Rick Pimentel, master luthier (guitar maker) of world-renowned Pimentel and Sons Guitarmakers, lovingly recalls his father, Lorenzo, and the way he spoke of his devotion and passion for his craft: “ ‘Feel the wood and you will start falling in love with it,’ he would tell us. ‘Take the wood, and tap on it. It’s alive. It makes you want to be able to produce something with it.’ ”
Lorenzo Pimentel, born in 1928 in Durango, Mexico, began apprenticing at his half brothers’ guitar-making shop at age fourteen. In 1947, he met his future wife, Josefina, an American citizen living in Mexico at the time. They married the next year, and Josefina persuaded him soon after to move to the United States, where she felt he could better follow his dream of building guitars. Lorenzo soon found a job repairing violins and guitars at a store in El Paso, Texas, where he also continued to learn how to build guitars, and eventually opened his own guitar shop in Carlsbad, New Mexico, in 1951.
As his family grew, Lorenzo taught all of his children, from approximately age six, about guitar playing and building; by the time they were in their teens, they had also learned about lumber, music appreciation, and the math skills needed to create ideal proportions for a guitar. Sons Hector and Gustavo eventually became highly acclaimed, internationally recognized concert guitarists. Four of his other sons, Rick, Robert, Agustin, and Victor—all master luthiers—decided to enter the family’s guitar-building business, which has been a fixture in Albuquerque since they relocated there in 1963.
Fine-Tuning A Legacy
Lorenzo and his son Agustin have passed away, but Rick, Robert, and Victor continue to run the family business. Today, in a compact, tidy workshop in a residential neighborhood in Albuquerque, they design and create guitars and teach guitar lessons to adults and children. And their one-of-a-kind, handmade guitars are considered among the world’s finest, thanks in large part to their legendary quality and customization. “We’re a family that is still making guitars the old way,” says Robert, Pimentel’s vice president. “We don’t have machines to bend our sides, so we put them in water; then we use a hot oval electric iron and bend them by hand.”
“We also specialize in building each guitar to fit the customer’s needs, including the size of the guitar, the length of the scale, the shape of the neck for comfortable playing, and the width of the neck in relation to the size and shape of the person’s hands,” adds Rick, who serves as company president. Due to this attention to detail and personalization, Pimentel remains one of the rare instrument-making companies that doesn’t mass-produce, so those who order Pimentel guitars patiently wait at least a year for them to be made.
Each of the brothers concentrates on certain types of guitars as well. Rick specializes in making steel-string acoustic and jazz fusion guitars, and he also designs and creates custom inlays with stones such as turquoise, coral, mother of pearl and abalone, and gold and silver. Victor builds and repairs classical guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, and Greek bouzoukis. And Robert’s forte is custom classical, grand concert (smaller-bodied guitars ideally suited for fingerstyle), flamenco and jazz fusion classical guitars, and requintos (smaller classical guitars, traditionally from Spain and Mexico). In addition, Lorenzo taught his sons to always innovate and improve as luthiers, which has resulted in noteworthy musical breakthroughs. “Because of his encouragement, we created fusion-style stringed instruments that could be played with electronics, especially for a big audience,” Robert notes. “We have also created new bracing concepts, which enhance the guitar’s sustain and volume.”
While the family’s guitars are renowned for their quality, they are also works of art. Over the years, Lorenzo collected various types of rare woods traditionally used in making musical instruments, such as Brazilian rosewood and East Indian rosewood, which in some cases are impossible to obtain today. All these woods age for at least ten to fifteen years in their warehouse’s dry New Mexico climate, allowing the instruments made from them to be fully playable in any part of the world. They are then adorned with Pimentel’s exquisite inlay designs to create their noted series of guitars such as Day of the Dead, Dream Catcher, Southwestern, and New Mexico.
Striking a Universal Chord
For its craftsmanship, Pimentel and Sons has been recognized locally, nationally, and internationally. New Mexico named Pimentel’s New Mexico Sunrise as its state guitar, and Pimentel guitars are featured in museums in New Mexico, South Dakota, and even Japan. In 2017, the United States Congressional Record recognized the business for “65 years of building handcrafted instruments that are sought after by guitar players and collectors around the world.” The following year, Classical Guitar magazine included Pimentel as the only US guitar-making family in its story “Guitar-Building Dynasties Have Powered the Instrument’s Evolution,” listing it alongside accomplished luthiers from Spain and several other countries.
The guitars and other string instruments that Pimentel produces range in price from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, and each has a full lifetime warranty. However, despite the price, there is no shortage of buyers. For example, Mel Bay Publications, which produces a well-known line of music books, has been an avid customer and has even featured Pimentel guitars on its covers. Likewise, Ben Perea, acclaimed banjo and guitar player for local New Mexico legends the Watermelon Mountain Jug Band, says that he prefers Pimentels over other well-known guitars he owns.
But the Pimentel and Sons experience is perhaps best summed up by another customer, Dave Dunlap, a professional classical guitarist and music educator based in New Jersey who had sought out a new guitar for several years when he came upon Pimentel. “The moment you walk into the Pimentel shop, they make you feel at home,” he says. “The workmanship that goes into a Pimentel guitar is the finest I have ever seen from any other luthier. I feel they put a little bit of their heart and soul into each instrument they construct.”
For more info, visit pimentelguitars.com