New Mexico Magazine
Posh New Mexico
A Glorious Sunrise: Pimentels Craft Guitar
in Tribute to New Mexico
Albuquerque Journal, 2007
Area Guitar Makers Honored
Albuquerque Journal, October 2005
Discovering the Duke City A to Z
Albuquerque Tribune, January 2004
Variation on a Pimentel
Albuquerque Journal - Business Outlook, March 2003
Albuquerque Journal - Focus on Business, August 2001
Posh New Mexico
A Special Blend
By Karla Klaus-Hoobler
We associate certain countries with musical instruments. Scotland with the bagpipe and Spain the classical guitar. In the 1850's a man by the name of Antonio de Torres was said to have transformed the shape and body of the guitar into the larger, classical shape that it is today. By changing the brace system of his guitars, he was able to create a richer, broader sound. His technique has been adapted by craftsmen of today who strive to not only make a beautifully sounding guitar, but an aesthetic one as well. This design has remained virtually the same for more than a century, hence the name, "classic." Photographs of Torres guitars built in 1858 show heavy wear on the tops of the guitars. Somwhat smaller than most classical guitars, they were most likely used for flamenco playing, striking the soft spruce surface. Gypsies who played flamenco music used indigenous woods such as cypress with wood tuning pegs instead of metal ones. The lightweight cypress wood and the traditional wood pegs are generally indicative of flamenco guitars. Golpcadotes (tap plates) are placed along the side of the sound hole to protect the soft wood from the player's fingers, another feature of flamenco guitars.
Lorenzo Pimentel in Posh New Mexico MagazineFlamenco is expressed through the playing of the flamenco guitar, the (toque) the singing, (cante) and the dancing (baile). Although flamenco is considered part of the Spanish culture, originating from one region, Andalusia, its history is complex. Historians acknowledge that flamenco's routs were blended with a mixture of native Arabic, Andalusia, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures that existed in Andalusia before and after the Reconquest. Cuban and Latin American influences must also be credited for forming flamenco musical forms as well. Flamenco soon spread throughout regions of Andalusia and absorbed and changed local folk music as well as Castilian traditional music.
Much of the development of flamenco has been lost throughout Spanish history for various reasons. Middle and higher levels of society did not consider flamenco to be a prestigious art form, and the flamenco culture included Muslim Moors and Jews who were persecuted and expelled byt the Spanish inquisition in 1492. Much later, during the Golden Age of Flamenco from 1869 to 1910, flameno developed to its fullest thanks in part to the redesign of the classical guitar and the flamenco guitar. Flamenco association with Gypsies became popular throughout Europe and Russia. Music and operas were inspired by Gypsy-flamenco themes.
Ottmar Liebert leads a flamenco ensemble called Luna Negra. Although Luna Negra is considered "Nouveau Flamenco," it can be difficult to find. Often placed in the "New Age" section or in the "World" section, most music stores simply place Luna Negra under Ottmar Liebert. Don't forget to check the "Local Musician" category as well since Liebert resides in Santa Fe. The music may be hard to categorize, but it contains the passion of flamenco yet fuses music together suitable for meditating, relaxing and for igniting passion.
Liebert was born in Germany in 1959 to a Chinese-German father and a Hungarian mother. He planned a brief stay in Santa Fe, but ended up falling in love with New Mexico and a new-found passion for flamenco guitar and composition. Liebert says, "I wanted to make the Rumba rhythm more groove-oriented, use simple Pop song forms and verse and chorus parts,and create simple, engaging melodies. In my mind I felt this new music would relate to the Flamenco way Bossa Nova relates to Samba.
Wikipedia credits Liebert with a release of twenty-three albums, Christmas CD's, 10 of original music, A DVD and remixes. His debut album sold double-platinum and has become one of the best-selling guitar albums ever. Liebert was ordained as a Zen Monk.
The Special Tenth Anniversary Edition of Luna Negra's Nouveau Flamenco has a big connection to this article. On the CD cover, Ottmar Liebert is holding a hand-crafted guitar made by Master Luthier, Lorenzo Pimentel. Liebert used the Spanish classical guitar and flamenco guitars made by the Pimentels in the recording of the CD.
I was fortunate enough to tour Pimentel Guitars. Rick and Robert Pimentel gave us a personalized tourn and the brothers were working on various details suh as custom inlay and stains. The Pimentel were working on a fifteen thousand dollar guitar to be raffled at the Mariachi Convention in Las Cruzes, New Mexico. Rick showed us what a difficult task it was to cut turquoise, coral, and mother of pearl for custom inlays. The wood used for inlays needs to be dyed then cut into matchstick-thin pieces and bundled for future use.
Although the Pimentels certainly have enough orders to fill and could resort to mass-production, they prefer to hand-craft and customize each guitar. The wood they use is air dried for fifteen years versus the kiln drying used by factories.
