23 February 2011

Review: Robert Bouchet Cahier d'atelier

The Workshop Diaries of Robert Bouchet

Everyone would probably like to experience the small secrets of famous luthiers. The reason is simple: We want to look behind the scenery to discover the truth about the outstanding sound of our little guitar. Only, what would be the most beautiful secrets, if we knew them: At best no more secrets or worse, the hot air behind a Potemkin village.

But over time from the little magic of the artist grows knowledge of the general public on which future generations of luthiers can build on.
Guitare acoustique, Robert Bouchet, Paris, 1964, E.988.5.1, détail étiquette
© Cité de la musique - Photo : Jean-Marc Anglès 

In the small community of guitar builders it was well-known, that Robert Bouchet kept a detailed diary about his guitar building. But the myth remained myth. Only a few friends were allowed to have a look into these books.

The time of secrets ended at the day when these books were handed over by his widow to the Musée de la Musique in Paris. But it took again some time until the diary was published. This workshop diary was reproduced in a facsimile form.

Bouchet had no classical apprenticeship for luthiers, but was rather self-taught. He learned by watching, e.g. in the workshop of Julian Gomez Ramirez in Paris. The "service manual" could thus be described as the summary of his "piecemeal" experiences.

And it is really a workshop booklet with cross-hatched paper 21x27 cm, already somewhat yellowed since it is quite old(~1950).  The typesetting of this book was not done by a computer. A well legible  handwriting governs with additions, corrections and underlinings. Of course there is also no table of contents with precisely designed sub points.  The book follows nevertheless the working process of the guitar construction,
which is not always characterized by linearity.

Cahier de Robert Bouchet, Paris, XXe, E.988.11.1,
page 71 (filets)
© Cité de la musique - Photo : Richard Lambert

The difference between this workshop book and the numerous modern books on guitar building lies not only in the authenticity of the description  and the numerous tables and actual measurement values. What makes this book so interesting are the illustrations.

Robert Bouchet was not only a guitar maker, but also a passionate painter. You will find his works in various collections. In his Workshop, he did not use watercolor or produce oil paintings to document the ongoing progress of his guitar construction.  He drew the plans with a pen on colored sections.

Almost every small step is captured in these pictures. The free-hand drawing style focuses the attention to the essential points and the reader will recognize immediately the relevant details. He will not be overwhelmed with today's photographs  of a multiplicity of colors and details,  which do not have to do anything with the actual problem. There you can still learn a lot about the didactic use of illustrative material.

               Cahier de Robert Bouchet, Paris, XX, E.988.11.1, page 85 (tête)
© Cité de la musique - Photo : Richard Lambert

The Free-hand drawing lends to the pictures contrary to a construction design a charm, which is further supported by the presentation of 'trivial' tasks. So he demonstrates the bending of the purfling by moistening the stripes with water vapor of a smoking tea kettle. Even the seasoned guitar builder will find in the numerous construction designs of guitar making tools some useful hints.

The book describes on more than 100 pages the construction of the spanish guitar played by Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya. You will find this guitar in the Musée de la Musique.

But thus it is not yet enough. Daniel Friederich one of the best known luthiers in France, comments following the facsimile edition page by page, the dairy entries of his friend, explains, corrects and adjusts expertly sequences. This is a late discussion over a developing guitar which enlightens also the work and approaches of Daniel Friederich.

To gain more insight you will find some pictures of R. Bouchet at work - a good addition of the biography on the first pages.

In summary one can say that it is a beautiful book which does not reveal the deepest findings of the Guitar building from the darkness of the past, but throws a light onto the small secrets. The endearing nature of the representation of the guitar builder Bouchet appear in a different light.

There are no secrets anymore? Sure, if you don't speak French ...

Robert Bouchet (1898-1986)
Cahier d'atelier
la construction d'une guitare classique
edition en facsimile
avec une introduction par Catherine et Bruno Marlat
et un commentaire de Daniel Friedrich

© Musee de la musique
Cite de la musique Paris 2003

This article was originally published in the Gitarre Aktuell.