Now I’m going to admit right from the start that flamenco is one area of guitar playing that I know very little about. I can scrape together a very kitsch version of ‘Malaguena’ at
a push but that’s about my limit. Luckily for me it’s the guitars I’m looking at and not the music and so hopefully I can keep a grip on my credibility a while longer! We have two very fine, high-end flamenco blanca instruments to peruse from two very different makers, so let us begin…
Egger Flamenco Blanca
Ruedi Egger works from a small workshop in the Essex countryside. Originally from Switzerland, Ruedi trained as a toolmaker and, remarkably, a gunsmith. He claims that both these diverse trades have aided him as he hand-makes instruments in the 1930s tradition of luthiers like Santos Hernandez, Robert Bouchet and Hernandez y Aguado.
Build Quality and Features
I’m told that this guitar is made in the style of a 1933 Santos Hernandez and in case you’re wondering, the term flamenco blanca is attributed to instruments bearing the creamy white cypress wood on their backs and sides. This is in contrast to flamenco negra which usually have the much darker rosewood. Cypress is very much part of the old tradition of flamenco guitar making and that’s what we have here; it’s a wood that is good to work with and will keep a lot of structural strength even when worked thin – one of the principal features of these instruments and one that is also an important part of their distinctive tone.
The body of this guitar is very trim indeed with dimensions just a tad larger than a parlour steel string. The upper and lower bouts weigh in at 240mm and 273mm respectively and the depth measures a very slight 85-92.5mm. It’s also incredibly light and so, taking all of this into consideration, I’m expecting a loud and bright sound when I get around to picking it up and playing it.
The top is made from moonwood, which I must admit is a new name to me, but its species is picea abies which checks in as North European spruce to you and I. I like the name “moonwood” though as it describes the colour of the guitar’s top perfectly.
The two strips of bird’s eye maple either side of the soundhole are the flamenco equivalent of a scratchplate, but here they are called the golpeadores which translates as “batterers”. In effect these are reinforced parts of the guitar’s top that take the tapping and knocking used as part of the rhythmic side of flamenco music. So all the YouTube slap and tap stars can take note that using the guitar top for percussive effects has been around a lot longer than they might think!
The neck is made from top grade cedar with an African ebony board with the classical/flamenco standard issue of 19 frets.
The tuning pegs are an original design that use gears (I’m told; I can’t see because they are not visible from the outside) instead of friction to do their job. A few probing twists prove that they work perfectly and hold the tuning very well.
Sounds and Playability
I was a little worried that I’d be out of my depth testing this guitar, but back in my murky past as a player I did study classical guitar and so I have at least a little foundation from which to work.
As I say, the guitar is very light and I was right to think that it packs quite a punch in the volume stakes, too. But it has a wide range of tone available; depending on where you pluck the strings, the sound goes from gentle and mellow to bright and percussive, keeping a sweetness to the timbre at all times. The neck is much chunkier than you would find on many steel strings, but the action is quite low, making for very easy playing. I enjoyed working my way through my classical repertoire, even throwing in the odd rasgueado for dramatic effect. Simply put, this guitar is a joy to play.
Hermanos Sanchis Lopez 1F Extra
From rural Essex we travel to Valencia in Spain to find a family business that has been making instruments since 1915 when the great-great-grandfather of the current maker set up shop. So the tradition here is a rich one, once again, with the second of our flamenco blanca instruments.
Build Quality and Features
This guitar is slightly bigger in size than the Egger; probably more like the standard dimensions of a classical guitar with an upper bout measuring 285mm and the lower coming in at 375mm. As before with the Egger I measured the depth and this reveals an average of 95mm; and so, as you can appreciate, we’re dealing with a larger instrument altogether.
Once again the wood on the back and sides is creamy cypress with very subtle markings, the back being similar in appearance to spruce with a straight grain and that familiar crazed cross patterning effect in abundance.
The top is German spruce this time with transparent golpeadores sitting semi-invisibly either side of the strings behind the soundhole.
On the maker’s website, they say that their flamenco models are known for their quejumbroso sound which, at the mercy of Google Translate, means “whining”; but I think it’s safe to assume that what’s meant here is more the characteristic high treble content found in flamenco music. Compare the tone of a classical player like John Williams to that of Paco Pena and you can hear the difference in action. By comparison, the traditional flamenco guitar sound has much more bite to the treble register and this is doubtless due in part to the use of cypress, but also the interior bracing.
As before the neck material is cedar, but this time the profile is a lot leaner than on the Egger; more like a D profile than the chubbier C I found earlier on.
The fretboard is ebony and the fret count once again checks in at 19. The headstock bears the more familiar slot head with open three-a-side tuners that you would find on a straightforward nylon string classical.
Everything on view inside the guitar looks exceptionally neat and tidy and the rosette – comprising green leaves and red roses – sits in perfect contrast to the otherwise plain creamy white colour of the guitar.
Sounds and Playability
One thing that strikes you immediately on picking the guitar up to play is that there is considerable volume here. There is also greater depth to the bass; it’s far richer than the Egger, but this is understandable in view of the difference in body size. It also responds really well dynamically, with softly plucked strings retaining their clarity and pureness of tone, whilst the more brash and forte moments are well catered for, too.
The fingerboard is wide – I measured it at 53mm – and this takes some getting used to, but after only a short while I found myself oriented well enough to bang out my impersonation of a flamenco player. Individual notes are rounded and well-formed with bags of tone available and I would imagine that, in the experienced hands of a true flamenco player, this guitar would sing like a bird.
It wouldn’t really be fair to set these two makers against one another and declare a winner because both are very different. It would be a little like judging a parlour guitar when it was up against an OM or auditorium model. Each has its virtues – and, it has to be said, very few vices – and so I’m not going to draw a comparison between the two. Both are extremely well-made, play effortlessly and sound great and I’m sure anyone seeking out a serious flamenco guitar would benefit from examining both. For me, I would probably go for the compactness and playability of the Egger.