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Puerto Rico's most distinguished folk-instrument makers

Master artisans who have passed away:
(Current masters follow next below)


Martell's famed " Puerto Rico Map" Cuatro in the Music Museum of Ponce

Carmelo Martel Luciano (1907-1990?)
Originally from the Tetuán neighborhood of Utuado, master Carmelo Martell Luciano was considered by those in the know as one of the most talented and creative of the Island's folk builders. He was famed for his unconventional instruments--instruments which nonetheless were masterpieces of folk art--among them the "rooster cuatro," the "fish cuatro" and the "map of Puerto Rico cuatro: (at left), which was considered his crowning masterpiece. On it are displayed, within the maps of the Island's seven districts, some of the radio towers of the time, the Universtiy of Puerto Rico, the Caribe Hilton hotel, the Capitol building, the Guánica sugar cane refinery, the famed hot-spring Baths at Coamo and the Plaza of Utuado.
      At the age of nine he already played the cuatro and with it enlivened his grade-school events, and by the age of 12 he was fixing broken cuatros, what eventually led him to a life of making his own cuatros. Martell also stood out as a composer: among his composition was the danzas Ondas del Viví and thel vals Carmencito

     He was named as a “Living treasure” by Washington's Smithsonian Institution and a winner of the Competition of Musical Instrument makers of the Institute of Puerto Rican Cultures Popular Arts Program for the years  1962, 1966 and 1970. In 1978 recieved the coveted Agüeybaná de Oro award and from 1981 to 1982 was elected as Master Artisan by the Economic Development Administrations Folk-Crafts Office.
    Besides being a builder
, Martell also was a fine composer. Among his compositions are the Danza, “Ondas del Viví " and the vals “Carmencito.”

Summarized from http://www.icp.gobierno.pr/myp/coms/cmartell_06.htm
Visit our Carmelo Martell page and see his magic cuatros!

León (don Leoncito) Ortiz (c.1902-c.1982)
Corozal, PR
The master cabinet- and instrument maker was repeatedly praised by senior makers such as Jaime Alicea, Juan Reyes, Julio Negrón ("he was a real artisan") and Antonio Rodríguez Navarro. He was recognized during the fifties by the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture during their groundbreaking effort to inventory the Island's native crafts and craftspeople. In charge of the inventory was Walter Murray Chiesa who said Ortiz was "venerated by all, particularly when it came to marquetry, and he used wood from the old houses of Corozal...he could place frets like no other maker." Murray Chiesa recalled that he also turned wooden tops on a lathe, which he then gave out as gifts to the children of his town. A street in Corozal is named after him.

Efraín Ronda (1898-2003)
San Germán/Nueva York

View our page dedicated to the notable artisan here.

Roque Navarro (1913-2002)
Adjuntas

 View our page dedicated to the notable artisan here.

Juan Reyes Torres (1932-2005)
Hato Rey

View our page dedicated to the notable artisan here.

Eugenio (Heño) Méndez
(1929-2003)
Las Piedras, Puerto Rico
Widely considered as the greatest master folk artisan of his times. View our page dedicated to the notable artisan
here.

Tito Báez
(1935-2004)
Yauco, Puerto Rico/ Brooklyn, New York
Distinguished cuatro, requinto and guitar maker established in Brooklyn, New York City for decades. Originally from Yauco, Puerto Rico--he was as well a renown guitar accompanist ("segunda guitarra") who played with the Sexteto Criollo Puertorriqueño next to Israel Berrios, Neri Orta and Nieves Quintero, among others. don Tito was a long-time consultant and collaborator for our Cuatro Project.

 

Pellin Medina (1880?-1950?)
Santurce
Renown instrument maker from the Barrio Trastalleres of Santurce. Noted by Joaquín Rivera, jr., as the artisan who rebuilt his four-string ancient cuatro into an eight-string instrument; also noted by the great cuatristas Sarrail Archilla; Yomo Toro and others. He holds the distinction to having made the first nine-string Puerto Rican tres during the early 1930s. His father was a Spaniard who made violins and cellos.

 

Egido(?) Medina (?-?)
Santurce
Pellino Medina's son, who inherited his tools and business. He made a tres for the famed tres player Mario Hernández.

 

Rosendo Acosta
Brooklyn, Nueva York

 

Rosario (Sayo) Otero
Vega Alta
Builder who made the great Ladislao Martínez' first cuatro in 1910, who, he claimed, was the first to make it with the modern shape. We believe it may have been Miguel Hernandez of Arecibo, however.

 

Juan Olivera (1906-1985)
Yauco
Maker of the eight string cuatros of Heriberto Torres and Norberto Cales

 

Miguel Hernández (1890-?)
Arecibo
Cuatro-maker that built one of the first violin-shaped modern cuatros shown in the hands of the great crossover cuatrista Joaquín Rivera "El Zurdo de Isabela" circa 1916.

 

Candelario (don Cando) Vásquez (1899-?)
Juncos

Secundino (don Gundín) Merced (1904-?)
Renown musician, composer and instrument maker from Aguas Buenas. Known for his distinctive bordonúas.

 

Martín Marrero (?-?)
Río Piedras

 

William del Pilar (1921-?)
Brooklyn, Nueva York
Widely known among the Boricua musicians in New York City for decades. Originally from Quebradillas, his shop was located for over 50 years at 396, and later 220 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. His guitars and cuatros were in demand by some of the most celebrated artists of the great city. One of his customers was the venerated guitarist Andrés Segovia. His son, William, keeps his father's shop active in Brooklyn today.

