José Luis Romanillos Vega was born in Madrid in 1932, where he started his cabinet-making apprenticeship at the age of thirteen. In 1956, he moved to England to work in a hospital in Epsom and a few months later in a hospital in London. Five years later, José Luis Romanillos, made his first Spanish guitar in London.
Encouraged by the English guitarist Julian Bream in 1970, J. L. Romanillos set up a guitar-making workshop in the village of Semley, Wiltshire. Romanillos’ guitars have received recognition for their sound quality as well as for their aesthetical appearance from guitarists worldwide. Pure sound and harmonic balance of the strings are what Romanillos looked for and achieved in his quest of the subtle “Spanish sound”. The Daily Mail has called him “the Stradivari of the guitar” and the Italian magazine Sei Corde “the most important living stringed instrument maker”.
J. L. Romanillos has given courses on Spanish guitar making in numerous countries as well as lectures and seminars about the organology of the instrument. He has also given lectures on the history and development of the vihuela de mano and the Spanish guitar. In addition, he was a member of the Crafts Council of Great Britain for ten years. He is living in Guijosa, a rural district annexed to Sigüenza in the northern part of the province of Guadalajara in Spain, since 1995. In collaboration with his wife Marian, he published a dictionary of stringed-instrument makers and guitar-makers of Spain titled “The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar” in 2002.
This guitar was built in 1981 by J.L. Romanillos for Julian Bream and comes with a handwritten letter from J.L. Romanillos describing the history and heritage of the guitar’s life until 1994. He named it “La Lechuza”, which means “the owl” in Spanish, because of the wisdom symbolized by the animal. J.L. Romanillos replaced the three-piece back with a two-piece back in 1983 and reduced the string action to make it easier to play for Bream, who had injured his elbow in a car accident at the time.
Also included are two postcards on which the painter Michael Taylor illustrated Julian Bream with this guitar on his lap. The actual painting is kept in the National Gallery in London.
It is a great honor and a more than overwhelming feeling to be able to hold and play a real piece of history such as this. The condition is remarkably good; there are are only three well repaired cracks and a few nail marks on the top and one well repaired crack on the back. The Rodgers machine heads work perfectly and the original custom made Calton case is also preserved.
The playability of the “La Lechuza” is perfect. You can immediately feel the response of the instrument, which still gives the guitarist full control and a lot of freedom to form the tone, both with the finest and the strongest attack. The trebles sound subtle and full of life with the perfect amount of sustain. Refined basses with a strong, deep core round off the overall tonal picture and the separation of voices is just excellent. This is the perfect instrument for all varieties of classical guitar playing and leaves nothing to be desired. When playing the instrument quietly and gently, the tone is glassy and airy. As soon as one increases the intensity, the guitar follows along very well showing its dynamic abilities and if digging into it she will even roar intensively. One can only guess which pieces have been played on this guitar, perhaps for the very first time ever. This Romanillos is extremely inspiring in all respects.
Also visually the instrument is strikingly charming with its precious Brazilian rosewood and the marvelous, naturally matured spruce top. J.L. Romanillos’ craftsmanship is of the utmost quality. Every detail, from the characteristic bows in the rosette, the impeccable v-joint between head and neck, all the small wooden seams that hold the guitar together, to the neck profile, everything is done with the most careful attention to detail. The combination of all these wonderful characteristics makes this guitar a work of art of the highest possible level and a true concert guitar that will inspire and delight its lucky owner for many years to come.
|Luthier:||José L. Romanillos|
|Back and sides:||Brazilian Rosewood (CITES-certified)|