The Guild of American Luthiers has announced on its Facebook page that the widely admired luthier Robert Ruck has passed away. He would have turned 73 on August 21. Ruck is best-known for being the builder of virtuoso Manuel Barrueco’s exceptional-sounding main instrument, known simply as ‘No. 58,’ back in 1972, when Ruck had been building guitars for only about six years.
In the fascinating and picture-packed 2016 book Barrueco’s Tonar Music company published about the famous guitar and its creator—No. 58: Manuel Barrueco, Robert Ruck & A Guitar, by the late Nicholas Simmons—the guitarist recalled: “Sometime in 1972, Tony Arce called me and said, ‘There’s a guy here in Miami, Bob Ruck, and he’s building these incredible instruments. Everybody’s getting rid of their guitars and buying his.’ It just so happened my sister was driving from Newark [New Jersey] down to Miami with a friend, so they stopped in Baltimore to pick me up…
“I remember distinctly trying No. 58 and thinking it was the most beautiful-sounding guitar I had ever heard in my life! Such a rich and beautiful sound, and so much power; a huge sound!”
In the same book, Ruck explains, “It wasn’t a commission, but another experiment. I didn’t think the set of Brazilian rosewood was particularly great—I believe I had only two sets like that, perhaps only that one. It has a curl and color that was not typical, but I thought for this kind of prototype, the tonal properties were all you needed; there’s no bad Brazilian rosewood in terms of tone. No. 58 was possibly the first one with laminated sides.
“The back braces were made of European spruce. Typically I make them of mahogany or Spanish cedar, but I had some small billets of European spruce and I wanted to see if it made any difference. The top lining was made out of a Brazilian conifer called Piranha pine. I’m not sure it was a pine, but it was a wood that became very popular when I was in Miami…. The original finish was French polish on top, and on the back, sides, and neck was a brushed-on violin-type of varnish that Jim Sherry was importing. This was totally an experiment; I was going through a lot of finish development at that time because I was producing more instruments and interested in more durable finishes…. It had Reischl tuning machines, or what we later called Hauser or Landstorfer (in later years taken over by Reischl) tuners. They were state of the art at the time….
“[Barrueco] expressed interest in buying that guitar, and I said, ‘Manuel, this is a bit of a prototype; I experimented with some things. Let me make a proper guitar for you. I can build you a finer instrument.’ He wouldn’t hear of it. So I agreed. It think it was $500, and a discount was given of $50 because he was a student, a great player already, and I wanted to help him as I could.”
The rest, as they say, is history. When Barrueco started traveling the world with his wonderful instrument, Ruck’s own fame blossomed and he started getting more commissions. In all, he built well over 1,000 instruments and his guitars found their way into the hands of such notables as Berta Rojas, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Celedonio, Celin, and Pepe Romero, Gerardo Nuñez, Leo Brouwer, Michael Lorimer, Kaare Norge, Paulo Bellinati, Michael and Joanne Andriaccio, Sharon Isbin, Tilman Hoppstock, and so many more.
Manuel Barrueco wrote on Facebook of Ruck’s death, “It is with deep sadness that I received the news about the passing of Robert Ruck. Bob was one of the finest guitar makers in the world, and a longtime friend. My 1972 Ruck forever changed the course of my artistic life. I will greatly miss him.”
Our condolences go out to Ruck’s family, friends, and the guitar world at large. —Blair Jackson