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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Sleepless in Madrid on a Summer High

A visit to Juan Menduiña's guitar workshop inspires a fanciful chain of events

I write this week from Madrid where I have come to work again with Juan Menduiña on developing the ultimate guitar sound. Quite a claim I know, but why settle for less if you can feel its realisation almost within reach? I arrived here from London on Thursday, where I have spent a few days, my ears still ringing with the soothing choir of Swiss cow bells and my lungs still expanding and contracting with the clean thin air gained one thousand two hundred metres above Lake Geneva.

I have come many times to Madrid to meet with Juan Menduiña. His studio has an intoxicating aroma of new guitars, French polish, and sawdust. The instruments are all prototypes and experimental models with bracing designs based on the pure harmonic proportions and nodal points of standard modern pitch, A=440. The scale length, the saddle, the width and depth of the body, and the bracing have all been adjusted to these measurements. The result is a patented design and a distinctive sound. Most exciting of all to me is that the sound is excellent even using cheaper woods as in more economic models.

In the early mornings since my arrival I wander around this outer reach of Madrid. That is quite an achievement on my part since I don't go to bed until at least 2am in order to conform to local custom. The Spanish are not early risers in summer. I would go further, they regard any time up to 10am as dead of night - not surprising since they stay up till very late indeed to feel the first cool breeze stir through the concrete streets in the small hours. The pleasure and relief is hard to describe, and witness to it is the insomniac hyper-active population. Yesterday I could swear I heard fire crackers greet the breeze upon its arrival, although I admit it may have been a hallucination due to lack of sleep.

I have completed a neat journey these past weeks. I started off in Switzerland, home to great pine trees a few of which end up giving of their best as tops in quality guitars. Some of the strange large gnome-type long-haired men I met wandering round the village near Geneva may have been the very same lumberjacks who cut down the very tree from which was carved the very guitar I am now holding in Menduiña's workshop! Fanciful, I hear you think, but there have been some even weirder coincidences in my life.

But that is another story...

17th August 2013, Madrid, Spain

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