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.

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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”

The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Part 1

Guest Post by acclaimed Granada-based luthier John Ray. Enjoy!

The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Part 1

by John Ray

Ferrer 1900

Why does Granada always come up when we speak of fine artisan guitars? Why have so many makers from all over the world made pilgrimages to the workshops of the Granada guitar-makers to pay their respects and to find out what we do differently here? Well known U.S., German, British, Canadian, Danish, Mexican and Belgian makers have spent time here and that doesn’t include those who learned from or were influenced by Granada makers and then went on to become great makers in their own right. There are a number of factors which contribute to this reputation for excellence and the sheer numbers of guitar-makers. The only place in the world with more guitar-makers per capita is Paracho in Mexico. Let’s go back hundreds of years and see what we can find.

Although surely there were instrument makers in Granada well before the 16th century it is only from that time that we have records and names. Alonso de Buitrago, Alonso Vega, Juan de Alcaraz and Diego de Atienza are just a few names that have been preserved. Granada may or may not have been an important centre for instrument-making back then but we do know that Rafael Vallejo built a very special guitar-psaltery for King Carlos I in 1792. Furthermore, the best-known violin-maker Spain has ever produced, José Contreras, hailed from Granada. Surely that indicates a certain level of makers from the province of Granada.  We do know from surviving instruments and their characteristics that Sevilla and Cadíz were more important centres of guitar-building and of innovation than Granada during the 18th century. It is in the 19th century that Granada comes into its own and takes over as a centre of innovation and spreads its knowledge to the rest of the country through the emigration of guitar-makers and the apprenticeship of guitar-makers from other provinces. In the opinion of Richard Bruné this rise in number and expertise has everything to do with a larger gypsy population and a correspondingly higher number of guitar-players and musical cafés in the city making higher demands on the builders.

Ortega 1880

Perhaps the most important maker from 19th century Granada is Agustín Caro due to the various innovations which he is responsible for. In a single guitar from 1803 we can see two landmark changes to the guitar for the first time. This guitar has its fretboard glued on top of the soundboard whereas all preceding guitars showed a fretboard flush with the soundboard in the style of the lute. Observation of later guitars shows us that this change became consolidated over the following decades throughout the world. The other change which seems to originate with this guitar is the elimination of the double strings; this guitar was made for six single strings. Again a change which, over time, pervaded almost all guitar construction. On a later guitar by Caro, 1824, we can see the first ever example of a modern bridge with an adjustable saddle and which, like the other two innovations, became the norm. Of course these attributions to Caro will only be valid until such time as an earlier guitar by some other maker might appear showing these same characteristics.

In spite of Agustín Caro’s obvious importance the Granada maker José Pernas, also from the 19th century, might well be better known due to his association with Antonio de Torres from Almeria.  Antonio de Torres, known to all as the father of the spanish guitar, learned his craft without a doubt in Granada as reported by José Luis Romanillos through the words of Juan Manuel Sirvent “he went to Granada where he made his first guitar”. Furthermore, the writings of Domingo Prat and Emilio Pujol report that Torres learned the art of guitar-making from Pernas. If this were not enough we can go on to show that many of the innovations credited to Torres were also used by Pernas and it seems very unlikely that the student would have taught the master. In fact, a 1851 guitar by Pernas has been shown to have uncanny similarities to a Torres guitar from 1856. In his doctoral thesis Aarón García Ruiz details these common points to the extent that it is difficult to imagine that Torres’ ideas were not heavily influenced by the work of Pernas. Going back to Domingo Prat, one of  the most commonly referenced works in guitar history, he tells us that it was Pernas, not Torres who invented the tornavoz although Torres is popularily credited with it. Neither myself nor Aarón García seek to discredit Torres but rather to show that although he was a genius and incorporated many great advances in guitar-making, he did learn from those around him specifically José Pernas. Another innovation attributed to Pernas is the pear-shaped guitar as well as the wooden “hook” designed to hold the guitar on the thigh. Torres also made at least one pear-shaped guitar.

The model for a workshop today is usually a one-person affair in which the maker controls every aspect of construction and every step in the process. The presence of a possible apprentice is infrequent and in any case makes for little change in the process. Another possible model is a shop where two or three makers work together, usually family members. The latter is less and less common as time goes on but still exists. In the latter part of the 19th century this was more common and workshops were bigger with an owner-foreman who was usually the one who was ultimately responsible and whose name was on the instruments – the master. We find many surviving guitars today from the mid-19th century workshop of Juan Ortega Castellón who worked with his sons and others. His son José Ortega Ruiz was the main influence when Benito Ferrer wanted to become a builder. At approximately the same time another Ortega – Francisco Ortega Ayala – was also working in Granada. He too had sons who continued the family tradition. One of these, Rafael Ortega Ávila, moved to Madrid around 1886 and employed a young Santos Hernández before the latter moved on to serve as foreman in the workshop of Manuel Ramírez. Just one more example of how Granada shaped guitar-making in Spain as this might explain why Santos guitars were lighter and livelier than those of other Madrid makers.

