also affects positively my mood and my playing and I have healthy lifestyle in general. I don’t have a specific pre-concert food. A good meal for sure and maybe a bar of chocolate just before the concert!

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Running, cycling, watching movies, listening to music, and spending some time walking around with my dog!!




Mateusz Kowalski plays Barrios and Giuliani

Thought I would share some of Guitar Salon International‘s beautifully produced videos of the young Polish virtuoso, Mateusz Kowalski. In the first video, Mateusz plays one of Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s less played tremolo pieces, Contemplación, with both a magical touch and an enviable ease of execution. In the second, he rips through the finale of Mauro Giuliani’s Rossiniana Nº1, Op. 119 with true operatic fanfare. Mateusz playing is hypnotizing on many levels. Musical and meticulous, it is no surprise that he is starting to receive recognition from various competitions across Europe. Enjoy!