Classical BTS - S2E2- Robert Bruné
This installment of Classical:BTS finds us spending time in the Chicago area with Richard Bruné—a luthier who specializes in making and repairing high-end guitars, with a focus on flamenco guitar. We explore his new workshop and studio in Wauconda, a space and passion he shares with his son Marshall. Bruné is almost entirely self-taught both as a craftsman and as a guitarist.
(exciting orchestral music)
- Took up the violin at- I think it was around age nine.
My goal in life was to be able to play like Sandor Lakatos.
By the time I was 10 or 11 years old,
I realized I was not going to be able to play violin
like Sandor Lakatos
and so I took up the guitar instead
and taught myself to play flamenco.
But I couldn't afford to buy a guitar
and so I decided I would make my own guitar.
When I announced this to my mom, she said,
"Well, you probably need some
old, dry wood for that, right?"
And I said, "Yeah, I could use that."
And so she said, "Well, you know your dad and I,
when we got married back in the 30s,
we had that old dining room table
that's down in the basement now.
Why don't you cut that up?"
So, that's what I did
and that's actually the sides and the back of this guitar.
I picked up a recording of Pepe Romero when he was 15
playing flamenco, which is what I play,
and I realized he's 15 years old
and if he can do that, I can do that.
It kind of went from there
and I would go and take my extra money
and I'd go buy records
and then I would put them on my Magnavox
and I'd slow them down to 16 rpm
and try to pick off what they were doing
and learn it on the guitar.
Although many people think
it's a folkloric art form, it's not.
It's actually a very complex, classic-
It's the classical music of the gypsies of southern Spain.
And so, everything in flamenco
has a formal, correct way that it's done.
Unfortunately, I didn't know that
so many of the things that I do when I play flamenco
are wrong or reversed
because I didn't have the benefit
of seeing people doing these.
But I could hear it on the record
and so I made my kind of left-handed,
half-size metric techniques that I use work.
It's very powerful, emotional music.
It's not intellectual; it's direct from the heart.
Most of the time when I was making it,
I was just making an instrument for myself
and trying to improve on the last one that I'd made
and there was a certain point in time
when I got a call from somebody that I didn't know
that said, "I wanna buy one of your guitars,"
that I realized that maybe, just maybe, this making thing
might be the path instead of this playing thing.
Every time we make a guitar,
we make it specifically for someone.
So, we need to know that musician
and we need to know their music
and we need to know what they like
and what they don't like.
And lot of people ask,
"You know, where do you get your wood from?"
and I always say, "Well, we get it mostly
from other dead luthiers,"
and they say, "Oh, Richard, you're so funny."
But actually that's closer to the truth than anything.
Most luthiers, myself included, are wood hoarders
and they buy wood like as if
there's never going to be another tree growing.
When you're talking about a good or a bad guitar
or good or bad sound,
you could get five musicians in a room
and get five different opinions about the same guitar.
Typically, I would make about two guitars in a month.
At my age now, I'm not at that pace nearly at all
and that's because we do a lot more restoration work
than we used to do.
My son, Marshall, who's a violin maker,
grew up in the shop literally.
When he was very little, I would bring him to the shop
and he had a little corner
and I would give him a piece of wood and a hammer and stuff
and he would go to it.
Once I showed him how to French polish,
I gave him a guitar to finish
and I told him I would pay him $500 to put the finish on it,
which is actually a bargain for the amount of time it takes.
But at that point, he had been cutting our grass
for, like, 10 bucks a pop
and after he French polished the guitar
and collected his money,
he said, "You know, Dad,
I can't be doing this lawn stuff anymore.
It's just not efficient for me to be making money.
I'm only gonna be French polishing guitars now
and doing luthiery."
A luthier is a person who takes dead plants
and he glues them together with dead animals
because the glue is made from natural animal collagen.
We varnish them with the poop of dead bugs
because that's what shellac is.
And that's all so that the musicians can play the music
of dead composers.
Some people think this is a dying business but it's not.
I've made guitars for most of
the greatest players in the world-
for Andres Segovia, for Sabicas, for the Romeros,
el Moraito de Jerez, everybody.
I would say my greatest thrill
is seeing the greatest guitarists of the world
playing on my guitars
and knowing that I made a tool for them that was worthy.