They take into consideration what style of music you play, and choose the appropriate wood and strings. The tops of most guitars are made out of softer woods such as cedar or spruce which helps amplify the sound. Other woods used for the sides and back includ mahogany, Birdseye maple, walnut, mesquite and other South American rosewoods. They explained how difficult Brazilian rosewood is to acquire due to the deforestation of the region. The wood is rarely imported today and the remaining supply is sought domestically at a very high price.
The Pimentels welcome original design ideas from their customers and no original design is ever duplicated. We saw a Grand Concert Classic made only by Master Luthier, Lorenzo Pimentel, which had custom 18K gold inlay. Other inlay choices besides wood, turquise, coral and mother of pearl are ebony and silver.
Lorenzo and his wife, Josefine started Pimentel in 1951 and have received worldwide attention since. Four of their sons, Rick, Robert, Victor, and Agustin work with their father, and Robert and Rick, having apprenticed for over twenty years, have earned the "Master Luthier" title. The division of labor was fascinating to see. Lorenzo has the expertise that is required to make top-of-the-line Brazilian Rosewood Grand Concert Classical and other models such as those make with nylon strings used by jazz guitarists, for example, are made by Robert. Rick specializes in steel-string models. Two other sons, Hector and Gustavo play professionally and lessons are available thorugh the guitar center.
The workshop was small and packed full of supplies, but Rick assured me that they know where everything is. Just as we were about to leave, we were pleasantly surprised by The "Master" himself, Lorenzo Pimentel. I asked how he got started and he told me how he began as an apprentice and did not know the first thing about making a guitar. Through trial and much error he assured me, he soon excelled in the craft. Lorenzo told his wife Josefine that he would like to follow his dream and make custom guitars. He was working hard as a baker, but she supported him 100% even while he was making guitars out of his car near a cemetery. He told me how excited he was when he sold his first one for $35.00.
I asked Rick how he and his brothers were introduced to the craft of guitar making when they were children. He said they were brought to the shop and really had no idea what was going on and they liked playing in the sawdust. He said one day it just clicked and he understood and the process was the same for his siblings. I asked if there were future Pimentels interested in learning the craft and he assured me there were.
The Smithsonian recognized Pimentel and Sons for making some of the best hand-crafted guitars in the world, and in 2008, they received the Innovative Albuquerque Award from the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
Striking a Chord
Albuquerque's Pimentel family has made a name for themselves by crafting world-renowned guitars. Now, go with writer Michelle Otero to meet these generations of luthiers, musicians, and teachers who are shaping the music scene in New Mexico and around the world.
"It was destiny that brought us together," says Joseinna Pimentel as she sits in the office of Pimentel & Sons Guitarmakers, Inc., in Albuquerque, looking at a framed, late-1940s portrait of a young, recently married couple: herself and husband, Lorenzo Pimentel. From their place high on the wall, the couple seem to look out over four of their 12 children, sons Agustín, Ricardo, Roberto, and Victor, who today, as master guitar makers, continue the work their late father began when he was 15: building fine, handcrafted instruments that are sought by musicians and collectors around the world.
Visiting the Pimentel & Sons workshop, one understands that the business was founded on hard work, patience, commitment, excellence, humor, romance, passion, and sacrifice. Lorenzo Pimentel, who died of prostate cancer in December 2010 at age 82, did not take the easy road to mastery and world renown. Born in Durango, Mexico, in 1928, Lorenzo learned to make guitars as a teenager, under the guidance of his half-brothers, in Ciudad Juárez. After marrying in 1948, Lorenzo and Josefina moved to El Paso, Texas, for three years, and then to Carlsbad. Although Josefina says he wanted to devote himself to building fine guitars, Lorenzo first worked as a baker to support their growing family, and repaired and built instruments on the side. At his wife's urging, he took a vacation in 1963 and visited Albuquerque, where, Victor says, "he fell in love with the Sandía [Mountains].
"A few months later, Lorenzo and the family moved to Albuquerque, where he tried selling his handmade instruments to local music stores. "People didn't want Mexican guitars," says Roberto, who is now vice president of Pimentel & sons.
Lorenzo's fortunes turned in 1965, when the music magazine Frets featured his work, and he received an order for 30 guitars. Since then, the accolades have accumulated: In 2009, then-governor Bill Richardson signed a bill making Pimentel's New Mexico Sunrise model the official state guitar. The company has earned the Hispanic Heritage Month distinguished honor award, and an invitation from the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife. And yet the Pimentel workshop has the feel of a dear cousin's house, the aromas of homemade tortillas and beans replaced by the sweet smell of rosewood.
Indeed, for the Pimentels, crafting a guitar begins with quality woods, among them Brazilian rosewood, maple, European spruce, jacaranda, Spanish cedar, and ebony for fingerboards—all aged for years or, in some cases, decades.
