Guitar Aficionado

Guitar Salon International: The Premiere Place for Classical and Flamenco Guitars

Tim Miklaucic and David Collett proselytize the cause of these historic and contemporary premium guitars.
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This is an excerpt from the all-new SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story with complete photos, plus features on Cheech Marin’s Blazing Chicano guitars art project, B.B. King and his Lucille guitars, Paul Reed Smith’s Dragon models, Paul Weller, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

FINEST ARTS: For more than three decades, L.A.’s Guitar Salon International has remained the premier place to find historic and contemporary classical and flamenco guitars.

By Alan di Perna | Photos by Kevin Scanlon

A fine classical or flamenco guitar is a work of art, a delight to the eye and ear, and a beautiful union of the finest materials and the impassioned skill of a master artisan’s hands and heart. Playing one can reveal realms of lyricism and expressiveness within yourself that you may not have known were there, especially if you’re coming from the electric guitar or even the steel-string acoustic.

Helping guitarists and collectors discover the brave Old World of classical and flamenco guitars has been the longtime business and pleasure of Tim Miklaucic and David Collett of Guitar Salon International (GSI) in Santa Monica, California. They don’t just deal in premium classical and acoustic guitars; they proselytize the cause of these noble instruments.

“It’s about a single mission to make the classical guitar the most popular instrument in the world,” says Miklaucic, who is GSI’s founder and CEO. “That’s the goal. It’s probably not achievable, but we keep trying to expose more people to classical guitar and foster a kind of community. We think of ourselves as promoters and ambassadors of the nylon-string guitar. Both David and I do this because we love classical guitar.”

Since its 1983 inception, GSI has become one of the foremost dealers of fine classical guitars. Guitar Salon International truly is a salon in the Old World sense—a convivial place where the best and brightest congregate among leather-stuffed chairs, an onsite concert space, and an abundance of the world’s most desirable classical and flamenco guitars ranged along the walls. All the great historic names are in the house—Torres, Hauser, Bouchet, Fleta, Esteso, Hernandez, and more—not to mention a well-curated selection of the best contemporary makers, including Edmund Blochinger, Enrico Bottelli, Kenneth Brogger, Felipe Conde, Manuel Contreras, Dominique Field, Daniel Friederich, Bertrand Ligier, Fritz Ober, and Andrea Tacchi, among many others.

GSI is also a classical guitar shop of the digital age, with a sophisticated website offering online sales and a wealth of written information and high-quality videos of the best players and guitars in action. GSI has produced several CDs that showcase classical guitar at its very best. One of them, Valseana, features guitarist Marc Teicholz playing waltzes by composers ranging from Chopin to Villa-Lobos and Scott Joplin, employing guitars crafted by many of the legendary and contemporary makers named above.

“The CDs have opened a lot of doors for us, as far as cultivating relationships with collectors and guitar makers,” says Collett, who is GSI’s president. “Top makers who were off the grid for us, because they were committed to other dealers, have contacted us and said, ‘I have your CD and it’s absolutely fantastic. We share equal tastes in instruments. Can we discuss a collaboration?’ ”

Miklaucic and Collett began playing classical guitar at an early age. Both are also former students of classical master Celin Romero of classical guitar’s first family, the Romeros. Miklaucic bought and resold his first guitar—a Manuel Contreras classical—in the late Sixties when he was just 10 years old. Dealing guitars helped put him through college and supported his work as a screenwriter when he left the Ph.D. program in philosophy at UCLA in the early Eighties. Ultimately deciding to go full time into the classical guitar business, he launched GSI in 1983 in a space on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California. The shop soon became a premier destination for members of L.A.’s thriving guitar community.

In 1997 Miklaucic launched GSI’s website, generally acknowledged as the first online retail site for classical guitars. “Tim was very forward thinking,” Collett says. “He was the only dealer who even had a website at that time.”

It was also in 1997 that Miklaucic launched Cordoba Guitars, which has become one of the leading manufacturers of nylon-string guitars, with a strong emphasis on entry-level instruments. “The strategy with Cordoba was to bring classical guitars to younger players and people who might have been electric players before,” explains Miklaucic, who is Cordoba’s CEO. “Cordoba sold about 65,000 instruments last year. We’ve reached a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise play. And Guitar Salon is at the top of the pyramid of classical guitars, dedicated and focused on the best of the best guitars starting at $1,000 and up.”

In some cases that’s way above $1,000. The best classical and flamenco guitars sell in the $200,000-to-$400,000 range, according to Collett, who joined GSI in 2000 and now oversees most of the business’s day-to-day operation. He sees selling high-end nylon-string guitars as largely a matter of relationship building.

“Selling guitars to people, I’ve found, is one of the best ways to get to know people,” Collett says. “When you sell a guy a guitar, you almost become his therapist. You know all his anxieties, his fears, his loves, his family…people open up. There’s a real humanity to the classical guitar. It’s a vehicle for building great relationships.”

Over the years, many truly historic instruments have been sold through GSI. Collett is particularly proud of two by Antonio de Torres that the shop has sold: a 1888 second-epoch example known as La Itálica (SE 116) and a very remarkable first-epoch guitar from 1862, the same year that Torres built his famous guitar with papier-mâché back and sides in order to demonstrate the primary importance of the guitar’s top in generating tone. Torres must have liked working with the material; the 1862 guitar that GSI sold boasted rosette inlay and purfling details made of brightly colored paper.

“It is a very interesting and strange guitar,” Collett says, “and drop-dead gorgeous. It shows that Torres was always willing to try new things—and he was always right. The guitar is so tastefully done.”

Guitars made by famous builders and played by famous guitarists form another category of top GSI sales, including instruments owned by Segovia and Julian Bream. Prominent examples include John Williams’ 1961 Ignacio Fleta—“probably his most recorded guitar,” according to Collett—and La Califa, the very last guitar built by luthier José “Pepe” Rodriguez in 1995 and played by Angel Romero on a recording of Joaquín Rodrigo’s solo music.

“There’s a magic that you feel like you participate in when you sell a beautiful instrument made by a famous maker and played by a famous player to someone who really loves that player or maker’s work,” Miklaucic says. “It’s an opportunity not just to sell a guitar but to share our world in a bigger way.”

GSI is also an active supporter and promoter of contemporary makers such as Daniel Freiderich and Edmund Blochinger. “When you buy an instrument by one of these master builders, you’re getting a chunk of the guy’s life,” Collett says. “Some of the makers we work with cut their own trees down. Blochinger, for example, is based in Munich and goes into the Alps to pick out trees. He pulls bark off. He taps them. When he identifies one, he has it cut down by professional loggers. He’ll even wait until a new moon, in the middle of the night, to cut it down. When the moon is on the other side of the earth and the tides are at their highest and lowest, the tree is going to have its driest sap. That level of detail is just the beginning. From that point to the completed guitar, the maker has dreamt about, obsessed over, and woken up in the middle of the night and mulled over every detail…”

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This is an excerpt from the all-new SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story with complete photos, plus features on Cheech Marin’s Blazing Chicano guitars art project, B.B. King and his Lucille guitars, Paul Reed Smith’s Dragon models, Paul Weller, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.