Nicholas Simmons — “No. 58, Manuel Barrueco, Robert Ruck, & a Guitar”

Cite this article as:

Nicholas Simmons. (October 13, 2021). Nicholas Simmons — “No. 58, Manuel Barrueco, Robert Ruck, & a Guitar”. International Journal of Music. Accessed July 25, 2024.

The year was 1978, and the setting was a master class at Tulane University—an event that would alter the course of my musical journey. Manuel Barrueco, a name that resonated with a sense of anticipation and awe, was at the forefront of our discussions. In those days, Barreiro’s shop became our sanctuary, offering an abundance of classical guitar music and records. It was here that the talk revolved around a particular record, one that would become legendary—Manuel Barrueco’s debut album.

As whispers of Barrueco’s prodigious talent circulated, a disconcerting revelation set in: this young virtuoso had seemingly surpassed the classical guitar heroes I held in high esteem. Barreiro, the proprietor of the shop, revealed a connection with Barrueco from the guitarist’s early days in Cuba, adding a layer of intrigue to the narrative. Despite my initial reservations, I succumbed to the pervasive excitement and acquired the album. However, a palpable sense of unease lingered, prompting me to wait until I returned to my home in Iowa before embarking on this auditory journey.

The moment of reckoning arrived as the needle descended, initiating the opening notes of Villa-Lobos’ “Etude 7.” What unfolded was a musical experience that defied expectation. The power, clarity, precision, and quality of sound emanating from the speakers left me staggered. It was a revelation, a sonic landscape I had never traversed before. Before the first side of the record concluded, I had undergone a profound transformation—I was now a devout believer in Barrueco’s musical prowess.

This newfound admiration prompted me to delve deeper into Barrueco’s world. I enrolled in his master classes in both New York and New Orleans, eager to witness his genius firsthand. The release of his second album only intensified my awe. Barrueco’s interpretations, including pieces that no guitarist had dared to attempt, seamlessly melded with his extraordinary technique. It became increasingly apparent to me that while others might be proficient guitarists, Barrueco transcended the instrument—he was a true musician, placing the essence of the music above all other considerations.

A significant facet of this phenomenon lay in the very essence of the guitar itself. Crafted by the enigmatic Robert Ruck, Barrueco’s guitar possessed a sound that defied the inconsistencies present in other instruments. Its construction, Barrueco’s ability to exploit its unique strengths, and his unconventional approach collectively contributed to a musical experience of unparalleled richness. From the resonant lows to the crystalline highs, the guitar sang with a sweetness and silkiness that seemed almost otherworldly.

Occasionally, I would experiment by listening to the records from different parts of the house, altering the vantage point from which I experienced the music. It was then that the true magic of Barrueco’s guitar revealed itself. The timbre, when heard from a distance, could be mistaken for a piano—an instrument with a different sonic identity altogether. This, I believed, was not solely attributable to the instrument itself; rather, it was a testament to Barrueco’s unique approach. He held onto each note a fraction longer than others, swiftly transitioning to the next, creating a sustained, legato effect that added an extra layer of depth and allure to his music.

As I closely followed Manuel Barrueco’s illustrious career over the decades, marveling at his continuous accomplishments, I found myself knowing surprisingly little about the man behind the iconic guitar—Robert Ruck. Several years ago, while collaborating with Manuel on another project, a thought struck me: documenting the history behind #58, the instrument that had become synonymous with Barrueco’s artistry. To my delight, both Barrueco and Ruck expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

This quest for understanding led me to Eugene, Oregon, where I spent a couple of days with Robert Ruck in his workshop. Hours of interviews, interspersed with the music emanating from the celebrated guitar, provided insights into the craftsmanship that birthed this extraordinary instrument. I repeated the process with Manuel Barrueco, capturing his reflections on the instrument that had become an extension of his musical soul.

The culmination of this endeavor, aptly titled “No. 58, Manuel Barrueco, Robert Ruck, & a Guitar,” seeks to illuminate the symbiotic relationship between Barrueco and Ruck. It is a testament to the enduring impact these two monumental artists have had on the world of classical guitar. Beyond the craftsmanship lies a narrative of collaboration and dedication, where the boundaries of musical expression are not just pushed but redefined.

The essence of this project extends beyond the tangible—beyond the strings, the wood, and the meticulously crafted instrument. It encapsulates the intangible, the shared passion for music that unites Barrueco and Ruck in their pursuit of artistic excellence. The synergy between the virtuoso and the luthier is not merely a collaboration; it is a harmonious dialogue between two visionaries, each contributing their unique brilliance to create a symphony that resonates with aficionados and novices alike.

In my judgment, Manuel Barrueco and Robert Ruck stand as giants in their respective domains, their collaboration forging a legacy that transcends the boundaries of time. For those whose lives have been touched and transformed by the sublime combination of Barrueco and Ruck, this project offers a profound exploration into the intertwined destinies of two artists who, through their dedication and mastery, have elevated classical guitar to unparalleled heights.


In conclusion, “No. 58, Manuel Barrueco, Robert Ruck, & a Guitar” is more than a documentation; it is a celebration of artistic brilliance, a testament to the enduring impact of collaboration, and a journey into the intertwined destinies of two luminaries whose dedication has left an indelible mark on the world of classical guitar.

Manuel Barrueco and Robert Ruck.

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