Historical Hints (C.6). It all started in Salvatierra: José Ramírez I’s history

Dec 28, 2017

Historical Hints (C.6). It all started in Salvatierra: José Ramírez I's history

It all started in  Salvatierra of Alava, a town founded in 1256 by Alfonso X the Wise, a villa of great importance in the eighteenth century, a crossroads of culture, music, commerce … among France, the Basque Country, Navarra, La Rioja and Castilla, and located in the centre of the Camino de Santiago. In this town Domingo Ramirez de Galarreta y Martínez de Abad was born, the father of José Ramírez I, also born in the same locality.

José Ramírez de Galarreta y Planet

It is said that there is nothing like doing those things one was born for and being brave enough to carry them out. And although nobody said it would be easy, it really is satisfactory when one goes for the things dictated by one’s heart.

And that was the case of my great-grandfather, José Ramírez I, the founder of this house, master of masters, among them, his younger brother Manuel should be brought out; at the same time, his brother José was a key personality in the development of Madrid’s School of Guitar Constructors. Some of his other disciples were Rafael Casana, Enrique García (who later established himself in Barcelona and at the same time was the master of Francisco Simplicio), Julián Gómez Ramírez (who established himself in Paris), Antonio Viudez and of course, his firstborn child José Simón, the second of the family saga.

José was born in Madrid on the 27th of January 1858 at six o’clock in the morning. It was a curious coincidence – maybe synchrony? – that this very same day, one century before, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had been born, and although the only thing that they had in common – from the astrological point of view – was the natal Sun in the very same degree as Aquarius, during their lives at least they shared their love for music. The other interesting coincidence is that two of José’s great-great-grandsons – my nephews Enrique and Javier – were also born the very same day one century later. I must add that Enrique is nowadays constructing guitars in our workshop and teaching the job to his sister Cristina.

This is not the first article I write about my ancestors taking some references from their natal planets. The first I wrote was about Manuel Ramírez because it was ordered from Alhama de Aragón, the village where he was born. But had I felt like writing on my own initiative, to be fair, I would have started from the beginning, that is, from my great-grandfather José. He was the one that started this marvellous adventure; after all, I must say that he involved us all that came behind, from his youngest brother Manuel to my nephews Cristina and Enrique.

The power of José Ramírez’s passion for guitar making

What is their strength in the astral chart of José to have passed on his great passion for the construction of guitars? That was my first question when I decided to write about him. And I found the answer precisely in the fourth house, the family one, the roots, the genetic inheritance… close conjunction between Jupiter and Pluto at the height of the house, where its presence is more powerful. They tell us about an intense personality, even obsessive, and the expansive and transforming power of his nature, about his passion and enthusiasm, no doubt infectious, as well as being ability to transcend every boundary; all these things were highlighted by his opposition to Mars in the highest point of his chart in the Meridian and Scorpio. Now I understand the origin of that bad temper my father talked about when he recalled him. And I also understand his strength when it came to starting this road in the guitar world little-known, starting from scratch.

Although the truth is that I would not dare to say that he really started from scratch because there is a family history of professional musicians, even the existence of a contemporary guitar maker. He lived in Logroño, in the number 52 of Mayor Street, around the year 1890, and he was certainly his brother. According to our latest research, his name was Antonio Ramírez de Galarreta y Planells. Maybe, if we follow the track of this information we will get to know interesting facts that I will be delighted to share if I have more precise information.*

The truth is that, at present, we haven’t had any proof of the existence of any ancestor in the family who had this job, that’s why we always have believed that it must have been a pure vocation, because his father, Domingo Ramírez de Galarreta y Martínez Abad, was a constructor, and as far as we know he enjoyed a quite healthy economic situation, so it calls our attention that José, his firstborn child, would choose such a badly paid job instead of taking up his father business, which was much more lucrative.

Where did José Ramírez I’s vocation come from?

Nevertheless, there is a curious fact about Domingo, J.R. I’s father that could point in a different direction and this fact is that to be more precise, he was a constructor and master carpenter. We have to take into account that at that time, in Madrid, the Wood industry included guitar makers. Therefore it is easy to deduce that there was a relationship between Domingo and the guitar makers from Madrid, and of course, Francisco González (J.R. I’s master) was among them. He was established as a carpenter/ cabinet-maker in 1849.

