Sunday, November 18, 2001

Guitars strike chord with carver

By Marsie Hall Newbold
Enquirer contributor

        Who: Jose Madrigal, 83, newlywed (he and wife Dottie married on his 80th birthday), father of three, grandfather of five, great-grandfather of one, war hero (he was awarded a Silver Star in World War II), guitarist, vocalist (he sings in 11 languages), teacher and craftsman.

        What: His collection of 12 guitars, two of which he made himself.

[photo] Jose Madrigal shows his favorite instrument, a Contra guitar made in the 1920s. He made the guitar at right.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Where: Throughout the couple's Finneytown home.

        Rich in love: “My prize possessions, outside of Dottie, are my guitars,” Mr. Madrigal says with a grin. “Particularly those I built myself. I learned how to craft them from a dear friend, Bill Conrad, who lives in Mount Airy.”

        “So far,” he continues, “I've built 13 and am working on the 14th and 15th now.”

        Share the magic: But, Mr. Madrigal, who was born in Mexico and has lived in the United States since he was 1 1/2, has only kept two.

        “I've sold most of them,” he says with a shrug. “Originally, I thought they would be for my own use. But it didn't turn out that way. One day the parent of one of my students heard me playing one and asked if I would like to sell it.”

        Pleased and proud: “That surprised me,” he admits. “I really didn't want to sell it. Money is really not my goal. I'm a very humble individual. But I thought it was so nice that they would ask. So, I decided to let them have it. After all, I figure that I can always build more.”

        So now Mr. Madrigal's guitars reside with family, friends and students all over the country.

        Time and effort: He estimates that it takes four months to build a guitar. “If I apply myself on a daily basis, maybe even better than that,” he says. His son recently bought him a planer that has made the process go more quickly. He uses many different types of woods including Canadian, Alaskan and Spanish cypress, East Indian rosewood and German silver spruce. The type of wood used depends on the guitar he is making.

        “For example,” he explains, “Flamenco guitars have to be made of cypress. It gives a very penetrating sound. But, I'm always learning. It seems the more guitars I build, the better they are.”

        Perfect rhythm: Mr. Madrigal is philosophical about his craft. He likens it to the closest a man can come to giving birth.

        “It truly is like having your own child,” he says. “Your feeling and personality goes into it. When you start carving, it is like giving part of yourself.”

       Share your prize possessions with Marsie Hall Newbold by mail: c/o the Enquirer; e-mail:


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