Sometimes it happened that at the same time, several outstanding antique guitars from one “guitarreria” came to light. Recently this was the case with two remarkable instruments created in the Simplicio workshop at Barcelona´s Paseo San Juan 110. They allow an interesting insight into the reflections and ideas that finally led to their construction.
Francisco Simplicio No.299 / 1931
This seems to be the only guitar FS built with bird´s eye maple, leaving the wood its natural light color. A metal “tornavoz” is fitted around the soundhole. The inner construction shows a special detail on the bracing of the top. The two V – struts were not completely glued onto the top but had been shaped out, like the arches of bridges – something quite new in Simlicio guitars.
In a corresponding letter to the customer, Georg Bader from Berlin / Germany, FS explains that he wanted to give the guitar a clear, bright voice – an explanation for the lighter bracing on the top. And the “tornavoz” sound was preferred by the prominent virtuosos Miguel Llobet and Emilio Pujol, who mainly performed on “tornavoz” guitars by the grandmaster Antonio de Torres.
Why also a brilliant, bright guitar instead of the deep, dark, and warm character Simplicio guitars were famous for?
Simplicio made this special instrument for Matilde Cuervas (1887 – 1956). Born in Sevilla, she became a very important flamenco player. Her favorite guitars were a more “simple” instrument by Antonio de Torres (No.115 / 1888), with back and sides in quite common mahogany and decorated with only some colored wooden rings around the soundhole, and a Torres 1860 cypress guitar. These types of guitar Torres are built for the current Andalusian customers, mostly in cypress, but also with cheaper dark woods – the light of weight, and clear, aggressive sound.
So they were, although also having excellent “classical” qualities, ideal for Andalusian folk music – and flamenco.
Simplicio wanted to inherit some flamenco elements in this guitar for Senora Cuervas.
But simple cypress guitars, as common in the guitarrerias of Castilla and Andalucia, never left the Simplicio workshop. Even the teacher, friend, and predecessor of Francisco and Miguel Simplicio, Enrique Garcia (1868 – 1922), has built (as far as we know today) only one cypress guitar in Barcelona (1899).
So, instead of cypress, FS used the also brilliant-sounding, precious, rare bird´s eye maple.
(an expensive import of wood) for this instrument. And, of course, it should become a real masterpiece because Senora Cuervas was a prominent customer – the wife of the famous guitar historian, musicologist, and virtuoso Emilio Pujol! This would also explain the fitting of a “tornavoz”. By the way – on all their instruments, the Simplicios always used woods of the highest quality, even in decorated guitars!
In mid-1931, Senora Cuervas could not come to pick up the instrument because the couple Pujol / Cuervas had their residence in Paris. So, Francisco Simplicio decided to sell this guitar and build her another one of the same types. And as there was a demand for an instrument from a former German customer, FS delivered the guitar to Kurt Gudian (1900 – 1973) from Berlin. The latter was a well–known guitar player and teacher, who already owned a Simplicio guitar from 1929, and he gave the bird´s eye maple instrument to his pupil Georg Bader. Although he had expected a dark–sounding guitar, the new owner was very enthusiastic about the lovely clarity and called it a real masterpiece.
The sudden, unexpected death of FS on January 14th, 1932, destroyed the plans for constructing a second guitar of this type. So, the bird´s eye maple 1931, No.299, reminded unique.
Miguel Simplicio No. 339 / 1932
The instrument´s back and sides are made of brilliant, straight–lined mahogany. It has a metal “tornavoz” and, as the bird´s eye maple guitar from 1931, a sculptured head plate and decorative inlays in soundhole and bindings. A new bridge in the Simplicio style had been fitted, as very bad repair work had destroyed the original one a long time ago. Except for an old, perfectly glued, short crack, the condition is very good, and the instrument produces the famous deep, warm Simplicio sound at its best.
The label needs some explanatory words. When Francisco Simplicio started to work with Enrique Garcia, he was accompanied by his 16-year-old son, Miguel. This means that
both started the guitar-making profession together from the very beginning. On July 15, 1933, the Barcelona newspaper LAS NOTICIAS published an interview with Miguel Simplicio, where he states: “Yo construyo guitarras por tradition y utilizando las ensenanzas de mi padre y de su maestro y mio, Enrique Garcia.” “I build guitars in the tradition of what I have learned from my father and HIS AND MY MASTER, ENRIQUE GARCIA “.
When Enrique Garcia died on October 31st, 1922, six guitars still remained in the workshop, numbered 268 – 272. The guitarist and friend of EG, Domingo Prat, who had to fulfil the deceased’s last will, kept the last guitar for himself as a piece of memory.
From 1923, FS started to build guitars with his numbering. He continued using the Garcia label but added “Sucesor y unico discipulo Francisco Simplicio “, written by hand, and began his series. This probably changed with guitar No. 50 in 1925. From then on
FS glued his label onto the backs of his instruments. And this was also used by Miguel until the end of the “Paseo San Juan Guitarreria” in 1938.
FS´s sudden death in January 1932 left Miguel with at least six unfinished instruments.
The last guitar with Francisco´s signature on the label was the No. 336 from 1931. As father and son had always worked together, and these unfinished instruments had been the last examples of their common work, Miguel continued the numbering but now signed with his name. So, it seems that the last guitar the senior had worked on was the No.342 / 1932. After that, the junior had chosen his own, still mysterious numbering.
Some final thoughts….
The widespread of Simplicio guitars all over the world show an interesting aspect. It seems to be strange that a lot of the instruments delivered to central Europe were built in first–class mahogany. The Austrian clients around Innsbruck, for example, had received at least six mahogany guitars.apparently, Rio – rosewood examples for the continental region had only been built on special demand. Simplicio must have reflected on the different climate situations. For customers close to the Spanish Mediterranean coast, or – overseas – to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, with similar conditions of humidity, a Brazilian rosewood guitar would not bear as many risks as for a player in the dry, cold regions of central Europe. And the experience that he could produce his characteristic sound with the robust, resistant luxury mahogany made him choose this beautiful wood.
And, coming back to the maple guitar – the instrument should become light in color (the relationship to flamenco guitars), eye–catching (bird´s eye), and, as the couple, Pujol / Cuervas resided in Paris in these days, hard and robust against continental climatic influences!
This all may demonstrate that the Simplicios always profoundly reflected on the future of their “children”, before sending them out into the world. Perhaps also a reason why many of those magnificent guitars have survived in very good condition!
Karlstein, May 2022
Siegfried “Hogi” Hogenmüller
Link: to both guitars mentioned above: