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“No. 58, Manuel Barrueco, Robert Ruck, & a Guitar” (by Nicholas Simmons)

Tonar Music releases a coffee-table book called “No. 58, Manuel Barrueco, Robert Ruck, & a Guitar”, which tells the story of Barrueco’s legendary guitar No. 58 by Robert Ruck, which has become one of the most famous classical guitars in the world.
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robert ruck manuel barrueco

The book also tells the story of Barrueco years in Cuba, coming to the USA with his family as political refugees, his studies, meeting and acquiring the guitar from Ruck while he was still a student at Peabody, and their journey together such as making the Lexus commercial, the recording with Plácido Domingo, and the many other recordings he has made with it. It also narrates the history of how Robert Ruck came to make No. 58 and his perspective on the time when he met Barrueco in 1972.

Author Nicholas Simmons took the beautiful photographs of the instrument (16) used in the book as well as the photographs of Manuel Barrueco and Robert Ruck.

robert ruck manuel barrueco

During that master class [Barrueco master class at Tulane University, 1978], many of us “hung out” at Barreiro’s shop, which offered more classical guitar music and records than I had ever seen. There was one record in particular that everyone was talking about: Manuel Barrueco’s debut album. Initially I was a bit put off as the general consensus was that this young virtuoso had already surpassed my classical guitar heroes — a painful revelation! Further, I learned that Barreiro had some influence on Barrueco as a boy in Cuba, though he was quick to add, “It wouldn’t have made any difference”. I bought the album, of course, but there was something so unequivocal — almost ominous — about all of this talk, that I waited until I got back home to Iowa before listening to it; and that moment I’ll never forget.

As soon as the needle dropped and the opening notes of Villa-Lobos’ “Etude 7” leapt forth, I realized this was something I had never heard before. There was a power, a clarity, a level of precision, and a quality of sound that simply staggered me. Before that side of the record had finished, I was a believer.

I then enrolled in master classes with Manuel Barrueco in New York and New Orleans, and witnessed his genius firsthand. When the second record came out, I was even more impressed. The interpretations of the music — including pieces no guitarist had ever attempted — seemed to meld so effortlessly with his astounding technique, I started to form the opinion that everyone else were merely guitarists, whereas this man was a ‘musician’, who put the music ahead of all other considerations.

A good part of the phenomenon was the sound of the guitar. It didn’t have the inconsistencies I heard in other players’ instruments, and I concluded this was due to its construction, Barrueco’s ability to exploit its strengths, and his unusual approach. From the lowest basses to the highest trebles, from ‘pianissimo’ to ‘fortissimo’, the guitar sang with the sweetest, silkiest tone imaginable.

Occasionally, I would listen to the records from a different part of the house, where the timbre of the guitar became obscured; it was easy to mistake it for a piano. Some of this can likely be attributed to the instrument, but I also believe that Barrueco holds on to the note a little longer than other players, and gets to the next note a little faster, creating a more sustained, legato effect.

While I closely followed Manuel Barrueco’s career for decades, marveling at his accomplishments, I knew very little about the enigmatic man who made that famous guitar, Robert Ruck. A few years ago, while working with Manuel on another project, I remarked that it would be nice to document the history behind #58. He agreed, as did Robert. So I traveled to Eugene, Oregon to spend a couple days with Robert in his workshop, interviewed him for hours, and managed a lot of photography. I did the same with Manuel, and of course shot many photographs of the instrument itself.

I hope the result will be of interest to guitar enthusiasts, especially those whose lives have been touched and changed by the combination of Barrueco and Ruck — in my judgment, two gigantic artists who are the very best at what they do.

—Nicholas Simmons

Please visit Tonar Music for more information.

robert ruck manuel barrueco
Manuel Barrueco and Robert Ruck.

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