In 1997, Jamie Bellizzi, Empire Music, California, contacted me with photos and descriptions of an instrument he had recently found which appeared to be an 1869 Antonio de Torres in fabulous condition. Owned by Jamie’s neighbor, the instrument had been part of the family estate, having been acquired in Spain many decades ago. However, Jamie had some suspicions about details, and consequently sent photos for an opinion. However, even the best photos can present a challenge in identifying an instrument, so I suggested it be sent for personal examination and authentication, which the owner declined to do.
The cautious approach can frequently cost you the sale, and so it was with this instrument, which shortly afterward appeared in the showroom of another dealer who offered it as an authentic Antonio de Torres. Prominent collector and classical guitar aficionado Shel Urlik purchased the instrument on a conditional basis subject to my authentication, and sent the instrument to me for examination in ’98. My findings are based on two days of careful study and side-by-side comparison with similar instruments in my personal collection, including an early Antonio de Torres, and guitars by Manuel Ramírez, Santos Hernandez, Domingo Esteso, and Antonio Emilio Pascual. I also consulted my personal archives, the Prat dictionary, and of course, José Romanillos’ book on Torres.
The label of this instrument is a fake, printed by lithographic process. However, it varies slightly with the fake label shown in FE 27 in the current edition of Romanillos’ book. It’s easiest to see in the four corners, where the loops meet on the border. This label appears to be yet another version of the fake presumed to have been created by Manuel Ramírez. The ink sits on top of paper rather than having been embossed into the paper by a letterpress process. There is no evidence this label was ever removed or covered by another; it appears to be the original, inserted when the instrument was made.
The body significantly exceeds the dimensional sizes of any of the known instruments of Torres, and the scale is extraordinarily long at 657 mm. Of the three surviving Torres instruments listed by Romanillos with scales of this length, FE 3 has a replaced fingerboard, SEU 6 is only 655 mm, and the body dimensions are still considerably smaller than this instrument, and SEU 4 (which has a 661 mm scale) is assumed to have been made by Miguel Moya Redondo, as it has other features similar to his guitars, and dates from the end of Torres’ career.
The neck angle of this instrument is quite high, having 5 mm lift, which produces a very modern classical action, a setup Torres did not follow. Yet the instrument shows absolutely no signs of ever having been disassembled, so the action/neck angle setup must be original. In conjunction with this observation, it is also noted that the edge of the soundhole is 10 mm from the end of the body, which means the guitar could never have been fitted with a 65 mm-scale fingerboard unless either the 12th fret was considerably off the neck/body joint or the 19th fret was not cut through, neither features have ever appeared in a genuine Torres.
The interior finishing is of exceptional quality, very finely sanded and perfectly executed. The sides, in particular, are exceptionally smooth, and show none of the toothing plane marks that are typical to Torres’ work. While the end of the neck foot inside has the characteristic Torres pencil line on the center line, the soundboard interior is curiously devoid of the pencil lines used by Torres to lay out the bracing, especially the pencil line that was drawn across the top in the area of the bridge. There is no evidence this guitar ever had any of these layout lines on the top. The mortising of the top and back braces into the linings is absolutely masterful, of the quality one would expect from Hauser I, and is notably better than Torres’ best work. The lining kerf spacings are slightly closer than the typical 7 mm kerf centers used by Torres, and the butt block is significantly chamfered on the corners rather than gently rounded typical to Torres’ work.
Although the glue squeeze out is similar in consistency, transparency and crazing to that of Torres, it more closely resembles the glue used by Manuel Ramírez. Of particular note are the five spruce repair cleats visible on the inside of the back which “repair” nonexistent cracks. The oxidation of these cleats, along with the appearance of the glue squeeze out, and its subsequent aging strongly suggest these were original to the instrument when it was made. Yet there is absolutely no evidence of any glue squeeze-out nor discoloration along any of the supposed crack, and the exterior of the guitar shows no signs of telegraphing of the glue line with seasonal movement. Assuming these are original to the instrument, that would mean the instrument was made to deceive. In addition, it should be noted that Torres rarely if ever used this style of wooden cleat for repairs, favoring a particular type of lined music paper, which he sometimes also used in place of wooden reinforcements.
