The Espalda Guitars

An abstract geometric design that I’ve called ‘the Espalda’

I make art as well as guitars.  My artwork comes out of the same decorative traditions that guitars and other stringed instruments have come out of.  It is also, as are my guitars, all done in wood and with many of the same tools.  And, as in guitars tops and guitar backs, all my art is done in/with bookmatched plates of wood.

Bookmatched means what it sounds like: a piece of wood sliced into two thin pieces, and then joined edge-on-edge to produce a mirror-image surface that is twice as wide as the original.

A lot of my artwork is reminiscent of the kinds of work one would see in lute roses and guitar rosettes — that is, carved and inlaid patterns that have no other purpose than to lend beauty to the object.  I’ve liked these so much that, at one point, it occurred to me that I didn’t need to build a guitar around them; they could stand by themselves.  And there was no limit to how one could carve and/or inlay into wood.  All of that work comes directly or indirectly out of artistic traditions that are very old and that follow some organized aesthetic of design.

One kind of artwork I’ve done is what I call the “espalda” look.  It is different from my other work in that it is modern-looking and abstract.  I am probably the inventor of this, because I don’t know of anyone else doing any work like this on musical instruments.  Or anywhere else, really.  I have inlaid Espalda designs into hardwoods such as one would find on guitar backs and sides.  “Espalda” means “back” in Spanish.  The word seemed to fit so I used it. 

This look, too, is limited only by one’s imagination and willingness to do careful work.  This is particularly true when inlaying lines into curved surfaces such as the guitar’s sides and neck.  That has to be done to some extent, because a guitar with such inlay work in the back only would look like . . . well . . . like it needed something else.

All my regular guitar backs feature a back-center-inlay that acts to visually separate and frame the two halves of the back.  It introduces an element of balance and regularity.  My espalda guitars don’t have this; it would go against the look of order-in-chaos that is the hallmark of abstract work.

Finally, as with the Maple Andamento guitar that I’ve written about separately, work in maple must be done with extra care.  It is unforgiving of miscuts and errors; they can’t be made to disappear.

I made the three espalda guitars shown here for a client in Japan.  This man was brave enough to have a guitar made that was different from anything else; not everyone is up to doing such a thing.  He and I have become friends, over time, in the process of making three guitars.


Espalda Guitar #1


Espalda Guitar #2


Espalda Guitar #3


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