What exactly is a GRAN guitar?

Well, it has the size and shape of a classical guitar, but in addition
to the traditional 6 nylon strings the GRAN has a set of 6 light-gauge steel strings strung similar to a 12-string guitar except that the steel strings are lower in relation to the soundboard. The guitarist chooses by the stroke of the right hand between three variants: Only nylon, in which case the instrument sounds much like a classical guitar but with added resonance. The second variant, only steel, and the third, nylon and steel simultaneously – this offering brand new possibilities concerning timbres, tunings, and dynamics! The performance technique is the same as for the classical guitar. The relationship of the GRAN-guitar and the classical guitar is based on the same idea of that of the clarinet and the saxophone, same fingering, different instrument.

In 1987, Anatoliy Olshanskiy played a joke on his teacher, Vladimir Ustinov.

Anatoliy was invited to perform as a guest artist following a student recital at Vladimir’s guitar school in Russia. Anatoliy decided to do something unique to give his teacher a “shock!” He added some light gauge steel strings to his classical guitar! Following the performance, Anatoliy asked Vladimir, “So, how did you like my joke?” Vladimir replied, “This is no joke, it is quite serious!” What Vladimir meant was that Anatoliy had created something unique that needed to be pursued. And so the journey began to develop the GRAN guitar.

At first, nobody wanted to listen to this strange new guitar. Classical guitarists, who are very conservative when something new comes along, showed no interest in a classical guitar with steel strings. But, slowly but surely, through perseverance, minds began to open. Vladimir and Anatoliy began writing articles that were published in Russian magazines and newspapers. This sparked the interest of radio and television shows. To date Anatoliy and Vladimir have performed in over 20 radio and television broadcasts. Two of these were at KPFK Los Angeles with radio hosts Bill Davila and John Schneider in April 1995.

In 1991 Anatoliy recorded the first CD of G-g music titled “Scenario” for Daminus Records. The CD features mostly original compositions and some Gershwin arrangements. A second CD, “GRAN – The Guitar of the 21st Century – Romances for Guitar”, was recorded on a Russian independent label in the spring of 1994. This CD features Russian romances for GRAN guitar duets, voice and GRAN guitar, and solo GRAN guitar. Unfortunately it is currently not available. Also in 1994 Stepan Rak recorded his first GRAN guitar CD on the Multisonic label in the Czech Republic. The title of this CD is “The Melancholy Roar Niagara.” Later that same year, Mr. Rak recorded another CD along with Anatoliy Olshanskiy, Vladimir Ustinov, and Christian Gerstendorff. This CD features original solo and duet compositions and arrangements by Stepan Rak and Anatoliy Olshanskiy. The title of this CD is “Stepan Rak Introduces GRAN – The Guitar of the 21st Century” and is available from GRAN Centers in the United States and in Germany.

The GRAN guitar has received very positive reactions worldwide from professionals, students, teachers, and composers. It is seen as an instrument capable of playing many different musical styles, from baroque to classic and contemporary music, and also for folk, jazz and rock music. This guitar opens new horizons not only for guitarists, but also for musicians generally. The palette of complex timbres available through the mixture of nylon and steel strings, the wide variety of colorations, and also the variety of tuning possibilities should be of great interest to composers and arrangers as well as creative guitarists. The GRAN is both an acoustical and, more importantly, a musical enrichment.

So, what has been happening here in the United States with the GRAN-guitar? In 1993 Anatoliy and Vladimir came to California to promote the GRAN guitar in the United States. They gave lecture demonstrations at California State University Northridge, University of Southern California, and the Conservatory of Music at San Francisco. Dr. Ron Purcell, from California State University Northridge, showed a serious interest in this new instrument. Dr. Purcell phoned me and told me that he has to see this new guitar. I immediately phoned Anatoliy. He then invited me to attend their private concert and dinner that was being held in Studio City. After the concert I introduced myself to Anatoliy and Vladimir. I told them that I was a luthier and I was very interested in building a GRAN guitar. They were very excited because I was the first American luthier to show a serious interest in their instrument. We then spent the next four hours discussing the details of the GRAN guitar and its future in the United States. We then exchanged addresses and said our goodbyes.

We lost touch for about a year. Then in mid 1994 I received authorization to build the GRAN guitar from Anatoliy and Vladimir. I was sent specifications for the intricacies of the GRAN guitar. Anatoliy and Vladimir returned to California mid-April 1995. I had set up a two-week lecture demo tour of Southern and Central California. Anatoliy and Vladimir wished to meet guitar-maker Rick Turner of Turner Guitars. Rick is an expert on amplification of acoustic guitars. After meeting with Rick, Anatoliy and Vladimir commissioned two semi-acoustic GRAN guitars from Rick. Our next plan of action was to build a GRAN guitar for the GFA 1995 festival.

During this spring 1995 visit Anatoliy and Vladimir spent hours teaching me the performance techniques for the GRAN guitar. Anatoliy is a prolific composer and had written several studies and a multitude of original works for the GRAN guitar that he had left for me to study. After a few lessons I finally began to understand this new instrument, which with a little practice is not much different from playing the classical guitar. As a matter of fact, the GRAN guitar enhances the classical guitar technique.

Anatoliy and Vladimir returned to California in October of 1995, with German GRAN-guitarist and manager of the GRAN CENTER in Vienna, Christian Gerstendorff. As hosts, you could say that my wife and I had a houseful. At the time we lived in a one-bedroom apartment and Sue, my wife, was five months pregnant! I had completed my first GRAN guitar just in time for the GFA 1995 convention in Northridge. Anatoliy, Christian, and Vladimir brought five GRAN guitars with them for display at our booth at the festival. We met Matanya Ophee who introduced us to many professional guitarists, one of them being John Holmquist. Mr. Ophee has been very supportive and encouraging for the GRAN guitar. Mr. Holmquist showed quite an interest in the GRAN guitar, so that a GRAN guitar was given to Mr. Holmquist to experiment with.

Mr. Holmquist is the first classical touring artist in North America to tour with the GRAN. He has been performing the first half of his concerts with a traditional classical guitar, and the second half with the GRAN guitar. The response has been very positive, according to John.

Anatoliy returned to the United States for the 1996 GFA Convention. He gave a lecture and a short concert at the St. Louis convention. Unfortunately I was not able to attend, but Matanya Ophee and John Holmquist told me that the reaction to the GRAN guitar was very positive.

Well, I hope that I have piqued your interest in the GRAN guitar. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, I’d be glad to answer them.

by David Schramm (1997)