Historical hints (C.1): The chair makers

Jul 12, 2017

The chair makers

Some time ago, I had an enjoyable lunch with a colleague guitar maker, during the conversation something came up which I had never heard before; apparently, it is said that from the forties on the making of Ramírez guitars, as pieces of furniture, started to improve, and that this took place at the same time as the chair makers entered the company, they were: Paulino Bernabé, Manuel Contreras and Antonio Martínez.

My colleague even told me that he had seen himself the improvement in the guitars of this decade that fell into his hands.

Importance of the chair makers

Before going on, I would like to point out that my father used to say that the chair makers were probably the more skillful of the cabinetmakers, because making a real, wooden chair was a really difficult task that shows a great skill in the use of the tools.

And as my father loved well- done things, he always surrounded himself with the best, so that they would maintain the excellence he always aimed and that marked his whole work. That’s why he hired these three cabinetmakers, whose professional quality highly responds to the level my father searched in his guitars.

The same way they did, there were – and there are nowadays – great artisans working in our workshop, and they all passed the difficult tests my father, their master, put them on to accept them in his team. My brother and I inherited the same manners as my nephews Cristina and José Enrique did.

The quest for excellence by José Ramírez IV

I don’t know where this story started, it tells about the improvement in the artisan quality of our guitars during the forties, and the fact that this improvement was based on the three people aforementioned, because Paulino entered JR at the end of the fifties and M. Contreras and A. Martínez entered during the sixties, but the thing is that it was precisely on the year 1940 that my father was 18 and had just entered my grandfather’s workshop to learn the trade.

Therefore, if there really was an improvement in quality during this decade it was, obviously due to my father, because the counts match. This information also matches with my father’s personality because he had such an obsession with quality and great detail, that he would set challenges that would make life complicated.

He always was a perfectionist, he was highly literate and a great lover of History and Beaux-arts, he even studied painting. He would impose himself difficult, baroque tasks, but they would appear to be simple, and that only a good guitar maker is able to appreciate.

We have in our collection a guitar he constructed in the year 1946, with fir tree and maple, its mosaic is made with three colorful threads irregularly interweaved, and apparently inoffensive, this mosaic was the most wickedly difficult one he had made in his life; he once confessed this to my brother and me. And not only this, but also the purflings and the detail for the heel cap that were apparently simple but according to the complexity of its elaboration, they are equally samples of his mastery and meticulousness.

As I already pointed out, you need to be a good guitar maker to realize the value of this work.

The Ramirez Guitars chair makers in the 50’s and 60’s.

The fifties were years of expansion, and to buy a Ramírez guitar there was a two year waiting list, this delay went on growing and it reached three years and a half al the mid-seventies. That’s why in the year 1960 my father moved the workshop to General Margallo Street, to teach more guitar makers and reduce the waiting time.

Here, as it can be seen, the forties were left far behind, and as I already commented, it was not until the end of the fifties when PaulinoBernabé entered the company.

My father hired Paulino about the years 1958 and 1959 because in his search for a good chair maker he had seen his impeccable work and his liking for the construction of guitars, so he wanted him in his work team. And he had such a professional quality that my father made him the workshop foreman.

Soon after that, Paulino recommended my father other high level chair makers, and Manuel Contreras and Antonio Martínez also entered the company. There can be no doubt that them all contributed to maintain the excellence in the quality of the guitars coming out of our workshop, the same as the rest of the great guitar makers that were taught here.

All of them, with no exception, learned the trade and performed it in our workshop following the criteria established by my father, his guidelines and his investigations. The conditions to work in our workshop are: professional quality, skill and follow our guidelines and designs introducing nothing out of this norm.

All the guitars, once finished, would be thoroughly inspected by my father, so he would not let go any detail. Nowadays I do this job, following his direct teachings.

Of the three chair makers, Antonio Martínez is the only one who continued in the workshop until he retired due to an allergy problem to wood. Manuel Contreras was the first to go and set his own workshop. Later, just before moving from General Margallo to Ramón de Aguinaga in 1971, Paulino Bernabé also left and settled on his own expense.

Quality is the hallmark of Ramirez Guitars

The manager of the new workshop was an industrial engineer, Enrique Cardenas, until he retired in the year 1988, which was when my brother was left in charge of the management of the workshop. In 1993 we went back to General Margallo, where we continue nowadays.

Therefore, dates prove it, and it is obvious the counts don’t match when we talk about the authorship commented by my colleague about the improvement in the quality during the forties, as he himself had to admit.

I also must say that I don’t know if it is true that the quality in the construction of the Ramírez guitars, as pieces of furniture, improved during the forties.

What I know is that during the war and the postwar years it was really difficult to get wood, I don’t dare to say “good” wood, but the construction went on being impeccable, although the material didn’t make things easy. They did what they could with the things they could find, which was admirable, because in these conditions it was not easy at all to support a guitar company.

Written by Amalia Ramírez 


Thanks to Miguel Martínez, the person I always turn to as the oldest and most faithful memory of this house, for his help in the elaboration of this writing, contributing with facts and dates basing on his direct experience. Miguel was part of the family business from 1954 to 2000.

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