This past Sunday we hosted our long-anticipated celebration of the completion of Pepe Romero Jr’s 200th guitar at the Santa Monica showroom. We hadn’t ever produced anything like this before, and in the end we were all really happy with how the night turned out in terms of attendance, atmosphere, and just hosting an evening dedicated to love of the guitar on all sides. Our friend Michael Young of Bodegas M supplied the delicious wine– they are growing Spanish grapes in the Paso Robles region of California, and we were pouring Tempranillo for red and Albariño for white, which was perfect for an evening dedicated to the Spanish guitar.
Fortunately we captured everything on video with really great audio (thanks to Jon Conolly of Pro Tools Services), so in a few weeks we should be able to share the whole evening with you guys.
The back story is that in addition to keeping the first guitar Pepe Jr. ever made, Pepe Sr. has kept every tenth guitar made by his son (anything that ends in a zero), so that with the completion of the 200th guitar Pepe Sr. has in his collection 21 of his sons guitars, and plays them on tour all over the world, so both father and son have intimate knowledge of each guitar.
The evening was pretty straightforward, in that there were a lot of guitars to hear, so Pepe Jr. introduced each one by noting when it had been made, what woods and tuners he used, what influences were working on him at the time of construction (in some cases he had just returned from working with Miguel Rodriguez, in others from hanging out and building with Eddie Blochinger, etc), and as the evening progressed he noted what changes he had made in the construction, whether with respect to bracing patterns, plantilla shape, thicknesses of the tops, or most recently, with the use of brass for the nut material.
After each guitar was introduced, Pepe Sr. told us what audio and video recordings or concert tours he had done with each particular guitar, including the premieres, names of major orchestras, etc. He was surprisingly casual about saying ‘this was the guitar I played when my brothers and I were knighted’ by the King of Spain! If the guitar had a particular quality that he liked he pointed that out, and then he played a short piece or an excerpt of a concerto (call me a dilettante, but I loved hearing a bit of the Aranjuez without the orchestra).
Of course the first piece he played was Luis Milan’s Fantasia XVI (Which I think he always plays to kick of a recital) and the last piece was his father’s Fantasia Cubana. Interspersed in between were several Romero classics including Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”, “Capriccio Arabe”, Rodrigo’s “Fandango”, Albeniz’ “Asturias”, “Rumores de la Caleta” and many more.
Most of us would probably remember what guitar we played on this or that momentous event, but given the Romero’s guitar collection, I thought it was impressive just how much Pepe Sr. remembered about each guitar.
Pepe Jr. told us that all of the guitars were ‘classicals’ regardless of whether they had pegs or machine tuners, or whether they were made of cypress, maple, koa or rosewood, yet when Pepe Sr. was handed a cypress guitar with pegs he played a Sabicas Farruca that sounded awfully flamenco. Then again, Pepe Jr. and I have often discussed the idea that a good guitar is a good guitar, and you could go either way (with a little change in setup) on most of the great old Spanish guitars.
On a personal note, I thought it was touching to see just how many of the Romero clan attended the event, and one of the threads that ran throughout the evening was just how supportive Pepe Sr. has been of his son’s career. When your collection includes guitars by every great maker, living or dead, you really don’t have to perform a concert on the first instrument your son makes, yet this is what Pepe Sr. did and has continued to do throughout their now parallel careers. To hear Pepe Sr. talk about the guitars, you certainly get the sense that while he loves that they are his son’s guitars he plays the instruments because of what he can do with them. (And of course he has some say in various details of construction, as Pepe Jr. pointed out when he noted that all his father’s guitars have large necks because that is what he likes, or that he began using brass nuts at his father’s suggestion).
Pepe Jr. has really had every advantage a young guitar maker can have – access to one of the world’s most important guitar collections, feedback from an entire family of world-class players, and entrée into the workshops of the world’s most important living luthiers. If I was a young luthier I imagine I’d be pretty envious. But there really is a humility and just a love of the guitar that has made Pepe Sr. so well loved among players and fans and now Pepe Jr. so admired among collectors, players and friends.
Here are a few photos and some audio samples from the evening:
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