December 8th, 2011
03:33 PM GMT
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Esquivias, Spain (CNN) -– Just 40 minutes south of Madrid, right off the highway to Toledo, you can find the village of Esquivias, where Miguel de Cervantes married a local señorita in 1584 and - as lore has it - took inspiration from the colorful townsfolk for some of the characters in Don Quixote.

Four centuries later, this hillside hamlet continues to contribute to Spain’s rich culture, through a family-run Spanish classical guitar factory called Guitarras Manuel Rodriguez and Sons.

Now in its third generation, they’ve been hand-crafting guitars since 1905, but the guitar factory in Esquivias opened only 11 years ago.

It is a business, to be sure, struggling with the global financial crisis that has hit Spain especially hard - where there’s 21.5% unemployment, deep deficits and tepid growth.

But as you walk around the workshop and talk to Manuel Rodriguez, Jr. - now running the business with his brother after their father died a few years ago - there’s a clear sense that they don’t consider their product as just some widget, but instead as an essential icon in Spain’s identity.

Who hasn’t enjoyed, or dreamed of enjoying, a late-night outdoor flamenco guitar concert in some Spanish plaza? Imagine sipping on chilled dry sherry while the musician displays total command of an instrument whose every note resonates, seemingly to perfection.

The Rodriguez brand is among a dwindling number of workshops that still make Spanish classical guitars for such concerts and for aspiring amateurs. Many competitors have gone out of business in recent years.

The Rodriguez family has got a bustling joint venture in China, where they upgraded an existing guitar factory into one that could produce better instruments, albeit still of the standard grade. Some 18,000 are made there annually, and retail for $200 to $1,000.

But the 4,000 premium guitars - the ones with the most hand-crafting and rarest woods - are still made in Spain. A single guitar takes at between one and three months to make. They start at $800 retail and go up to $40,000.

So what does a brand new guitar, fresh off the workshop floor, sound like?

Well, we discovered they are not easy to tune when they’re so young. Manuel asked one of his workers to play a few songs for us. Despite both of them trying for a half-hour to get it perfectly tuned, the new guitar would not cooperate. It obviously needed more time before it would be ready for concerts.

And so in this village where Cervantes himself once stayed, the visit to the workshop served to reinforce the importance of time, of tradition, and of the special place of the classical guitar in Spanish culture.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Orville

    The guitar has intonation problems. Never spend 1/2 hour tuning a guitar, that is nonsense. A surprising end to an otherwise promising story.

    December 8, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  2. Dorothy

    Neat story, but of course the guitar needed more time before it would play in tune. Fresh wood, new strings – it's a wonder they even bothered to try playing it for the reporter.

    December 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  3. Marcus

    I think Dorothy is a bit more spot-on there, Orville. You obviously don't play classical. Depending on what tension strings you use, it could take many hours with constant tweaking, days if just tuned up once or twice a day, for the strings to stop strectching every time you touch them. That's the nature of nylon. You can tell the reporter doesn't play either, or the string-stretching thing wouldn't have even been mentioned, just quietly understood.

    December 8, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  4. Mike

    I totally agree with Dorothy and Marcus. I play a Les Paul Custom Shop. No cheap guitar. Every time I change strings, it takes a good while to get them to stay in tune. It has nothing to do with intonation. Even metal strings are going to slip when new. You gotta stretch them. The phenomenon is worse with nylon strings. The guys at the workshop should have known better than demonstrating a fresh guitar with new strings to the reporter.

    December 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  5. Peter

    It's a testimony of time, an ironic point for a story ending. The effort and time of experienced craftsmen sustaining an art form and a tradition is truly remarkable. Having met Mr. Rodriguez, the heart and character of his passion for guitar building is apparent. His family name, the pride of the tradition is all at stake with the economic hardships. Despite the challenges, his efforts to continue the tradition are mirrored with his generosity and charitable contributions for many philathropic events around the world. The world could stand to have more family business leaders like Manuel who understand the importance of charitable giving and the value of family. This is the story. Thank you Manuel Rodriguez!

    February 4, 2012 at 6:37 pm |

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