Kathrin Hauser with her father, Herman Hauser III .GORAN GAJANIN PHOTO
From the Winter 2016 issue of Classical Guitar | BY KATHLEEN A. BERGERON
Any list of great guitar luthiers will have the name Hauser at, or near, the very top. The Hauser musical dynasty, now centered in the town of Reisbach, in German Bavaria, began in the late 19th century with Joseph Hauser, a composer, zither player, and maker of a variety of musical instruments. His son, Hermann, decided to focus the work on instrument construction. As was common in that time, he built not only guitars, but also violins, zithers, lutes, and viols. Apparently, his earliest guitars were similar to the small French- or Italian-made instruments popular in the 1800s.
Things changed in 1913, when the Spanish guitar virtuoso Miguel Llobet was invited by the Guitar Association of Munich to perform in concert. Hermann Hauser I, who played the smaller terz guitar in the then-famous Munich Guitar Quartet, met Llobet there, and the two men soon became friends. The Spanish guitarist realized that Hauser was not only a guitar player but an outstanding guitar builder, as well. The two held deep discussions on instrument construction. At that time, Spanish guitar construction had not been widely publicized, but, providentially, Llobet had brought his Antonio de Torres-made guitar with him to Munich. Hauser was able to closely study the construction techniques used by Torres and incorporate many of them into his own efforts. He built several Spanish-style guitars for his friend Llobet.
A little over a decade later, the process was repeated, but this time, it was Andrés Segovia that the Munich Guitar Union invited to play. Llobet was there as well—in fact there is a marvelous photograph of the group in Munich, about two dozen of them, gathered there in 1924. Everyone is standing except for the two guitarists, Llobet and Segovia, who sit in chairs in front. And two rows back, just over their shoulders, stands Hermann Hauser I.
By this time, the basic design and construction concept of the Hauser guitar had been completed, based on the Torres system. Segovia had heard and seen Llobet’s Hauser-built guitars and was interested in obtaining one for himself. He had brought his Santos Hernandez-built Ramirez guitar with him to Munich, so he was able to show the luthier the aspects he required. It is important to note that these were not to be major changes to the Hauser design; rather they were what might be called tweaks or minor adjustments. And, just as today one can order a Hauser guitar with specific customized adjustments to fit the customer’s personal needs, Herman Hauser I worked patiently with Segovia for several years, making various modifications to the instruments. Finally, in 1937, the builder handed the Spaniard an instrument which Segovia declared “the greatest guitar of our epoch.” That instrument, which Segovia played for decades, now sits in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Over the decades, Hauser went on to build many other fine guitars, of course, often designing them to fit specific qualities desired by the customer, just as Segovia had done.
In 1952, Hermann Hauser I died. Fortunately, the guitar world did not lose that genius for guitar-building, for he had taught his son and grandson the subtle aspects of creating fine guitars, and the Hauser high standard of excellence continued. In fact, Hermann Hauser II was born 13 years before his father met Segovia, so his son grew up knowing the maestro. He started working with his father in the same workshop in 1926, so they had many years of working together. And the situation was similar with the grandson, Hermann Hauser III. Today, under the direction of the grandson, instruments bearing the Hauser name command costs in five figures and are the choice of great guitarists the world over.
And the dynasty continues. A younger Hauser is already crafting fine instruments and receiving excellent reviews from the classical guitar world. Clearly, though, the next generation is a bit different from the preceding ones. The most obvious difference is that this next generation, Kathrin Hauser, is female.
Less obvious, though, is the fact that, before she settled in as a luthier in her father’s shop, she sought out an education in business administration and spent time in the business world. So not only does Hauser Guitars have a technique for building guitars by hand, perfected over many, many years, it also has, through this new generation, acquired knowledge of the latest in business technologies, practices, and principles. Put another way: You can order a handmade instrument crafted by artisans using ancient hand tools, and you can do it via Skype, FaceTime, or some other hi-tech approach.
Kathrin was kind enough to take time off from work in the Hauser shop in Reisbach, to answer a few questions about her unique position in the world of classical guitar luthiers.
CLASSICAL GUITAR: How long have you making guitars?
KATHRIN HAUSER: I started as a trainee in the 2005, and in 2007 I completed my exam in guitar-building. I built my first guitar in 2006, and I was invited to Tokyo to present that first guitar. It was not easy to create an instrument that had to be as good as my father’s, grandfather’s, or great-grandfather’s guitars.
If you have a dynasty behind you, it’s very hard to keep such a high standard, because the guitarists and guitar lovers expect this from you. But my father showed me how to do it, and I was so grateful to have such a great master guitar- builder to teach me.
When I presented that first guitar in Japan, the guitar players were so fascinated they published a large article about me in the biggest guitar magazine in Japan. This made me very proud. If you’ve made your first instrument and get such wonderful feedback, it spurs you to continue.
CG: How many guitars have you made, either by yourself or with your father?
HAUSER: At the moment, I have created 33 instruments under my own production, and they’ve gone all over the world. I am also assistant to my father, so I’ve worked on quite a few others.
CG: Have you made any instruments other than the typical classical Spanish-style guitar?
HAUSER: Because I am working in the traditional methods and designs, I get orders only for classical guitars. But my father and I are keen to experiment. For example, we have also come up with some new creations, other than the strictly classical guitar, but we have not had the time to develop another line of guitar, outside of the traditional classical type.
CG: I understand that you studied business in college and went to work somewhere else for a while. Has that experience helped you in the guitar-making business?