 

Carlos Barquero
Skilled Puerto Rican instrument maker working in New York City during the 1950s. One of his cuatros was owned by the great cuatrista/ composer Ladislao Martínez.

Notable Puerto Rican instrument artisans of the present day (listed alphabetically)

 

Miguel Acevedo Flores
World-class Puerto Rican guitar, violin and cuatromaker, lecturer and teacher, living and working in Trujillo Alto. We hope to interview him soon.
 

Jaime Alicea
Vega Baja

Rafael Avilés Vázquez

Rafael Avilés is a widely-admired master builder in Carolina, Puerto Rico, known for his world-class instrument making technique. He was an instructor of cuarto-making at the University of Puerto Rico and then opened his own school of musical instrument making. He is renown for his outstanding mosaic marquetry work and his innovative instrument designs.

We have prepared a page expressly for the master builder Rafael Avilés Vázquez here (not translated yet, sorry)

Freddy Burgos
An excellent builder from Caguas. His cuatros are played by distinguished cuatristas such as Pedro Guzmán and Manny Trinidad.

Aurelio Cruz Pagán
Prize-winning builder from Morovis
 

José Cuevas
Toa Alta

Manuel Henriquez Zapata
Experienced instrument artesan residing in the Cotuí neighborhood of San Germán, Puerto Rico, who acquired his skills in New York during the 1950s. He keeps up his artesanal interests up in his San Germán neighborhood to this day. Our correspondent in San Antonio, Texas, Felipe Olivera, has let us publish his interview with the seventy-year-old maker, which we offer here.

Diómedes "Yomi" Matos
We could describe “Yomi” Matos as a grand master of Puerto Rican folk string instrument craft. He is without doubt unsurpassed among mainland US builders of Puerto Rican instruments. Born in 1940, Matos was surrounded by instrument makers where he grew up in the Puerto Rican village of Camuy. By the age of 12 he had built his first cuatro and from that time has worked to perfect the construction of a wide-variety of traditional stringed instruments,
including cuatros, requintos, classic guitars and the Puerto Rican tres. Matos learned his art by observing master builders such as Roque Navarro and relying on the time tested technique of trial and error. Now retired from his day-job as a hospital orderly, his cuatros are considered among the best in the world, sought after by the best Puerto Rican musicians, among which is the renown Yomo Toro, who he used to back up on the guitar and second cuatro during stage performances in New York City.

In 2006 Yomi was awarded the title of National Heritage Master by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.and a  National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment of the Arts

Biographical notes from the National Endowment for the Arts

 

Graciano Montesinos
Builder from Corozal, who has built instruments used by famed cuatrista Edwin Colón Zayas

 

Miguel Méndez
(1937-  )

Originally from Aibonito, Puerto Rico, don Miguel is one of the most celebrated builders of cuatros and other stringed instruments in Puerto Rico. He and his also-famed older brother, the late Eugenio Méndez, learned the art of instrument construction virtually by themselves. He presently lives in Parque Ecuestre, Carolina, Puerto Rico. His shop is located on the upper floors of his home. He takes great care in achieving the best pitch accuracy for his instruments He makes guitars, cuatros, treses, tiples, requintos, mandolins, bordonúas, bandurrias and other Latin American instruments of high quality. We've prepared a page that featured the great artisan here.

Notes by Efráin González

 

Máximo and Elvin Pérez
Father and son team of builders in Peñuelas
 

AngelLuisWimboRivera.jpg (76755 bytes)

Ángel Luis Rivera, "Wimbo"
Morovis
Distinguished builder of cuatros, among the best in Puerto Rico. His cuatros are used by Modesto Nieves, Tony Mapeyé, Ramón Vázquez and others of their stature.

 

Manuel Rodriguez Feneque,
Rincón
World-class Puerto Rican luthier, maker of classic guitars, requintos and cuatros. Considered to be one of the best builders in Puerto Rico. He has built several instruments by the famed cuatrista Edwin Colón Zayas.

 

Salustiano Rodriguez
Barrio El Rabanal, Cidra
First-prize winner of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture's cuatro-making competition

Cristóbal Santiago
Consummate master maker, player and teacher of the Puerto Rican cuatro, still working since the 1960s at his Casa del Cuatro Puertorriqueño in Carolina PR. We've dedicated a page to don Cristóbal here.
 

 

Jorge Santiago Mendoza
(b. 1930, originally from Arecibo)
Master maker of cuatros, guitars and requintos. He lived and worked in Brooklyn, New York City, from  1951 until 1974. Reputed to be the first maker to build and wholesaleing cuatros using mass-production techniques.

Natividad Tirado
Master builder of guitars, cuatros, treses and baby-basses, currently residing in Delaware. We've created a page dedicated to this master builder (not translated yet) here...

 

Vicente Valentín Rivera
Vega Baja

 

Miguel Ángel Vázquez ("Guilín")
Manatí 
(n. 1928)

Expert and highly-regarded Puerto Rican instrument maker. Few facts about his life and career have emerged due to his reserved and taciturn personality. He established his reputation among professional musicians in New York City. He returned to Manatí, PR in the early 1990s, where he became well-known for his electric stand-up basses. He moved to Orlando in 1995. He presently resides in a rest home in Orlando under the care of his wife Victoria.