Tomas Delgado: “All I want to do is play the guitar”
Porfirio Delgado: “There are plenty of guitar players but not many guitar builders.”
Tomas Delgado was born April 15, 1969. He is the eldest son of Candelario Delgado (1944-1996) and grandson of Porfirio Delgado (1910-2000). Tomas learned by example spending his childhood by the side of his father and grandfather. He witnessed first hand the daily commitment it took to create guitars and run the business. Spending that much time at the shop had its perks. Through his upbringing, Tomas was able to meet many of his musical heroes. Artists feel at home when they come to the shop. This was no accident. The shop was designed to be a place for everyone to escape. For Tomas, it was home.
At the age of 18, Tomas decided to leave that home to explore where his experience would take him. Success came for Tomas outside of the shop. It led to more experience in business, management, and sales. However, he quickly realized it lacked the luster and beauty of his upbringing. In 1990 at the age of 21, Tomas began his search again but first, his father needed a long overdue vacation.
Fate would have it that his father Candelario planned a trip to Arizona and entrusted the shop to Tomas. With his dad away and his grandfather building in the workshop, Tomas began to inject his management style into Candelas. He loved managing the business. When it came to guitars themselves, his view was clear: “all I want to do is play the guitar.” That would change when his father’s weeklong trip became a month long absence. Tomas decided to use that extra time to build a vihuela. When Candelario returned from his trip, he discovered two things: the business had done very well and a new vihuela was hanging up to dry. His father was pleased and Tomas began to see a path forward. However, Tomas was not fully bought in. It was his grandfather Porfirio who put things in perspective for him.
Porfirio told Tomas, “there are many guitar players, but not many builders.” He had a rare opportunity to make Candelas his own and so he did. Tomas committed himself to the shop and was the only person to fully apprentice building guitars with Candelario and Porfirio starting in 1990. By 1993 he took over the shop when his father became ill. The subsequent years were spent refining his craft alongside his grandfather in order to fully become his father’s successor. When his father passed in 1996, Tomas was ready. Shortly after in 2000, Porfirio passed as well. He was now the lone successor to nearly a century of work. As the years continued on, Tomas would learn that his grandfather and father never really left his side.
The vision for Tomas moving forward was to grow the business, further his skill set, and keep the shop community based. If you want to improve, you need feedback. If you really want to improve, you search for it. Thus, Tomas reached out to guitar virtuoso and family friend Pepe Romero. When the Romero family left Spain and came to Los Angeles, they found Candelas and became instant family members. Celedonio’s relationship with Candelario was so close that he asked him to be Pepe’s godfather. Tomas went to Pepe’s house in San Diego where he went through many guitars Tomas built. Most importantly, he spent time going over what Pepe valued as a player and what his guitars were lacking. Pepe asked Tomas what he was looking for, to which he replied “give it to me straight, the good and the bad.” Pepe obliged. With this input, his new guitars began attracting players who noticed qualities they were not finding in other guitars: durability, playability, and soul.
One of these new guitarists was Adam Del Monte. He enjoyed what Tomas was producing but felt the guitars lacked a certain tension in the strings. Adam felt that there needed to be a marriage between guitar and player. In other words, both had to pull their weight. Here once again Tomas was given the good, the bad, and what the player valued. Tomas dove into his work with a sense of urgency but was not sure how to reach Adam’s desired results. In contemplation, he remembered one of his grandfather’s favorite expressions “despacito porque llevamos prisa.” His grandfather’s advice was simple, you need to take your time to figure things out. So Tomas slowed it down, embraced the process, and explored a few ideas. Tomas created a guitar Adam was so proud of that he played it at Walt Disney Hall performing Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The same guitar went on the road with Adam to Russia, Venezuela, and numerous other countries. Eventually, Adam ordered two more guitars he would continue to tour with. Custom building was nothing new for Tomas. Players requested all sorts of special details in their guitars like mother of pearl, extra frets, or even gold. This was different. Tomas was able to successfully build the precise sound and feeling a player expected out of their instrument.
The feedback from players helped tremendously. Measuring where you stand among other builders is different. For that you need feedback from someone who not only builds, but also restores the greatest guitars of past and present. Yuris Zelton is sought by elite guitarists and collectors for his work with restorations and French polishing. If you have a Torres, Fleta, or Hauser valued at nearly $100,000, no one was better than Yuris. After hearing about Yuris and his reputation, Tomas scheduled a visit with him. Yuris was transparent with Tomas and said he was spot on with his construction but his French polishing needed improvement. Little did Tomas know that Yuris had made a similar visit to his grandfather and great uncle at Candelas in the late 1950s! During his visits Yuris built a friendship with Candelario and observed trade secrets. Yuris repaid the visit to Candelas spending the day with Tomas trading stories and helping him with his French polish. Yuris left San Diego and moved to Spain leaving a void in the world of guitar restoration here in the states. One day Tomas got a call from a client of Yuris who said he had a guitar that needed restoring and was interested in purchasing a new one from Tomas. The client went on to state, “I have known Yuris for 30 years and he has never recommended anyone.” With this gesture, Tomas felt confident he was standing on solid foundation.
There was one more area Tomas felt he could benefit from and it required a scientific approach. Builders were taking university courses where frequency and mode was being discussed in relation to building. A special benefit of the class is that you were asked to bring your materials to test their responsiveness. The frequency classes added more depth to what Tomas already understood. When it came to testing materials, there was an enormous difference. The woods that Tomas brought were testing much higher compared to that of other builders. Part of being a great builder is experience, learning from others, and your mistakes. In addition and much like a chef, it also means having the best materials at your disposal. Tomas inherited from his father and grandfather stockpiles of exotic and rare tone woods that are aged as much as 35+ years and are completely acclimated.
After the passing of his father and grandfather Tomas looked outward for growth just as he did when he was 18 years old. Fortunately at every step of the way, Candelario and Porfirio posthumously left a trail of relationships and lessons he would continue to grow from. Whether it was the relationship with Pepe Romero, his grandfather’s musings, the visit from Yuris, or his building materials, all roads lead back to his roots. This is why Tomas continues the tradition of having Candelas be a community based shop focused on its clients since 1928. The formula for success has been simple: treat your costumers right, do things well, and remember where you come from.
Presently, Tomas embarked on providing greater accessibility to clients by providing much more affordable instruments. The Estrella line of guitars is designed by Tomas and is built by his team. By doing so, Tomas can pass on the savings to his customers. This allows him to focus exclusively on custom orders, restorations or his high end classical and flamenco guitars.