"Wood selection is an art in itself," says Agustín.
"You never stop learning, because each wood is different," says Victor, who carves the signature Pimentel crown on the head of a guitar with tools he and his father made by hand—"even from the same tree, because the grain is always changing."
Ricardo, or Rick, the company's president, taps the top and bottom pieces, which are book-matched—that is, cut so that their grains are mirror images of each other. One side is brighter, the other deeper, to create a balance between bass and treble. With his chin, Rick gestures toward an electric band saw. "Father used to take a handsaw and just slice the wood as precise as a machine." Lorenzo's craftsmanship inspired and intrigued Rick as a boy. "He used to do it by hand, from nothing.
"As junior-high students at Garfield, and later at Albuquerque High, the Pimentels took shop classes, where they displayed a natural talent. "The teacher was fascinated by how we handled tools," Rick says. "There was a competition the class entered to build a house. I told my team we'd only use hand tools. We came in first. I knew from that point I'd be a woodworker, but didn't know I'd be a guitar maker."
Just as ties to the guitar run deep for the four luthiers in the family, so they do for two of their other brothers, Hector and Gustavo, each an accomplished, internationally known guitarist who credits his father with instilling in him a deep love of music. Hector found his path at age 12, when Lorenzo took him to a performance by Andrés Segovia, the Spanish classical guitarist credited with elevating the guitar from the parlor to the concert hall. Hector began taking lessons, and went on to study with Cuban-born Hector García, who, at the University of Albuquerque in the 1960s, established the first guitar department in the United States. (The university closed in 1986.) Later, Hector studied with Erol Gallegos, who had studied with Segovia.
Lorenzo himself inspired Gustavo's musical future: "He used to play guitar and sing… real romantic music, boleros. I used to play along to the Beatles with a broom." Gustavo first realized that he wanted to play guitar professionally when he was 11, and his father took him to see the Romeros in concert. Hailing from San Diego and known as "the Royal Family of the guitar," the quartet was founded by patriarch Celedonio Romero, a dear friend of Lorenzo Pimentel, and included Celedonio's sons Celin, Pepe, and Angel. In his late teens, Gustavo took his first master class with the Romeros.
"My father didn't have a big influence in terms of getting me into The Romeros," Gustavo relates. "It was either 'you're good or you're not good.' I was nervous. When I finished [auditioning], I remember Pepe saying, 'Magnífico,' and I was thinking, 'Oh, thank the Lord.'
"When Gustavo then asked Pepe Romero to take him on as a student, the answer was yes. "My father offered to trade him a grand Concert Pimentel guitar in exchange for the lessons," Gustavo says. "Angel Romero overheard that conversation and volunteered, so that he could have the guitar instead." For the next four years, Gustavo spent every summer studying with Pepe Romero in San Diego.
Both brothers have performed throughout the United States, parts of Mexico, and Europe. Hector plays regularly at Casa de Benavídez, in Albuquerque's north Valley, and Gustavo at Hotel Albuquerque, in old town. And they are passing along their gifts to their own students: Hector in a studio at Pimentel & Sons, and Gustavo in a private studio.
The brothers and Josefina say that, in addition to his craft and the music, Lorenzo taught his children the value of hard work. "He was always working or designing. It would be Sunday, and we'd have to wake up at 8 o'clock to work," Gustavo reminisces.
From a young age, each of the sons worked with his father. Early on, Lorenzo built guitars at home because he didn't have a shop: Roberto would hold the instruments while Lorenzo applied lacquer. Agustín would grind shells for frets and dip them in hot water. A math whiz, Victor would help him determine cutting angles. And each took a turn sweeping the shop.
"[Dad] would say, 'Feel the wood,'" says Rick. "You start falling in love with it. He'd tell me, 'Take the wood and tap on it.' It's alive. It makes you want to be able to produce something with it."
When it was time for one of Lorenzo's sons to choose a career path, Roberto says, his father gave him a choice. "He told us, 'You can go to college or you can work here.' I stayed here because it was what I wanted.
"Victor chose college, where he studied architecture. "When I finished, I still wanted to make guitars." he smiles. "My father said, 'If you work here, you're not going to make a lot of money, but you'll work your butt off.'"
Agustín also worked outside the Pimentels' shop, doing classified work for the government. "Most of us have deviated [from the family business] a little bit," he says. "We came back. I always came back to guitar making. My innate part of me said, 'you have to return.'"
