"Handmade" vs "Factory made" by Ron Fernández

Here are a few points which deal with the issue of "what is a handmade guitar".

In Spain, the most relevant distinction is between guitarras de artesania (artisan guitars or guitarras de fabrica (factory guitars), not what is a "handmade" guitar.

Typically, we find that artisan guitars or master luthier guitars are signed and dated. In contrast, "estudio", production (factory) and apprentice guitars are not normally signed and dated.

Traditionally all aspects of guitar production were governed by the vihuela guilds (from 12th the early 19th century). These old guilds had the force of law behind them. The guilds determined who could make instruments, what they were sold for, the acceptable quality standards, etc. Today, no such guilds exist, only voluntary luthiers' associations and workers' unions.

Currently guitar production in Spain is organized in 3 basic ways:

Independent Artisan Workshops. In such shops, the master artisan has full control over design, manufacture of all parts and assembly. Each instrument is an original--it is a one of a kind. Thicknesses of soundboard, types and number of bracings are determined by the artisan according to his evaluation of the properties of the particular pieces of wood. Guitar parts are made in small quantities. The master works alone or with an apprentice, offspring or sometimes a partner. There is little division of labor compared with the factory method.Woods are air-dried for many years. Production is 12 to 30 guitars a year. Examples of world class makers in Spain are Felix Manzanero, Archangel Fernandez, Marcelino Barbero, Miguel Rodriquez of Cordoba, Manuel Reyes of Cordoba, Ignacio Fleta, Antonio Marin Montero, and many others.

Factory System. This produces a committee guitar. These can be of high quality.This system produces numerous copies from the same guitar plan. Many people make the parts and many people assemble the parts. Woods are air-dried and kiln dried.The bracings and thicknesses of parts are standarized and are not altered to respond to the individual characteristics of the specific pieces of wood.

Journeyman System. This is a hybrid of the artisan and factory methods. In this system parts are manufactured by a number of people but a single experienced craftsman does all of the crucial assembly operations and modifies the thicknesses of parts according to his intuition. Finishing and fretting are typically done by a number of people in the factory.

Nowadays around Valencia, Spain aspects of the factory and journeyman system are combined in what are called artesan factories. In such situations certain guitar models are made by committees in the standard "factory" system while other more expensive, all-solid models are made by skilled workers who do the crucial assembly supported by factory workers who make the parts. Esteve, Zambra and Vicente Sanchis Guitars are made in artesan factories.

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