“…the ideal (for some) is a piece of really good spruce, left to mature for a few years. A hundred will do…”
My guitar is ten years old this year. It was made in 2003 in Reisbach, Bavaria, by Hermann Hauser III, the grandson of Hermann Hauser who made one of the most famous classical guitars in history: the 1930’s ‘Segovia Model’ played for thirty years by the maestro Segovia (a guitar which Segovia, with his usual penchant for all things grandiose, called ‘The Guitar of the Epoch’).
The story of how Hermann Hauser I made Segovia’s most famous guitar is legendary. An interesting footnote to the story is the story of how Hermann Hauser I found the spruce which would make the top of this instrument. The voice of a guitar is mostly the result of the wood that makes the top or table (the part with the sound hole). The type of wood used to make the back and sides will then further colour and define the sound, but it is the quality and characteristics of the top that really dictate how the instrument is going to sound.
The story goes that Hermann Hauser I had come upon a wood cutter in the 1920’s, cutting up a huge supply of spruce. Apparently he ran onto the scene, saved the wood, and carted back a supply that would create some of his finest instruments, Segovia’s amongst them. Some if this precious wood still lies in the Reisbach wood store.
The way that they make guitars in the Hauser workshop has not changed much in almost eighty years (thanks Gerard). Each Hauser is committed to making just a few instruments of extremely high quality during their lifetime. No more than fifteen guitars will come out of the Hauser workshop each year, and these fifteen instruments will usually be made in close collaboration with the musicians who will play them.
At the start of the year they choose the wood, matching sides and backs of Rosewood from either Brazil or India (each with its own distinctive sound: India is crisper, Brazil more loose and dark). The wood is very important, and the wood of Hauser’s store is legendary. Each generation of Hausers prepare for the next generation by saving wood. Hermann Hauser III is using wood that his father put by for him, and he is saving wood that will one day be be used by his daughter Kathrin Hauser, who is well on her way to becoming another great Hauser luthier.
After the wood is chosen and the tops selected (using either spruce or cedar) they start building, stage by stage, all fifteen instruments together, until they are all finished off together late in the year. Hermann says it is like farming. You plant the seeds at the beginning of the year, and care for them until the crop is ready for harvest. This is different to most luthiers who will build one or two guitars at a time. The wait for a Hauser guitar is very long, perhaps more then six or seven years. So when a crop of guitars is begun, their owners have been waiting a long time. By then Hauser will have a clear idea of what each owner’s needs are, and what the characteristics of each’s playing is. This will influence Hauser’s choice in woods, thickness of the top, and resonant frequency of the instrument itself. Its all very alchemical.
A guitar made of new spruce sounds a little nasal, a little brittle. There is very little warmth. It can take up to ten years to make a guitar like this sound rich and warm. Cedar is different. It starts off much more resonant, mellow and dark. But after ten years it may start getting a little tired, and the sound will become a little flat, even dull. A guitar made with a new piece of spruce will need to be played in. This means that the instrument needs to be played for a long time (years) until the wood begins to open up and mature. So the ideal (for some) is a piece of really good spruce, left to mature for a few years. A hundred will do. Then, if it is crafted into a guitar by the right hands, it could yield a sound that begins as a tight and crisp richness, and slowly starts to mellow into a voice which will continue to grow and mature for many years.
To commemorate Segovia’s famous instrument (now housed in the New York Metropolitan Museum), and to pay tribute to the artistry of his late grandfather, Hauser III makes one or two guitars each year using a top made from his grandfather’s supply of spruce, now almost one hundred years old. This spruce is older than what he usually uses as the norm for a top is usually about fifty years.
In 2003 there was one guitar out of the batch that was made with spruce from the wood that Hermann Hauser I saved from the woodcutter. And it is this guitar that I was lucky enough to lay my hands on sometime in 2004. A Hermann Hauser III Special Edition, the once in a year guitar made from the 100-year old spruce of Hermann Hauser I. In ten years this wood has matured and deepened, both in colour and in tone, as a result both of my playing and of a good amount of time spent under the African sun.
Before I played a Hauser guitar I was not entirely sure that the sound of the guitar really inspired me. Then I visited Hermann Hauser III’s workshop for one week and played more guitars than I care to remember. The one that I loved the most was this one that I still play. It is still a young guitar, just a titchy little ten-year-old. I’m looking forward to hearing it in fifty years time. Then we’ll start to hear something really really special.
For multiple images of my Hauser go here – these photos were taken when it was brand new – I can’t even recognise it from these photos.
Now it looks like this:
we didn’t sleep much, but we had a lotta fun…