The long hours have kept the third generation of Pimentels away from the shop. "It's so much easier to do other kinds of work," says Agustín. Roberto's son Robert began working with his father, uncles, and grandfather when he was in his teens, but left the shop while in his early twenties. "I think it runs in my blood," Robert Jr. says. Now 35 and working at Intel, he says that, with his grandfather's death, he has begun to feel a greater sense of urgency to return to guitar making. "Something deep down inside is telling me, 'Hey, you should at least try again.'" Robert Jr.'s 12-year-old son is now taking lessons with his uncle Hector, and learning the trade from his grandfather and great-uncles. Robert Jr. reflects, "When I took my son, and my dad was showing him things, I thought, 'I remember that.' Now I'm a man, and not a kid who was only thinking of the money in it.
"Musicians and collectors are grateful for the commitment this generation of the family has made to the craft. Pimentels are some of the last remaining handcrafted guitars. Ricardo says that when a guitar is made by hand, "you get the soul of the builder." It establishes a connection between the craftsman and the musician.
Juan Lucero, frontman for Los Primos, a Mexican folk group based in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, first played a Pimentel guitar that belonged to his grandfather. Now that he has his own Pimentel, he says, "I am emotionally attached to it in a strange way." But it's not just the love or emotional attachment that keeps him playing the instrument—it's the way the brothers do business. Lucero says he feels taken care of and supported as a musician. Ultimately, though, it's about the quality of the instrument itself. The combination of that quality and each instrument's physical beauty makes it the choice of musicians throughout the country. Lucero says, "It's like a piece of artwork that you carry around with you."
Ben Perea, of Albuquerque's Watermelon Mountain Jug Band, agrees. "Of all the guitars I've had—Taylors, Martins, Gibsons—there's nothing like the sound of a Pimentel. It's a piece of art, and a beautiful-sounding instrument. There are some nice guitars out there, but they are not completely handcrafted. I use the other guitars for my outdoor performances, because it doesn't really matter what happens to them, but for recordings and important performances I use my Pimentel. I feel lucky to have one."
Lorenzo's journey of becoming a master craftsman and establishing his family's legacy was long and difficult, and his wife Josefina speaks of his sacrifices. There is no bitterness in her voice, but rather a recognition of fate, and an acceptance of her belief that life could have gone no other way. This is what she was meant to do. This is what her husband and children were meant to do and be.
As illness took hold of Lorenzo in the final months of his life, Josefina says, "He would call Ricky, 'Are you coming for me? Quiero trabajar [I want to work].'"
'Why do you want to go?' I would ask him."
'Because my sons are there, next to me.'"
For info: 3316 Lafayette Dr. NE, (505) 884-1669, www.pimentelguitars.com
A Glorious Sunrise
Pimentels Craft Guitar in Tribute to New Mexico
© 2007 Albuquerque Journal
By Todd Eric Lovato, Journal Staff Writer
B.B. King has Lucille.
Stevie Ray Vaughn had Number One.
Eric Clapton had Blackie.
And now New Mexico has a guitar it can call its own.
The guitar is called New Mexico Sunrise, and it's the latest creation of Pimentel & Sons.
Meticulously garnished with coral zias, mother-of-pearl inlays and exotic wood, it is the first in a series of custom-built guitars paying homage to New Mexico culture and symbolism.
"This is one of the best-designed models we've come out with," said master guitar maker Rick Pimentel. "It's made from some of the finest materials in the world. It's custombuilt and plays like a dream."
The family has big plans for the Sunrise, which took 14 months to complete.
Pimentel said he would like to see the guitar recognized as New Mexico's official guitar.
"We just think the guitar is a nice tribute," said Pimentel. "For 55 years, we've represented New Mexico all over the world. And when my dad introduced his type classical guitars here, he brought a piece of the world into New Mexico."
For more than half a century, Pimentel guitars have been praised for their tone, playability and construction. What makes this guitar unique, Pimentel said, is its outward celebration of New Mexico culture.
Bryan Perdue of Las Cruces has played guitar for 40 years and bought his first Pimentel during the 1980s. He said he would like to see the Sunrise guitar next to other official state designations like the yucca, turquoise and bizcochitos.
"New Mexico's overdue for an official state guitar," Perdue said. "And nobody deserves it more than the Pimentels. They are New Mexico."
Perdue has a special interest in the elegant instrument. After shelling out a hefty sum — Pimentel's top guitars easily go for as much as $10,000 apiece — he's the guitar's proud owner.
The idea for the Sunrise series was sparked while Rick Pimentel and family worked on Perdue's guitar.
During a mariachi conference in Las Cruces, the family had a chance encounter with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
"We introduced ourselves, and Domenici said, 'And whom might you be?' '' said Pimentel. "We told him who we were and he said, 'Oh, well, you are New Mexico.' That inspired us to create a guitar that paid homage to our state. We thought, 'We got to do this the best we can.' ''
On Monday, Domenici told the Journal in an e-mail that a Pimentel guitar would make a worthy state symbol.
