1888 Vicente Árias 

Ciudad Real, Spain

Establishing Madrid as an important center of Spanish guitar making in the early nineteenth century is difficult due to the prominence of the Cadiz luthiers; but by the middle of the century, Francisco Gonzalez founded the Madrid School, which later gave rise to the Ramírez dynasty. Another prominent luthier working in the capital, but only recently given the recognition he deserves, was Vicente Árias.

Date 1888
Location Ciudad Real, Spain
Length of Guitar 940mm
String Length 637mm
Upper Bout Width 220mm
Waist Width 198mm
Lower Bout Width 318mm
Side Depth at Waist 87mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Brazilian rosewood | Sides: Brazilian rosewood | Details: Early modern-era guitar.

Árias was born in 1833 in Ciudad Real, south of the capital. He began his career as a cabinet maker and moved on to making guitars in or around 1870. There is a deficiency of biographical details and scholarly articles concerning his work, and because of a dearth of extant examples, it has been more challenging to accurately evaluate his guitars. If Romanillos had chosen to document Árias in preference to Antonio de Torres, one might imagine that perhaps we would be aware of 100 extant Árias guitars today and only 40 or so instruments by Torres.

Árias guitars arguably represent the nearest challenge to the work of Torres. The 1888 Árias in the Austin-Marie Collection, as with many of his earlier instruments from this period, closely resembles many Torres guitars, particularly Torres’ SE127 from 1889. Many Árias guitars lack a central soundboard brace and are fitted instead, with large oblong cross-grain cleats to secure the center joint. The intent may have been to treat the treble side of the soundboard differently to that of the bass, by placing the fan braces slightly off center. The 1888 guitar in this collection, however, uses a centered five-fan-brace system similar to Torres’ SE127. The headstock plantilla is “triple arched” as on a Torres, yet the two are distinguishable by Torres’ inclusion of two small steps to each flank; and like most Torres guitars (as originally constructed), the 1888 Árias is fitted with wooden tuning pegs. Traditional lighter wooden pegs were favored by the local players and mechanical tuning machines added a considerable cost to the guitar maker’s materials.

Árias’ instruments were highly prized in his day. His later labels proudly display images of the luthier medals he won in Buenos Aires, Madrid, Brussels, and Barcelona. His most famous client was the famed guitar virtuoso and composer, Francisco Tárrega. One of Tárrega’s own carte-de-visite photograph postcards from 1909 clearly shows him playing an Árias guitar. According to Emilio Pujol, Tárrega even ordered a “bambino” guitar from Árias, to carry under his cape when traveling, so as to pull out – when needed – to exercise his fingers.

Árias died in 1914 without an apprentice or assistants to continue his business. It is his legacy to have bridged the gap between the style of guitar Torres made for Tárrega and his disciples, and the later guitars of the Ramírez families of Madrid, made famous by Andrés Segovia.