Hello and welcome to part 2 of "In Search of the Perfect Guitar", originally published in September 1981. Please click here to see Perfect Guitar Part One or Perfect Guitar Part Three.
Note: This article covers Julian Bream's third visit to the office of Guitarra Magazine in Chicago. I originally had planned to include the fourth visit in this article but because of the dynamic content of Bream's search for guitars I decided to publish the fourth visit in the next issue of Guitarra. Searching for a perfect guitar for Bream was like searching for a perfect person. Bream seemed to be looking for a compadre to travel with, a fantasy I feel few other guitarists seem to capture. —James Sherry
In February, 1969, I received a call from Julian Bream asking if he could stop by the office to pick up some guitar strings. He arrived later that morning, and while we were in the stockroom getting the strings he noticed all the Spanish guitar cases stacked up to the ceiling. He asked if there were guitars in the cases. I said "Yes, all Ramirez, over 300." He said that he couldn't believe it. I said that I wish I didn't believe it. I told him that I had made a deal with Ramirez to be sole distributor for his guitars and no one was buying them. In fact, the guitars kept coming in every month and one, perhaps, was being sold a month. I said that it had turned into a nightmare.
Bream still did not believe me so I opened any case he chose from among the stacks. He was flabbergasted. He said that he had never seen so many fine guitars in his life. He couldn't understand why the guitars were not selling. I explained to him that I had planned to store the guitars
in Chicago for a year and then sell them.
Other distributors of guitars with the exception of Papas and Joe Fava, turned to Contrearas for instruments. Bream had the day free and asked if he could play some of the guitars, since he was looking for a new instrument. The Fleta he had with him was not loud enough. He then said the finest guitars he had ever played in his life were two Fletas in the Ivor Mirantes shop in London. However, the thought of playing ten or more Ramirez in a single day would be a real joy, in fact, a fantasy.
I was shocked because Bream, earlier, had been so disheartened by the Ramirez guitars. I never dreamed he would come to the shop and then sit down and look for a guitar. My fantasy equalled his.
We tuned up fifteen guitars, picked out the best tops, backs and sides. Bream played the guitars and the choosing began. From the fifteen guitars he picked out three, and then one out of the three.
Bream asked if I thought there might be a better guitar yet in the stacks. I said, "possibly," so we tuned up fifteen more instruments. Again, he narrowed his choices to three and finally one guitar. Now, he had two great guitars. To find the second one took about one and a half hours. Bream was getting a system formulated. He de-cided to change the top E string on the guitar he had chosen first. At this point he made a very important statement: He claimed that once a string has been tuned up for a while and then tuned down the string is ruined. He was right that day. But, I have tuned hundreds of guitars up and down since that day without ruin-ing the strings. If I have ruined the strings then some of the best guitarists in the world do not know the difference between a good string and one that is considered ruined.
With the new high E string on the guitar (it did improve the sound) the E string was really "singing" as Bream put it. He was so captivated with the guitar at this point he literally seemed to fly with the sound. However, now he was con-fused as to which guitar was the better of the two. Unable to decide between the two guitars, we tuned up fifteen more. Out of this batch he found two more fine instruments. Again, we changed a string, the B.
Bream played these two guitars along with the first two he had chosen. These four were almost equal in quality, varying only slightly in reson-ance on this or that note.
Six hours had passed and Bream again looked at the stack of guitars, looking for the perfect one. He asked again if I would mind if we tuned up fifteen more guitars.
This batch of fifteen guitars seemed to be mediocre, not a great one in the bunch. The guitars looked great, fine cross-grain tops, some were straight grain rosewood.
I said, "Julian, I don't think you are going to find any guitars better than the ones you now have." He said, "Let's tune up fifteen more." We tuned up the guitars and Bream really became intense. He would play just one note against the same note on one of the chosen four. Out of these fifteen we found one beautiful guitar. When Bream compared it with the four there was not a great amount of difference if any in volume, or tone.
Six hours had passed. Julian insisted on tuning up fifteen more guitars. I said, "Let's tune up twenty-five and make it an even one hundred." Out of these twenty five we found two fine guitars. Now we had a total of what Bream called
the "magnificent seven."
Bream settled down to make a choice from the seven guitars, playing mostly on the treble strings. Up close, Bream is incomparable at producing beautiful, clear sound. He is a very intimate guitarist. The seven guitars were unbelievably equal to each other. Bream was stalemated. He became rattled, he started to pace nervously around in a circle from one guitar to another. Finally we both listened intently to one guitar that seemed to have more virtues than all the others. The guitar was his first choice from the first batch. (I have found this to happen many times with other guitarists—the first guitar they pick out is usually the one they end up with.) After sixteen hours Julian found his perfect guitar and went on to finish his tour.
To be continued...