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José Ramirez

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The Ramirez family – a life for the classical and flamenco guitar

It all began with Manuel Ramírez (1864 – 1916)

In 1864 Manuel Ramírez de Galarreta y Planell was born in Alhama de Aragón. Although the family’s habitual residence was in Madrid, their father’s profession led them to reside there for some time. Manuel learned from his older brother (José Ramírez I) the trade of guitar making. At the age of 27, around 1891, he decided to become independent. At first, his idea was to settle in Paris, and when he told José, he helped him carry out his project. But it is not known why Manuel changed his plans and ended up settling at 24 Cava Baja Street in Madrid, which sowed enmity between the brothers without clarifying the situation during his lifetime. After spending some time in Calle de la Cava Baja, Manuel moved his workshop to No. 5 Plaza de Santa Ana and later to No. 10 Calle Arlabán, where he settled permanently. In a short time, he managed to gain great prestige as a guitar maker and as a maker of violins and other stringed instruments. He was appointed luthier of the Royal Conservatory of Madrid. He also continued the school started by his brother. The guitar makers that he trained when they became independent were recognized among the best builders of the time. These disciples were Santos Hernández, Domingo Esteso and Modesto Borreguero.

Given the success of the “Guitarra de Tablao” designed by his brother José, Manuel continued to build it. Still, little by little, he developed his own template until he achieved a flamenco instrument that continues to serve as a model for this type of guitar and which his disciples continued to use.

Around 1912, one of our best-known anecdotes took place. A somewhat extravagant-looking guitarist entered the workshop in Arlabán Street to rent a classical guitar. Manuel was amused by the proposal and decided to go along with it out of curiosity. He left a guitar to try out while he continued his conversation with José del Hierro, a violin teacher at the Madrid Conservatory. Both of them became so engrossed in the young guitarist’s playing that the teacher tried to persuade him to give up the guitar and take up the violin without any success. Manuel, who had been listening to the conversation, decided to give him the guitar as a present on condition that he took it around the world, knowing that the instrument would develop wonderfully in his hands. This guitar is the one on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and next to Manuel’s label appears the label of the repair that Santos Hernández subsequently carried out on it.

José Ramírez II 1885 – 1957

José Simón Ramírez de Galarreta y Pernías was born in 1885. He grew up in his father’s workshop and learned the trade with him. As well as being a guitar maker, he was also a guitarist, and at the age of 20, he was hired to go on a two-year tour of South America.

He had a hard time convincing his father to permit him to accept the contract, but he finally managed to do so as two years was not too long. However, the tour was prolonged, and those two years became almost 20, since, once the tour with which he traveled was dissolved, he decided to stay in Buenos Aires. There he met the Spaniard Blanca, who would later become his wife. They had two children: José and Alfredo.

In 1923 he received the news of his father’s death and decided to return to Madrid with his family. Two years later, he took charge of the guitar shop located at Calle Concepción Jerónima number 2. At that time, the shop, which was on the ground floor, was run by Jesús Martínez, while in the workshop, located on the upper floor, worked: Alfonso Benito and Antonio Gómez as officers; Marcelo Barbero, still as an apprentice; and Manuel Rodríguez – nicknamed “Marequi” – as a varnisher.

José Ramírez II was also a renowned master, for which he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Ibero-American Exhibition in Seville in 1923. Unfortunately, in 1936, in addition to the many problems caused by the Spanish Civil War, it was difficult to obtain materials and wood for the construction of guitars (a situation that continued for a long time after the war). That shortage was the main cause of the discussions with his son José Ramírez III, when he reached the officer level and started to do his experiments.

José Ramírez III 1922 – 1995

In May 1922, José Ramírez Martínez was born. He began working in his father’s workshop at the age of 18. Although he did not enjoy any privileges, he was soon admitted as a first-class officer and soon began experimenting with developing the guitar as a concert instrument further.

Due to the lack of materials, his research was unprofitable. It triggered several discussions with his father, as José Ramírez II sold his experiments without following up his work as he would have liked. In 1954 his brother Alfredo, who was doing the administrative work and was also his best ally, died. He was convinced that, with his research work, José would achieve his goal.

His many investigations bore interesting fruit, such as the discovery of the red cedar for the soundboard in the year 65, which was later adopted by practically all the guitar builders in the world (although at the beginning, he was very criticized for departing from the “traditional”). He also tried with different varnishes, for lack of a more consistent and richer varnish that protected the wood and favored the sound of the instrument; since at that time, the guitars were still varnished with gomalaca. Finally, he managed to get the owner of a laboratory, who sympathized with his concerns, to make for him a urea- formol-based varnish that gave an excellent result.