It is not strange at all that Domingo’s three eldest sons (José, Antonio and Manuel) were guitar makers. Is it possible that Domingo was also a guitar maker? It’s a pity that at present, we don’t know the existence of any guitar that he could build, but it is a fact to take into account, especially now that we have discovered the existence of Antonio Ramírez de Galarreta working as a guitar maker in Logroño, a fact unknown to the present day.*

The personality of José Ramírez I

Returning to JR I, it is interesting, and it serves us well to describe his personality, the fact that José was the godfather of most of the babies on his street. That was because, at that time, the babies that were born in families that could not afford their baptism would register their kids in the parish’s archives as “solemn poor”, and that would determine the course of their lives as fatal predestination. But when José was the godfather, he would take the priest to the sacristy, and the voices of the hot argument could be heard until the priest ended up not making the terrible inscription. Finally, it was enough that the priest saw José at the head of the baptism party and he would give up in advance to make the note as if it were an unspoken peace pact.

My father would also tell us that, at that time, there was an open war between streetcar and cart drivers. Streetcars could only go forward and it was extremely difficult for cart drivers to manoeuvre to move backwards so conflicts at crossroads were quite frequent. Particularly, at the entrance of Concepción Jerónima Street, just in front of José’s guitar shop, it was usual that streetcar drivers, seeing a cart coming in their direction, would go into the crossroad and stop in front of the cart so it would stop. This way, the cart driver had to go back pulling his horses, which was quite spectacular and difficult. More than once, José went in defence of the cart driver, and that ended up in the streetcar driver yielding way to the cart as they saw José at the door of his guitar shop, thus avoiding the hardened guitar maker going mad at them.

The restless and innovative spirit of José Ramírez I

José started his apprenticeship when he was only 12 years old in the workshop of Francisco Gonzalez in 1870, and he became independent moving to the 24 of Cava Baja in 1882. So we can say that the dynasty of Ramírez guitar makers started in 1870, although the company started in 1882; this is the date we have in all our documents when we refer to the founding of the house.

Nevertheless, there is a fact, that investigating, led me to some conclusion that could point to the origin of his inclination toward the guitar world. My father always told us that his grandfather, Ramírez I, was a mason, in particular Master of Ceremonies, as he had the walking stick that represented the post. I must say that it was not strange, at the time, that professionals with some training were masons, which allowed them to get information and knowledge that would be impossible to attain by other means. Probably his father was also a mason, apart from being a close friend of the Marquis of Salamanca; they both constructed Salamanca’s district in Madrid and, as it is well known, he was also a mason. And not long ago I could know that the Marquis of Salamanca was also friends with Torres’ father*. Of course, I can’t state if Torres was a mason or not, but he was a friend of José. And if we take this into account, it could be as if closing the circle with unsuspected ways, as it usually happens in this game of life, and from masonry to guitar construction, a bridge would be established, that in this case would explain the reason why José took such a peculiar decision.

Among all the documents we keep, we have some letters of Tárrega addressed to my great-grandfather in which the close relationship between José and Torres is reflected.

In any case, the love of the guitar in our family was not only focused on its construction, because José also played the guitar, as it is deduced from the entries that appear in a book of his accounts that we keep, where they are reflected, periodically, income for “guitar class”. Like at least two of his children: José and Luis, who were also professional guitarists. José, in addition to learning the trade of his father, at the age of 20 travelled with a group of artists to South America, hired as a guitarist, better known as Simón, or José Simón. As for Luis, he belonged to the Trío Español and later to the Alpine Trio, of lute, bandurria and guitar.

I believe that José Ramírez is quite unknown, even to the members of his family, and it has taken me quite a long time to look into his life and personality; if I trust his astral chart and the hints my father was leaving behind when he talked about him, I think he was an interesting character, with a greatly rich inner world, but with an austere appearance that didn’t reflect the complexities of his nature.

What is out of the question is the fact that he was a restless spirit, a determined person that had to face a quite difficult life, filled with tests, as my father said, those tests that ‘harden your guts’ but also wear you out; their legacy was poorly acknowledged for the importance it had in the evolution of the guitar. That is, much fighting, valuable and effective achievements, renowned at the moment, but later, they were easily forgotten.

In the year 1897, he was awarded the golden medal of the Regional Exhibition of Logroño. His best-known creation was the Tablao Guitar. It was developed to meet the demands of the flamenco guitar players of the time, they needed a guitar with a sound powerful enough that could be heard in prominent places; different from the flamenco guitars that, up to that moment, were played in small rooms, in the privacy of the groups that would fit ‘under an umbrella’. But the voices of those guitars got lost in flamenco stages, so the guitar created by José was an important step forward, not only due to its powerful sound but also because its quality was quite high.

