The cathedral of cypress, ebony, spruce, cedar and rosewood in Midtown.
An amazing and dangerous place to visit is RetroFret in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. A used and vintage collection of stringed instruments, RetroFret is a museum, a retail space, a place to learn and an occasion to silently crunch numbers in your head in the corner as you figure out if you can really afford the five string handmade banjo that is cradled in your hands like a newborn.
Guitars, mandolins, banjos, electrics, flamenco, classical, violins, ukes, amps; they have it all. I learned so much in my hour long visit about the history of some instruments and was able to play a lap steel solid body Gibson, the first electric guitar.
Call and make an appointment today and leave your credit cards behind. They also offer repairs on guitars, violins and your church’s organ.
This was an early 70’s Ramirez, a flamenco blanca. I have played numerous Ramirez flamencos and as is true with this famous maker, you have to really search for the authentic gems amid all of their clunkers. All of the previous Ramirez’s in my hands were incredibly heavy and dead with a thick and boomy sound, so deep and ponderous.
The one pictured below was a dream. It had a rich, throaty and deep voice, sonorous and woody and dark. Playability was a dream and the guitar was incredibly light and responsive. We were putting the guitar down on the workbench to get the dental mirrors out to identify the particular luthier at Ramirez that had created this one.
I can still hear this blanca. And I did not buy it.
I have been fortunate enough to have lived by the two best retail stores for classical and flamenco guitars in the States: Guitar Salon International in Los Angeles and Luthier Music Corporation in New York City. This has enabled me on occasion to be able to play guitars by renowned makers, guitars that cost well over ten grand which I would not be able to access much less afford.
You cannot exactly browse your way through either collection, but be friendly and forthright and those back doors will open for you.
The guitars of Conde Hermanos stir such debate among flamenco players. They are ubiquitous among the top performers in the world, including of course, Paco de Lucia’s famous Conde negra from the Gravina 7 workshop (its origin is still open to debate by the serious Paco fans). The quality of Condes are inconsistent which most players will readily admit. There are absolutely great ones out there and then there are the dead ones. I’ve played a few in shops and most of them were the dead ones.
One Conde I played was at Luthier’s in New York a few years ago, and it was unbelievable. It was the AF25/R model, which means that it is a spruce top guitar with maple for the back and sides. Supposedly it is a cross between a negra and a blanca; a bit of growl and a bit of longer sweeter sustain. I don’t know about all that but my God, that was a guitar. Lyrical and raunchy and so easy to play that I could do no wrong on it.
Anyways, that specific guitar is long gone. I was not about to fork over ten grand regardless but I can still hear exactly how that Conde sounded.
Here are pics from an AF25/R currently on sale at GSI. They take such great photos of their guitars. I don’t know if this one is one of the greats or a clunker, but fuck, she looks good. Click here to visit their site and view more information on this particular beauty. Ask for Dave Tate who is a great guy and will answer all your questions and even play falsetas for you if you’re nice.
If you decide to buy it for me, I guarantee you I will play it and immediately put a ding in it.
This is a Graf-Martinez solea, only a beginner’s piece and only the first half at that. I am trying to learn to be better at properly finishing pieces. The mic was much too close so there’s a bit of distortion box going on.
I am not a clean player, I am not a pretty player. Every time someone else plays my guitar, I am so surprised to hear how delicate and sweet it can sound.
I recorded this tarantas in May 2008 which is filled with mistakes and even ends with the sound of traffic in West Hollywood coming through my windows. Its been almost a year since this recording and I still haven’t put the final polish on this piece. Perhaps someday soon, I will be motivated to revisit this and work out the kinks. But yeah, probably not.
These are traditional falsetas taught to me by Federico Bestevar in Los Angeles:
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