HAUSER: After I finished public school, I pursued an education in business administration, since I was still too young to go alone to the guitar-making school. Here in Germany, we have a dual system, and if you are focusing your education in a particular area, you have to work in one company and then you also have to go to school for the theory. So after I completed public school, my family and I decided that at first I would study business administration because this would eventually help me in leading the family business.
Once I finished school, I decided to get some practical [business] experience. But on the weekends, I was in the workshop, learning to work with the tools, which I enjoyed a lot. Now, as I’ve gotten older, I am focusing on building guitars, just as I wanted to do when I was a child.
CG: How do you acquire the various woods for guitars? Do you order from a supplier? I read somewhere about either your father or his father going out to the forest and selecting them by hand. Is that still done today?
HAUSER: We are very lucky to have a wonderful wood storage system that my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father created. We can use very old wood—it can be more than 100 years old. Our philosophy is, when we take one set of old wood from the storage of my ancestors, we buy two sets to replace it and keep in storage. So maybe in the future, if the dynasty continues, they will also be able to use very old wood.
It is true that my father and grandfather would go out to the forest and select the particular tree that they wanted to use for the instruments. And my father is teaching me how to do the same thing.
CG: Of course, you also use wood from other parts of the world. Are you having difficulties finding the necessary kinds of wood? For example, Brazilian rosewood is becoming more expensive and rare. Are there substitute woods that you have found to be good?
HAUSER: Yes, Brazilian rosewood is becoming more and more expensive and rare, but there are many other woods that can be used for the classical guitar. The sides and the backs can be made of Madagascar rosewood, East-Indian rosewood, birds-eye maple, regular maple, and so forth. These alternative kinds of wood are also very beautiful, and at the moment it is not necessary to have a CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] permit for those. I very much love, for example, birds-eye maple, East-Indian rosewood, and a combination of Brazilian rosewood and Madagascar rosewood. With the different kinds of wood, you can also shape the tone. But we are always making experiments with different kinds of wood and have had great results with that. Amazonas rosewood is very nice, too, and amaranth/purple wood is also special; both woods for side and back sound very nice.
CG: How does a person go about ordering a guitar from Hauser? Do they come to your shop and listen to instruments there?
HAUSER: There are a lot of ways to order a guitar. You can visit us here in our workshop. We have some sample instruments that can be played to find out what characteristics the client prefers. They can also select the actual wood and have it reserved for creating the guitar. Each guitar is unique and handmade. Also, it is possible to order in the modern way, via e-mail and we can also talk online through skype. With all the new media, it is very easy. You can find also Hauser guitars through our main distributors in Europe, Asia, and the US. They are always in contact with us for the selection of the wood, sound, and so forth that the customer is looking for.
CG: How many employees work at the Hauser shop?
HAUSER: We have a small family business. Everybody in our family is included in the workshop.
CG: When you build a guitar, do you use a formula for building an instrument to sound like another Hauser guitar? For example, do you build a guitar to sound like the 1937 Hauser that Segovia played? Do many customers request such a guitar?
HAUSER: All our instruments are created uniquely for our clients. We build each instrument specifically how the guitar player wishes. So, if someone wishes to have a guitar that plays like the 1937 Hauser that Andrés Segovia played, we can make that.
CG: What is the typical workday like for you?
HAUSER: Our working time is from 7:30 in the morning until 12:00, and then from 1:00 in the afternoon until 5:30. But normally, the day goes later into the evening because we have to do the paperwork in the office after our daily work in the workshop.
CG: Do you work on one guitar at a time, or do you have several projects going on at the same time?
HAUSER: We work like the farmer: In the autumn, we select and prepare the wood for the next generation of guitars. In the winter, we create the guitar bodies. And in the spring and summertime, we work on the finishing. So we are working on several instruments in parallel.
CG: Regarding tools: Do you use any electrically powered tools, or do you use the same kind of tools that Joseph and Hermann Hauser I used? Do you use any of the very same instruments they used?
HAUSER: Yes, we are still using the tools of Joseph, Hermann Hauser I and Hermann Hauser II. The tools are very good, and we make a point of taking very good care of them. We might try out some new tools, but we always find that the old ones, for us, are the best. Sometimes we may have to buy a new tool, but they just don’t handle in the same manner as the old ones. We are very proud that we can use these old tools. And we also sometimes make our own tools for specific needs. For cutting the big pieces of wood, we use an old band saw made in 1905 and was also used by Hermann Hauser I.
CG: Do you have the opportunity to study what other luthiers are doing as far as guitar construction? Do you care what others are doing, or do you prefer to continue making guitars in the same way they have been made by your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather?
HAUSER: I prefer making guitars in the same way as my father, grandfather and great-grandfather. I am convinced that working this way gives excellent results and I can stand behind these guitars with my name. Through the further development of the guitar from Hermann Hauser I, the Hauser guitar is the most copied classical guitar in the world.
CG: Do you play guitar? If you do, what kind of music do you like to play?
HAUSER: I play the guitar a little bit, but I am not a big concert guitarist. I regret so much that I have not enough time to study the guitar more professionally. I like all the Spanish and classical music.
CG: Do you have any brothers or sisters? Other relatives who work in the guitar business?
HAUSER: I have one younger sister named Franziska, but at the moment she is not making instruments. However, she is very interested in it and when she has some free time she is always with us in the workshop. She said that one day she would like to make a guitar, with instruction from my father and me.
CG: Is there another generation of Hausers coming…perhaps a Hermann Hauser IV?
HAUSER: Since November 2015 there is a new generation of Hauser. It is a girl. She is always visiting us in the workshop and she loves to touch the wood, touch the strings of the guitar, and listen guitar music. So we are hoping that she will follow in our steps. Who knows!
This article originally appeared the Winter 2016 issue of Classical Guitar.