• bill@gourlayguitars.com

Building my 1852 Torres replica - the headstock, neck, and bridge

Updated: Jan 10, 2019

The scroll headstock. The moustache bridge. Those are the two elements that really grabbed my attention. Yes, the rosette was also quite interesting, but not completely unique for a Torres instrument. While scroll headstocks and moustache bridges had been employed before by other luthiers earlier in the 1800s, never before had I seen a Torres guitar with anything like them. The exceptional photos by Alberto Martinez shown below were the genesis for my desire to build a replica of this very elegant and unique instrument.

First, the neck. The text on the Musée de la Musique's website stated (translation): "Honduran mahogany handle (cedrella odorata) with Rio rosewood fingerboard...". By the photos, I could see that did not appear to be the case. It looked more like Spanish cedar, confirmed in the Orfeo magazine description. However, it did appear that the headstock portion might be mahogany - the coloration seen in one of the side-view photos showed it to be bit darker than the rest of the neck. So, for my replica I chose to make the neck and three-piece heel from Spanish cedar and the headstock from Honduran mahogany.

Working with a side-view photo of the neck by Alberto Martinez, I was able to enlarge it to full-size and from that I created a template out of mdf to make my replica headstock. Working with the photographs, I was able to precisely calculate the headstock angle (30 degrees), scarf joint placement, and location of the friction pegs.

My re-creation of the scroll headstock below - almost complete. You will notice that I have a more pronounced circle on the end of the scroll with a small dot in the middle. I purposely used a 1/2" Forstner bit to add a bit more definition to this area. You will also see the scarf joint between the Spanish cedar neck and the Honduras mahogany headstock is a bit more pronounced . Of course, as the guitar ages and the finish darkens and the Spanish cedar oxidizes a bit this demark will likely fade a bit.

Gourlay replica headstock scroll - side view

Applying the Brazilian rosewood headstock plate... This was a bit of a challenge. I made a new Greek key element (different from that on the rosette, but the same design and dimensions as that seen on later Torres instruments). I cut my rosewood plate in half on my table saw and glued the Greek key meander element between the two halves of the plate. I then trimmed the plate to get the taper from the scroll to the nut just right, and finally I routed 3.1mm wide channels (2.5mm wide "ears of wheat" elements bounded on each side by .3mm maple veneer) in each outer edge of the trimmed plate for placing the "ears of wheat" elements, thickness sanded it...and finally, using a hot pipe, bent it to match the curvature of the headstock.

The images above are several slices (rejects) of the Greek key element on the headstock, along with a cutoff from the curved section of the headplate that I used as a test piece for bending - more on that later. Unlike the central element of the rosette, this "meander" design was used by Torres on other instruments, often reversed in coloration (dark for wider segments, light on narrow elements), most notably the 1858 FE08 and the 1864 FE17. None of the original photos from which I based my replica showed the bottom end of the guitar where the sides joined. Without any information to go with I chose to use artistic license and apply the Greek key element to that area as shown in the last photo above.

How do I bend the headplate to make that elegant curvature under the scroll? Upon close inspection of one of the side-view photos, it appeared that Torres had thinned the headplate in the area that was curved. For my replica I applied the same technique, going from just under 2mm thick at the nut to just over 1mm at the curved section under the scroll. That seemed to make it easier. It was still challenging to get that to work, however. I did my best to bend the curved section on a hot pipe and not have it come apart (bear in mind that I had already glued the Greek key element into the center and the "ears of wheat" along the edges). Once bent on the hot pipe, I made a clamping caul with a curved face when I glued it on, and hoped for the best. My bend was not quite perfect and I thought I could hear the rosewood starting to crack just a bit, but... It seemed to come out okay. Whew!

Gourlay replica scroll headstock

The treatment of the back of the neck at the nut was a bit curious...certainly not something I had ever seen before. But armed with quality photos of the original, I gave it a shot. I'll provide a photo of that area in a subsequent post.

The "moustache" bridge... My initial reaction at seeing photos of the bridge was, "Wow! It is massive". I had seen moustache bridges before on small Romantic Era guitars, and like the guitars themselves those bridges were typically rather small and delicate. Not this one. From tip to tip, not including the decorative circular ebony "dots" inlaid with mother of pearl, it is 220mm, or about 8 3/4" across, and when paired with a guitar body that is less than 12" wide, it certainly makes a statement...a big one.

The only other Torres instruments of which I am aware that have anything like this type of bridge are both from 1854 - FE01 and the pear-shaped FE02, as catalogued by José Romanillos. They reside in the collections of Ramirez and Paulino Bernabe respectively.

1854 Torres FE01 bridge - Ramirez Collection

1854 Torres FE02 bridge - Paulino Bernabe Collection

Neither of these bridges, in size nor construction, comes close to the 1852 Torres. First, the wings of the bridge on FE01 look more like the horns of a bull rather than a moustache, and the FE02 bridge is much more delicate and compact - very much like those on the Roamntic Era instruments. Also, both of these bridges appear to be constructed from a single piece of rosewood or ebony, while the 1852 bridge is comprised of three distinct, individual sections (plus the ornamental dots on the ends). The two sections that make up the left and right halves of the "moustache" are actually three pieces each - a top and bottom of Brazilian rosewood with a veneer of maple laminated in between.

Three section bridge on original 1852 Torres - photo by Alberto Martinez

Preparing my replica bridge components

As can be seen on the photos above, the two halves of the "moustache" have been cut so the grain of the rosewood is at a nearly 45 degree angle and the left and right mirror images create a chevron-like pattern where they meet. I assume this was done for strength, but perhaps also for the visual effect it creates (the Brazilian rosewood I used in my replica became almost black under finish, thus pretty much negating that visual impact). Much like the construction of plywood, I created my laminations with alternating directions of the grain for each layer for better strength and stability.

For this bridge there is also a separate third section that is more like a traditional classical guitar bridge with an elongated tieblock and slot for a saddle, but without the typical wings. This was another curious aspect of the bridge construction. Much like a typical steel string acoustic bridge, the strings are secured by tapered pins in holes drilled into the "moustache" sections of the bridge... AND they are also fed through string holes in the separate tieblock section.

Gourlay replica bridge - strings feed through holes in tieblock section

For the bridge pins I used commercially available ebony bridge pins inlaid with 3mm MOP dots. For the decorative ends of the "moustache" I used the larger diameter matching ebony end pins. They also had the same 3mm MOP dots as the bridge pins. I drilled out those MOP dots and replaced them with larger 6mm MOP dots to better match those of the original. I then reduced the diameter of the heads of the end pins by securing them in my drill press and holding a strip of sandpaper against the spinning head of the end pin until I had reduced it to a 10mm diameter. Once that was accomplished, I sawed the head off the tapered shaft of each pin and glued them onto the soundboard at the tips of the "moustache".


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