Your Local Source For Music in New Mexico

Art In New Mexico header





New Mexico Info Guide logo with a link to

by Karla Klaus Hoobler

We associate certain countries with musical instruments.  Scotland has the bagpipes and Spain the classical guitar.  In the 1850’s a man by the name of Antonio de Torres was said to have transformed the shape and body of the guitar into the larger, classical shape that it is today.  By changing the brace system of his guitars, he was able to create a richer, broader sound.  His technique has been adapted by craftsmen of today who strive to not only make a beautifully sounding guitar, but an aesthetic one as well.  This design has remained virtually the same for more than a century, hence the name, “classic.”  Photographs of Torres’ guitars built in 1858 show heavy wear on the tops of the guitars.  Somewhat smaller than most classical guitars, they were most likely used for flamenco playing, striking the soft spruce surface.  Gypsies who played flamenco music used indigenous woods such as cypress, with wood tuning pegs instead of metal ones.  The lightweight cypress wood and the traditional wood pegs are generally indicative of flamenco guitars. Golpeadores (tap plates) are placed along side of the sound hole to protect the soft wood from the player’s fingers, another feature of flamenco guitar. 

Flamenco, a Spanish musical genre, has strong, rhythmic undertones and is often expressed through a style of dance accompanied with a strong yet graceful emphasis on hand and footwork.  Flamenco is expressed through the playing of the flamenco guitar, the (toque) the singing, (cante) and the dancing (baile).Although flamenco is considered part of Spanish culture, originating from one region, Andalusia, its history is complex. Historians acknowledge that flamenco’s roots were blended with a mixture of native Arabic, Andalusia, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures that existed in Andalusia before and after the Reconquest.  Cuban and Latin American influences must also be credited for forming flamenco musical forms as well. Flamenco soon spread throughout regions of Andalusia and absorbed and changed local folk music as well as Castilian traditional music. 

Much of the development of flamenco has been lost throughout Spanish history for various reasons.  Middle and higher levels of society did not consider flamenco to be a prestigious art form, and the flamenco culture included Muslim Moors and Jews who were persecuted and expelled by the Spanish inquisition in 1492. 

Much later, during the Golden Age of Flamenco from 1869 to 1910, flamenco developed to its fullest thanks in part to the redesign of the classical guitar and the flamenco guitar.  Flamenco association with Gypsies became popular throughout Europe and Russia.  Music and operas were inspired by Gypsy-flamenco themes.  

New Mexican "Pimental Guitar Makers"
Pimentel & Sons (505) 884-1669

I was fortunate enough to tour Pimentel Guitars.  Rick and Robert Pimentel gave us a personalized tour and the brothers were working on various details such as custom inlay and stains.  The Pimentel were working on a fifteen thousand dollar guitar to be raffled at the Mariachi Convention in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Rick showed us what a difficult task it was to cut turquoise, coral, and mother of pearl for custom inlays. The wood used for inlays needs to be dyed then cut into matchstick-thin pieces and bundled for future use. 

Although the Pimentels certainly have enough orders to fill and could resort to mass-production, they prefer to hand-craft and customize each guitar.  The wood they use is air dried for fifteen years verses the kiln drying used by factories.  A hand-crafted Pimentel guitar can take over a year to make, but when you take into consideration the cost of a well-known factory made guitar, you may has well have one custom made for you.  They take in to consideration what style of music you play, and choose the appropriate wood and strings.  The tops of most guitars are made out of softer woods such as cedar or spruce which helps amplify the sound.  Other woods used for the sides and back include mahogany, Birdseye maple, walnut, mesquite and other South American rosewoods.  They explained how difficult Brazilian rosewood is to acquire due to the deforestation of the region.  The wood is rarely imported today and the remaining supply is sought domestically at a very high price.

The Pimentels welcome original design ideas from their customers and no original design is ever duplicated.  We saw a Grand Concert Classic made only by Master Luthier, Lorenzo Pimentel, which had custom 18K gold inlay.  Other inlay choices besides wood, turquoise, coral, and mother of pearl are ebony and silver.

Lorenzo and his wife, Josefine started Pimentel in 1951 and have received world-wide attention since.  Four of their sons, Rick, Robert, Victor, and Agustin work with their father, and Robert and Rick, having apprenticed for over twenty years, have earned the “Master Luthier” title.  The division of labor was fascinating to see.  Lorenzo has the expertise that is required to make top-of-the-line Brazilian Rosewood Grand Concert Classical, and other models such as those made with nylon strings used by jazz guitarists, for example, are made by Robert.  Rick specializes in steel-string models.  Two other sons, Hector and Gustavo play professionally and lessons are available through the guitar center. 

The workshop was small and packed full of supplies, but Rick assured me that they know where everything is.  Just as we were about to leave, we were pleasantly surprised by The” Master” himself, Lorenzo Pimentel. I asked how he got started and he told me how he began as an apprentice and did not know the first thing about making a guitar.  Through trial and much error he assured me, he soon excelled in the craft.  Lorenzo told his wife Josefine that he would like to follow his dream and make custom guitars.  He was working hard as a baker, but she supported him 100% even while he was making guitars out of his car near a cemetery.  He told me how excited he was when he sold his first one for $35.00. 

I asked Rick how he and his brothers were introduced to the craft of guitar making when they were children.  He said they were brought to the shop and really had no idea what was going on and they liked playing in the sawdust.  He said one day it just clicked and he understood and the process was the same for his siblings.  I asked if there were future Pimentels interested in learning the craft and he assured me there were.

The Smithsonian recognized Pimentel and Sons for making some of the best handcrafted guitars in the world, and in 2008, they received the Innovative Albuquerque Award from the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.