My father used to say that when Manuel established himself on his own, he took with him José’s Tablao Guitar, and he went on constructing it, although afterwards, he did some changes that improved the model until it became the base for the present Flamenco Guitar. However, I am not quite sure about that. I really believe that the Flamenco Guitar Manuel developed later is a completely different concept from the Tablao Guitar on which, in the beginning, he was based. But these models are not comparable.

In our collection, we have three of José’s Tablao Guitars that have a beautiful sound, in spite of the fact that they are great-great-grandmother guitars. Those guitar players that have tested them have really liked their sound, their warmth and clearness, and paradoxically the classics liked them more than the flamencos. These guitars have the sound of forgotten stories, summer sunsets, and meetings with friends; their sound is warm, intimate, but round and rich; one of them sounds quite metallic – in the end, it is maple – and quite special; the other ones are cypress, we are more used to their sound. Not long ago, a close friend* from this house said that in his collection he had two Tablao Guitars, one from José and the other from Manuel, and he could not find any meaningful difference between them.

We also keep the ‘Señorita’ guitar, it has a lovely sound. Its name is Carmen. At least this is what is written on the delicate picture of its beautiful head. All through the years, I have received some images of unique pieces, they are really beautiful, they were constructed by José, which led me to understand that he was a great artist apart from being a good guitar maker.

Brothers José and Manuel Ramírez

It is impossible to talk about José without talking also about Manuel, moreover, after revising his professional career since they separated themselves. There’s no doubt that José was the master of Manuel. However, it seems that José was not the owner of the workshop in Cava Baja 24.

Following one of the sources I have checked, Manuel appears as a guitar maker in Cava Baja 24 in the year 1890, where he also lived with his wife and his parents-in-law until 1905, in the first floor his father-in-law had a tinsmith shop. But it is also true that the flat in Cava Baja 24 was inherited by my grandfather.

In fact, in our collection, we have a little shop window guitar with its label dated 1889, with this direction. I understand that this house was inherited by my grandfather, because my grandparents, my father and his brother Alfredo lived there since they arrived from Buenos Aires almost five years after the death of my grandfather (JR II) in 1957. I still remember the house and the entrance hall, although I was very young. It was a dark and small entrance hall, it smelled old, at the entrance there was a little squeaking door, made of wood and glass, and at the left, the stairs rounded up with their worn out steps, the wrought iron handrail.

All those things related to the Cava Baja workshop are a little bit confusing, I don’t have the official data about the existence of the brothers’ workshop, but there are guitars with labels that certify it. During that period, from 1882 to 1886-87, José would teach Manuel the job.

The information I always had about the relationship between the brothers, was that in 1887-88 Manuel wanted to establish himself on his own and set up his workshop in Paris, it is possible that he was encouraged by the experience of Julián Gómez Ramírez; to do that, he asked José for help and he gave him some money for him to make his dream come true. In the end, Manuel, undoubtedly due to something unexpected, saw his project frustrated and he stayed in Madrid and ended up settling himself in Santa Ana square in 1890, although it seems that they still lived in Cava Baja. Later on, he moved his business to Arlabán Street 11, although he then set up the workshop in number 6 and the shop in number 10, and later again in number 11, where he also moved his house in 1910. This was the address of his widow until 1921.

However, following the line of the aforementioned source, I was surprised by the fact that it seems that it was José the first to leave, as he left the Cava Baja workshop in 1886-87, setting up in the Rastro Square 4. There, he stayed for a year to move again to Concepción Jerónima 2 where we, his heirs, continued until 1995. This is the house where his father lived until he died in the year 1896.

The strange thing is that it really seems that Manuel continued in Cava Baja until 1905. It calls my attention that the key period between 1886 and 1888, when the brothers got separated, is the same period when his father writes his last wills in 1887, although he died nine years later.

During a long time I have believed, quite bewildered, by the way, that my great-grandfather lived in the Concepción Jerónima shop with his wife and sons. The reason why I was so bewildered is because I knew this establishment quite well, and it was so small that I found it very difficult to believe how the workshop, the upper floor and the shop downstairs could leave any space for a person to live there. At the back there was a toilet and a small kitchen; but they would have to sleep stacked one over the other, and even this way, there was no space for them all. Of course, in a way, that turned my great-grandparents into wizards with incredible abilities to take advance of such a small space – it is outstanding what we, romantics and not practical at all people, are able to believe sometimes.

