Macias Bajo Sexto

"Macias is considered to be the instrument's equivalent to a Stradivarius violin"

     
Don Martin Macias 32 years old
     
Don Martin Macias at 80

The history of the Bajo Sexto is not exactly clear, but by some historian's account, the instrument was first brought to Mexico by the Spaniards. Others say it evolved from the 12-string guitar, emerging sometime late in the 19th century as native to the bajio region of Jalisco, Mexico.

In the early development of conjunto music, the Bajo was used mainly as a bass instrument in conjunction with the bass chord elements of the accordion. But later, with the addition of bass and drums in modern conjunto groups, the Bajo players were free to expand on its primary use as a rhythm instrument and played as a solo, melody-line instrument. The first to do so was Santiago Almeida who played with the pioneer accordionist Narcisco Martinez in the early 1900s.

The Steel -stringed Bajo is tuned an octave below a standard guitar, and the last two strings are tuned up a half-step: E, A, D, G, C, F, low to high, with each course tuned in octaves. This gives it a rich tone and a loud, resonant quality.

Don Martin Macias' name is synonymous with the Bajo Sexto. He was a master craftsman who specialized in hand-made Bajo Sextos and guitars. While there are many Bajo makers, a Macias is considered to be the instrument's equivalent to a Stradivarius violin. For more than 60 years, Martin Macias dedicated his life to the making of stringed instruments. He died in 1983 shortly after being inducted into the Conjunto Hall of Fame. Martin Macias started his guitar shop in 1925 in San San Antonio, Texas.

According to Albert Macias, his father learned his trade from a master guitar-maker from Spain, Don Camerino Villagomez, when he was a young man in Michoacan, Mexico. Mr. Villagomez was getting old and he wanted to pass his profession on to someone who would be dedicated and who would love guitar making like he did. Albert Macias says of the legacy, "my father passed on the gift to me." (Ron Young)

This is a 1958 Martin Macias Standard I purchased in San Antonio,Texas. Inside the Bajo is Martin Macias' name and above his signature card is a small sticker with the name of Acuña. According to Albert Macias, his father made a handful of bajo sexto's and would sell them through a furniture store in downtown San Antonio owned by Acuña in the early 50s-60s. At one point Don Martin Macias got mad at Acuña for placing the sticker right smack in the middle of Martin's logo. So for a short period of time, Macias did not supply any bajo's to Acuña because he was upset.

 

The Tradition Continues

 
Albert Macias
 
George A. Macias

Today, Albert and his son George continue the tradition of Martin Macias. Three generations of Bajo Sexto builders. They continue to make bajos behind a converted garage that Martin made 50 years ago. I had the privilege to see Albert and his son George in action making these great instruments. Albert began working full-time with his father Martin in 1971, and eventually took over the shop when his father passed away. In 2004, George who has been helping at the shop since he was a little, left his regular job to assist his father with the bajos as a full-time profession. Albert's grandson Chris, who is George's son, will be the fourth generation in the art of guitar building. At 18, he has two guitars under his belt. Chris was showing me the wood that he was going to use for his next project. He has not made any bajos yet, but, he is hoping that his grandfather will eventually let him make one when he is ready. It might be a few more years.

As I was standing near the work bench talking to George about a bajo he was making, I observed Albert making bajo sexto strings by hand. I have known that the Macias made their own strings, but I had never witnessed this. I purchased a set for my Martin Macias bajo. Albert was sold out of strings by the time I left. People kept coming in buying strings and inquiring about the bajos. "Tengo que ser mas" Albert stated when the last strings were sold.

On bajos -It takes 6 to 8 months to make a Macias bajo. As it stands, they have more orders than they can handle. According to Albert, only wood parts are used -- no nails or screws. Only glue and fine-chiseled wood pieces. All are fashioned from patterns originally made by Martin. The whole instrument gleams with varnish. "I never use stains on my guitars like they do in factories," Albert states. "Why would you want to ruin the real thing?" Albert adds that his father (Martin) did not want his instruments to look like any others. He tried to break tradition because he wanted to be known "for his unique look." (Ron Young)

Albert is a nice and gentle man. His love for the bajo sexto is evident as he was giving me advise in Spanish on how to take care of the bajo. He also wanted to tune it for me.

For more information on Macias Bajo Sextos, contact George Macias at (210) 923-7529. 1223 Vermont Street, San Antonio, Texas 78211.

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