He made several tests with the length of the string, arriving at the shot that gave him the best result as far as the sound projection, without being too uncomfortable: 664mm. However, there was also a demand for a shorter string length, making it necessary to design a guitar with a 650 mm string length. That model was called C86, referring to its year of creation, 1986. Later, his son José Enrique modified its design, maintaining the 650 mm string length and changing the model’s name.

In 1983 he designed the chambered guitar to eliminate the “wolf” notes. It gave some quite positive results: greater cleanliness and clarity in its sound, making this guitar a good instrument for studio recordings. Among his experiments and studies, he must dedicate a space to the 10-string guitar, designed by him in the early ’60s. First, he made some tests based on the “viola d’amore,” but as he did not obtain satisfactory results, he sought the collaboration of Narciso Yepes. He also developed the 8-string guitar together with the guitarist José Tomás.

José Ramírez IV 1953 – 2000

José Enrique Ramírez García (José Ramírez IV) was born in Madrid in May 1953. In 1971 he entered the workshop as an apprentice at the age of 18, and in 1977 he reached the rank of the first officer. In 1988 he took over the management of the business together with his sister Amalia Ramirez.

One of his first steps was to define the models built up to that point as a result of the change detected in the sound tastes of some guitarists in the mid-1980s.

A valuable recognition took place in 1979. Among several guitars chosen to take the master Andrés Segovia, there was one built by him, José Ramírez. At that time, it was two years since he had become an officer in his father’s workshop, and it was a surprise and great satisfaction that Segovia unknowingly chose the guitar that he had built. The young guitar maker’s joy was that he gave it to him as a gift and wrote him an emotional dedication that he signed and glued next to the label. The maestro played that guitar in many of his concerts until the end of his days; everything is recorded in the letter that the maestro wrote to the musician.

In 1991 he continued building the guitar with all the sound characteristics of the sixties that he called “Traditional Model.” In addition, he started the project of another guitar with a new design that expressed a clearer and more direct sound; that was adjusted to the new tendencies and that he called “Modelo Especial,” being totally defined in 1992.

José Ramírez IV was in charge of detailing, developing, and perfecting his father’s models, adapting them to the needs of the musicians of that time. He also developed new construction techniques that made the instruments more comfortable and easier to play, more stable in their assembly, avoiding in some cases, and reducing in others, the deformations due to the movements of the woods.

Another important chapter was that of the study guitars aimed at beginners, students, and musicians who wanted to amplify their instruments. We have to point out that already in José Ramírez I, these guitars were sold in the guitar shops as an alternative to the handmade ones, which naturally were much more expensive and of very superior quality.
In the beginning, he did not put a label on them, but with time he realized the mistake, as the picaresque appeared in the form of claims of guitars that claimed to have been bought in his shop and, as they did not have a label, those claims could not be refuted. Finally, he had some special labels made, different from the ones he put on the professional models and, in this way, the problems were over.

José Ramírez II continued selling studio guitar’s built-in series, but he also designed other models to be made by the best manufacturers in Valencia. José Ramírez III, like his grandfather, did not like the studio guitars, so he did not care about the slow disappearance of his father’s designs.
However, José Ramírez IV did not think so. He was very conscious of the importance that those guitars had. The beginners, students, and musicians who wanted an amplified guitar, guaranteed quality endorsed by the Ramírez house. His maxim was based on the fact that someone who starts should not (and usually cannot) do so with a professional guitar, so he had to think of an instrument that, in addition to being affordable, had good quality and was pleasant to play. Certainly, that line was very well received as a starting point for approaching a professional guitar.
On the other hand, the interpreters who need to amplify themselves in a group can find in these guitars an option with less risk than making a type of work similar to their handmade guitar. So in the year 1986, José Ramírez IV convinced his father to design together with a line of study called “E,” made exclusively for Ramírez with a special selection of woods.

Later, in 1991, coinciding with the changes made to the handcrafted models, José Enrique designed another line of study more economical than the previous one and called it “R,” based on the template of the professional model C86.

Amalia Ramirez

Born in Madrid, she began her apprenticeship in the workshop in 1976 under the guidance of her father. He had to stop his instruction during the period in which he was training in other disciplines, which would later help him to carry out his work in the company. He returned in 1988 to help his brother with the restructuring and management of the business. The functions were divided between the two of them; José Enrique mainly dedicated to the construction in workshop and Amalia to the commercial aspect, although he also returned to build guitars after establishing the premises in General Margallo street number 10.

