La Falseta (LF): How did you get started in the guitar world? What I mean is, when did you realize that you enjoyed the guitar?
Juan Miguel Gonzalez (JMG): First off, I was born next to the guitar. My father (Juan Miguel González Abad) started building guitars in 1935, just prior to the start of the Spanish Civil War. My father was friends with the Hermanos Moya, who were contemporaries of Antonio de Torres. It is believed that there Torres dynasty lasted seven generations and the Hermanos Moya were the last of them.
I was born in 1947 and we had two houses, per say…. One that we lived in and one where my father’s workshop was located. So I was born with all of this. At the age of 8 or 9, I was already helping him in his shop making guitars. I normally helped out with the smaller things like saddles, things of less importance.
I started to study music at the age of 10 or 11 with a gentleman that was a friend of my father. I studied music until about age 15 or 16 until I decide to play rock-n-roll!!
LF: So in this time period, you were actually playing the guitar and not making guitars.
JMG: Yes, but by my father being a luthier and working alone, there were times when he would say to me, “Juanmi, come give me a hand in the shop”. This is when I started to show interest in the construction of the guitar.
LF: When did you, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, start to build your own guitars?
JMG: I built guitars for Eladio Fernández, the brother of Gerundino Fernández, for many years. This is when I started building “my own” instruments. He would commission me to build the guitar.
LF: In what year was this?
JMG: This was around 1970, 1971.
LF: So you built for Eladio.
JMG: Yes, I built many guitars for him.
LF: Was there anyone else building with you?
JMG: Just my brother. My dad would help every now and then but nothing significant. My brother would put the finish on the guitars and I would build them.
LF: Do any instruments from you father still exist?
JMG: Yes. There are many of my father’s instruments here in Almería. There are some in England and also in Barcelona.
LF: There are rumors, people talking, that you used to work for/with Gerundino? Can you confirm this? What was your relationship with Gerundino?
JMG: My father used to live very close to the downtown area of Almería and Gerundino worked as a carpenter very close to my father’s shop. He built doors and window frames. Gerundino lived some distance from where he worked so instead of going home, he would bring his lunch and eat at our house everyday.
LF: How old were you at this time and how old was Gerundino?
JMG: I was around 14 or 15 but I’m not quite sure how old Gerundino was. Gerundino and Eladio would come over as if they were part of my family. Eladio is the one who got Gerundino into building guitars. They would have lunch at our house quite often.
LF: What was your direct relationship with Gerundino? It is said that in the 1990’s, that you used to build for Gerundino or together with him.
JMG: In reality, I made very few guitars for Gerundino because I wanted to build my own instruments.
LF: But, yes you did build guitars for him?
JMG: Yes. I did build guitars for him. They were his guitars, with his plantilla, headstock and everything. I also built a few that had both his label and mine in them. Two of those guitars are in the United States.
LF: When did you decide to build your own guitar with your own label? What gave you the desire to do so?
JMG: I believe that every luthier wants to build his own instrument because copying another luthier’s work makes no sense…..it already exists. I always wanted to build my own guitar with my own, design, my own plantilla, and my own sound. For better or for worse, it would be my guitar. This is my own humble opinion. I have a vision on how the flamenco and classical guitar should sound. What I try not to do is to have a guitar that sounds like Reyes or Barba……. Rodriguez or Conde….. What I want is my own guitar with its own sound.
LF: Do you believe that you have achieved this? Do you have your own sound?
JMG: I do believe that I do have my own sound with my flamenco guitars. He who can best answer this is the guitarist that is playing my instrument. I can see it when a guitarist comes to my shop and they have tried other instruments. They’re not better or worse, just different….but they come for my sound.
LF: Do you believe that there is a flamenco guitar with the “supreme” flamenco sound?
JMG: I think that that is very relative because everyone sees it in a different way. I hear flamenco with and Andalusian sound. I hear the sound of a flamenco guitar differently that people from other parts of Spain. I think that there is something that makes the Andalusian guitar different, it has a more Andalusian sound. I think there is something that distinguishes the Andalusian guitar. It’s quite difficult to explain.
LF: All this is basically your own opinions and experiences.
JMG: Yes, of course. I can only speak of my own personal experiences. I see flamenco from an Andalusian point of view.
LF: Have you worked with guitarists that have been honest in telling you what they think of your guitars?
JMG: Yes. Remember, the guitarists that are playing with my guitars are my friends. We have developed a relationship through the guitar. We’ve developed sincerity, a mutual respect. If the artist is not honest with the luthier, there is nothing. The objective here is to try to make a better instrument for the artist, not the luthier. Of course I would like to be satisfied but in the end it is the guitarist that will be walking on stage with the guitar and spending long hours practicing a preparing for his future. He has to find himself comfortable and satisfied with the instrument.
LF: These guitarists, have they given you helpful advice to help better your instruments?
JMG: All criticism and advice is positive even if it is negative. They all serve a purpose. It helps me try to achieve a better instrument every time I build. This is a never-ending process. If the artist is not honest with what he tells me about my guitars, then he, in reality, is hurting me rather that helping me. He’s also cheating himself because I could have built a better guitar if I had known. But, until now, they have all been honest with me!!! (laughs). My mission is to advance, not to digress and that everyone is 100% satisfied with my guitars.
LF: Are there any famous guitarists that are playing you guitars?
JMG: Yes, there are quite a few. As a matter of fact, at this moment I am building two guitars for Miguel Angel Cortes, of which he will select one. He commissioned me a while ago and I have finally been able to get to it. Manolo Franco also has a few of my instruments. He actually recorded his new DVD instructional series with one of my guitars. It is a cedar top/brazilian rosewood guitar. Ricardo Rivera, who helps direct the acompañamiento al baile course at the Festival de Cordoba every summer with Javier Latorre, also plays one of my guitars. Tomatito has four of my guitars! I think guitarists are finding themselves very content with my guitars.
LF: So your list is increasing…..
JMG: Yes, I can’t complain. This is a work that requires patients. It’s tough when you work alone. It is a slow process to success, but a very satisfying one.
LF: If you could classify the evolution of your guitar, 1 being the beginning and 10 being the perfect guitar, where do you find yourself in achieving your “perfect” guitar?
JMG: Wow! What a tough question. I think it’s impossible to answer but I can tell you that I’m definitely not at 10. I don’t see it this way. Maybe a guitarist could answer this question better. This is a process and an evolution that will last until the end.
LF: Do you have anyone else that helps you in your shop?
JMG: I have my son but like I said earlier, this is a job that requires much patience, dedication and sacrifice. You’re not going to become a millionaire tomorrow, that’s for sure! I put in many hours. You have to really love this work.
LF: So you still work alone.
JMG: At this moment, I still work alone.
LF: Is there anything else you would like to say?
JMG: I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to do this interview and that I keep making guitarists happy with their instruments.
LF: Thank you for giving us this opportunity for this wonderful interview. I’m sure that all of the flamenco aficionados and guitarist will enjoy this very much.