First to use Cedar top?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
John Ray
Luthier
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Joined: Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:13 pm
Location: Granada, Spain

Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by John Ray » Thu Mar 01, 2018 9:32 pm

I am thrilled to find out about the use of Canadian cedar by makers from Markneukirchen, thanks Gerhard. I thought the toss-up was between José Ramirez and the great Granada duo: Antonio Marín and Manuel Bellido. Apparently in their search for good top wood they came across some cedar and started using it. They used a local product (mostly calcium carbonate) on it to whiten it as it was not very well accepted. In the end the guitarists asked for the guitars with the cedar tops citing the characteristic texture of the finish.
John Ray
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TomBeltran
Posts: 30
Joined: Sun Jan 21, 2018 2:59 pm

Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by TomBeltran » Fri Mar 02, 2018 4:31 am

jungjaesung wrote:
Sat Sep 12, 2015 5:18 am
Hi! I am curious on how spruce and cedar were chosen by the earliest builders to make guitar tops. A friend of mine has this funny idea that the Spanish says 'If it is not a cedar, it is not a guitar' and he believes it to be a fact but I kind of think that it is the other way around because all of the earliest guitars all had spruce tops. Torres exclusively built spruce tops and he practically invented the guitar. So I am just asking the community who can shed some light on the earlier stages of guitar building also when and who introduced the first cedar tops. it is very interesting to know.
In the early 1990's, Jerry Roberts generously sent me one of the proto-type cedar tops that had been taken off of a Ramirez 1a - he said the top was from 1964. I was under the impression that that was the first use of Cedar tops on good classical guitars. Were the German guitars classicals? I don't know when Cedar tops went into regular use by Ramirez. As I recall (I have some pictures, somewhere of that top) it was very close to the bracing pattern of the late 1960's and early 1970's. So Ramirez must have been satisfied with that early try. The apertures in the cross-braces were only on the treble side. I've seen some Ramirez guitars that had apertures on both treble and bass sides of each brace. It had what appeared to be the original finish on it, and the wood was very thin. I cannot recall exactly, but I seem to remember that it was on the order of 0.64" at the edges. Somewhere, I have a drawing of the top and complete measurements. I recall that it wasn't a particularly nice looking top.

One more thought, while I don't know enough to even disagree about whether Torres used spruce exclusively, I have some cedar tops that could pass as Sitka, and some Port Orford Cedar (entirely different type of wood) which could pass as Englemann. Also, I think it was Brune who identified the top of the guitar that Alice Artzt had and for a time was believed to be the La Leona guitar has being Larch. Brune, or Romanillos opined that it was made in Argentina, in the 1930s. Up to that point, I would imagine everyone simply believed it to be spruce. But the consensus seems to be that it is a very good sounding guitar, even if Torres did not make it.

gjo
Posts: 315
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Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by gjo » Fri Mar 02, 2018 7:53 am

John Ray wrote:
Thu Mar 01, 2018 9:32 pm
I am thrilled to find out about the use of Canadian cedar by makers from Markneukirchen, thanks Gerhard. I thought the toss-up was between José Ramirez and the great Granada duo: Antonio Marín and Manuel Bellido. Apparently in their search for good top wood they came across some cedar and started using it. They used a local product (mostly calcium carbonate) on it to whiten it as it was not very well accepted. In the end the guitarists asked for the guitars with the cedar tops citing the characteristic texture of the finish.
Hi John,

I would say that the pre-WWI use of cedar tops in Markneukirchen/Saxony did not leave any major impact on the guitar world. I doubt that the spanish makers you mentioned knew about this short but interesting episode and so I would rather tend to "blame" spanish makers of the 1960s for really bringing WRC into the world of classical guitars.

One of the great "arts" in Markneukirchen was the ability to give a deep brown uniform color to the soundboards with various methods like dye or ammonia fumes, so most people probably did not realize the difference in the soundboard material. The advantage of cedar tops for the producers was that they could leave "coloring" out of their production sequence and so save a little money in the production.

GuitarsWeB
Posts: 269
Joined: Sat Feb 24, 2018 6:55 pm

Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by GuitarsWeB » Sat Mar 10, 2018 6:12 pm

Ramirez also use California Coastal Redwood. There are many guitars out there that are called cedar but actually redwood. I believe one of Parkenings early recordings was on a Ramirez redwood. Naturally, Jose Oribe was a big user of cedar and redwood. I think I remembe Richard Brune saying Torres did make several guitars that were not spurce.