On the exterior, the head is a poor imitation of the work of Torres, being ill-shaped and not detailed at all like Torres’ work. Although there is superficial evidence of a prior set of machines, including plugged post holes and a second set of mounting screw holes, they do not correspond to any logical prior set of machines, as the post plugs do not line up between the left and right sides, and the screw holes do not correspond to the presumed narrower previous spacing. It seems we are to think that a previous set of machines has been replaced with these. Additionally, the current set of machines, which date between 1900 and 1920, are a set of modern pitch gears. Most sets that would have preceded them would have been reverse-pitch gears, yet there’s no evidence the guitar was ever mounted with a set of reverse-pitch gears.
Another curious feature of the head is its thickness, which tapers from 19 mm to 18 mm thickness along its length. And although this taper was common for Torres’ instruments that were made for pegs, the thickness is not. It is conveniently thicker so the machine head plates do not overhang the edges of the head. It is my opinion this instrument was made with these machines in mind from the beginning, and probably never had pegs. The slots are cut considerably away from the edge of the head, and should have shown at least some of the remnants of the original peg holes. In addition to this, the taper of the head is much less than Torres typically used, especially on his pegged instruments, which were proportioned in order to have the strings lead to each peg in the most direct manner (see Romanillos pg. 272 for the head photo of SE 87 to illustrate what I am speaking of). If this instrument once had pegs positioned so they fell entirely within the boundaries of the new existing slots, then the firsst and sixth strings would have left the nut pinching toward the center of the head rather than very slightly flaring toward the ears of the head, as Torres always intended.
The head veneer is ebony, which was not used by Torres. When he used a black head veneer, it was always dyed walnut. Based on the position of the head joint, it does not appear this head has ever been changed or re-grafted, so the uncharacteristic detailing around the head is due to either inaccurate original modeling or recutting by someone else, if the instrument was refinished.
The bridge is not a very accurate representation of Torres’ work in proportions nor tool marks. However, it possibly may have been changed, perhaps at the time when the soundboard crack repairs were done. The bone tie block corners show a considerable amount of apparent wear, entirely out of proportion to the string hole wear, so the bone tie block may have been artificially aged.
The sides of the instrument are entirely too flat and perfect for Torres’ work, and additionally they are 1.5 mm thick on the average and very uniform. Torres typically used sides around 1.0 to 1.2 mm thick. In addition, Torres would carefully scrape the sides thinner between the margins of the lining and the top or back, giving the sides a domed appearance. He would never try to scrape flat any bulges nor inequities after bending, as the sides were too thin to tolerate this, but this instrument has sides that were never scraped at the corners, and were meticulously flattened and perfected before cutting the purfling channels.
The difference in appearance between the two approaches is immediate and obvious. In conjunction with this, the sides of this guitar have added pilaretes between the linings, a feature rarely used by Torres, and they seem out of place for a guitar with sides this heavy.
Finally, regarding the exterior, the sizing and preparation of the wood is very unlike Torres’ work, as the exterior has been very carefully sanded and refined prior to varnishing. There are none of the characteristic scraper chatters and scratches usually seen in Torres’ work. It appears the wood was never sized with anything other than a thinned-out coat of shellac, unlike Torres, who would typically size with a thinned coat of animal glue before proceeding with the varnishing. In the beginning, the difference between the two is negligible, but with the passage of time, the shellac sizing method yields a much more transparent and beautiful varnish than the glue size method. Manuel Ramírez favored the shellac size method for his better-quality instruments.
According to the legend told by José Ramírez III (retold by Donn Pohren in his Art of Flamenco revised edition), Manuel Ramírez felt he was not receiving the recognition he was due as a guitarmaker, so he made some Torres copies in which he inserted his own labels, pasting Torres label over them. He then called in the leading critics to savor the marvelous Torres guitars in his collection, and after they had all waxed eloquent about what a shame it was there would never be any more Torres’ like those, Manuel dramatically tore off the labels to prove their true identity, thereby insuring he was the numero uno guitarmaker in Madrid. The Prat version is at variance with this legend, in that Prat mentions Ram’rez made guitars in the exact style of Torres, even inserting Torres labels, but Prat claims Ramírez sold them not as Torres, but as copies. However he mentions that in later transactions, less scrupulous sellers would fail to make that distinction. Regardless of the actual situation, suffice to say history has documented Manuel Ramírez as a known faker.
