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1996 Paulino Bernabe
‘ex” Norbert Kraft

Top: Spruce
Back & sides: Rosewood
Scale: 650mm
Origin: Spain
Price: $10,950

From the owner:

…”This guitar was the concert instrument that I used during the last years of my touring career.  It has that rare and uncanny quality of projecting its ‘complete’ sound to the back of the largest hall, rather than as with a lot of guitars, which sound thin and far away in a big space.  I was mainly playing concertos in large halls, so this guitar was ideal.

I have been playing Paulino Bernabe guitars exclusively since 1985, both in concerts and recordings, and while many other fine instruments came through my door in the interim, none ever satisfied my musical wants as well as these gems.  The sustain, especially in the upper register is for me a priority – without sustain, the music cannot ‘sing’, it’s just notes..  Bernabes have a glorious sustain with which the player can shape the line to no end of expression.  The voice of this guitar seems to sit right between that of cedar and spruce, and has a particular tonal emphasis on the middle register, giving it some of the immediacy and presence of some of the Australian makers.  When new it reminded me a bit of the good qualities of a Marty or Smallman, but with the sensuous warmth of the Madrid builders.  It can hold its own in chamber music, and with a full symphony orchestra has a projection and dynamic range that barely needs amplification, even in a large hall.!  What’s more, it is such an easy neck to play, and the intonation and ‘regulation’ are perfect, so there are no dead notes or unevenness throughout its entire range.

The materials are of the highest caliber, perhaps not visually, but tonally.  It is French polished so the finish does not impede the woods’ vibration.  The back and sides are from a very old batch of Brazilian rosewood that the Bernabes had acquired from a Parisian furniture maker, and estimated to be about 100 years old.  When tapping the bare wood, Paulino said it sounded like  ‘fine crystal’.. The top, while it looks like cedar is actually Sequoia (redwood), and this is likely why the guitar has such a unique projection.  Up close one does not have full sense of this power, but when the guitar gets into a large space, this quality is realized.  The only other guitars that I’ve experienced to consistently have this surprising carrying power have been from Daniel Friederich.

I am no longer performing in concerts and this superb instrument deserves to be heard.  I hope it will find is way into the hands of an able performer, so she can once again fill concert halls and ‘sing’ to her listeners. “…

Some recorded examples can be heard on my CD of complete Villa-Lobos guitar music (Naxos 8.553987).  Etudes 2,5,7 and some of the Suite are with this very guitar.

Norbert Kraft