"The Pimentel family has been a fixture of Albuquerque's business and music communities for over a half a century," he wrote. "Through their work … they've helped preserve the art of hand-crafted instruments and they've made a great contribution to beautiful traditional Spanish music."
With its top-notch construction and design aesthetic, the Sunrise blurs the line between function and art. On the fret board, red coral and mother-ofpearl inlays depict the rising (or setting, depending on which way you look at it) of a zia sun. Another coral zia on the headstock contains a mother-of-pearl center and an ebony figure of a black bear.
The guitar is made of 10 types of imported wood, aged 10 to 15 years in a warehouse. The saddle and nut (the white strips that keep the strings raised and in place) are made of fossilized walrus ivory.
"This is Number 1 in the series," Pimentel said. "Every guitar we make is custom, so the next person to come in will get to design the guitar to their exact playing needs. But the guitar can have all the same art and design."
Potential buyers should be patient. Some customers wait three to four years for a custom Pimentel.
Rick Pimentel's face lights up when he talks about his craft. It's in his blood. Lorenzo Pimentel, the family patriarch, raised four of his nine sons in the art of guitar making. At age 79, Lorenzo still steers the business and works at least eight hours a day in the shop.
"We work in the old 14th-, 15th-century tradition, and we only work in the family," Rick Pimentel said. "It's very rare today to find handmade guitars. Great instruments, like a great Stradivarius, are built by one person only. That's what we do. We're guitar makers."
DEAN HANSON/JOURNAL Taking more than a year to craft, the New Mexico Sunrise guitar is adorned with inlays of coral and mother-of-pearl. It has 10 types of aged wood from around the world.
Area Guitar Makers Honored
October 14, 2005
By Debra Dominguez, Journal Staff Writer
Kirtland outreach committee singles out couple during Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month examines the history of Hispanic immigration to the United States and the contributions Hispanics have made to America. In the case of Albuquerque residents and internationally known guitar makers Lorenzo and Josefina Pimentel, the contributions are many and well worth acclaim, according to Team Kirtland's Hispanic Leadership Outreach Committee. That's why the team, which includes Kirtland Air Force Base, Sandia National Laboratories and the National Nuclear Security Administration, celebrated Hispanic Heritage this month by honoring the Pimentels.
The couple, whose family includes 11 children, was given the organizations' first Hispanic Heritage Month Distinguished Honor Award during a celebration Thursday at La Posada Hotel.
"The family has a history of handing down its talents from generation to generation, whether it be through music or guitar making or giving back to the community," said Nora Armijo, a co-chair of Team Kirtland's Hispanic Leadership Outreach Committee. Julia DeLaCruz, also a co-chair of the outreach committee, said the group of organizations wanted to honor the couple for what they symbolize. "They represent a successful Hispanic family that's kept strong a family tradition," she said. The Pimentels, who along with their sons run Pimentel & Sons Guitar Makers Inc. at 3316 Lafayette NE, have not only contributed to the world of music, but have given many guitars to charitable causes or to area youth interested in music. Team Kirtland also celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15 and concludes Saturday, by asking Retired Col. Sid Gutierrez, the first U.S. Hispanic to both pilot and command a space shuttle while working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to be the ceremony's emcee. "It means the world to me and my wife to get this award," said Lorenzo Pimentel, who added that he just became a U.S. citizen in May because he had previously been too busy trying to make his business internationally known.
"I've received awards before," said Pimentel, who is originally from Ciudad Juarez. He moved his guitar-making business to Albuquerque in1962. "The one, though, I really appreciate because I wasn't even expecting it," he said. "It just came to me."
Discovering Duke City A to Z
New Year's Day Edition 2004
Pimentel Guitar Workshop
The wood comes from all over the world, the inspiration from the customer's heart
For more than 50 years, the gorgeous, world-class Pimentel guitars have come from one place only: the hands of a Pimentel father or son.
Lorenzo Pimentel, 76, started the shop while still working as a baker. Now, four of his sons work beside him.
"He's supposed to be retired, but you know how that goes," Rick Pimentel says.
The family makes about 15 styles of guitar; ever one hand-built and custom-made. In fact, every one is built by a single craftsman.
That's what gives it the heart and soul," Rick Pimentel says.
Customers wait anywhere from three months to three years and pay anything from $1,000 to about $40,000.
New Mexico is perfect for guitar-making, Pimentel says, because the air is "like a kiln.
"We bring in wood from all over the world, and they're air-dried from 10 to 15 years."
The shop and showroom are at 3316 Lafayette Drive N.E.
