BY ADAM PERLMUTTER | FROM THE SUMMER 2018 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR
The German luthier Edmund Blöchinger is one of the great living guitar makers, and virtuosos no less esteemed than Pepe and Celin Romero have championed his instruments. If you are among those fortunate enough to acquire one of his instruments—he makes only 10 per year, and his only dealer is Guitar Salon International—you will have paid well into five figures.
But if that sum is far beyond your means, a collaboration between Blöchinger and Wolfgang Jellinghaus, who presides over the Milestones of Music guitar workshop in China, has resulted in instruments that are much more affordable: the La Cañada line. Guitars under the La Cañada name include the Model 17, which is based on an 1864 Torres, and the Model 115, inspired by an 1888 Torres. I auditioned the latter and was as impressed by its build-quality as by its handsome voice and easy playability.
Wood That Sings
As the name suggests, the La Cañada Model 115 is based on the 115th guitar that Antonio de Torres made during his second epoch—the period, beginning in 1875, when he returned to lutherie after a short retirement. The original No. 115 was first played by the concert guitarist Mathilde Ruiz and then by her widower, Emilio Pujol. Many years later, in 2015, GSI (Guitar Salon International) bought the No. 115 as part of the Russell Cleveland Collection, allowing Blöchinger—who, like any classical luthier, owes a tremendous debt to Torres—to scrutinize and measure the instrument.
Of course, I didn’t have the same access as Blöchinger, so I auditioned the Model 115 based on its own merits and not through a comparison to its historical counterpart. Removing the new guitar from its hardshell case—which incidentally had an attractive suede-like covering that I hadn’t previously seen on an instrument case—I was struck by the instrument’s lightness and finish. Unlike the typical guitar produced in an East Asian workshop, the Model 115 sports a French polish finish, with its unmistakable sheen and feel. The French polish—whose name describes both the procedure for hand-rubbing many coats of shellac and the end result—has been used on furniture and musical instruments for centuries. It’s much more time-consuming to apply than a modern nitrocellulose or polyurethane treatment, but is thought by many to promote a better sound.
The instrument, which is the standard modern classical size, has a spruce soundboard. The back and sides are made from granadillo, a tonewood more commonly used for marimbas, but which, due to its ringing tap tone, has also been used by classical luthiers and, more recently, by steel-string guitar makers. (In South America, granadillo is known as la madera que canta, “the wood that sings.”) The granadillo used on the review model has a striking look, with its reddish coloring, swirling grain pattern, and sapwood portions. This wood is complemented by flamed maple binding and a wooden mosaic rosette.
On the guitar’s paper label, the model number bears the suffix A. This stands for antique—a cosmetic treatment often seen on electric guitars and sometimes on steel-strings, but practically never on nylon-strings. Though the finish is entirely smooth—it doesn’t bear the nicks and wear that come with age—the soundboard has been tinted to approximate the look of centuries-old wood. Luckily, if the aged look doesn’t suit you, the guitar is also available without this visual effect.
The Model 115 feels great on the fretting hand. Its neck profile is neither too thick nor too thin, and I find it easy to breeze up and down the neck and to play barre chords for extended periods without experiencing any hand fatigue. The guitar almost seems to play itself.
I admit to having a preference for instruments built in North American and European workshops, but I was not in any way disappointed by the sound of the Model 115. The guitar has a warm, deep voice, certainly more robust than expected, and very good note separation and clarity. It feels highly responsive as well, and has a good amount of volume and projection even when played with a light touch.
I was transcribing some Brazilian jazz solo guitar pieces when I received the Model 115 for review, and the guitar sounded terrific when I played through some of this work. The bass notes had a certain presence and oomph well-suited to the idiom, without overwhelming melodies and chordal passages in higher registers.
The guitar’s richness also worked well for a range of other styles and eras, from a Bach prelude to Enrique Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 4 to an excerpt from Leo Brouwer’s El Decamerón Negro. It also felt quite inspiring to improvise freely on the instrument, both in standard tuning and with the sixth string lowered to D.
The Bottom Line
There once was a time when guitars made in China were considered inferior offerings by far. Now, La Cañada Model 115 is only the latest to offer a formidable challenge to this old notion. The guitar feels and sounds just like a good instrument should, and has been French polished to boot. While it would make an outstanding choice for the student player, the Model 115 would also make a reliable companion for the professional