Friday, November 09, 2007

Antonio Torres

#318 Antonio Torres

The county singer Hank Thompson has died. He was one of the early greats. That was when every other county singer was called “Hank” something. The imbecile newscasters called him “the King of Western Swing,” which is the title of Bob Wills.

Hank was a superstar and had just announced he was retiring at the age of 80-something. A string of hits a million miles long. Pretty good player, too. Had an old Gibson arch top. One of the “vintage greats,” as befits a vintage great.

Probably that guitar will go to the Country Music Hall of Fame where it’ll share space with the guitars of Mother Maybelle Carter, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and a bunch of others who never heard of Antonio de la Torres, a fellow from Spain who invented the modern guitar in 18-something.

Until then, guitars, staple of country and rock music, were any old thing anyone wanted to make. Antonio Stradaveri had one with five “courses,” sets of double strings. Skinny little thing that no one now knows how to play. Others were before and after Tony Strad, as his pals in the trade called him.

But it was Tony Torres in Spain who made the first modern guitar. Shaped like a girl. Six strings. Tuned EADGBE. After this Tony guy, everything was a copy. Christian Martin, Orville Gibson,, Bill Collings, Gianni DeAngelico, Jimmy D’Aquisto, Carlo Greco, Oscar Schmidt, Epi Stethapoulo. They all owed Tony Torres. Travis, Bigby, Gretsch, Fender, Levin, Loar.

Everyone. So who remembers this guy today? You, now. Because of this item. Or maybe you read about him somewhere.

There’s a Martin actually made by Martin in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They also have Segovia’s guitar, made by Hermann Hauser.

No one has a Torres. Well, almost no one. He made ,maybe 600 of them. Maybe 60 have been identified. And that’s WITH the labels intact.

Who else is out there who made something first and no one remembers?

Anyone know who really made the first computer? How about the first dial telephone or the first gasoline pump? Who came up with the sharpenable pencil, the paper clip, the staple, the pop-up toaster. All these things we take for granted, but someone had to think up first.

We know who invented the yo-yo. Figure it was 500 BCE or so. But it wasn’t until Pedro Flores of the Philippines started mass producing them in the 1920s and Donald Duncan took over the business in the 1930s that anyone took notice.

So think about Hank Thompson singing “Honky Tonk Angels” using one of those pre-Torres guitar-like things. Doesn’t work.

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