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1967 Jose Ramirez Guitar

a.k.a. "The Beast"

by Craig Alden Dell

Once in a lifetime or less, a creation that is so much closer to perfection than we can imagine is conceived, manifested, and paraded forth into the world. Such is my 1967 Jose Ramirez Segovia Model - BLUE label guitar, # 2.073, Brazilian Jacaranda/Red Cedar concert guitar.

Maestro Segovia hailed it as one of the three greatest guitars from the celebrated 1967 vintage, and upon stroking it exclaimed "What a Beast this guitar is" - thus "The Beast"! This is the story that my father, James F. Dell, told me after he had visited the Sherry-Brener Antigua Casa Ltd. of Madrid house of guitars, on a routine trip with the intention of restocking our guitar shop with the most fascinating and wonderful instruments of the day.

My father and James Sherry, proprietor of the great Spanish guitars were good friends as well as business associates. I was in my teens and would marvel at the shipments of guitars that came to us from the Chicago establishment. The fact that my Dad was so much into very high quality guitars from the time that I was quite young made it a blessing for me in coming to know and love such great instruments.

Even from a young age, my father would bring me out from teaching a lesson, to demonstrate these guitars to various customers who would hear the instruments and find them to be even more than they anticipated... thus the instrument gallery was a very successful part of our guitar operation. I sold so many guitars for the shop when I was just very young that it was became a source of amusement to my family'!

The Beast was built by Pedro Contreras in the Jose Ramirez shop, and had the initials P.C. inside. Other famous initials were M.T., M.M., and a few others that I would see come and go on these amazing instruments. When I first heard about the Beast, I was deeply enthralled in the prospect of trying it out. Upon my first session with it, I was so enamored with the sound, that my life took a turn and at that point I was never quite the same. I finally understood what the concept of sustain, and what to do with it all was all about.

Playing this guitar became my obsession, and I felt very strongly that it HAD to be MY guitar, no matter what I had to do to make it mine. My father used to say "well, Craig, we can't keep all of the great guitars, as this IS a business you know"! Many was the time that I was just so mentally destroyed for days when some client would come in and demand to try it out for possible purchase. I would beg my Dad not to sell it!

One thing that I had going for me, that I didn't realize at the time, was the fact that even really good and experienced players had somewhat of a dilemma posed to them when first trying to play the Beast. The amount of both volume and sustain could be a source of embarrassment if one didn't have the wherewithal to handle it in their renditions of pieces. So, I was protected in a sense by this phenomena. I certainly had to totally start over in my approach to playing the guitar when I played this instrument. You would have to play in such a way that accommodated all of that sound!! The tonal qualities of the guitar were just staggering! If I couldn't master the art of playing with tonal diversity, the instrument would be wasted in my hands. I knew this from a very young age, and therefore from that time on I was under pressure to be "worthy" of this guitar. I knew that the guitar deserved to be in the hands of the very best, and so it was my goal to become the best player I could possibly be.

My Dad used to say "Always get your hands on the finest instrument you could possibly afford, because the guitar will bring you to its level". I have repeated this many times to my students and clients since that time. I know that even with the tremendous array of Maestros I have studied the guitar from, the very best teacher I ever had was this guitar.

There have been times that I have heard guitarists, mostly younger, say "I don't like Ramirez guitars because they are too hard to play"! Inside, I would just cringe and think to myself "What a bust"! I felt like saying "well, get some strength in your left hand and then come to where the gusto is"! But then I think of how sorry I am for them, that these players have never experienced a guitar like mine. I even sometimes have offered that they try my guitar, and generally speaking I would mostly just see the awe that they displayed on their faces! After a while I realized that it is not my place to convince everybody of something that of course is a very personal and subjective thing to me, and how fortunate I have been in this field...

It wasn't until after another eighteen years that I actually owned the Beast... these were difficult years for me indeed because my recurring nightmare was that even though 'my sound' in concert and recordings were entirely dependent upon this guitar, until it was MY guitar once and for all, I was in a state of possible jeopardy. In 1985, my father and I arrived at an arrangement where I came away with this guitar, and my peace of mind took a step forward. Of course, now my greatest nightmare became that something could happen to it on the road or whatever. I realized that to own it, I needed to own my own house, have safe deposit space at the bank, and somewhat grow up and take the proper responsibility for it, and basically 'get a life'! LOL!

I will say that my father gave me an incredible deal on the Beast, and even then it was still a bit strenuous for ME, being a professional Guitarist instead of a Lawyer or whatever! Happily, I played with more abandon than ever!!

In all the performances that I have played this guitar, it has been like a Godsend to me. I have always felt "protected" on a concert stage, because it would cover me in a pinch, and always had the sustain and harmonic overtones that would allow me to make 'changes' without hearing them in the audience or even under the ear!

I have many times realized that this guitar is truly the love of my life!

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