August 13, 2018 we lost one of the world’s greatest luthiers, Robert Ruck.
The ‘Luthiers’ Luthier
Robert’s reputation for fine guitars and building perfection is such that I have noticed a very interesting phenomenon over the years. When several of the (now) famous builders wanted to see the ultimate in the refinement and building of Classical guitars, they invariably made the pilgrimage to visit Robert Ruck. Ruck guitars are played be innumerable recording artists and professionals.Robert closed his regular list years ago due to a large back log of orders. He is filling those orders and would only considers accepting a new order on a very limited basis, in the future, so I am truly honored that he has agreed to provide a limited number of his fine instruments through Classic Guitars International.
I think of Robert Ruck as the ‘luthiers luthier’, such is the respect and admiration he has earned amongst his peers. I have had several very prominent guitar builders drop by the shop and, if I happened to have a Ruck in the shop at the time, invariably they would ask “ Do you happen to have a mirror so I cold take a quick look inside?”. I never object, knowing that Bob is very open about sharing what he knows, and often that ‘quick look’ ends up taking an hour and is accompanied by a lot of ‘sighs’ and smiles and thoughtful comments ala ‘hmm, I see, fantastic’ . The inside of a Ruck guitar seems to be a holy grail of sorts for many builders. Many fine builders such as Matthias Dammann, Andres Marvi and others openly acknowledge Robert as one of their most inspiring influences.
I have had the pleasure of working with Robert for many years now, and consequently have had the opportunity to visit with a fair number of his guitars, including his composite top guitars. So, it is easy for me to understand why so many artists, players and builders admire his concert instruments. The word ‘flawless’ comes to mind in every aspect from the beautiful tone, to ease of play, to quality of workmanship, just flawless.
Although he builds mainly concert Classical guitars, he is also one of the few builders outside of Spain who makes incredible Flamenco guitars as well. In fact, perhaps not known to many, Bob is a fine Flamenco player and frequently travels to Spain for Flamenco courses with Gerardo Nunez. In fact Gerardo can be seen playing a Ruck Flamenco in the Carlos Saura video ‘Iberia’, where he plays the beautiful piece “Almeria”.
In addition to being one of the worlds most respected builders, Robert is also just an all around nice person. He has visited me in my home and we have had a chance to get to know one another over the years. He is humble, principled, intelligent, and fit! An avid Yoga aficionado who even competes in Yoga competitions ( I did not even know there was such a thing!). A fan of Bikram Yoga, his flexibility astonished me, and it seems the meditative aspects of Yoga blend well with the way Robert approaches building guitars.
What follows below is taken from emails, letters, and biographies that I have collected from Robert over the past decade or more:
I started building guitars professionally in 1966 after a short apprenticeship with an Irishman by the name of John Shaw. He was an extremely skilled woodworker, pattern maker, sculptor, machinist, artist, and guitar maker. Having served his apprenticeship in Belfast, Ireland, he had been trained in the old world tradition of fine and accurate craftsmanship under a master pattern maker. In addition he had studied furniture making and fine line drawing in the old master style. He taught me the traditional Spanish method of guitar making. In a vocational High School I studied machine shop and auto mechanics. Later going on to a couple years of college I studied art history, sculpture and drawing and then music at the Wisconsin Conservatory. My love of Classical and Flamenco guitar led me to guitar making which I attacked with youthful passion. I had the good fortune to repair guitars by most of the great European masters as well as own and study guitars by many of those masters.
I had been encouraged by many stories of the great makers to strike out and develop the guitar within the tradition but in my own style. The general belief of the time being that one would never be well recognized by making reproductions of master makers. So, I have studied those many guitars passing through my hands always with the question in my mind ‘What is good here, and what can be improved?”. I am still motivated by this thinking and ask those questions of my own work. This leads to endless possible ideas with the intent to perhaps arrive at a better working guitar.
As a guitar maker for nearly 45 years at this time, I am often asked what is my mission with guitar making, and what are the design aspects of my instruments.
To give a little background as to what has shaped my direction in guitar making, I would like to speak a little bit about the thoughts and influences that have contributed to shaping the goals that I strive for in my work. In my mid teens I heard the Classical Guitar as well as Flamenco Guitar and was truly enchanted with the sound of the instruments, and the possibility or expression, musically and emotionally, through the guitar. As a young guitar player I learned of the possibility of purchasing a hand made guitar from a great maker. In the 1960’s one could purchase a hand made guitar from some of the great guitar makers in Europe, including Herman Hauser, Ignacio Fleta, and Jose Ramirez to name just a few.
What I am driven to produce is a guitar of concert quality. One that is playable, powerful, responsive and with a beauty of tone color. Finally it must be a musical work of art to last many, many years and be a good investment. Needless to say I am very selective in my choice of tone woods and age them carefully. I create my own patterns, inlay work and bracing designs within the tradition of Classical Guitar making that has been well established over the past 150 years.
From 1970 to 1985 my designs took many directions. However from 1985 I settled into systematic bracing patterns as well as body shapes and sizes, producing many of each design with subtle variations only. From 1985 on they are braced typically with one of 3 systems that I still currently use. Either traditional 6 or 7 fan brace pattern with a diagonal treble bar based on a Torres layout, the Wide Brace System, which is either a 6 or 7 brace with diagonal treble bar but with 3 of the normal fan braces being very wide and low and is also laid out like a Torres style, and lastly what I call the 9 fan system. I have used this 9 fan system more than any other since 1999. The 9 fans are laid out very different than a traditional Spanish system and look more like what some people call a radial system.. I also build, when asked, the traditional ‘Barrueco” models similar to the 1972 Ruck that Manuel uses in all his recordings.
Bracing on my composite tops has consistently been the 6 or 7 fan system based on the Torres style noted above. This seems to work well with the composite top guitars as I build them.
Regarding composite top guitars I prefer to make the top with a slightly thicker outer layer, perhaps 1mm, and a thinner inner layer. In my opinion this enhances the ability of the guitar to accommodate repairs or refinishing that may be required many years in the future. As far as construction of the core goes, there are many possibilities that I have found to work very well. Combinations of various woods and materials such as Nomex, fabric, carbon fiber in various forms, and fiber materials, can all have good and interesting results.
Finally, regarding body sizes, I currently use 3 different styles, they are called the #50 Small, the #50 Standard and the #50 large.
I have been commissioned to make guitars for many professional players, a partial list of whom, appears below:
Michael and Joanne Andriaccio
Trio Chittaristica of Italy’Massimo Delle Cese
Joe Ray Philips