One of the exhibitors that caught Guitar Jar’s eye at the 2010 Bristol Guitar Show was Abanico Guitars. Abanico sell handmade classical guitars that sound and play beautifully – the impressive aspect however is that each guitar retails at under £250. Guitar Jar catches up with Abanico director, Steve Higgs to ask him more details about the Abanico vision and product range.
… I had one guitar teacher come over from another stand at the Bristol Guitar Show and all he kept saying was, “these are REALLY good!”…
- Hi Steve, before we get into the details of your range of guitars, can you let Guitar Jar readers know if you play guitar and if so, who or what inspired you to start learning the instrument?
When I was about 11 years old and after much nagging, my parents bought me a very cheap nylon strung guitar, believing that it would be another five-minute wonder. Forty four years on, I now work for West Sussex Music Service, teaching the instrument in various schools as well as privately at home.
One of the first players to influence me was Jose Feliciano but like a lot of self taught players, I soon reached a bit of a plateaux, but thanks to an enthusiastic school music teacher, found myself studying classical guitar. After a couple of private teachers, I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where I studied with Carlos Bonell. While I was there, I caught the flamenco guitar bug and studied under Juan Martin in England and Pepe Martinez in Spain.
- Can you tell our readers about the origins of Abanico Guitars and why the company was originally formed?
I formed the Abanico company out of frustration. For as long as I have been teaching, I’ve had problems finding decent quality classical guitars at a reasonable price. These would typically be for a more advanced student, wanting a higher quality guitar without paying luthier made prices. Anyone who has looked at the market will know that it’s dominated by one or two Spanish makes. Don’t get me wrong, they are good instruments but between £150 and £250 you are likely to get laminated tops and mahogany bodies and the sound can be disappointing.
I started to notice one or two really nice guitars coming in from China. If you had mentioned Chinese instruments to me 5 years ago, I would have laughed but they are really trying hard to break into the market and are currently priced accordingly. So, I arranged for a handful of instruments to be sent over, not knowing what to expect. Most were factory made and poorly constructed but I finally got a couple of really nice instruments from one source and was so impressed, I decided to import them so that teachers and students in the U.K. could actually try them rather than buy ‘unseen’ from sometimes dubious internet sites.
- How have Abanico Guitars been received by the guitar playing community?
‘With surprise’ would be the best description. The biggest problem is getting people to take them seriously at the price but once they’ve played them, they don’t need convincing. I had one guitar teacher come over from another stand at the Bristol Guitar Show and all he kept saying was, “these are REALLY good”.
- Can you guide our readers through the differences between the current models of Abanico guitars available?
The guitars are hand made out of solid wood. The back, sides, bridge and fingerboard are rosewood and the tops are solid spruce or cedar. Some guitar makers at the show came to have a look and just stood there shaking their heads. They paid more for their wood than I was asking for the guitars. The fact that the current two models are priced at £225 including a rigid, moulded case seemed only to perplex them more!
- I noticed you were placed alongside exhibitors who were showcasing some extremely expensive acoustic guitars at the Bristol Guitar Show. How did you find the show and did it help to generate any further interest in your products?
Yes, there were some really nice instruments on show but I wasn’t there to compete; that’s not my market. I was at Bristol just to try and get the Abanico name out there and to get players to put aside their pre-conceived ideas about Chinese instruments. The show did just that and I now have customers who have reserved guitars, which are currently being built to order.
- What is the current vision for Abanico Guitars? Are you still interested in focussing on the lower price range or do you intend to manufacture a more expensive range?
I’ve been asked many times about the limitation of the range and people are obviously interested in what the same makers could produce at the higher end but at the moment, I am going to stick to where I know there is a gap in the market. I want to keep the instruments affordable for the majority of students. A bonus for me is that teachers are also buying them so that they can carry a decent quality guitar around with them, without being too precious about getting them knocked.
The only recent addition to the range is the availability of correctly constructed guitars for left-handed players who up until now, have had to put up with re-strung right handed instruments at this price level.
- Do you offer any additional price options for teachers or schools who would like to use your guitars?
I know it’s unusual but the answer to that is ‘no’. These guitars are already placed at a price level where I believe players will get a really good value guitar. There is such a growing interest in them at the moment as the Abanico name spreads, that people are asking why I don’t charge more for them because some people will believe they can’t be that good for the money. I’m not importing them to make me a millionaire but to fill a gap in the market. As long as the makers keep the quality high and I can keep the prices low, I know I can sell them.
- How has the global financial downturn affected Abanico Guitars?
At the moment, it’s almost working in my favour. Players want more for their hard earned money and are looking for best value. Because the business is internet based, I don’t have showroom overheads. Also, because the guitars are built to order, I don’t need massive storage facilities.
- Do you find it difficult to remain motivated?
Absolutely not. Every time someone takes delivery of one of my guitars and plays it for the first time, I get a kick out of their reaction. The concert guitarist John Mills, recently tried one of the guitars at the West Dean Guitar Festival. I asked him to guess the price. After playing it for a few minutes and gathering a small audience, he pronounced them very nicely made and a price that ‘must be into four figures’. You couldn’t wipe the smile of my face for a week.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
Tricky. It would have to be my Valeriano Bernal flamenco guitar, bought from the maker in Cadiz Spain over a glass of sherry.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Well, not particularly known for his drumming, I’d probably choose Stevie Wonder, just because I’d like the pleasure of playing alongside him.
- Lager or Cider?
Cider but I’d rather have a glass bottle of Australian Shiraz.
- What’s the plan for Abanico Guitars for the next 12 months?
Try to get the sample guitars to as many teachers, players and guitar clubs as I can, so that they can make up their own minds about how good they are.
For more information about Abanico Classical Guitars, please visit: