From the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Mark Small
It’s notable that a clan of German descent has ranked among the most influential builders of Spanish classical guitars for nearly a century. The family tradition began in the last years of the 19th century with Josef Hauser (1854–1939) and continues today with Hermann Hauser III and his daughter Kathrin Hauser. The Hauser reputation was established in 1937 when Hermann Hauser I (1882–1952) built an instrument for Andrés Segovia that took the guitar world by storm. Ever since, major international artists of multiple generations have sought after Hauser guitars for their sound, playability, and impeccable craftsmanship. Adherence to high aesthetics and quality standards have made Hausers frequent benchmarks for other builders to copy.
Josef Hauser, son of a Bavarian innkeeper in Burghausen, Germany, was the first luthier in the family. While in his 20s, he gained acclaim as a performer on the zither, a multi-stringed folk instrument popular in Bavaria in his era, and composed some 400 works for the instrument. Hauser later began building zithers, guitars, mandolins, violins, and lutes. His son, Hermann Hauser I, worked in the shop, but was also trained at the Staatliche Geigenbauschule (State School of Violin Making) in Mittenwald. Until the 1920s, his guitars were built in the Viennese and Munich styles, as were his father’s—the latter having a small body and narrow waist; the former, wider shoulders
and hips, among other features.
Hauser I had met Spanish virtuoso Miguel Llobet during his concert tours in Munich circa 1913–14 and examined Llobet’s instrument made by fellow Spaniard Antonio de Torres Jurado, who is credited with codifying the basics of modern Spanish guitar construction. However, It was Hauser’s encounter with Segovia that would later raise the bar in lutherie. In 1924, Segovia played in Munich, where he was introduced to Hauser I and checked out his instruments. While Hauser’s guitars differed substantially from Segovia’s Spanish-built 1912 Manuel Ramírez, Segovia noted many years later that he “immediately foresaw the potential of this superb artisan, if only his mastery might be applied to the construction of the guitar in the Spanish pattern as immutably fixed by Torres and Ramírez.”
Hauser was invited to Segovia’s hotel, where he pored over the Ramírez for three hours, taking measurements and notes. He began building guitars for Segovia in 1924, and in 1929 presented one to the maestro that reflected elements of the Torres design. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Segovia played another guitar Hauser completed in 1931 for many years. Hauser kept refining his design, and the guitar he built in 1937 was hailed by Segovia as “the greatest guitar of our epoch.” The maestro concertized and recorded with it extensively until the early 1960s. (Today, it is on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)
Hermann Hauser II (1911–1988) also studied at the Staatliche Geigenbauschule, and began working in his father’s shop in 1930. He took over operations in 1952 and continued design refinement, creating instruments embraced by top artists, including Segovia and Julian Bream, for a total output of more than 500 guitars. His son, Hermann Hauser III (b. 1958), started working in the family shop at 16 and, like his predecessors, fostered relationships with Segovia and Bream, as well as a small circle of top-tier artists, including Pepe Romero, who has praised his Hauser III for its pure sound.
The Fifth Scion
Hauser III’s daughter Kathrin now works in the shop alongside her father, continuing the family tradition. “I always felt that I’d like to become a guitar maker,” Kathrin says. “As a child, I was fascinated with the work of my father. It was always a great pleasure to be in the workshop seeing how he made a beautiful instrument with an amazing sound from a piece of wood. To hear the first notes of a recently finished guitar is a really special moment and stirs deep feelings for me.”
Growing up in a family of prodigious guitar builders makes for big shoes to fill, but Hauser is evidently up to the task. After collaborating for years with her father, she presented the first guitar with her signature on the label in 2006 in Japan. “People expect that a new generation should at least be comparable, if not better, than the previous one,” she says. “This is my challenge, and I always do my best to make the customer’s dream come true.” To date Hauser has built 40 guitars under her own name, the latest going to a buyer in Italy.
Hauser and her father maintain the old-world methods and standards of their ancestors, even preferring their antiquated tools—including a band saw from 1905 that belonged to Hauser I—to newer ones. While many family traditions remain in place, Kathrin brings to the table new knowledge of contemporary business technology and practices learned as a business administration major in her university studies. One result of her input is hauserguitars.de, a website that makes it easy for people around the world to learn about all things Hauser.
The father-daughter team incorporates their time-tested designs with the features desired by the commissioning customer. Before the building starts, they consult extensively with their customers about woods, scale length, neck width, distance between strings, desired natural frequency of the guitar, and other considerations.
“We have our standard dimensions, which generally fit very well for the majority of guitarists,” Kathrin Hasuer says. “The customers then give certain specifications about the materials to be used, such as a cedar or spruce top, and sides and back made of Rio [Brazilian] rosewood, East Indian rosewood, or maple. The sound properties and frequencies come from the composition of the wood, so the tuning of the guitar’s frequency is primarily dependent on the material used. Guitars tuned to G#, G, F#, F, or E, each have their own expressive qualities, so you can’t generally say which frequency is best. Fine-tuning is done throughout the construction process.”
Hauser builds in the tradition of her predecessors’ archetypal Segovia and Llobet instruments, but notes that modifications have evolved over the years. “Personally, I have even greater possibilities through my own design within the tradition,” she says.
Worth the Wait
Presently, depending on which model is ordered, the waiting list for a new Hauser is between four and five years, with a price tag of five figures. “My father and I support each other, but there is also a clear separation of instruments that we make,” Hauser says. “We feel that each of us should be identifiable by the instruments we create. Every guitar is personally signed inside to clearly identify the builder.”
To meet the ideal that each guitar is a unique work of art, the shop eschews mass production methods and licensing others to build for them. The family maintains a wood storage facility created by Hauser I, which has been continually replenished by the following generations so their successors will always have top-quality, aged tonewoods, as much as a century old. Part of maintaining a quality supply for futurity involves understanding how to identify living trees in the forest. This knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, with Hauser now learning from her father.
“There are certain criteria a tree must have if its wood is to be used to make a great instrument,” she explains. “Spruce must be grown slowly in order to produce the tightest possible annual rings. These ensure high strength and good vibration properties. For example, hazel spruce—also called bearclaw spruce—has slightly wider annual rings. The hazel in the spruce gives a silky shimmer that’s very appealing visually and the sound is distributed a little differently over the entire guitar top.”
The guitars are not completed one at a time, but in groups. Hauser has compared the production schedule at the shop to the seasons. In the autumn, she and her father select and prepare woods for the next batch of guitars; during the winter months they build the bodies, and in the spring and summer, they do the finishes. It takes about 150–240 hours of work from start to finish to build a Hauser guitar.
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Hauser feels that balance, clarity, brilliance, sound projection, expressiveness, and playability are hallmarks of her family’s brand. Asked what she listens for when hearing an artist play a Hauser, she says, “Each register needs to be clear and distinctly in harmony with the other notes without any particular note stepping out. I listen for balance and the carrying capacity of tone. The loud and soft qualities of the guitar are important for capturing the emotions of the music and enabling the artist to present them to the audience. So it’s also very important to have an instrument with great balance. Volume alone is not the most important measure.”
A family business lasting five generations while maintaining quality and demand for its products is a rare thing. Hauser and her father now carry the family’s torch. Hopes are that the light will shine well into the future. In 2015, the younger Hauser welcomed a daughter, who has spent time in the workshop since she was three years old and has even assisted her grandfather. The story of the rising Hauser generation, though, is yet to be written. What is clear is that this family rests on a foundation of respect for the achievements of its members past and present. That, combined with a profound love of the luthier’s craft and the ability to consistently turn out fine instruments appealing to a very discerning group of artists, bodes well for the future.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.