The Harris Guitar Collection at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
The Harris Guitar Collection at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Great news for guitar scholars at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music: the school recently announced that L. John Harris and the Bay Area-based Harris Guitar Foundation have donated the entirety of both Harris’s personal and the Foundation’s unique collection of 40 vintage classical and flamenco guitars from the 19th and 20th centuries to SFCM’s guitar program. According to a press release, “the full collection will be available to all SFCM guitar studio faculty, students, and ensembles, and will be used to enhance and deepen the teaching of period repertoire specific to those instruments. SFCM will also expand recording, performance, and scholarship projects with the Harris guitars.”

L. John Harris

SFCM President David Stull said, “The Harris Collection will provide an unparalleled resource for exploring repertoire on exceptional period instruments while inspiring the next generation of artists to expand both their understanding and creation of new works for these guitars ... We are deeply grateful to John for his tremendous generosity and belief in our mission.”

L. John Harris said about his donation:

The gift of this collection to SFCM is the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since 2004 when SFCM’s first Guitarrada [guitar salon/showcase] event showcased several guitars from the collection on stage with Pepe Romero, Richard Bruné, Marc Teicholz, and David Tanenbaum. After creating the Harris Guitar Foundation in 2012 and subsequently leading regular sessions with SFCM students using instruments from the collection, I’m so pleased to be able to give these fine instruments a home at SFCM and look forward to helping shape their new life there. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my grandfather, Sol Harris, who launched an interior textile company, S. Harris Company, in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It was his success that made it possible for me to invest in my lifelong passion for the classical guitar, so I dedicate this gift to him. I’m sure he would approve of the Harris Collection’s permanent home at SFCM.”

Guitar from the Harris Collection by Hermann Hauser I (1948, Reisbach)

The Harris collection focuses on instruments from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, considered the pivotal years of modern guitar making. Harris will serve as the first-ever curator of the Harris Guitar Collection at SFCM, where portions of the collection have been housed on rotating display since 2012.

SFCM’s Guitar Department Chair David Tanenbaum, said “we are so grateful to receive the full Harris Guitar Collection, a unique celebration of the guitar’s heritage, which includes playable, mint-condition instruments from a key century of classical guitar history. Our students are the real recipients of this tremendous gift, and we are all eager to see this SFCM guitar department continue to grow and thrive with this wonderful addition.”

David Tanenbaum

News of the donation has stirred a lot of conversation among local six-string experts. Vintage guitar and bass purveyor Steve Swann recalls encountering many of the instruments in the Harris collection in person:

Guitar from the Harris Collection by Didier Nicolas la Aine (c.1815, Mirecourt)

I shared shop space with [luthier] John Mello at 437 Colusa Avenue [in Albany] from 1992 through much of 2000. In that time, I was exposed to national and international-level classical guitars through John’s extensive network of players and owners. Among the many exquisite instruments that would come and go, instruments from John Harris’s classical-guitar collection would make appearances for setup and maintenance. It was a thrilling experience to hear these superb instruments played in the nice acoustic space of the retail area of the shop in front of the high counter space.”

Local fingerstyle-guitar virtuoso Teja Gerkin, co-founder of the online music-instruction site Peghead Nation, and former gear editor at Acoustic Guitar magazine, added his thoughts on the significance of the acquisition: 

The Harris collection is significant not only because it includes examples off several significant European makers of classical guitars from the early 19th century to the present, including three guitars by Antonio de Torres [Jurado], but also because it has always had an emphasis on making the instruments available to students and scholars. Having long collaborated with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on events such as the Guitarrada series of showcases, using selected instruments for the premiere of contemporary works, and working with Bay Area luthiers to learn from the past and bring guitar design into the future, the collection has already been an important part of West Coast guitar culture. I have no doubts that having the collection housed directly at the conservatory will only increase its availability to the community.”  

SFCM Guitar Faculty News

Sérgio Assad

The Conservatory also announced the appointments of noted guitarists Sérgio Assad and Meng Su to its faculty beginning in the fall of 2021. Assad returns to the school as professor of guitar and artist-in-residence. He was on SFCM faculty from 2006–2016, and his emphasis is on performance, composition, and arranging for the guitar. Assad is represented by Opus 3 Artists, the management company that formed an alliance with SFCM earlier this fall, and is the first member to join the faculty.

Meng Su is an acclaimed soloist and founding member of the Beijing Guitar Duo, which received a Latin Grammy nomination for its debut recording. Meng Su has won numerous competitions, including the prestigious Parkening International Guitar Competition in 2015.