Cocobolo & European Spruce Flamenco Guitar

How often do you meet someone working on their Ph.D. in music composition, who also happens to be in their mid-twenties! I’d venture to guess such a person is not easy to find. As fortune would have it, he ended up finding me, and commissioning this flamenco guitar. Thank you Gabriel!

Cocobolo: dalbergia retusa

Why cocobolo? It is stunningly beautiful, as well as a highly resonant rosewood, for sure. Of Central American origin, cocobolo also harkens back to Gabriel’s Nicaraguan ancestral roots.


Cocobolo is often accused of being difficult to work with. In particular, gluing can present challenges due to cocobolo’s naturally high resin and wax content. I use hide glue in my building, and have yet to encounter difficulties in gluing cocobolo. My suspicion is that sanded surfaces present greater challenges to gluing than planed and scraped ones. It seems to me that sanding contributes to dust accumulation in the pores and in the glue line, effectively contaminating the glue joint with water-repelling particles.


Speaking of sanding, taking abrasives to cocobolo is no easy task. The aromatic resin will not only quickly clog the sandpaper, but will also generate clouds of irritating dust. Cocobolo dust seems to induce allergic reactions in many people, and it certainly makes me sneeze if I am not careful. It is a very lovely aroma though. It reminds me of the smell of propolis from bee hives. Cocobolo’s fragrant aroma instantly transports me to my childhood, spending many a summer in the mountains of Uzbekistan, tending to our family apiary.


It is interesting to observe the use of very human attributes in the guitar-related nomenclature. One hears about the guitar’s neck, waist, head, even shoulders. Spaniards, of course, see the guitar as being feminine: La guitarra. The shape of the guitar itself would send Sandro Botticelli to the canvas to paint his masterpieces. In the English language, gender attributions to objects are rather random, since there is no prescribed linguistic reason for it. So, there we have it: It is she!

It would be fair to argue that all these intricately delicate lines of the guitar head have nothing to do with acoustics. Yet, it is traditional for the luthier to carve a shape of his choosing into the head of the guitar. And why not?! I like carving, and approach detail work with a sharp chisel and files, rather than relying on whirling cutters guided by templates. Less noise. Less dust. And I hope, more fluidity and elegance in the finished carvings. Hand tools seem deceivingly simple at first glance. With enough skill, however, they are capable of accomplishing astonishingly sophisticated results. If you don’t believe me, make a trip to your local museum and peruse the decorative arts of the pre-industrial era.

My current bracing pattern is essentially a straight-forward Torres seven-brace with a “V” (closing bars) which are not shown on the photo yet.


Ahh, the basic elements: wood, metal….


The lowly glue can sometimes be entirely left out of the spotlight. Ignored. Given a short shrift. Yet, it is the very ingredient that holds the guitar together. There are practically no mechanical joints in the guitar. Every interconnected piece of wood relies on the strength and the longevity of glue. This topic truly deserves its own chapter. Sorry, glue. I’ll have to get back to you later.