While visiting the Spanish guitar exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City during the fall of 1991, I had the opportunity to measure and photograph, in great detail, the 1937 Hauser that belonged to Andrés Segovia, and had been used by him in numerous recordings and concert appearances.
Shortly before his death, Segovia had donated this guitar, along with his 1912 Manuel Ramírez, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in appreciation for the pivotal role New York City had in the success of his long and illustrious career. This is the same instrument Segovia referred to in “Guitar Review No. 16” (1954) when he called it the “…greatest guitar of our epoch.”
No guitar has generated as much interest and focus as this instrument has since I published a monograph and drawings of it in the Guild of American Luthiers’ American Lutherie #31 over 10 years ago.
Countless makers have built replicas using these drawings, and players have continued to find merit in the design, which represents a true departure from the thin, lightweight flamenco inspired instruments of Spanish makers of the era.
The sonority of the Hauser model is a unique, independent development that took the modern classical guitar in a completely new direction, and was the first major step in the internationalization of the instrument. Today, the classical guitar is no more a purely Spanish instrument than the piano is Italian.
Because of this appeal to generations of great players, this instrument warrants particular attention by any maker or player interested in the classical guitar. As a model for a maker to follow, it’s hard to surpass the universal appeal of this wonderful instrument.
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Segovia first met Hermann Hauser in 1924, when they were introduced by Miguel Llobet, who had known Hauser for many years. Although Llobet and Hauser had been good friends, and Llobet had allowed Hauser to make a drawing of the Antonio de Torres guitar he was playing, apparently Hauser never attempted to make a guitar in the Spanish style until he met Segovia.
Until this point, all of Hauser’s guitars had been made in the Viennese style inspired by the designs of Luigi Legnani as interpreted by Stauffer and his circle of followers. However, after spending considerable time taking meticulous measurements of Segovia’s 1912 Manuel Ramírez (which had actually been made by the Ramírez shop foreman Santos Hernandez in 1924), Hauser began making guitars based on the Spanish models which were derived from the designs of Antonio de Torres.
According to what Segovia personally told me, he had not begun to play this Hauser until 1938, as Hauser had sent it to him via rail delivery, and due to shipping delays, the instrument had followed Segovia around various venues in Germany, just missing Segovia in each town.
From this conversation, I (like many others) erroneously assumed Segovia had not played any Hauser guitars in public until he acquired this one. However, my research has proven this to be false, as printed programs from concerts dating as early as 1929 indicate the guitar being used is by Hauser. Supporting this is the generous anecdotal evidence that connects so many Hauser Sr. guitars to either Segovia’s brief ownership, or his sale to his students and admirers.
As early as 1930, Hauser was producing special guitars for export to the Buenos Aires firm of Romero y Fernandez, which was acting as his sales agent in Argentina. Hauser was also supplying wound bass strings not only to Romero y Fernandez, but also to Santos Hernandez of Madrid. The common connection that made all these contacts possible was the influence of Segovia, who could open the doors of the world of the Spanish guitar like no other personality of the day. The program for Segovia’s appearance at the Civic Center of Chicago on March 13, 1938 states, “Guitar: Hauser,” making this possibly one of the very first performances in which Segovia used this instrument in public.
Although the instrument is signed and dated February 4, 1937, and dedicated to Segovia inside the soundboard under the fingerboard, it probably wasn’t completed until some time later. Hauser’s production at this time was not high. In essence, the guitar, which Segovia referred to as the “greatest guitar of our epoch” was considerably less than one year old when Segovia began concertizing with it. So much for the theory that spruce-top instruments take a long time to break-in before their sound develops!
Currently, the instrument is in less than ideal condition, and shows considerable evidence of the cavalier treatment it received in Segovia’s hands. There’s ample evidence of rough handling, including broken and missing tentellones around the top border, amateurish repairs, and little or no attempt to keep the varnish clean. It appears Segovia never wiped the instrument down; it’s caked with dried sweat.
Notable is the soundboard thickness, which varies between 2. 21 millimeters by the bass wing to over 3 mm behind the treble side of the bridge. This instrument was refinished by Hermann Hauser II in the early 1960s, after experiencing a disastrous accident in the recording studio with a falling microphone. Yet even after Hauser tried to remove the evidence of this accident by sanding the top and refinishing it, it still measures between 2.5 mm and 3 mm in many areas, so initially the top must have been even a little thicker than it is now.
Curiously, Segovia stopped playing this guitar shortly after Hauser II tried to fix it, giving the excuse that the first string had mysteriously died and no one could bring back its former glory. This is certainly a strong argument against the common practice of revarnishing instruments for cosmetic reasons.
A second notable feature unique to Hausers is the shaping of the three center fan struts, which are left square underneath the bridge, instead of being rounded over in the usual fashion. Also, the two “V” struts pointing toward the butt block are very low in profile compared to the seven main fan struts. Hauser’s use of the thin spruce bridgeplate is pioneering, anticipating what has now become common practice among makers all over the world. As is typical to all Hausers with bridgeplates, the fans are meticulously notched to fit over the bridgeplate and glue to it solidly.
