When we pick up a beloved old guitar or play the piano in our grandparent’s house—no matter how poorly—we are connecting with all the hands that came before us. An instrument’s story begins with the passionate hands of the person who crafted it. And hearing these artists talk about crafting something beautiful from nothing is a sentiment that resonates through the generations.
“I always try to put a little bit of my soul in the guitar.”—María Conde, 4th Generation Guitar Maker
Guitars are at the heart of music cultures around the world.
Electric guitars are iconic to rock music. Steel-string acoustic guitars are the sound of American country and folk music. And Spanish guitars embody the music of flamenco.
Guitars crafted by hand each have their own sound—they are unique to the maker and the music they are built to play. Though we are so familiar with their sound, we often don’t take the time to appreciate the passion that goes into making these beloved instruments. Guitar making requires years of labor, and, some say, the best guitars contain a little bit of their maker’s soul. You might be listening to your music a little more deeply after exploring the stories we’re sharing with you in this article.
The guitar is at the heart of many genres around the globe, but in the sounds of flamenco, the guitar has become a masterful part of the artform.
You might be familiar with flamenco music for its rhythmic and fast-paced guitar playing and the accompanying dancers dressed in red costumes with voluminous layered skirts. It’s a form of music and dance that is associated closely with the Andalusian region of Spain.
Flamenco’s roots, though, travel back centuries to the migration of Roma from Northwest India in the 9th-14th centuries. When they reached Spain they were met with the traditions of Jewish and Moorish cultures, the sounds of which you can hear today in modern flamenco music. 1
Inside the Heart of a Guitar
While the guitar is not thought to be a part of the early origins of flamenco, it is now a central part of the music. These guitars are particularly shaped and strung for the soulful music they produce. Viewed up close, as they play the music they were designed to embody, they come alive.
For a beautiful introduction to the spirit of guitar we are celebrating, here’s a video from GoPro featuring the musician Freddy Clarke, a flamenco guitarist. His guitar has its own beautiful and unique story that connects his own passions to his love for his father. Take a watch…
What do we pass down to the next generation?
Like so many crafts, guitar building has long been an art form passed down generation to generation. In an unassuming Madrid workshop, the guitar makers of the world-renowned Conde guitar have been passing down a rich legacy of Spanish guitar making for generations. With origins that reach back to 1887, their guitars have inspired artists around the globe. Musicians like Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, and Lenny Kravitz have used their guitars.
Now, a new generation of guitar makers is carrying on the family legacy. Using wood hand-selected by her grandfather, chosen decades before she began her work as a guitar maker, María Conde crafts guitars that will become their own beloved instruments and heirlooms.
To hear her talk about her work is awe-inspiring. Her words resonate with any craftsperson, music lover, or person carrying on work passed down through generations. Here she is in a beautiful video from Bloomberg describing her journey and passion for what she does.
“I live in his world so someone else can make music. Which gives life to all of us.”— María Conde, 4th Generation Guitar Maker
Music is so personal. It’s no wonder the instruments that make it possible can be imbued with such deep soul and meaning. Flamenco is just one of so many incredible musical traditions around the world that celebrate the soul of a culture.
Musical traditions connect us to distant generations and even distant cultures. Having the opportunity to hold or play an instrument that has been held by generations or hand made by master crafters, makes the soul of the sound even more personal.
If you have time, I invite you to explore an article we wrote a few years ago. It’s about the story of a very special violin. One that journeyed through the Holocaust and into the hands of a young musician in New York City. It’s a story that I still think about a few times a week, years after first hearing it.
Music profoundly changes our brains. The hands of master crafters built our world. Cultural traditions keep our world vibrant.
It is no wonder we put so much energy into crafting our instruments. They are so symbolic of such deep elements of our shared humanity.
Perhaps the next time you sit down to poke at the keys of an old piano or pick up the guitar your uncle gave you you’ll feel the soul and weight of the instrument just a little bit more.
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
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- Bennahum, Ninotchka Devorah. “Flamenco.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/art/flamenco#ref215446. Accessed 18 July 2019. ↩
- GoPro. “GoPro: Flamenco Spirit.” YouTube, GoPro, 26 Feb. 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH4nQUzSMMg. Accessed 18 July 2019. ↩
- Bloomberg. “The Soulful Art of a Flamenco Guitar.” YouTube, Bloomberg, 7 Sept. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpfyF4gx3jw. Accessed 18 July 2019. ↩