At the beginning of 1993, returning to the original scheme of a reduced workshop and limited production. Nowadays, all our handcrafted guitars are made exclusively under request to meet the needs of each guitarist. On the other hand, the shop also works as another customer to offer the guitarist the possibility to try different models.

In the summer of 1995, the shop was moved from Calle Concepción Jerónima 2 to the new establishment, not far from the previous one, at Calle de la Paz 8. After the death of her brother José Enrique in June 2000, Amalia Ramírez took over the management of the business, dividing her work between the workshop and the shop. Likewise, she is in charge of the revision of the guitars built in the workshop during and at the end of the realization process and the design of the new models of Studio and Professional. Among his experiments, it is worth mentioning his work with new materials to increase the sound’s projection, volume, and openness with the line he has called “Auditorium Model.” He has also worked with the golden proportions, just like his father, as shown by one of the guitars we keep in our collection.

It can be said that during his period, the most beautiful and original designs of guitars have been made, a characteristic that has helped even more the Ramírez brand to stand out. Designs as spectacular as the handmade guitar “Aniversario” or as the commemorative study models: “125 años”, “130 años,” and “Guitarra del Tiempo.”

He also created the SP guitar, now SPR, an intermediate model between the studio guitars and the handmade guitars. For this model, half of the process is carried out in Spanish factories and the other half in the workshop, finishing with the adjustment and supervision in our workshop. This point is critical because Guitarras Ramirez does not only receive its design from the factory to sell it directly, but it takes approximately half an hour for each guitar to adjust and revise it to offer the quality expected from the brand.

The “Guitarra Conservatorio” has been another of Amalia’s contributions to provide a first step towards the highest quality professional guitars. She designed this model of “simple” construction and more affordable. The “Simple Concert Model,” in which construction improvements have been applied, has been replaced by the ” Simple Concert Model.

She has been the teacher of her nephews, Cristina and José Enrique Ramírez, both sons of José IV, who are proud of their tradition and have taken the reins of this centenary business. They are currently running the company as the fifth generation of guitar makers, always under the supervision of Amalia Ramírez, who is still designing each of the models created in the workshop with the help of the new generation.

Amalia Ramírez was one of the first women to enter the world of guitar building, revolutionizing how the instrument is conceived and making it easier for her niece Cristina and other guitar makers to get ahead in trade is still difficult for women. This would not have been possible without the support of the men of this house, who always trusted in their work, their initiative, and their creativity.

Cristina and José Enrique Ramírez

A long time ago, a guitarist asked Cristina: “How did your father get you both to continue the tradition? My son doesn’t want to continue. He prefers to take another path”. The answer was none other than “having had freedom of choice and support in decisions about our future.” José Ramírez IV never pressured his four sons to continue with their trade; on the contrary, he encouraged them to train and learn other disciplines. He wanted them to choose from knowledge, from the heart and freedom; that is why, although only two of them continue in his footsteps, his sons Cristina, Almudena, José Enrique, and Javier deeply admire and respect the work their father did. Only Javier started in the workshop with his twin brother José Enrique and then decided on another option to continue his mother’s family tradition: the work of a pharmacist. Almudena, a psychologist by profession, has yet to finish her first guitar.

José Enrique and Cristina felt the vocational call of this tradition from a very young age. The love for music and the guitar evident in the family gatherings was a breeding ground that culminated in their choice of life. José Enrique has combined his apprenticeship as a guitarist with his law degree. Cristina is a graphic designer, journalist, sound technician and studying Spanish guitar at the conservatory with Ana Jenaro. She is also currently learning guitar-building techniques from her brother.

They both run the workshop in two directions: José Enrique is the workshop manager and is in charge of conducting new research, while Cristina coordinates the commercial area and development. The new models are the result of the teamwork of Amalia, Cristina, and José Enrique.

They are currently focused on two areas: on the one hand, they continue Amalia Ramírez’s research on the “Auditorium Model,” an instrument with a greater projection without loss of the sound quality that characterizes the Ramírez guitars; while on the other hand they observe their past reflected in the instruments of their great-great-grandfather José Ramírez I and his great-great-uncle Manuel Ramírez, recovering old construction techniques, as well as natural glues and varnishes.

The aim of Guitarras Ramírez is the evolution and development of the guitar by listening to its guitarists. Listening is the fundamental element of this trade. Thanks to it, Guitarras Ramírez has reached its more than 137 years of history with the firm intention of continuing investigating and creating original models for the coming times and new musicians.

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