Compiled by Tribune Writers: Shea Andersen, Jen Barol, Phill Casaus, Jeff Commings, Joline Gutierrez Krueger, Iliana Limon, Dan Mayfield, Carrie Seidman, Dan Shingler, Tamara Shope, Bill Slakey, Sue Vorenberg, M. J. Wilde and Frank Zoretich
Variation on a Pimentel
The Albuquerque Guitar Makers Design a Jazz Fusion Intrument
By Charles D. Brunt, Journal Staff Writer
Business Outlook, March 10, 2003
On the heels of their 50th anniversary, Pimentel & Sons Guitar Makers have introduced a new line of acoustic and jazz fusion guitars that are causing a stir among guitar aficionados.
"I started with the idea that there is a lot of fusion music in the world today, and most of the big guitars used for that purpose tend to feed back — a lot," said Rick Pimentel, general manager of Albuquerque's best known family-owned guitar shop.
The trick was to "fuse" elements of an electric guitar with an acoustic guitar, ideally with the feel of a jazz hollow-body guitar, and build an instrument that would work cleanly with an electric pickup.
"And I was trying to figure out a way to make a guitar that wouldn't feed back but still make it part of the fusion music," he said. "And it had to look right."
Just as important, it had to meet the exacting standards that have made Pimentel hand-made guitars famous.
Armed with a lifetime of experience and skills learned from his father, Lorenzo, Rick set out to design and build an entirely new type of guitar.
The prototype of the jazz fusion guitar, designed by Rick with input from brother Robert, has Sitka spruce soundboards, Indonesian rosewood sides and back, Honduran mahogany neck and African ebony fingerboard. With its arched front and back, internal pickups and no sound holes, the prototype's appearance is unique.
And like all Pimentel guitars, it is adorned with inlay work personalized for its owner, and the intricate inlaid rosette unique to the brand.
It didn't disappoint, Rick said. "Electronically, you can get a lot better tone through an amplifier, and that's what I was after."
Through the tone was ideal, the guitar didn't project sound as loudly as he wanted when played acoustically. So he added two chili pepper-shaped sound holes which — besides giving the guitar a distinct look — solved the volume problem and diverted the sound away from the pickups, which dramatically reduced feedback.
"You can really raise up the volume of the amplifier and not have any feedback," Rick said. The chile pepper model is also thinner and lighter than most jazz guitars.
Robert said the idea for the chile-shaped sound holes came about when a customer requested a chile pepper design for the inlay on his guitar. With a proven prototype, the classical jazz fusion model soon followed.
The new line — selling for $3,200 to $10,000 — is as eye-catching as any Pimentel. One of the first new guitars has 18-karat gold dials and stock inlays. The face of the guitar shows a sun setting over layered mesas, all done in inlaid wood.
The fusion line is proving to be a hit with musicians.
"It has really taken off," Rick said. "We're already getting behind on orders, and we haven't really advertised it yet."
That's nothing new. The worldwide demand for Pimentels means a typical customer can expect to wait three months to three years for his instrument, depending on whether he's buying a classical, acoustic, jazz, flamenco, requinto, bajo sexto, or the new fusion guitar.
The Pimentels make about 20 different models.
"Customers don't mind the wait," Rick said. Prices range from $1,000 to $45,000.
Rick is so pleased with the new design that he's making one for his wife, Jean, who recently took up the guitar. The acoustic steel-string model is adorned with a Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired white flower inlay made of mother-of-pearl, abalone and lapis lazuli.
Lorenzo Pimentel, now 75, is still making guitars, an art he learned from his brothers, who had a shop in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in the 1950s. He continued to make guitars as a sideline when he and his wife, Josefina, moved to Carlsbad in 1951, where he worked at a bakery. The family — which eventually included 11 children — started the business in Carlsbad but moved it to Albuquerque in 1962. They produce 500 to 600 guitars a year, Rick said.
Four of the eight Pimentel sons — Rick, Robert, Agustin and Victor — still work alongside their father in their shop at 3316 Lafayette NE.
Two other sons, Gustavo and Hector, are professional guitarists based in Albuquerque and are playing the new fusion guitars, Rick said.
Lorenzo Pimentel and His Sons Celebrate 50 Years of a Business That Makes a "Good Instrument"
By Francesca Stevens for the Journal
Focus on Business, Aug 27, 2001
Guitar maker Lorenzo Pimentel, 73, is now working only 40 hours a week instead of his usual 80. "When you start building guitars it's very hard — very time-consuming — and not everybody has that passion," Pimentel says. "But once you learn, it's so easy, it's hardly working."
The patriarch of the renowned guitar-making family may soft-pedal the talent, time and toil that goes into each instrument, but he and three of his sons still spend more than 180 hours a week building what famed jazz guitarist Johnny Smith simply calls "a good instrument."
"Any fine classic guitar is handcrafted. They don't get stamped out in the factory like the Japanese instruments," Smith, 79, says by phone from his Colorado Springs home. "A good instrument is a good instrument. A fine classic guitarist chooses a very fine classic guitar, and a very fine classic guitar is handmade by a very fine craftsman."