TomBeltran
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Joined: Sun Jan 21, 2018 2:59 pm

Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by TomBeltran » Sun Mar 11, 2018 3:42 am

GuitarsWeB wrote:
Sat Mar 10, 2018 6:12 pm
Ramirez also use California Coastal Redwood. There are many guitars out there that are called cedar but actually redwood. I believe one of Parkenings early recordings was on a Ramirez redwood. Naturally, Jose Oribe was a big user of cedar and redwood. I think I remembe Richard Brune saying Torres did make several guitars that were not spurce.
That is really surprising to me, that Ramirez used Redwood. But sure enough, I googled "Ramirez redwood top guitar," and GSI has a 1968 1a guitar which has a redwood top. As to Chris Parkening, he is a very generous person and I had the opportunity to see and measure almost every guitar he had at the time (late 1980s to about 2006) and I neither saw, nor did he ever say he had a redwood guitar. But, thinking about it, he has a mid-60's Ramirez which is his concert guitar, which he calls the Blacktop guitar. The guitar is clearly seen on "Parkening Plays Vivaldi, Warlock & Praetorius." So maybe so. But for me, the name I most associate with redwood tops, is Richard Schneider. When I studied with him in the early 1980s, he had used it extensively. Thank you for your post.

GuitarsWeB
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Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by GuitarsWeB » Sun Mar 11, 2018 8:28 pm

Redwood almost extensively all through the 1970’s would be Jose Oribe. He made hundreds out of redwood. As I stated, many guitars are listed as red cedar when they are really redwood. At La Guitarra, San Luis Obispo, last September 2017, they had one of Parkening's Ramirez instruments for sale. It looked like redwood to me. I know for a fact that Ramirez used redwood on some guitars, maybe he called it red cedar. Do some more research. Ron Fernandez might know more. His dad sold soundboards to Ramirez in the mid 1960’s. For sure, Richard Brune would know.

vesa
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Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by vesa » Mon Mar 12, 2018 5:23 am

When did Fleta make his first cedar top?
I assume after Ramirez?
Vesa Kuokkanen

Antonio Marin nr. 813 1995 (Bouchet)
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GuitarsWeB
Posts: 269
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Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by GuitarsWeB » Mon Mar 12, 2018 3:44 pm

Oribe was late 1967 with cedar and redwood. He had samples tested to find out exactly what Ramirez was using. As I understand, two samples came back, Western Cedar (Thuja Plicata) and Coastal Redwood (Sequoia Sempervirons ).

bftobin
Posts: 34
Joined: Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by bftobin » Tue Mar 13, 2018 1:43 am

Bill Lewis of Vancouver BC was a great believer in red cedar back in the 60's and got Yamaki to use it in their guitars. His company sold a lot
of red cedar to Spanish makers and some private builders. He sold his company in the 70's and it became known as Luthiers
Mercantile. ( he also made an electric guitar for a young British lad who took in home and recorded an album called Dark Side
Of The Moon)

RonFernandez
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Apr 08, 2018 7:00 am

Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by RonFernandez » Tue May 15, 2018 5:59 pm

There is mention above about my father (John Fernandez) supplying western Red Cedar to Jose Ramirez in the 1960's. I wish to explain the situation. My father was not a guitar player or a luthier, he was a merchant. He was born in Spain 1927 and emigrated to the US in 1935. In about 1963 or 1964 he and his brother started to import popular plywood from Italy. On one those trips he returned to Spain where he had not been since childhood. In 1965 he sent my kid brother (Arthur) my grandmother and I to his village Santa Cruz near La Coruna in Galicia (northwestern Spain. At that time I had been playing classical guitar since 1963 and had a mediocre Mexican guitar. My guitar teacher, Seiko Sesoko, in Anaheim, had asked my father to get some cejillas when he was in Spain and had tried to sell my father a Jose Ramirez flamenco guitar for $2000.