The bridge is made of quartered Indian rosewood (dalbergia latifolia), rather than the Brazilian rosewood (dalbergia nigra) used for the sides and back. I am familiar with other Hauser instruments in which he mixes the rosewood species in this manner, and even uses two different types for the sides and backs. At that time players and builders did not make such a fuss about the difference between the two species, as they were priced about the same, and were often used interchangeably.
In the case of this instrument, the profile of the bridge arms, which is rather squareish and quite thick, combined with the selection of lightweight Indian rosewood means the bridge is both stiff and lightweight. In my opinion, the details of the bridge are extremely important to duplicate in order to capture the essence of a maker’s sound, so those wishing to copy this instrument should pay particular attention to these details. The 2-mm locating pins are typical of all Hauser guitars, and were used to hold the bridge precisely in position when marking out the varnish and later gluing the bridge to the sound board.
The purflings contain a very pale green dyed center piece, which on the actual instrument is completely faded and invisible. It can only be seen under the sweat stains which have partially shielded the green veneer from the damaging effects of years of ultraviolet exposure. Hauser’s green dye was not very light-fast, and the quality of his glue lines was such that the green line is now all but invisible.
The interior inscription and dedication to Segovia, which Hauser wrote in French (their mutual lingua franca), was obviously in anticipation of what Hauser hoped would be an acceptable instrument for Segovia to actually play, and not just to sell to a student. Other Hausers dating as early as 1933 have similar inscriptions. The illegible portion of the inscription in front of Segovia’s name appears to this second generation German-American to be “Herrn,” which is the German honorific way of saying “Don” in Spanish.
The fingerboard is inlaid on the underneath side from the 12th fret to the end by the soundhole with a 1.5 mm thick cross grain black veneer. The intention was to prevent fingerboard shrinkage, which causes cracks in the top, by the edge of the fingerboard. This has been a consistent feature in every original Spanish-style Hauser. Age and humidity fluctuation have caused the fingerboard and this veneer to become partially delaminated, which may be partly responsible for the loss of upper register that Segovia complained about before he stopped playing this instrument.
For those wishing to duplicate the bravura head joint used by Hauser, it should be noted that Hauser cut the head “V” joint after the entire guitar was nearly completed and installed the head so it projects above the plane of the neck a slight amount. The “V” joint does not extend through to the underneath side of the head veneer, so the joint cannot “telegraph” through the head veneer, and also so that the nut, which is tapered both in height and length, is back-stopped by more thickness than the head veneer alone. This method allowed Hauser to make minute final adjustments to the surface of the neck to achieve the precise angle in relation to the body, without the hindrance of the head to impede the hand plane. Also noteworthy is the nut end of the fingerboard, which is slightly angled to match the head angle and nut taper.
Another important feature is the lift of the plane of the neck in relation to the soundboard. Extending in a straight line from just in front of the bridge across the top right next to the fingerboard, and to the nut, one can see that the neck is pulled upward 2 mm from a straight line. This slight angle, present in all fine guitars, allows the string height at the bridge to measure 10 mm above the soundboard on the bass side, and 9 mm on the treble side. This is an extremely important feature to get right, as it relates to the torque on the soundboard, and ultimately, the longevity of the instrument.
The rather shallow saddle slot in the bridge does not allow much margin for action adjustment via the bridge saddle, so it is imperative that the neck angle be duplicated precisely in order to have the correct string height above the sound board.
The bridge was arched 1.5 mm across the width, which accounted for any “doming” of the soundboard. As confirmed by Julian Bream and others who have played and examined this instrument, the body is very resonant to a G frequency, surprising given the thickness of the soundboard. However, numerous bench copies I have made following the strict dimensions of the original confirm that this model will produce a primary body resonance of G.
Though it now rests in mute testimony to the artistic pinnacles to which it was carried by its owner, this instrument is still one of the most important and influential instruments of the 20th century, being one of the first among many that followed that were the harbingers of the internationalization of the classical guitar.
The precision and serious dedication of Hauser’s approach have been an inspiration to all who have followed, and this model, now almost seven decades old, is still as musically viable as it was the day it was completed.
In every detail, the perfection of Hauser’s craftsmanship, and his thoughtful attention to detail is very apparent. Hauser brought the same intensity and attention to detail to the construction of this instrument that Segovia brought to his playing. Nothing was left to chance, nothing was done in a slipshod manner. Hauser took no chances with fate, and considered every detail to be significant. His performance as a luthier was no less than Segovia’s performance as a player. It remains one of the most influential and inspiring instruments I have had the privilege to handle.
I wish to extend my thanks to Laurence Libin, Stewart Pollens, Joe Peknik, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for making this guitar available.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.