Given the extremely high-quality precise inner execution, there were few makers anywhere capable of producing this instrument, which I would date to the beginning of this century based on the interior oxidation of the wood. In comparing with other instruments, I first looked at the most basic of architectural details, which include glue squeeze-out, outline, surface preparation, and fret placements. These are the details in which most fakes and conversions usually fall short.
The visible glue squeeze-out of this instrument very closely matches the glue visible in my both 1912 and my ca. 1912-1916 Manuel Ramírez guitars. The 1912 instrument was made by Santos, and is the sister instrument to the one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The undated ca. 1912-1916 instrument was made for export to Buenos Aires, and is a Model 26, according to the Manuel Ram’rez catalog specifications. The glue squeeze-out of all three instruments match very closely in every characteristic, including amount, texture, transparency, crazing, etc.
The outline and body dimensions are nearly identical to my Model 26 Manuel Ramírez, the exception being the waist of my Model 26 is slightly narrower, and the body tapers from 91 mm to 84 mm instead of 91 mm to 88 mm, a very small difference. Furthermore, both have nearly identical butt blocks inside, with the same un-Torres-like chamfering of the edges. It’s interesting to note that in the Manuel Ram’rez catalog this model is noted as having “…full harmonic barring” and indeed, the bracing of the Model 26 and this Torres are nearly identical inside.
The surface preparation of this fake Torres is spectacular, being very finely sanded and smoothed. Again, the appearance of the wood surfaces of this guitar is very much like that of the 1912 Ramírez owned by Segovia, and my own 1912 Manuel Ramírez. Of course, it is possible the exterior may have been repolished many years ago, and if done carefully, it would not be obvious, but the interior is notably more well finished and refined than any authentic Torres.
Looking at the rest of the neck, the carving of the heel is rather modern and heavier than Torres’ typical work, although in all fairness, it is in proportion to the large body. There are faint capo marks visible under the varnish of the neck that suggest that at the minimum, the neck was repolished at some point, but the body appears to still have its original (or at least a very old) varnish and very closely resembles that of Manuel Ramírez. The fret positions correspond very closely to those of my Model 26, which has a 656 mm scale. In addition, the fingerboard treatment with the cross-grain sanding scratches, filled worm holes, fretwire selection, fretwire finishing (with file scratches) and the treatment of the margins of the fretboard all conform to Manuel Ramírez’s typical work.
In addition to the fake repair cleats, I can also draw attention to the two wooden reinforcing strips applied over the back joints. Torres rarely (only four known examples) used wood with the grain running the same direction as the back wood, preferring to use either cross-grain Spanish cedar or paper or linen strips. This instrument has very dark mahogany reinforcements with the grain running the length of the back, as do many of the guitars of Manuel Ramírez. The mahogany strips of this “Torres” match the one found in my Model 26 Manuel Ramírez.
I should point out that many, but not all of the above features, also had very close correspondences to Santos Hernandez’s work, with the notable exception of the glue squeeze-out, which has an entirely different look and character in Santos’s work. Assuming this was made in the Ramírez shop, where Santos was the foreman, then the evidence of his hand would be logical, as these fakes may have been a collaborative effort.
In conclusion, it is my opinion this instrument is a very fine fake, probably made in the shop of Manuel Ramírez with the intention to deceive the buyer. It is without question the finest fake Torres I’ve ever seen, and had the few minor details and size differences been accurately attended to at the time of its construction, it would have been undetectable today as a fake, especially had it carried an authentic label. As it appears that Manuel Ramírez had fake labels printed, possibly with the motive in mind of replacing the original labels of Torres guitars that passed through his shop – one wonders if in fact some of the current Torres instruments in circulation might actually be from the Ramírez shop, but bearing authentic labels. In answer to this question, on a recent trip to France, Shel Urlik found another instrument identical to this one in a French museum which they also believe to be a Manuel Ramírez fake!
As a result of this examination, Shel decided to purchase this guitar despite its being a fake, but at a price reasonable for a Manuel Ram’rez, not a genuine Torres. Which just goes to show that the label in an instrument is the least reliable piece of information in an instrument, and expert advice is worth every penny.
I wish to extend my appreciation to Jamie Bellizzi of Empire Music, who discovered this guitar, and Shel Urlik, who permitted me to study and use it for the subject of this article.
“1869 Torres” Photo by R.E. Bruné.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’00 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.