While these two beautiful instruments are almost never played together within the same song, they certainly reflect the breadth of Los Lobos’ influences, the band’s willingness to stake out new musical territory, and their dedication to folklórico’s rich traditions.
Cesar Rosas’s Telecaster-bodied bajo sexto was born of necessity, when he grew tired of watching his treasured Macias bajo sexto take a beating on the road. Using Leo Fender’s early ideas about guitar construction as guidance, Rosas took an old Telecaster body and his Macias bajo sexto (to serve as a template) to Los Angeles luthier Bill Antel. “I knew this thing would take a fall someday,” says Rosas, “so I wanted a maple neck, a rosewood fingerboard, and a truss rod in the interest of durability and strength.” Antel crafted the neck using the Macias’s scale as reference, then mated it to the Telecaster body, in which he installed a Danelectro magnetic “lipstick” pickup. Unable to find a stock bridge of suitable width, Rosas turned to the late, legendary, East L.A. luthier Porfirio “Candelas” Delgado of Candelas Guitars and had him craft a very traditional bajo sexto bridge—a union of traditional and modern that perfectly sums up the Los Lobos aesthetic. The lowest eight of the strings are paired in octaves and tuned (low to high) E A D G; the four highest strings are double courses and tuned to (low to high) C and F.
In contrast, David Hidalgo’s requinto jarocho is an entirely traditional instrument. Crafted in 1988 by Candelario “Candy” Delgado of Candelas Guitars, Hidalgo’s requinto jarocho was built around a single slab of 20-year-old aged mahogany, which was carved to form the neck, back, and sides. The top is spruce and the neck is capped with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard. When played with a long, straight pick (whittled from a barber’s comb in the fashion of Hidalgo’s hero, requinto wizard Lino Chavez), Hidalgo’s requinto jarocho jumps with a barky, bright, percussive voice that’s surprisingly loud for such a small, shallow body. Backed by Rosas’s driving nylon six-string and the slapping propulsion of Louie Perez’s equally diminutive jarana, Hidalgo’s requinto jarocho becomes the improvisational and melodic-lead voice of Los Lobos’ son jarocho excursions.
This Great Acoustics column was originally published in the July 2007 issue of Acoustic Guitar.