This past summer we received a visit from a client who brought an old guitar in search of some advice regarding the instrument’s origin and general condition. It was a concert grade flamenco guitar built by Domingo Esteso in 1930. It had a German spruce soundboard, cypress back and sides and wooden tuning pegs. The guitar was kept in an original case and it was in a pretty bad shape, with large cracks along the harmonic top, the back and its sides. The headstock was also cracked with several small pieces missing from the top corners. The neck of the guitar was moving as it was partially detached from the body of the guitar. The old tapping plates had long been gone leaving the wood underneath exposed. Pieces of the rosette have also been lost with time. (Scroll down for a photo gallery and videos bellow.)
The client told us that that his family has been in possession of the guitar since the 1930’s and it had been left and forgotten in a store room for quite some time. He did not know that the guitar was built by one of the most important guitar builders of the so-called Madrid School. He mentioned that a friend of his who plays the guitar had seen the guitar and recommended he pay us a visit and see if it is worth restoring. The client was pleasantly surprised to learn he had a very valuable guitar in his hands.
As you can see in the photos, the restauration of this guitar presented a few challenges for us because of its generally bad shape and important structural damage. Usually guitars like this come in for minor repairs such as closing of the cracks and re-attachment of a loose piece. Rarely have we seen a guitar with so many problems that we had to carefully plan a restauration that would conserve the structure of the guitar and as many as original elements as possible.
We closed all the cracks and re-attached all the loose pieces, and we had to use very old wood in areas where it was missing. For example, the crack on the soundboard was very large and with too grave of deformations to simply put it back into shape. We had to add some very old wood to fill the gap. This was also the case on the sides close to the heel of the guitar where the neck loosened. The missing rosette pieces had to be restored and perfectly fit into the existing one. Since this rosette has been out of use for a very long time we had to make one from scratch and match all the colors and size. The varnish on this guitar was quite damaged in virtually all parts of the guitar, so we decided to strip the guitar of the old varnish and refinish it using the French polish technique. In this type of restorations, we always advise to keep as many as original features intact, but in the case of the varnish was too damaged to conserve. In order to replace the long-lost tapping plates and preserve the original aesthetics of the guitar, we used a polymer material that was used by Esteso and the Hermanos Conde that we still conserve. All the loose and damaged bindings were also restored and fixed. We also replaced the frets and polished the fret board.
The result was phenomenal as you can see from the pictures in our gallery. For Felipe it was very gratifying to have been able to restore function to this guitar built by his great uncle 86 years ago. As we strung the guitar up and played the first accords, we heard that sound we know so well. It was a great honor to bring yet another Esteso guitar back to life and conserve it for the next generations.