By Chris Gill | Photo by Rayon Richards
Domingo Esteso (1882–1937) is one of the most highly regarded Spanish luthiers, but unlike his compatriots Ignacio Fleta, José Ramírez, or Antonio de Torres, he is better known for his flamenco guitars than his classical instruments. Esteso started his career as an apprentice at the famed Manuel Ramírez workshop in the 1890s. In 1917, he opened his own shop, where he refined his craft and built guitars noted for their exceptional balance, nuanced responsiveness, and huge, warm tone.
This 1934 Domingo Esteso flamenco guitar was built only a few years before Esteso’s death, when his skills as a luthier were at their peak. It previously belonged to flamenco maestro Carlos Montoya, who played this beloved instrument until it was literally falling apart. Montoya sold the guitar in the Seventies to Gregory D’Alessio, a cartoonist, artist, and art teacher best known for his illustrations that appeared in The New Yorker and Esquire and who also helped found the Society of the Classic Guitar. The guitar remained in a state of disrepair for more than 40 years before New York City’s Rudy’s Music acquired it from D’Alessio’s widow.
“A lot of interesting hands have held this guitar,” says Gordon French of Rudy’s. “Unfortunately, the back was completely cracked and had been separated for quite some time, which can cause the wood to shrink. We spent about a year restoring it, taking the effort to make it structurally sound without disrupting its original integrity. Rudy couldn’t let the guitar languish. He wanted to bring it back to life.”
French says that the guitar sounded simply amazing when the restoration was complete and it was strung up for the first time in four decades. “It is one of the finest-sounding guitars I’ve ever gotten my hands on,” he remarks. “The bottom end is big and fat. Flamenco guitars are usually very percussive, but this also has uncommon depth while keeping the focus you want from a flamenco guitar. It sounds big and robust, and when you thump the low E string you can feel the notes resonate in your hands. It sounds bigger than any other flamenco guitar I’ve ever played.”