Although I made my first guitar, a jumbo 12 fret steel string in the U S with William Cumpiano, I wasn't satisfied until I could learn how to build one in the Spanish tradition. I couldn't find any courses in Great Britain which would have been the most convenient for me so I did some more searches and came on Stephen Hill's website. The short flight to the south of Spain to La Herradura appealed to me and I secured a place on the course with four others in May 2008.
This proved to be such a different experience from what I had done before and certainly lives up to what Stephen describes as “intensive”. Some elements of the build were extremely satisfying in themselves for example designing, constructing the tiles and finally inlaying the pieces to form the rosette around the soundhole.
It is interesting to learn and perform the varied thicknessing on the different sections of the spruce top. This is done on the inside i.e, where the braces are to be glued to achieve the modal response which characterises this type of instrument.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to do side bending both on the machine and by hand. There were many totally new experiences for me in making this instrument, from carving the heel using a knife to the use of fine japanese chisels and the smallest finger planes you could imagine .
The method of firmly securing the sides to the neck using wedges was both challanging and very satisfying. Also it was my first time using dished workboards to glue in the braces thereby achieveing a slight dome in the soundboard and in the Indian rosewood back.
It has to be said that Stephen's sharpening system surpasses anything I'd seen to date and when he teaches here he insists on maintaining the integrity of these fine tools. The workshop has many jigs and fixtures I hadn't seen before which serve as an aid to bring consistency and symmetry to the finished instrument.
These include both shaped and flat sanding boards, jigs for slotting the headstock and for drilling for tuners, one for drilling the bridge and so on. I was delighted to have the opportunity to learn and apply a french polish finish to my guitar towards the end of the course.
Great help and assistance was also available from Steve Eden, Stephen's Assistant on the course, a wonderful craftsman also and a great guitarmaker in his own right.
Finally the set-up! And it's here that Stephen applies the fine adjustment required so that the instrument will note out properly when played in any position on the fingerboard i.e, setting the action and intonation, an essential procedure to learn for work on any instrument.
Mine was a flamenca negra and resulted in an exremely light and responsive guitar. I have to say that I have a sense of pride and fulfillment at what turned out to be a beautifully sounding guitar which displays excellent note separation and great projection. Couldn't have done so without Stephen's guidance! Needless to say there is plenty of opportunity to discuss the technical issues with him at any time.
I liked Stephen's format in running this course for a number of reasons: The people on it really gelled well and were helpful to each other. The duration for the course is ideal, you couldn't learn all this stuff in a week !
There are plenty tools and bench space and a library of guitarmaking books to peruse in your own time. Socially, Stephen and his family were generous and friendly. Interesting musicians came by the shop sometimes and might play. If you didn't want to spend the evening by yourself you could meet up with somebody.
Of course, Friday night is “official music night” for this hard working group in one of the tapas bars in La Herradura, a tradition which Stephen somehow seems to have established over the years.
For it's insights and applications of Stephen's and the Granada tradition of guitarmaking this course is very good value for money, as are the cost of the materials and another spin-off is the resulting friendships with like minded people I still keep in touch with.
All things being considered, I'm quite sure there's no comparable course like this one anywhere in Europe.