One day that summer (1985) my father and I were in Madrid seeing his business associate and I pushed my father to go to the Jose Ramirez shop (we had never been there before). We entered, met Jose Ramirez III and my father spoke with him for a few hours while I tried out some flamenco guitars. There were only 2 flamenco guitars both with wooden pegs in stock so Jose had a worker cut the head to install Fustero tuners. While waiting for more than an hour, I sat there trying out some guitars with a friendly man with a big diamond ring. He was a very good player. When he left Jose told he that it was Mario Escudero (one of the great flamenco players). My father purchased a guitar for me and one for my teacher in Anaheim. After this visit my father would be in Madrid for business several times a years and he would search out guitar makers. He located Arcangel Fernandez, Marcelino Barbero, Felix Manzanero, Juan Alvarez, Aguado y Hernandez. In summer of 1966 my father, older brother and I traveled through southern Spain and met Miguel Rodriguez (Cordoba), Manuel de la Chica (Granada) and Ferrer in Valencia.

For my father the guitar world was an interesting diversion from his plywood business and general international trade activities. But also it was a way to get money out of Spain. In the 1960's Francisco Franco restricted the exchange of pesetas for dollars. So my father found he could buy guitars with pesetas, take 6 to 10 guitars with him to California and convert them to dollars by selling them to "George" (AKA Seiko) Sesoko of the All Guitar Center. I went away to university in 1966, by about 1968 my father stopped bringing guitars from Spain. In 1978 I returned from graduate school in Montreal (McGill University) and teaching Anthropology for 2 years at the University of British Columbia to work with my father and brother at their business, International Plywood Corporation in Orange, California.

About 1981 my father visited Jose Ramirez in Madrid and started buying some guitars which he shipped to California. We formed a company which we called Hermanos Fernandez with the intention that my brothers and I would sell these guitars. I wound up selling most of the guitars and a few years later my brother Arthur finished university and also sold some guitars. During these years Jose Ramirez asked us to get a Justina Quartz Guitar Tuner (these were rare at the time in Spain) which Arthur and I got from European Crafts in Los Angeles. On one of his trips through Spain, Jose Ramirez asked my father to get him some western red cedar. My father came back to California and told the 2 sales people, my elder brother (John) and me about this inquiry. No one was in the least interest because International Plywood Corporation only sold hardwood plywood. In contrast to the others, I thought this was a great opportunity.

I took the sourcing of this wood on as my own special project. Since I had lived in Vancouver, British Columbia for 2 years (1976-1978) while teaching I though this "deal" would give me and my wife a chance to visit Canada again. I contacted 150 cedar mills in British Columbia and found 5 mills who though they could supply us. I took a trip to Vancouver and eventually settled on dealing with H. Wilson Gray who lived in Richmond, BC. Wilson Gray was experienced in specialty woods. He got a lot of his wood from Vancouver Island. At the time the "Indians", now called First Nation Peoples, had the legal right to use and collect stumpage after the large corporation (like McMillan Bloedel) had cut the great timbers. From this source Wilson Gray would collect a pick-up truckload of split blocks (most were 4" thick, by 10" or more wide by random length), package them on a pallet and cover them with burlap. Such pallets would be sent by ship from Lynn Terminal in North Vancouver to Spain on the d'Amico line. These were small shipments of about 500 bd. feet, I think I sold Jose Ramirez 3 shipments over a couple of years. Jose wrote back after the first shipment had dried for a while and he told us that about 30% of the wood was usable for first quality guitars. Since we were shipping rough blocks of wood this was acceptable to Jose and the price reflected what level the wood was. Soon this business because more complicated because the Canadians wanted to ship finished soundboards. In the a few years we discontinued sending wood because Jose Ramirez gave the US exclusive distribution for his guitars to Gibson (this exclusive only lasted a few years). Despite the Gibson exclusive, my family could still buy Ramirez guitars wholesale at discounted price in Spain but Jose Ramirez would not export them to us. Eventually, my father stopped doing anything with guitars or guitar woods. In contrast, I established my own contacts and proceeded to build my own import business. At first in the mid 1980's I imported some guitars from Felix Manzanero, then in the 1990's from Guitarras Esteve, Mervi and Vicente Sanchis. One of the special outcomes of getting western red cedar was that I had samples in my apartment and I proceeded in the early 1980's to teach myself to make a mandolin and French Polish it.
I wish to mention that since December 2015 I now live in Anacortes, Washington (www.fernandezmusic.com)

Paul Micheletti
Amateur luthier
Posts: 570
Joined: Sat Jan 16, 2010 12:48 am
Location: San Diego, CA

Re: First to use Cedar top?

Post by Paul Micheletti » Tue May 15, 2018 8:08 pm

Thanks for sharing your very interesting history with us Ron!

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