This year, Pimentel & Sons Guitar Makers Inc. of Albuquerque celebrates its 50th anniversary. But you wouldn't know it from the simple site where all the sawing, sanding and shaping take place.
In the lobby are a few awards and plaques from such luminaries as the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Governor's Office and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But the workshop is just business as usual as Rick, Robert and Victor and their dad, Lorenzo, build more "babies." That is what Robert, 48, calls the guitars they make — babies.
"I like making guitars," he says. I like the sound that it produces. I like watching people play them and saying oooh and aah, 'This is beautiful.'"
Robert, the fifth of Lorenzo and Josefina's 12 children, like Rick, is a master guitar maker and is vice president of Pimentel & Sons. He is also the company's tour director, escorting local and foreign visitors through the workshop and four upstairs lesson and "trial" rooms, explaining the hows and whys of his craft.
Lorenzo and Josefina bought the little two-story house at 3316 Lafayette Drive NE in 1963 for about $9,000. It stands on a corner lot a bit higher than the other houses and has a white wrought-iron fence and a walk with outlines of guitars pressed into the concrete.
Lorenzo had been working full time at bakeries to support his family and making guitars in his South Valley home on the side. He would gather his finished instruments and try to sell them to local music stores for about $100 each.
"I was working like a donkey," Lorenzo says. "It was hard for us to make it with so many kids."
Not everyone appreciated Lorenzo's craftsmanship back then. He says a lot of merchants refused to buy his instruments — referring to them as "Mexican" guitars and insinuating they were inferior to the American Gibsons and Martins.
Now Pimentel's guitars and other stringed instruments retail for $1,000 to $40,000 each. They are built only by order and of such exotic materials as Spanish cedar, Gabon ebony and East Indian rosewood and often decorated with inlaid turquoise, Alaskan walrus ivory, coral, abalone, mother of pearl and 14K gold.
Each rosette — the decoration that encircles a guitar's sound hole — is also handmade, using thin strips of holly that the Pimentels dye in a rainbow of colors and fuse to ebony.
There is a three-year wait for each classical, flamenco, jazz and steel-string acoustic guitar. Pimentel & Sons also makes other stringed instruments, such as requintos, bajo sextos and bajo quintos used by Latin musicians.
Lorenzo and Josefina moved to Albuquerque from Carlsbad, where Lorenzo had learned English. He was born in Durango, Mexico, and quit school at 13 to help support his mother while making guitars with his older brothers.
A few years later, he met Colorado-born Josefina Garnica, who was working in Durango, Mexico. Oddly, Josefina remembers that when she was 15 she hired a photographer to do a portrait of her holding a guitar. She never played guitar, but she liked the instrument and was immediately impressed when she learned Lorenzo made guitars.
Lorenzo and Josefina, who recently celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary, are a shy, unassuring couple who say they worked hard to make the business what it is today.
"She never lost faith in me. She never did," Lorenzo says, looking over at Josefina during an interview at the house on Lafayette. "She wanted me to go full time with the guitar making because she knew it was my passion, and she said, 'Lorenzo, you have to go out and do what you want to do. It doesn't matter how many sacrifices I can make.'
"She never asked me for jewelry or rings or nothing," Lorenzo continues. "She never asked me for anything."
In 1965, Lorenzo says, his business started to take off — thanks, primarily, to an article about the Pimentel guitars in an Arizona magazine.
Then classical guitarist Mel Bay, who was also the world's largest independent music publisher, learned of Lorenzo's instruments. Bay, who died four years ago, featured a lot of Lorenzo's guitars on covers of his guitar instruction manuals and sold Pimentels at his music store in St. Louis.
William Bay, Mel's son, a guitarist who has written more than 150 music books, owns five Pimentel guitars.
He likes the "reasonably priced" instruments because they have "a nice, rich sound." William's son, Collin, 16, also plays a Pimentel.
"There is a whole lot of love in what we do," says Rick Pimentel, 50, the president of Pimentel & Sons.
"That is embodied with our family," he says. "When we're together we just feel all that all the time. We can enjoy each other's company without a question and work with each other. You can't beat that, you know?"
Two of Lorenzo's other sons, Hector and Gustavo, both musicians and recording artists, also work in the family business. Hector, 52, helps with sales and teaches at the house on Lafayette, while Gustavo, 33, also works in sales and gives lessons. Another son, Agustin, helped build guitars until he earned a business degree and set off on another path.
Rick says 70 percent of the company's gross income is from sales to out-of-state customers, while 20 percent comes from sales within New Mexico. The remaining 10 percent comes from repairs.
Building a guitar takes many steps, from cutting and shaping the wood to bracing its interior and sanding its exterior smooth.
