Olivier Fanton d'Andon on the Origins of his Classical Guitars

Olivier Fanton d'Andon
A few notes by Olivier Fanton d'Andon on the origins of his classical guitars:

When I was a young string instrument maker and guitarist, Michael Foussard (then Curator of the Instrument Museum of the Conservatoire National de Region de Nice) entrusted me with the restoration of a very interesting classical guitar built in 1834 by Pierre Pacherel of Nice.

Pierre Pacherel was born in Mirecourt in 1803. He lived in Genova and Turin with master instrument maker Gian Francesco Pressenda (born January 6, 1777 in Lequio-Berria, Piemont, Province of Cuneo, Italy) before moving to Nice (at that time still an Italian town) around 1830. He remained in Nice building violins, violas, 'cellos and guitars until his death in 1871. Pacherel's guitars were inspired by the 19th century guitar making dynasty of Guadagnini as well as other Italian masters of the time. The guitars of these Italian masters were far removed from the French and Spanish guitar making schools (schools which, as a result largely of Torres' influence, later defined 20th century guitar making).

Upon completing the restoration of Pacherel's guitar, I was astonished to discover the amazing qualities of its sound. In 1980 Pierre Pacherel's now restored guitar was featured (along with three other guitars from the Nice CNR Museum) in a recording which accompanied the book, Guitars, Masterpieces from the French Collections (Editions La Flute de Pan, preface by Francois Lesure, Curator of the Music Department of the Bibliotheque Nationale). There is a revealing anecdote to the making of this recording. Having first adjusted his equipment's settings for the three other instruments (1618 Tesler, 1650 Voboam, 1771 Deleplanque), the recording engineer found that he had to readjust his equipment's settings significantly to accommodate the far greater dynamic range of the restored Pacherel guitar.

As a result of my experiences with Pierre Pacherel's extraordinary guitar, I decided to direct my research towards making classical guitars in its style - a style which to my knowledge had in modern times been forgotten. The primary distinguishing construction characteristic of the Pacherel guitar is its radically domed soundboard. Such a soundboard, however, is very difficult to make. Perhaps it is this unique construction characteristic which explains at least in part why later, despite the great beauty and large dynamic range of the Pacherel guitar, the Spanish school so totally eclipsed the Italian-Nicois tradition.

At the end of 1980, I began to build an experimental modern classical guitar in the Italian-Nicois tradition. Madame Ako Ito and Monsieur Henri Dorigny, professors of guitar at the Nice CNR, evaluated this instrument's sound at each step of its development. I carried out all my experiments on this one finished instrument which had a radically domed soundboard. Originally, I placed no braces under this guitar's soundboard other than two large transversal bars on either side of its sound hole.

However, as I continued my experiments I discovered that when I pressed a little wooden bar at certain places on the top and then plucked the instrument's strings, interesting harmonics would appear. As my experiments progressed, I would mark these places with chalk and then attach to the outside of the soundboard little pieces of split spruce. Gradually after many experiments - in which I moved, filed, stiffened, shortened, lengthened or removed these little pieces of wood - I began to understand the exact effect these changes had on this guitar's sound. I wish to emphasize that in these experiments we used no electronic measuring instruments, just our educated ears.

Based on this research, I built my first prototype in 1982. Unfortunately, I had not quite finished this instrument when I had to present it to the XVIth National Exhibition of Work - Concours des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen of France Contest) - where it caused the following comment from the jury:

Antigoni Goni
Very serious work though experimental, combining an up to date form with a groined vaulted back and sides in the style of the XVIIth century. The technical realization and the quality of the marquetry are exceptional. The taste shown in the choice of the woods and the color combinations deserve the highest praise. The contestant shows rare qualities and potential. The jury unanimously congratulates him and encourages him to prepare a finished guitar, according to the required standards, for the next exhibition. We feel he will then have every opportunity to carry off the highest distinction.

What this jury predicted did in fact occur in June 1986 when I was awarded in Paris the gold medal and title, Best Craftman in France at the XVIIth National Exhibition of Work - Concours des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen of France Contest). Since then I have continued to refine and develop my classical guitars. So much so that I am proud to say that today world renowned concert and recording artists Antigoni Goni, Roland Dyens, and a growing number of other professional classical guitarists, students at leading conservatories of music and amatures around the world have taken up my instruments. (learn more)

Roland Dyens has written the following about his Fanton d'Andon classical guitar:

One evening in 1994 I was giving a recital during which the guitar on which I played was showing some signs of lasitude. This is when I met a guitar, a very beautiful guitar, which made me want to get to know it better a few hours later in the actual context of playing on the stage before the public. During this recital I soon realized that this guitar was to be mine. Since then this guitar made by Olivier Fanton d'Andon has never left me, Coup de foudre. What I like in this guitar can be explained above all by the perfection of the alchemy between fullness and clearness, two qualities which had appeared to me until then to be impossible to have at the same time, an imposssible dream. But this guitar exists, and I have met it. Light, easy to play, precise and extremely sensitive, Olivier Fanton d'Andon's "guitarre nouvelle" is an instrument in which its power is no longer a pipe dream, but rather a resonant rainbow.