Classical Guitars

classical guitar construction building luthery luthier lutherie repair nova scotia professional concert hauser segovia bruce west edgar monch

Preparing to glue the back.

It is indisputable that Andres Segovia was the father of the classical guitar in the 20th century.  Indeed, it is to his credit that the Spanish guitar moved from a role as a folk (flamenco) instrument and became accepted in the classical music world as a valid classical instrument.  It is greatly due to his leadership in guitar transcriptions of pieces originally written for other instruments and the pieces that were commissioned or dedicated to him by well known classical composers that we now have such a large and varied classical guitar repertoire.  Indeed, most classical conservatories and university programs include a classical guitar component; this would have been unheard of in the days of Segovia’s youth.

One of Segovia’s guitars with which he performed and recorded extensively was made by the very capable German luthier, Edgar Monch.  Edgar Monch (not to be confused with Edvard Munch, the artist who painted “The Scream”), brought the tradition of building European concert classical guitars from Germany to Canada when he settled in the Toronto area.  And Monch’s mastery of instrument building was not lost on Segovia alone; indeed, his two younger but just as famous proteges – Julian Bream and John Williams – also owned and performed with Monch’s guitars.

Although Monch spent 3 years in a British POW camp, it was in fact here that he perfected the art of both guitar repair and guitar building.  The British, rather than let his talents go to waste, allowed Monch and another to repair and build violins and guitars.

After release from POW camp, Monch set up a workshop first in Ludwigsburg and soon after in München, and it was from this era that Segovia, Bream, and Williams purchased Monch’s instruments.

In 1965, Monch relocated to the Toronto area and was here until 1971.  During this time, he developed relationships and shared his knowledge with a handful of Toronto area builders including (but not limited to): Jean L’Arrive, Linda Manzer, Grit Laskin, Serge DeJonge, Bruce West, and a few others.  Many people attribute the high caliber of luthery in the Toronto area and even in Canada to the influence of Monch.  In 1971, Monch returned to Germany and continued to build world class guitars until his passing in 1977.  Many of Monch’s fine guitars remain and can sometimes be found for sale privately or at specialty guitar salons.

For those who have not had the opportunity to play a Monch guitar, these instruments are fairly lightly built with a sound that can be characterized as being very clear and focused with a full dynamic range – delicate pianissimos open into full bodied fortissimos.  These guitars are excellent for playing repertoire ranging from Bach’s baroque fugues to Spanish classics such as Recuerdos de L’Alhambra and even more modern pieces such as Leo Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro.

I feel extremely fortunate and humbled to be included in the lineage outlined above.  Although I began my studies of classical guitar building and the achievement of various tonal characteristics due to bracing and structural design in the late 1990’s, it was not until 2010 that I was finally able to set about building my first classical guitar under the fine tutelage of Bruce West (“Sir Bruce”), presently residing a few hours east of Toronto in Ontario.

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