Portuguese Guitarra lessson (continued)

My own story about the fado


My interest in the guitarra stems from 1971 when I began to accompany Artur Gaipo in Montreal. Artur Gaipo played virtuoso Portuguese guitarra. He had learned first in the Azores and then played professionally in Lisbon in the 1940's and 1950's and also spent time learning in Coimbra. In the 70's I played violão (Spanish guitar) with Artur in his Portuguese Guitar Quartet--the other members were Fernando Rocha on 2nd guitarra and Jose Marques on Bass Guitar. Together we performed in restaurants, social clubs, television, prisons, schools, and radio in Quebec Province. I also accompanied Germano Rocha, a recording artist, who played mainly in the Coimbra style, and even Alberto Costa owner of Montreal's Retiro de Severa. Recently, I discovered that Alberto had obtained some fame in Lisbon in the 1930's as a singer and originator of Fado dois Tons--he was also an impresario of fado concerts in Portugal.


In 1974 my wife Jeanette and I attended a summer language and culture course at Coimbra University in Portugal. During that 5 week course we played music with Coimbra students and Lisbon working class musicians. Unfortunately, I did not obtain a guitarra at that time.

When I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1976 I had Artur Gaipo make me a Portuguese guitarra and when it finally arrived after one year I took some lessons with Jose Amaral. In 1978 I returned to live in California and about 1980 I decided to spend time learning the guitarra that Artur had built me. Unfortunately, the instrument had been made of unseasoned wood and over the course of a few years it had dried out and shunk so much that the neck had become distorted, the back had cracked, face had collapsed and split, and some of the bindings and purflings had loosened.

This was a heartbreaking situation, however, this event changed my life because it lead me to the world of fretted instrument repairing. With the kind help and guidance of William Tapia, an American of Spanish descent who had worked and studied in the famous Jose Ramirez shop in Madrid, I disassembled the Gaipo guitarra, made a complete new back, repaired face cracks, and created new purflings, bindings, and mother-of-pearl inlays. I felt like a medical student who was dissecting and studying a cadaver but also I was a little like Doctor Frankenstein because I was bringing the guitarra body back to life.

After reviving the Gaipo guitarra I searched for other guitarras. But it was very difficult to find any guitarras in the 1980's. I eventually located a nice guitarra from Guimaraes in Portugal but I only obtained one. Then for sometime nothing was available. At one point I located some machine heads from Northern Portugal, which I sent with construction plans I had made to Rene Gamboa (maker of charangos) in Cochabamba, Bolivia and, also to Abel Garcia (Spanish guitar maker) in Paracho, Michoacan, Mexico Each made me a few guitarras. These were interesting for their originality but they were not authentic. It is interesting to note that one guitarra made in Bolivia returned to California and through a northern California broker eventually wound up in Nagoya, Japan.

In 1994 I visited Lisboa and met Joao Palmeiro who made me a few Coimbra and Lisboa guitarras. When I received these instruments I worked on the frets, completed the french polish finish, and adjusted the saddle for easier playing. In 1996 I again visited Palmeiro and Antonio Pinto de Carvalho who made me a few instruments.

In October 1999, I met Luis Penedo in Lisboa who gave me a very helpful lesson which forms part of this short method. Luis and I had been in correspondence for a few years and it was a great pleasure for me and my wife to finally met him and his wife, Graça.

One afternoon in 1974 or 1975, Juvenal Da Silva who owned the Lisboa Antigua Restaurant on St. Laurent Street (aka the "main") in Montreal told me that Amalia Rodrigues, the extraordinary Fado singer would be at his restaurant about midnight after she performed at the 3000 seat Place de Arts. He invited us to drop in so we could meet her. So that night, Jeanette and I wandered into Lisboa Antigua and stood by the bar where about a half dozen Portuguese were drinking and talking. A little after 11:30 this famous singer/movie star walked in dressed in her mink stole. The guys standing at the bar, who did not know she was coming, did a double take when they saw her and nearly fell down. Here was the great Amalia, in person, before their very eyes.

She entered with her musicians and sat for dinner at the table next to us and listened to the local Portuguese musicians playing in the club. We exchanged greetings and I got to speak a bit with her musicians.

Years later, Jeanette and I were traveling to Portugal and arrived in Lisbon on the same morning that the great Amalia died. She was 79 year old by this time and had lived a full life. For three days Lisbon publically mourned for their beloved national treasure. Her music was played in public squares and in the metro. Her photo was in numerous store windows. Flowers were displayed in store windows for her. We and many others visited her body lying in state in the great basilica up the hill. Thousands of fans left bouquets of flower. Old women sitting in the pews, prayed or sobbed. The print media gathered stories outside the basilica and the event was covered by the national television. The night before the public funeral mass Luis and Graça Penedo took us to a restaurant call Numero Um where professional fadistas gathered once a week to perform for their own enjoyment. Due to the nearly sacred nature of the evening we were treated to a magical night of very inspired fados. That night we listened to special fados by Manuel Cardoso de Menezes, by the brother of the late great guitarist Alcino Frazão, and by Manuela Cavaco. Midway through the evening, Amalia's guitarist from 25 years ago, Jose Pracana arrived. He had flown in from the Azores for the funeral. He then accompanied many of the singers. At one point he sat in a corner and on a lone guitarra played Fado Amalia, his personal homage to his friend.

The next day when we watched the funeral mass televised from the basilica, we spotted many of the fadistas and guitarists from the gathering of the night before seated as special guests.

On the evening of the funeral, a special concert took place at the Casa do Fado e Da Guitarra Portuguesa. The concert had been scheduled long before Amalia had died and it was unclear until the last moment whether it would be cancelled. The possibility of cancellation arose because the performer was Amalia's most recent accompanist, Carlos Gonçalves. Nevertheless, the concert took place with Senhor Gonçalves performing virtuoso pieces on the guitarra accompanied by a viola.

Indeed, experiencing fados and guitarradas in Lisbon during the public mourning of Amalia was a very moving experience for both Jeanette and myself. To have witnessed the effect Amalia had on her people really makes you understand the profound power of the fado.

There is a bit more of my story about Amalia on my web page about her song books. Press here on this sentence.



If you have transcribed or have in your possession any written music or tablature for the guitarra please contact me. I will help you refine it and put it in printable form. If the Portuguese Guitarra is to persist we must all contribute to its literature. To this time most of those who know how to play the guitarra have not shared this information. I strongly encourage all to share what they know so the guitarra can be enjoyed by sensitive souls around the world.


Ronald Louis Fernández

Irvine, California

Ano 2000


Today is December 23, 2010. Over the last 10 years I have refined many sections of this lesson. In the last 2 years I have added a few videos. For example, there are now videos showing me playing the Fado Menor and Fado Maior, these have been incorporated into the lesson and they are posted on YouTube. I have also added 2 videos on making fingerpicks, what are called "unhas"; these 2 videos have been incorporated into this lesson and are also on YouTube. In spring of 2010, I did a short television program in Costa Mesa, California called Let it Shine, which is a program with Isabel Rolo. On that program I played the flamenco guitar and the Portuguese guitarra, you can see it on my website at RonaldLouisFernandez.html


I fully realize how difficult it is to learn this instrument unless you are living in Lisbon. For many years now I have been researching old Portuguese guitarra methods and studying old traditional fados. As my schedule and copyright laws permit I intend to release some transciptions with video to help others to learn this instrument. Some of these materials will be free on the internet and others will be available for purchase.

To continue with Portuguese Guitarra Lesson and see the selected bibliography, press here

To see Portuguese Guitarras for sale, press here

If you have any comments, email me: ron@fernandezmusic.com

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