What Does a $275,000 Classical Guitar Sound Like?

The high­est qual­i­ty clas­si­cal gui­tars hand­made in the 21st cen­tu­ry can run into the tens of thou­sands of dol­lars. This is no friv­o­lous expense for a pro­fes­sion­al play­er. Put such an instru­ment in the hands of an ama­teur and you may not hear much dif­fer­ence between it and a $150 fac­to­ry-made bud­get mod­el. In the hands of a sea­soned play­er, a high-end gui­tar tru­ly sings. Tone resides in the fin­gers — or 90% of it any­way — but a skilled gui­tarist knows how to dis­cov­er and make use of all an instru­men­t’s best qual­i­ties. For a musi­cian who makes a liv­ing doing so, spend­ing the cost of a car on a gui­tar makes eco­nom­ic sense (as does a good insur­ance pol­i­cy).

The tonal qual­i­ties of the instru­ment below, a hand­made clas­si­cal gui­tar from 1888, are clear­ly abun­dant; it’s also clear that gui­tarist Bran­don Ack­er — who has appeared in many of our pre­vi­ous posts on the gui­tar — knows how to exploit them. At times, he brings out such rich res­o­nance, the instru­ment sounds like a piano; at oth­ers, it is almost harp-like. We have a con­flu­ence of rar­i­ty: a high­ly skilled play­er with deep knowl­edge of clas­si­cal stringed instru­ments, and an instru­ment like no oth­er — so rare, in fact, that it’s val­ued at over a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars, rough­ly the aver­age cost of a mod­er­ate­ly-priced house in the U.S., the largest invest­ment most peo­ple make in their life­time.

To under­stand why the instru­ment car­ries such a high price tag, see Ack­er and YouTu­ber and gui­tarist Rob Scal­lon vis­it with father-and-son luthi­er team R.E. and M.E. Bruné at their shops in Illi­nois in the video at the top. The Brunés are spe­cial­ists in clas­si­cal and fla­men­co gui­tars. (The elder Bruné tells a charm­ing sto­ry of mak­ing his first fla­men­co gui­tar for him­self from his par­ents’ first din­ing room table.) In their shop’s stor­age area, they have ready access to some of the rarest gui­tars in the world, and they give us a live­ly tour — start­ing with a “bit of a let­down,” the “low-end,” 1967 Daniel Friederich con­cert mod­el val­ued at $50,000.

In Ack­er’s hands, each gui­tar deliv­ers the full poten­tial of its sus­tain and res­o­nance. Final­ly, at 16:00, we come to the 1888 Anto­nio de Tor­res gui­tar val­ued at $275,000. There are many old­er gui­tars in exis­tence, even gui­tars made by Anto­nio Stradi­vari and his heirs. But it was this gui­tar, or one of the few oth­ers made by the leg­endary Tor­res around the same time, that rev­o­lu­tion­ized what a gui­tar looked and sound­ed like. When Andrés Segovia arrived on stages play­ing his Tor­res, the Brunés tell us, gui­tarists around the world decid­ed that the old style, small-bod­ied gui­tars in use for cen­turies were obso­lete.

There are per­haps 90 to 100 of the Tor­res clas­si­cal gui­tars in exis­tence, and this extrav­a­gant­ly-priced num­ber 124 is “as close as you’re going to get to orig­i­nal,” says the elder Bruné, while his son makes the fas­ci­nat­ing obser­va­tion, “old­er instru­ments that have been played a lot, espe­cial­ly by great play­ers… learn the music.” Ack­er express­es his sur­prise at the “sweet­ness” of the very touch of the gui­tar.

If you had attend­ed the 2016 Gui­tar Foun­da­tion of Amer­i­ca con­fer­ence in Den­ver, where M.E. Bruné exhib­it­ed sev­er­al of his shop’s rare gui­tars, you would have been able to play the Tor­res your­self — or even pur­chase it for the less­er price of $235,000.

In the video inter­view above from the GFA con­fer­ence, M.E. Bruné describes the year plus-long restora­tion process on the gui­tar, one that involved some dis­as­sem­bly, extra brac­ing, and a replace­ment fin­ger­board, but pre­served the beau­ti­ful spruce and bird­s­eye maple of the gui­tar, wood that “does­n’t grow on trees like this any­where” these days, says Bruné. It is, he says, “the best-sound­ing Tor­res” he’s ever heard. Com­ing from some­one who has heard, and restored, the sweet­est-sound­ing gui­tars in exis­tence, that’s say­ing a lot. $275,000 worth? Maybe. Or maybe it’s impos­si­bly arbi­trary to put any price on such an arti­fact.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Hear Musi­cians Play the Only Playable Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World: The “Sabionari”

The His­to­ry of the Gui­tar: See the Evo­lu­tion of the Gui­tar in 7 Instru­ments

The Art of Mak­ing a Fla­men­co Gui­tar: 299 Hours of Blood, Sweat & Tears Expe­ri­enced in 3 Min­utes

Encore! Encore! An Hour of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Clas­si­cal Gui­tar

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Marian Hennessy says:

    What hap­pened to the enor­mous list of MooC
    That you used to fea­ture? And the list of free movies and books?????

    I enjoyed that list as much as the arti­cles in your newslet­ter.
    This list is not com­plete and is not infor­ma­tive.

    I watched one episode from Yale three times. Excel­lent pre­sen­ter and I learned a lot .

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