José Ramírez III

jose3José Ramírez Martínez was born in May 1922. He joined the family workshop in 1940, at the age of 18. His apprenticeship was completed with no privileges but very soon he was admitted as a journeyman and he quickly began to experiment, developing the guitar as a concert instrument.

Because of the lack of material, and the fact that his investigations were not very profitable, his father and he would constantly argue about his father selling his experiments without keeping track of his work. In 1954 his brother Alfredo died. He was in charge of the administrative work and was Jose’s best supporter, for he was convinced that Jose’s experiments would achieve their objective.

Three years later his father died and José took over the running of the business with the help of his wife, Angelita. He had to give up his bench in the workshop and devote himself to full-time management and supervision of his journeymen. He would work out his designs on paper and assign his journeymen to carry out the experiments he devised. Many of his investigations bore interesting fruit; like the discovery of red cedar for the harmonic top in 1965. This discovery was later adopted by, practically all guitar manufacturers in the world, although, at the beginning it was highly criticized because of its innovative nature.

He also tried different varnishes, and since his guitars were lacquered with alcohol based shellac like furniture, he felt they needed a more consistent rich varnish that not only protected the wood but also would produce a better sound. Finally he persuaded the owner of a laboratory, which sympathized with his restless pursuit, to mix an elaborate urea based varnish that gave an excellent result.

We used this urea-based varnish for many years but regrettably, some years ago, the laboratory changed their formula, which affected the quality, and we had to stop using it. José Ramírez III made several experiments with the string length, arriving at a particular scale that gave the best result for sound and projection without being too long. This 664 mm scale is the one being used today, but there was also a demand for a shorter scale, which persuaded him to design a guitar with a 650mm scale. This happened in 1986, and for that reason the model was named C86, referring to the year of its creation. Later on his son José Enrique modified the design, keeping the 650mm scale but changing the name of the pattern.

In 1983, Jose designed the “Camara” guitar, with the intention of eliminating the “wolf notes.” It gave some positive results, for instance, the clarity of its sound was excellent for studio recordings. This model adds an interior finish of Jacaranda or Caviuna located near the middle of the sides. The new guitar models were built with double sides of cypress in the interior. Later, sycamore was used and later still, half double internal sides were added. These design features remained until 1991. The double sides of cypress are glued to the Rosewood. Because Jacaranda, Caviuna and Cypress are all solid woods, the notion that this was a plywood construction is incorrect. It was one of José’s Ramírez III acoustic experiments, and because of its excellent results, we still it use it today in our traditional guitars. In fact, some other guitar makers are using our technique as well. One of José’s designs, which deserve acknowledgment, is the 10-string guitar.

He started by performing some tests based on the “viola d’amore”, but did not get satisfactory results. This prompted him to consult with Narciso Yepes, who was very helpful in the development of this instrument.

Later he designed the eight-string guitar for José Tomás. Meanwhile, José’s main collaborator was Andrés Segovia. Ever since they met in 1952, Segovia was the one pointing the way with his wise critique. His demands and his scant approval reigned supreme in Jose’s ears, for Maestro Segovia was extremely demanding when he had to choose an instrument for his own use. This provided a great stimulus for Jose in knowing that Segovia should be interested in one of his guitars. In 1960 he built a guitar in which he compiled all the experiments that had given him good results. He added new ideas like the thickness of the wood, and asymmetries in the internal structure as well as vibrant masses at the traverse bar. When Segovia tried that guitar, the said he would like to keep it for a season, so he took it with him for a while and traveled with it, during his tour of Australia Tour in 1961. That was the first of a long list of guitars built by José Ramírez III for the Maestro to perform with in his concerts. As his construction techniques improved, he continued to experiment.

Those days coincided with the beginning of a long period of expansion, and this helped propel the guitars to worldwide popularity. José moved the workshop to General Margallo Street, while maintaining the small store at Concepción Jerónima 2.

In the new workshop, he teamed-up with several guitar-makers to be able to take care of the growing demand for his instruments. Later, toward 1970-71, he moved the workshop to a larger building, accepting even more journeymen, as the waiting list for his guitars had increased by two years. However, the workshop never became a factory. There were dedicated for coarse work while the artisans did the delicate work. He ended up having a great number of journeymen building each guitar, from the beginning to the end, in accordance with the traditional method.

There was never any “mass production”. However, several apprentices were trained and assisted helping the journeymen in their tasks. They would loosen screws; untie borders, sand, and other jobs that allowed more time for the journeymen to do their delicate work. Also in 1971, the store in Concepción Jerónima Nº2 was relocated to a larger one, directly opposite the old one at number 5, on the same street. Many honors and awards were bestowed on him, among the most outstanding, were the gold medal of the Guitar Society in Chicago in 1962, the Bronze medal award by the Official Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Madrid, and the Gold Medal to the exemplary Artisan of the Union Work of Craft, in Madrid, in 1972. He was also elected Honorary Partner of the Centre Culturale de la Chitarra in Rome in 1968, and Honorary Partner of Music in Compostela in 1983. He also obtained the DIAPASON D’Or from the Ministry of Education and Culture of France in the year 1987.

Among all of the many cherished awards, he held most dear, a letter dedicated by Andrés Segovia honoring his work.