Victor, like Lorenzo, Rick and Robert, usually works on several guitars at a time. He says wood cut with the grain running upward produces a lighter tone; and grain that runs downward deepens the tone. The location of the bracing helps determine how loud the guitar sounds and its tone quality.
"I like (making guitars)," says Victor, 41. "This is the best job you could ever have in the world, to me. I guess because I grew up with it and it's easy ... and I'm my own boss. ... Another thing about this job is that when you're making guitars for somebody, a lot of people come in and they say, 'Can I see my guitar being made?' And I say, 'Sure, come on in' and they love it."
Lorenzo sums up his commitment to the craft this way: "I guess I had a lot of faith in my ability to build guitars and also I had a lot of good people behind me, like my sons, for example, friends.
"They used to push me and tell me over the years, 'Lorenzo, never quit. You have a gift in your hands, and one of these days you're going to be No. 1 in the world."
Pimentel & Sons
By Teja Gerken
Acoustic Guitar 2001
Lorenzo Pimentel and his family build quality stringed instruments in their Albuquerque, New Mexico, shop using techniques that have been passed down from father to son. The senior Pimentel began building guitars in his native Mexico, moved to the United States in 1951, and opened his present shop (3316 Lafayette Dr. N.E., Albuquerque, NM, 87107; (505) 884-1669; www.rt66.com/~pimentel) in 1963. His instruments, built in the Spanish tradition, soon found favor among established classical players.
Today Pimentel's oldest son, Rick, is president of the company, and his second oldest, Robert, is vice president. Lorenzo and Robert are responsible for all of Pimentel's custom nylon-stringed instruments, and Rick focuses on the steel-strings. A third brother, Victor, and the younger Pimentels' nephew, Mark, are currently working on entry-level guitars, which start at an astoundingly affordable $1,000. Brothers Gustavo and Hector Pimentel, both respected performers, maintain teaching practices adjacent to the spacious shop and showroom.
Each Pimentel guitar is built entirely by one person at an individual work station. That's why each instrument has a unique sound, even if the same materials are used for several guitars. The only exception is that all the custom inlays are handled by Rick, the family specialist. He works with abalone and pearl as well as such unusual materials as turquoise and red coral, and many of his original designs, including the dreamcatcher rosettes in the Southwestern Collection guitars, are inspired by Native American motifs.
"We've satisfied many guitar players all over the world with custom-made guitars," says Rick Pimentel. "We started building custom necks way before anybody even thought about it. If they wanted a bigger body, a smaller body, a longer scale, shorter scale...we did a lot of things like that outside the tradition."
Indeed, one of the reasons for the company's long-standing success is the Pimentels' willingness to listen to the player's needs. They begin by discussing the desired sound with the customer and then help them choose the woods and body style. Customer requests have allowed Pimentel guitars to evolve over the years and sometimes lead to new models. When the late Mel Bay requested a nylon-string that would feel similar to his D'Angelico archtop, for example, the Pimentels developed the Jazz Classical, which would become one of their most successful designs. It fuses a neck that's narrower than a standard classical guitar's with a larger cutaway body and on-board Fishman electronics. The result is a versatile voice and playability that appeals to guitarists who are not classically trained.
Pimentel also builds traditional classical and flamenco guitars for such clients as Pepe Romero, Manuel Lopez Ramos, and Badi Assad (who helped design a special signature model). Time-proven designs dominate these instruments, but several modified bracing patterns and other unique elements contribute to a wide variety of available sounds. Unusual suspended braces (which only touch the guitar's top for part of their length) increase the guitar's sustain, and a design that uses a solid sheet of wood to cover the area behind the bridge creates bright trebles with lots of cutting power for live performances.
The Pimentels have also developed a line of high-quality requintos and bajo sextos used in Mexican music. And Robert Pimentel has developed a guitar specifically designed for the heavy strumming typical of mariachi music. With a large body, cedar top, special bracing, and onboard electronics, the guitar has the backbone to keep up in what is one of the loudest forms of acoustic music.
Steel-string guitars have been a part of Pimentel's offerings since the very beginning, and they feature many of the same traits found in their nylon-string counterparts. All Pimentel guitars, for example, are constructed with a Spanish heel, where the neck is joined to the guitar's sides via a neck block, creating a solid unit. "It makes the whole guitar more stable," says Rick Pimentel. "I do a back-bow on the neck to relieve some of the tension, so that when it does go forward, the bridge compensates for it because it's a little higher." Other unique design features in Pimentel's steel-strings include a heavily scalloped double-X bracing pattern.
Pimentel's most radical model is probably the recently developed steel-string archtop. It features chili pepper-shaped soundholes, a bent rather than carved top, and piezo as well as magnetic pickups. The sound blends flattop and archtop qualities, and the model lists of $4,000. With fresh ideas like this continuing to surface on a regular basis, Lorenzo Pimentel is as excited about the business today as he was 50 years ago.