Romanillos Rosette: A Short Explanation

I recently met with a friend for coffee and while we were talking about a new rosette that I had recently posted photos of, she asked me in a general sort of way, “what do these rosettes mean?” I often lose perspective during the innumerable hours that I spend thinking about and making these tiny things, that I forget how little any normal person even notices them. So, I thought that it might be interesting to give more of an explication of the current rosette that I’m working on in addition to the usual pictures. I’d eventually like to write more of an in-depth article about the broader subject of marquetry in musical instruments, but that will have to remain a long-term goal for now.

The rosette that I’m working on at the moment was designed by the famous Spanish guitar maker José Romanillos. It’s one of the more iconic and it easily recognizable rosettes I’ve ever seen. I grew up studying the classical guitar and I honestly never paid much attention to how any guitar looked, but I remember this rosette striking me immediately; I would check out VHS tapes from the library of Julian Bream performing and I remember thinking about how unusual and beautiful the rosette on his guitar looked.

Like many rosettes, it consists of a interior band made up of a repeating mosaic pattern. It’s the visual focus of the rosette and sometimes even pictorial. The two surrounding bands are almost always symmetrical and feature a series of veneer lines and sometimes a more subtle and abstract marquetry pattern. The Romanillos rosette is no exception. However, the technique is unusual and creates a striking result.

It consists of a series of columns and horseshoe arches (also known as Moorish arches). It was inspired by the Muslim prayer hall in the famous Mosque or Mezquita-Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain. In the 8th century CE under Abd ar-Rahman, the Umayyad Caliphate expanded through much of Iberia, including the Visigoth Kingdom where the Emirate of Cordoba was subsequently established. The current structure of the mosque is, supposedly, built in place of what once was church where both Christians and Muslims worshiped. It’s believed that Abd ar-Rahman purchased the christian portion, leveled the whole structure and built the giant mosque in its place. The mosque has since been converted into a Catholic church and Muslims are currently barred from worshiping inside it. As a person with no official religious affiliations, I find it interesting and beautiful in an historic and artistic sort of way.

The outer rings of my current version of this rosette feature a few simple lines of rosewood, sycamore, walnut and padouk. Romanillos was quite vocal about his aversion to artificially dyed woods, so I don’t use any in trying to keep with the spirit. His rosettes in the 70’s were narrower and eventually grew to over 20mm wide in the 80’s and 90’s with more elaborate herringbone and lozenge motifs in the outer rings. I like to keep my rosettes at a maximum of 19mm these days as I feel that they start to look cumbersome beyond that.

Anyway, that is a brief explanation the Romanillos rosette. I’ve included some photos through the process as well as some of the Mezquita-Cathedral. For interested woodworkers, Romanillos explains and documents much of the building process in his recently published book which you can purchase from him and his wife Marian directly.

New Rosette

I recently took some time out of my normal schedule to design a new rosette. Over the years, I’ve mostly been making rosettes inspired by Torres, Hauser and Romanillos. I’ve been wanting come up with an original design that I could really call my own, but it’s always difficult to design something new that both shows an amount of skill and is also tasteful. I feel like this new rosette balances the two quite well and, at the same time, includes some of the techniques and proceedures that I’ve learned over the years paying tribute to other builders. Here is a short collection of photos backwards through the building process.

The hexagonal interior mosaic motif made up of tiny triangles of maple, walnut and Spanish cedar; the technique is quite similar to how Romanillos makes his arches rosette. The three woods are planed to a specific thickness and then laminated with a hand-planed 0,1mm thick black veneer. The pieces are oriented so that the subsequent triangles show face-grain which has a clear and reflective quality to it. For this motif, I was originally inspired by looking at an old book of patterns collected by 19th century architect Owen Jones who had spent much time documenting mosaic patterns at the famous Alhambra palace in Granada. I wanted to include more of the complex and random nature of the patterns, but it quickly became to busy and didn’t quite work as a rosette.

