Acoustic Guitar, 2001
By Teja Gerken
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) 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.