However, with my recent investigations, I discovered that at that time, my great-grandfather lived in his flat in Carretera de Extremadura, while his workshop was in Concepción Jerónima, and his father’s house was in the same address; it must have been the house where he moved later, in 1895, a year before the death of my great-great-grandfather. I must say that this provided me with great relief, although the matter lost for me the charm that it had to believe my great-grandparents had the magic gift to make possible impossible things.

As for the kitchen at the back of the shop, it is true that my great-grandmother used to cook there. It probably was a practical measure to eat in the place where they spent most of their time. In fact, as I was told, there was a flamenco guitar player that my great-grandmother liked a lot (the way he played the guitar, of course) and both were quite fond of each other. When he went to the shop, he liked to surprise her picking a guitar and playing it, so she would recognize him immediately and left the kitchen to greet and listen to him play, and she always was quite touched.

Coming back to the brothers, they worked together in Cava Baja 24 during a period of time between 1882 and 1887. It is understood that it was there where José taught the job to his younger brother Manuel.

There is a guitar* with the following label:


And the address was Cava Baja 24.

The best thing about this guitar is that at the inside of the top the following stamp is profusely printed:


It could be said that this is a fit of rage; anyway, it is clear that Manuel was reaffirming himself, and I think he was showing his great desire to become independent as well as assert the authorship of the aforementioned guitar. It does not seem to be a very pacific preamble in their later separation. Actually, I have no idea about what happened between José and Manuel. The only thing I know is that they stopped talking to each other forever.

Manuel died before José, they never reconciled. I was really impressed when my father talked to me about this. And also knowing that during my grandfather’s life there was an unspoken prohibition not to mention Manuel in any way, as if he had never existed. But my father (JR III) was the one who recovered him and reestablished his place into the family.

In José’s chart there is a clear sign about a misfortune related to a brother, something that, no doubt, caused him great pain that marked him for the rest of his life – my father has this very same point in his chart, although in this case, the misfortune was the death of his brother Alfredo, which left him a deep wound for the rest of his life. In the case of Manuel, what it reflects is the fight for the power with one brother that, as life itself demonstrates, ended up dramatically also for him.

I personally like to believe that in some dimension of reality, their souls reconciled, that perhaps there was some accomplice planet that in the very last moment put in their minds and their hearts an affective and forgiving thought, whatever were the offense and the offender. Maybe the memories of both of them, of their love for the guitar, because they shared their knowledge and talent and because they were master and disciple, took them to friendly and common places of the history they lived and made them big in their own way.

The truth is that both of them left a legacy to the world of the guitar that has contributed to what we have and enjoy as guitar makers and guitar players, and as fans of the guitar world too. The history goes on and I hope it continues from the conciliating crossroad where my father stopped in a moment to bring Manuel back home, to our roots.

So I finish this writing reuniting José and Manuel. I am sure them both, far from grudges brought by misunderstandings and resentments caused by a decision that was lived as a betrayal, offence or injustice, would now see everything from the serene perspective of time that heals every wound; and they would be proud that their great-great-grandchildren keep on loving and developing the job José started when he was only 12 years old.

Written by Amalia Ramirez

November 2013


* For their collaboration thanks to: Pablo de la Cruz for his historic contribution about José Ramírez and his friendship with Torres and his relationship with Tárrega. Anselmo Lanzas for providing me with the information about the brothers’ two Tablao Guitars that he treasures in his collection. Félix Manzanero for opening the doors of his workshop-shop to show us a really special guitar from his collection, the one that says in its label: ‘José Ramírez de Galarreta and brother’ in La Cava Baja 24, that I mention in this article. José Juan Fernández who discovered us Antonio Ramírez de Galarreta y Planet, guitar maker in La Rioja and brother of José and Manuel. I also thank Xosé Crisanto because he is a rich source of information about this house due to his tireless investigation. Within the same field of investigation, I am grateful for the contribution of our friend José Juan Fernández about the coming into stage of Antonio Ramírez de Galarreta y Planells, guitar maker in Logroño. And of course, to Miguel Martínez; he is not only lending us his memories of the history of this house, but he also came with us to Félix Manzanero’s workshop with his inventions to make excellent pictures of the inside part of the guitar of the “compulsive impressions” of Manuel’s stamp.


José Ramírez About the Guitar. Ed. Casa Ramírez.

José Romanillos Vega & Marian Harris Winspear The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar. A Dictionary of the Makers of Plucked and Bowed Musical Instruments of Spain (1200-2002). The Sanguino Press.

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