The Luthier of Rubielos Bajos

In the workshop with Casimiro Lozano

By / September 2015

Rubielos Bajos is an hour’s drive northwest of Valencia, in eastern Spain. A dry outcropping of stuccoed villas and rocky terrain redolent of early Clint Eastwood westerns, the Spanish town is the unlikely haunt of Casimiro Lozano, a world renowned luthier who has been crafting Spanish guitars for three decades.

One day this summer I visited Lozano in his studio, a cramped-space where he works shoulder-to-shoulder with his 26-year-old son, Victor. Spruce, ebony, and cedar boards were stacked on racks against the wall. Rows of in-progress instruments cluttered the workbench. Lozano, who has a carefully trimmed white goatee, was saying goodbye to a vendor, who had come to hawk pieces of ebony from Cameroon. On the table was a model called the 30th Anniversary, a guitar made of ebony and German spruce that goes for €8,000.

Photograph by Bobby RaheCasimiro Lozano originals. Photograph by Bobby Rahe

Spanish guitars such as the 30th Anniversary are coveted by pickers the world over. Still, there was a time when the guitar was considered a poor man’s instrument in Spain. It was Andrés Segovia, in the early 20th century, who transformed the guitar into something of a national pride symbol. “By the time I was a kid,” Lozano said, “learning to play the guitar had become an exclusive privilege reserved only for wealthy children in larger cities. But, again, it has changed. Today  almost every child in every city and village in Spain can learn to play the guitar. They dream of playing like Tárrega, Sor, or Segovia.”

Victor, who has worked with his father for the past eight years, motioned me over. He was easing a rough frame of a rosewood guitar around a heated metal post, a process that gives the pieces their undulating shape. Victor is the fourth generation of guitar luthiers to have come from his family. Outlined in a handcrafted wood frame and placed centrally over the small fireplace in the shop hangs an aged black and white photo of Blas Carrillo Alarcón, the family’s first guitar craftsman.

The picture stands as a reminder of the family’s guitar-making heritage. Alarcón passed the trade to his son, Vicente Carrillo, who, the story goes, was once asked by Queen Victoria at an exhibition in Seville in 1929 as to the cost of his instruments. Carrillo extended a guitar toward the Queen. “Your Majesty,” he said, “please accept a gift from a humble guitar maker.”

From that point forward, recognition of the family’s workmanship spread throughout Spain. Casimiro Lozano began to learn the craft at the age of 16 from the grandson of Alarcón, also named Vicente. Many years later, Lozano would marry the elder Vicente’s daughter, Petra. At the age of 20, he left the family business to make guitars under his own name.

Photograph by Bobby RaheLozano and his son, Victor, beneath a picture of Blas Carillo, the family’s first luthier.

Lozano chooses to work away from larger luthier hubs, like Valencia or Madrid. “The circle of professional guitarists is small,” he told me, lounging on a worn-out, green couch near Blas Carillo’s photo. “People hear about our guitars by word-of-mouth and they know where to find us. They are willing to come to me no matter where my shop is.”

Lozano combines the traditional methods developed from his luthier in-laws with cutting-edge techniques. He has developed a reputation as the premier luthier of the double-top guitar, an instrument topped with two solid wooden pieces separated by a layer of honeycombed carbon fiber, all of which gives the instrument a more robust sound and greater projection than single-top guitars. Lozano’s clients include guitar legends such as Goran Sollschers, Espí Fernando, Pedro Jesús Gómez, and Takeshi Tezuka. Before leaving, I asked if Lozano would play a song for me on the 30th Anniversary. He took a draw on his cigarette.

“I only make them and test them,” he said. “They aren’t for me to play.”


 Bobby Rahe is a regular contributor to EthnoTraveler.