Jose’s guitar work is legendary.
For over 40 years he has been “instrumental” in dignifying the acoustic guitar by bringing it to a level of acceptance rivaled by few in the industry. Soul, pop, rock, jazz, classical – in English, Spanish and Italian, Jose has delighted people worldwide with his inimitable style. Honored by Guitar player Magazine, he is in their “Gallery of the Greats”; his hands were ‘enbronzed’ in Madame Tussaud’s in London and Billboard Magazine has bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award on the man whose life has been the guitar.
Many interested in Feliciano’s music have noticed his playing of the cuatro, a Puerto Rican stringed instrument. It is rather small, is sometimes quite beautifully decorated and sounds a little like a mandolin.
Jose has played the instrument for many, many years, as his uncle played and even made them in Puerto Rico. Jose now has several and he considers them one of his most special possessions. A number of recordings include the sound of the cuatro, “Feliz Navidad”, “The Little Drummer Boy”, “Ponte A Cantar”, to name a few. One of the tracks from “Señor Bolero” also has the distinctive sound of the cuatro.
To string this instrument one needs to use four sets of silk and steel light gauge strings which make up the unique combination: 2 High E’s; 2 B’s; 2 3rds; a 4th and a 1st and a 5th with a 3rd or a 2nd string. This combination allows for the seemingly “happy ” or “jovial” sound of the cuatro, which is crisp and clean.
Jose Feliciano’s love of the guitar also includes those he plugs into an amp! In fact, though it isn’t commonly considered, he has been playing the electric guitar nearly as long as the acoustic, though his image is that of an acoustic player.
He has a nice collection of electric guitars including a cherry red Les Paul Guitar, autographed to Jose by Les Paul, himself, right on the front. What a treasure!
On the road, Jose tours with an electric guitar that, over the years, has evolved into quite a special instrument. It’s a custom-made DiCarlo solid body guitar that he has used for at least the last 25 years or so. Over time, it has been worked and reworked to a point to where we’ve coined it, Jose’s Super Galactica and it’s really cherry! Some of its features include an on-board vintage MXR distortion and vintage MXR chorus. The neck pick-up is a Dimarzio PAF DP103 and the bridge pick-up is a Seymor Duncan SH-4 Jeff Beck model and he likes to use GHS Boomers Guitar – GBL light – strings these days. Since Jose considers the electric guitar an important part of who he is, musically, he rarely performs without it.
Clearly, however, it’s safe to say, the acoustic guitar is Jose Feliciano’s first love.
Since he was a little boy the acoustic guitar has been his best friend, his passport to the world; his salvation, as he puts it. It has been the source of his success so he will forever be grateful to this beautiful instrument.
Jose has played a number of different acoustic guitars, over the years. His very first, at nine years old, was a ten dollar, second-(or third!)-hand guitar given to him by his father.
“Dad and a friend of his surprised me one day with this paper bag and in it was my first guitar!”
Later, he heard of the master guitar maker, Candelario Delgado, in Los Angeles, California. He made a number of guitars for Jose over a period of time but Jose remembers fondly that Candelario even lent him a guitar in the early years when he couldn’t quite afford it on his own.
The last guitar Candelario ever made, as we’re told, has become very special in Jose’s collection: The Carved Head, as it is referred, has been photographed extensively and used for recording purposes, but rarely, if ever, taken on tour. It gets its named from the carving on the head of the stock where a bold “JOSE” can be seen. There’s a nice picture of it on the Romance in the Night LP.
The sons and nephews still run the shop, Candelario’s Guitars, in East L.A., and carry on the tradition of the master luthier, Candelario Delgado.
Currently, and for the last 20 years or more, Kirk Sand of The Guitar Shoppe, in Laguna Beach, California, has been custom-building instruments for Jose. Kirk and Jim Mathewson have developed a design with Jose that they call aptly, the Jose Feliciano Model. It has the larger-than-usual dreadnot body but, of course, with nylon strings and a cutaway for easier access up the fret board. It’s a lovely instrument with sweet richness that is both deep and clean. You can hear it whenever you see Jose on tour or listen to him on record!