1803 Manuel Martínez

Málaga, Spain

Manuel Martínez was born in Málaga in or around 1774 and became a master guitar maker in 1806. Manuel was cited among the luthiers preferred by the Spanish virtuoso and composer Fernando Sor in his Méthode pour la Guitare. 

Date 1803
Location Málaga, Spain
Length of Guitar 995mm
String Length 626mm
Upper Bout Width 215mm
Waist Width 180mm
Lower Bout Width 275mm
Side Depth at Waist 105mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Brazilian rosewood | Sides: Brazilian rosewood | Details: Fitted with ivory frets.

The work of Antonio de Torres in the latter half of the nineteenth century secured Spain’s legacy as the historic birthplace of the modern classical guitar. By contrast, Spain was slow to adopt evolving design trends at the beginning of the century. In the mid-eighteenth century, Francisco Sanguino of Seville began producing guitars with six double courses, thereby establishing a tradition that was to continue in Spain for some seventy years even after the rest of Europe had fully embraced six individual strings.

The reasons for Spanish lutherie to remain married to six courses likely go beyond just geographic isolation. In 1833, the famed journalist Mesonero Romanos wrote: “Guitar making remained in a passive state due to the oppression of the Ordinances of the Guilds.” The guild system in Europe had a long history of strict regulation and enforcement, apparently no more so than in Spain.

The year 1799 saw the unprecedented publication of three didactic works for the Spanish six-course instrument. Two of these, by Fernando Ferandiere and Federico Moretti, are historically significant publications that tell us much about the guitar in Spain at that time. Both authors studied with the Cistercian monk Father Basilio, who notably also taught Dionisio Aguado. Basilio played with his nails and would have been responsible for Ferandiere and Aguado doing the same. Ferandiere and Moretti laid the foundations for the likes of Sor and Aguado to raise solo guitar music to a higher artistic level, especially with the emergence of the six single-string guitar.

Sor lived in Málaga from 1804–08 and it is throught that he may have composed his famous Op. 22 Grande Sonata during this time. Sor likely knew Manuel Martínez well, for he also mentions in his method: “the guitar-maker, Manuel Martínez, of Málaga, on receiving an order for a guitar, after having made a note of the dimensions desired, always asked, ‘Do you string it with large or small strings? Do you like a silvery or soft tone?’ And he regulated his proceedings according to the answer.”

Given this endorsement by one of the leading players of the day, it is surprising that the 1803 Martínez in the Austin-Marie Collection is the only definitive example of Manuel’s that has survived. We can only speculate why so few Spanish guitars from this period still exist, but Spain may have presented challenges to a guitar’s longevity with its dryer climate and the practice of transporting guitars without a protective case. The 1803 Martínez perhaps avoided these dangers by journeying to England not long after it was made. Sor himself may have brought it to London in 1815 by way of Paris, after fleeing Málaga two years earlier during Napoleon’s occupation. Or perhaps it was brought home by a returning British officer as a souvenir from the Peninsular War of 1808–1814, after Napoleon’s Grande Armée was driven from Spain.

The identity of the traveller who brought the Martínez from Spain to England may never be known, but we do know that it was worked on in Panormo’s workshop in London in or around 1815 when the Panormos first began producing guitars. It was fitted with a Panormo screw-in end pin and was re-fretted using ivory, a common practice in England at that time.

Other possible Martínez-Panormo connections can be found in their guitars. The small, diamond-shaped inlaid motif found on the Martínez may have been the inspiration behind Panormo’s similar rossette design. Martínez used Brazilian rosewood for the back and sides, a combination also used by Louis Panormo in his earliest extant guitar from 1816 (part of the Austin-Marie Collection) – a departure from the common use of maple by British luthiers.