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1976 Porfirio Delgato Guitar


by Craig Alden Dell

The story of Angelina contains some tragedy, and the guitar itself has a deep and sweet and melancholic voice. An amazing story at that however. A few years ago I was feeling restless, after having spent a restful and soothing period of time in the mountains in New Mexico, where whitewater trips and back-country skiing became a real choice way to spend time with cherished friends. I was thinking how different it would be to live in a wet and green area, after on and off basing out of New Mexico, where it is dry and brown. I love the high desert but I guess I was desiring a change of scenery.

One of the earlier concerts that I did in Washington State was in a series presented by 'Collective Visions' art gallery at the gallery itself, an ongoing concert series that I have played a few times for. At the first concert there, I met a man and woman that seemed strangely familiar to me, in spite of the fact that we had never met before. He exclaimed that he very much liked my playing, and in fact had collected both Classical AND Flamenco guitars for years, and had some really remarkable instruments that he wanted me to check out. Also, he wanted me to reserve a spot on my schedule for him to start lessons upon his retirement from the shipyard in Bremerton, Wa., which was coming up in only a couple of years.

Being very interesting people, I told him that I would be happy to make room from him on my limited teaching schedule after he retired. In a few years time his wife called me and told me some upsetting news that he had retired and was excited to start the guitar lessons, but had gone to a Dr. visit only to find out that he had developed a case of Mesothelioma, or Miner's Lung, and had died very shortly thereafter - within only a few months after retiring! I was really taken aback of course, but she told me that he had specified to her that I could have first pick of his guitar collection when she got around to selling them.

I went to her house and she brought out some of those grayish softshell cases, like what my very first guitar, a STELLA, came in - the $13 dollar kind! I was getting a thought all of a sudden,but told myself but told myself to just be cool and have a good time.When I opened the first case, I almost could not believe what I saw...a beautiful hand-made rosette in a darker tight grained Spruce - an Englemann soundboard with with amazing purfling around the bindings - on an enormous bodied guitar!

I lifted the guitar out and saw that the back and sides were made from the most fantastic flitch-cut set of Brazilian Jacaranda Real that I have seen in many years. It was very straight-grained with lots of what is known as 'muscle lines' - black matrix lines that occur in Brazilian Rosewood of very high quality. All the colors of the rainbow were in the wood as well. When I looked at the old handmade label, it said 'Porfirio Delgado', who I remembered was a maker from Paracho, Mexico, who came over to Los Angeles along with his brother, who was also a guitar maker. Their shop was known as the Candelas Guitar Shop, and I first remember know of them in the early seventies, I believe it was.

Porfirio was well-known for his skills from having made a few guitars for Andres Segovia, which the Maestro was deeply impressed with. I was really floored and speechless! So, I went about trying to play it, which created some concern,because the guitar was set up with the lowest action, about 3mm or less at the 12th fret. The strings were ancient and had no sonority whatsoever. Also, the neck was more like a "club'', which could be used as a weapon perhaps! I could barely get my fingers around it! The frets, incredibly, were almost completely used up, and I thought that whoever had done that must've had some really powerful hands. This guitar would not even FIT in your standard classical guitar case, due to the lower bouts being so wide!

I later decided that the guitar must have been originally constructed for Segovia during his later years, because obviously the guitar was made to project in large halls, but low, easy action, something Segovia needed in his later years. I figured that the guitar was an experiment in trying to accommodate everything that the Maestro wanted, which was no easy task. Also, the fret scale was reasonably large at 660, which I like, but not an easy day for many new players.Segovia liked this because of his huge hands, and was real comfortable with a very large fret scale, the 1967 Ramirez Classical 1A model being at 665 on the treble, and at 667 on the bass side!

Well, I couldn't really hear it, and requested that I could put some new strings on it. I chose the Augustine Blue card Bass; and the Regal Trebles. This combination is as high as one would need and not compromise playability. This made at least enough difference that I could tell that the guitar was also enormous in sound! I was real honest with her and told her that the guitar was indeed worth a lot of money. How much did she want for it?She replied that she knew that it was worth a lot, and wouldn't let me have it for anything less than: - A certain figure that I knew was a great price for the instrument, and so I told her that I wasn't going to offer any less, anyway!!

I immediately had my friend, Michael Elwell, a superb Luthier in his own right, rework the guitar . I had the action brought up to a medium concert level; the neck I had reduced some and the fingerboard completely reshaped, new frets; a new bridge saddle and new nut, hand-carved from Mastodon Ivory; new fustero tuning machines ( I wanted Spanish ones for this guitar), and some clear golpeadores put on since the guitar would see a lot of action, though it is a classical guitar... I even had Michael design and cut some "acoustical portals" into the upper bouts - after the innovative work of the renowned Guitar Maker, Robert Ruck! I had been wanting to try these on a guitar that was already a great instrument, and felt more at liberty to do so with Angelina, say, than 'The Beast'! I was pleasantly surprised when I put masking tape over the holes, and then playing... taking the tape off and playing, etc.

There is an amazing difference all the way around, I feel, but mostly under the ear!! Well, to me, that's the most important place to have a big change like that, because an instrument will always either inspire you to the edge of your abilities, or not! So, when I went about tuning up and playing her, you can imagine what a guitar she turned out to be!! It's a HUGE sound with amazingly prevalent harmonic overtones in the various higher ranges, and with almost perfect intonation, and STILL quite playable in the left hand, despite the higher action, and real bouncy in the bridge on the right hand, in spite of the high tension strings, and long fret scale. Some players don't like that bounciness at the bridge, but I really DO like it and have found that it's a particularly hard trait to find in most guitars.

AnnaMaria asked me "What's her name"? - And even though I hadn't really decided, I just blurted out "Angelina"!! She told me that this was the name of her Grandmother!! So, there you have it! I have had to buy a dreadnought case and re-pad it just a little to accommodate the large width of the center-cut flitch set of Rosewood in the lower bouts! It is FUN to play in concert, and gives me ample 'protection' in large halls! Thanks to her former owners!!!

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