del Valle 1850.jpg

A number of other makers worked in Granada and the province at this time but their influence on today’s Granada school has not been demonstrated except in general terms. Their brief biographies can be found in Eusebio Rioja’s Inventario de guitarreros granadinos. José López, Agustin del Valle, Francisco López Gascón, Antonio Llorente, Antonio del Valle, Nicolás del Valle. Bernardo Milán Suárez,

One of the most historically important of these large workshops was that of Benito Ferrer because of the dynasty that it spawned. Ferrer was a medical student from Orihuela, Alicante who gave up his studies to find work to support his extended family. Among other things he played the spanish bandurria (like a twelve-string mandolin) with the gypsy musicians. His place in history is guaranteed because in an effort to get more sound out of the instrument he substituted the gut strings for piano wire. Of course this caused his bandurria to collapse under the string tension in short order but with knowledge gleaned from José Ortega Ruiz he was able to modify and reinforce it and make it work with the new strings. This meant that other musicians came to him wanting instruments that produced as much volume as his. He took on members of the Ortega workshop and began making guitars and the different instruments in the bandurria family. Benito Ferrer is famously responsible for the first guitar played in concert by Andrés Segovia. His is the only large workshop that survived into time of the Spanish Civil War although by this time nephew and disciple Eduardo Ferrer had inherited the workshop.

Caro 1810.jpgEduardo Ferrer, much like José Ramírez in Madrid, is responsible for training a large number of guitar-makers and then slowly seeing them set up shop around the city. In some cases he was supportive to the extent that he contributed financially to the new establishments. Although it was not called The Granada School of guitar-making until later there can be little doubt that he is responsible for the situation that allowed Granada to become such a hotbed for building and selling guitars by leading and training such a large community of makers. He also sold a large number of guitars made by makers who worked both within his workshop(s) and independently. Granada’s influence on the rest of the world continued with Eduardo Ferrer. In 1966, Yamaha contracted him to teach the traditional method of guitar-making and had him traveling to Japan that year as well as the two following years. After this period Yamaha sent one of its workers to Granada to continue to learn from Eduardo. Although I will argue in part two that the influence of the Granada School comes into its own under the tutelage of Antonio Marín and Manuel Bellido there is no doubt that without Eduardo Ferrer and his disciples things would have been very different. For this reason other scholars attribute the formation of the Granada School exclusively to Eduardo Ferrer.

During the “reign” of Eduardo Ferrer the other giant of Granada was the guitar and violin-maker Manuel de la Chica. De la Chica apparently spent some time with a worker from the Benito Ferrer workshop and then went on to meticulously study the guitars of SantPernas 1851.jpgos Hernández and to base his work on those to the point of making perfect copies. Two of today’s Granada makers trained with Manuel de la Chica and a few others built guitars to sell to him. Manuel de la Chica had a reputation for very careful work and a level of technical skill that we don’t find in Granada prior to his time. His guitars were very sought after in the new world at the time. A few other guitar-makers in Ferrer’s time include Isidro Garrido, Miguel Robles, Miguel López Muñoz, Manuel Martínez de Milán, Alfonso Checa Plaza, Antonio Rodríguez Orozco, and Francisco Fernández Ruiz. 

The scene is now set for the next generation: Spain’s young democracy is thriving, the country is opening up to the outside world and young cabinet-makers are gravitating towards guitar-making through their interest in flamenco and popular guitar music. Perhaps most importantly the nature of the Granada guitar; that light, responsive and unsophisticated instrument is being discovered by musicians and dealers all over the world.


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”.

Bibliography and further reading

  1. Cano Tamayo, Manuel. Un Siglo de la Guitarra Granadina. Granada, Obra Cultural de la Caja de Ahorros de Granada, 1975;
  2. Rioja, Eusebio. Inventario de Guitarreros Granadinos 1875-1983. Granada, Spain, Gráficas Monachil, 1983;
  3. Romanillos Vega, José L. and Marian Harris Winspear. The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar. Guijosa, Spain, The Sanguino Press, 2002.
  4. Prat, Domingo. Diccionario de Guitarristas. Buenos Aires, Romero y Fernández, 1934.
  5. Pujol, Emilio. Tárrega: Ansayo Biográfico. Lisbon, Ramos, Afonso & Moita, 1960.
  6. Romanillos, José L. Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker: His Life and Work. Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Element Books, 1987.
  7. Segovia, Andrés. Andrés Segovia: An Autobiography of the Years 1893-1920. New York, Macmillan, 1976.
  8. Bruné, R. E.: “Santos Hernández Speaks”, Vintage Guitar Magazine, mayo 2007
  9. Ray, John (ed.): The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Granada: Diputación Provincial de Granada, 2014,
  10. Garcia Ruiz Aarón: La Escuela granadina antigua de construcción de guitarras: Propuesta de un protocolo para el estudio de cordófonos, University of Granada. Doctoral theses 2017
  11. Grondona, Stefano, Luca Waldner, and Massimo Mandell. La Chitarra di Liutera: Masterpieces of Guitar Making. Sondrio, L’officina del Libro, 2002.
  12. Bruné, R. E. “Cultural Origins of the Modern Guitar.” Soundboard. Fall 1997.
  13. La Guitarra Española – The Spanish Guitar, The Metropolitan Museum of New York & Museo Municipal de Madrid, 1991-1992. Madrid, Opera Tres, 1993.