Flamenco music, with its fast pace of many notes and percussive strums has deeply rooted traditions and is a fusion of magical energy and very profound emotion expressing the hope and suffering of it's history.
This requires an instrument that will allow for each note to be heard perfectly. For this reason, flamenco guitars are built to be light and bright, with very little sustain, almost a staccato sound, so that the notes die quickly to make room for the next one. In this way, the music is kept clear and bright.
The design template for the Flamenco guitar of today was established by Spanish builders in the 19th century. Antonio de Torres (1817 - 1892) and his contemproary luthiers are credited with having innovated and standardised the flamenco guitar size and scale length and developed the internal support and strengthening mechanisms still in use today.
Flamenco guitars are made slightly thinner and lighter than Classical guitars and are typically constructed using lighter woods.
Traditionally, flamenco guitars are built using Spanish Cypress back and sides and a German Spruce soundboard. The Cypress can be planed very thin, while remaining strong and this combined with the stiffness and strength of the spruce top allows for a very lightweight guitar. The internal strutting is arranged to give a bright voice to the guitar whilst still retaining the crispness of the sound. A truly authentic flamenco would be constructed using ebony tuning pegs, which are lighter than the now popular machine heads and are said by some players to make it easier to hold and balance the guitar in the traditional flamenco playing position.
To allow for the flamenco style of playing, it is necessary for the flamenco guitar to have a low action and to achieve this the guitar is built with a shallow neck angle and a low bridge.
A tapping plate or golpeador is added to the soundboard to protect the wood from the percussive finger strikes that are part of this enthralling music.
Flamenco guitars can also be made using rosewood back and sides or similar. These guitars were popularised by solo flamenco guitar legends like Paco de Lucia as they give a more projected sound for concert performances, although they can lose some of the flamenco brightness. It would be reasonable to say that the Flamenco Negra falls somewhere between a flamenco blanca and a classical guitar.
That being said, there are many woods that have never been tried or used in the construction of flamenco guitars. I will be experimenting with sustainably sourced unusual domestic and exotic woods, so watch the blog for developments.
My first foray into this was to build a flamenco guitar using an African wood called Black Limba (Terminalia superba) which has turned out to be a great combination. When finished, this guitar had a big voice as well as the brightness you would expect from a flamenco and I have to say, I was very pleased with the results. I named this guitar Duende and you can see the finished product by clicking here.