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How to Maintain Acoustic Guitars on a Hectic Touring Schedule

Guitarist-composer Antonio Forcione shares his tips on how to protect and maintain Spanish and classical guitars when touring the globe.

Last updated: 08 October 2020

Charismatic Italian Antonio Forcione is a world-renowned jazz guitarist and composer. Weaving Latin and African influences with flamenco and classical, he creates a vividly intricate sound. He has worked with artists such as Phil Collins, John McLaughlin, Eduardo Niebla and comedian Bill Bailey, and directed and performed with award-winning flamenco comedy troupe Olé. He has made 21 albums to date, the latest Joy as part of AKA Trio with Seckou Keita and Adriano Adewale

Protecting instruments on planes

Antonio describes himself as “a curious and restless soul”, adding that “I travel and I hear beautiful music and I play what I feel”. Such a lifestyle has bestowed a wealth of musical influences, but a precarious existence for his precious acoustic guitars.

“It is nerve-wracking, especially on planes,” he agrees. “It’s become a lot harder with tighter airline regulations. Wearing a soft gig bag upside down on your back doesn’t look so overpowering when you board, but often you’re forced to put guitars in the hold.

So my number one tip would be: buy a good quality hard case, label it professionally with ‘FRAGILE – GUITAR’ and your website, and wrap the guitar in bubble-wrap or soft clothing. Don’t lock the case, because if security want to check inside, they’ll just force it open, risking damage.”

Risks to guitars in Carribean climes

For two years Antonio has been travelling to and from Cuba making a documentary on trova, the folk tradition of guitar-playing troubadours. “It reminds me of growing up in a dusty village in Italy. It might disappear soon, so I thought I’d better document it,” he explains. “I met one trovador in the beautiful old town of Trinidad – and was amazed to discover he had two of my albums. His wife kissed my hand and said ‘I don’t know who you are, but your name was enough to get him out of bed after ten days with dengue fever!’”

But Caribbean climes bring their own risks to acoustic guitars. “They go out of tune quicker, so I always have a tuner on my phone,” says Antonio. “For an authentic Latin sound, I use nylon-stringed acoustic guitars. Steel strings snap more easily and rust quicker, so take plenty of spares. In Cuba I was always being asked for nylon D strings, as they’re the thinnest among the wound strings and the first to go.”

Music gear to take on tour

But Antonio points out it’s not just your guitar you need to look after. “Classical guitarists have a whole tool kit just for their nails! My kit bag always includes nail clippers to snip string-ends and untidy nails, and a nail file. I’ve even seen flamenco players glue bits of ping-pong balls to broken nails!”

Finally, he advises to be selective about which guitars you risk in transit. “I was given a beautiful vintage Ramirez in Spain, but I take reliable, modern versions, with a damn good pick-up, on tour. And if you take more than one guitar, get your friends to share the load by bringing them for you.”