The exterior motif made up of various veneer lines of ebony, padouk, rosewood and beech. The middle lamination is made up of 20 hand-planed birch and rosewood veneer strips. They are ironed flat, glued together and then cut into strips. This requires a very sharp plane, good eyesight and some trouble-shooting to avoid all of the 0,1mm thin strips from immediately curling up and wrinkling from the moisture of the glue. The result is subtle from a normal distance and dizzying from up close.

New Torres/Romanillos Style Guitar

Just finished up this guitar for the wonderfully expressive and articulate guitarist Jan Depreter and I am very please with how it turned out. It is a Torres/Romanillos style instrument. It’s primarily inspired by the Torres SE114, as well as a 1973 and 2012 Romanillos. It has a very typical deep F# body resonance, a nice springy attack above the soundhole, but a clear presence, definition and complexity when playing over the rosette and plenty of colors on both sides of the spectrum.

I’ll be showing this guitar as well as another one of my more modern instruments at the Antwerp Guitar Festival next week. Hope to see you there.

Special thanks to Rob and David Rodgers for being super nice and making these beautiful tuners on a tight schedule!

  • European spruce top

  • Indian rosewood/Santos rosewood back and sides

  • Spanish cedar neck with V-joint

  • Ebony fingerboard

  • Rodgers L111 tuners with nickel-silver plates and mother of pearl buttons

  • 650mm scale length

  • 52mm nut width

  • 43mm string spacing at nut

  • 58mm string spacing at saddle

  • 12 hole tie block

Guitar for Antwerp Guitar Festival

Recently put the first coats of shellac on this guitar that I’ll be bringing to the Antwerp Guitar Festival in November. I decided to do something inspired by a José Romanillos guitar that I played this summer while visiting him and his wife Marian. It is by no means a copy, but includes many similar motifs and marquetry. I made lozenge motif for the head plate and bridge tie-block, the iconic arches rosette and a fully mitered herringbone purfling around the back and sides of the guitar. It’s a four piece Indian and Santos rosewood back. In terms of construction, it’s based more on a straight-forward Torres design and thus is closer to a ‘73 Romanillos guitar that I played two summers ago than the 2012 guitar that inspired the aesthetics. Looking forward to getting this thing strung up!

Custom Spruce and Santos Rosewood Guitar

I recently finished up a custom project with a client and I’m very happy with how it turned out. It’s a modified version of my Modern Concert Model. We loosened it up just a bit more than usual to give it a fast and lively attack with big basses and warmer trebles. We decided on this beautiful four piece back and chose from various combinations of woods for the rosette, purflings, bindings and head plate. Spruce top, Santos rosewood back and sides, nickel silver Alessi tuners with ebony buttons. custom rosette inspired by the 1888 Torres (SE114) owned by Francisco Tarrega.

Nice words from Jan Depreter

The wonderfully expressive and colorful Belgian guitarist Jan Depreter recently wrote some very kind words about one of my guitars. It's very flattering to see my guitar sitting along side his beautiful 2015 Fritz Ober at the latest recording session. He was recording on the Ober, but apparently brought mine along to show off to his colleagues! :)

"This year Christmas comes early for one of my lucky students! In the Austrian Alps, I met young American guitarist luthier Michael Cadiz whose deep-tuned FE09 Torres/Hauser guitar impressed me deeply. It arrived safe and well in Antwerp. Time to try some Lobos Etudes for tonight! 🎶"

New Marquetry and a Couple Short Videos

Working on a new custom Romanillos inspired guitar. Decided to include one of his frequently used motifs, the lozenge, which he very documents in his book about Antonio de Torres. Got a little help gluing things together from the new apprentice during breakfast yesterday.

In other news, I recorded a couple short demo videos before shipping guitars out to Belgium and Germany last week. They are roughly one-minute excerpts originally made with the instagram time limit in mind, but also admittedly short because I'm only playing until I make a mistake and then fade out... :)