guitars early ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

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guitars - early (till about 1900)

Here you find a long row of different guitars; at least : those that I regard as "different types", although I realize the choice is quite arbitrary.


On this first page the historic instruments are shown, starting with the renaissance period (1500) till about 1900.

On the next page (guitars modern) the guitars of the 20th century are shown, including the electric ones.


For resophonic guitars see under steelguitars.

For more obscure guitars try also miscellaneous.

For other early medieval plucked instruments (like citole and gittern)
see under lutes, mandolins or cittern.



renaissance guitar
example : custom made by Peter Forrester, UK 1983, after picture in a book by Mersenne 1636
L=740 B=205 H=85mm
scale 510mm
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renaissance guitar

This is the early guitar, used in the 16th century. Only a few books exist with music for it - most of it is in lute-playing style, but then using only 4 courses. It has a lute-like tuning, however dropping the top string.

The renaissance guitar is much smaller than a normal guitar (or the vihuela from the same period used in Spain), and also thinner. Some had a somewhat rounded back. Also the waist was slimmer, and often the pegbox had a scroll or an animal head carved on it.

The soundhole was filled with a rosette made of several layers of delicately cut parchment. It had gut strings in 4 courses (the first single, the rest double) and no raised fingerboard. The frets were tied-on gut string.

The tuning would be gg' c'c' e'e' a'.

picture from the book by Mersenne,
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baroque guitar
example : custom made by Hopf guitar factory, Germany 1979,
after unknown example
L=960 B=280 H=90mm
scale 620mm
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baroque guitar

This is the instrument of the 17th and 18th century, the instrument of players/composers like Visee, Sanz, Corbetta.

The baroque guitar had 5 double gut string courses (first string single), with tied-on gut frets. The soundhole was always filled with a delicate rosette, made of several layers of parchment. The bridge usually had a kind of "mustache" and the edges of the front were decorated in black and white blocked purfling. The fingerboard was flush with the front.

One of the usual tunings was aa d'd' gg bb e'e' or aa d'd gg bb e'e'.

The sound is quite thin, lacking the basses, and the music was a combination of chord strumming and single note "fingerpicking". The notation was in tablature, with each composer using his own style of notating the ornamentation.

Famous builders of baroque guitars were Voboam and Sellas, of which many beautiful decorated guitars have survived.

As was usual in the 17th C, the soundhole has several layers of a delicately cut parchment rosette. This rosette was later made for this baroque guitar by Harvey Hope.


For more beautiful rosettes see Roses.
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chitarra battente
example : custom made after Sellas instrument
by Martin de Witte, NL 2000
L=910 B=240 H=130mm
scale 590mm
You Tube
chitarra battente

This is a special type of baroque guitar, used for strumming chords.

The chitarra battente was mainly used in Italy, hence the Italian name.
In fact there still exists a similar instrument (with the same name) in Italy (see Europe south).

Usually the back was made quite vaulted, and the sides sometimes higher than on other guitars, to get as much sound producing body as possible.

The chitarra battente did not have the customary gut strings, but used 5 courses of thin metal strings, often even with three strings per course. To stand the force of so many metal strings, the bridge was not glued to the front, but the strings ran over the loose bridge, to pins at the end of the body. To strengthen the construction, the part of the front lower than the bridge was made slanting (like on an Italian mandolin).

As was usual in the 17th C, the soundhole has several layers of a delicately cut parchment rosette, while the front is decorated with filled-in carvings. The fingerboard has inlayed squares of bone (originally ivory) with rural landscapes etched in them.

The example instrument (after an instrument in the GemeenteMuseum in The Hague) has 14 strings, and proves to be difficult to keep in tune. There is hardly any music for it - as it was just used for strumming chords to accompany singing. It gives a very full rich sound, however lacking any basses.
Playing normal baroque guitar music on it is more difficult than on the usual baroque guitar.
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romantic guitar
example : custom made after Grobert guitar by Martin de Witte, NL 1998
L=920 B=295 H=75mm
scale 635mm
You Tube
romantic guitar

At the end of the 18th century the guitar started to change : the quite delicate guitar with 5 double courses gave way to a somewhat more robust type of guitar with 6 strings. Only in Spain the 5 course guitar first got an extra (6th) bass course; the rest of Europe went more or less straight from the 5 double courses to 6 single strings.

Other changes were the use of metal frets instead of the tied-on gut frets, a longer fingerboard, and inside some more struts to strenghten the body. The friction pegs were slowly on replaced by some mechanical tuners. Decoration became scarse and mainly limited to the purfling around the edge of the body. The parchment carved rosette inside the soundhole was replaced by just some decoration around the soundhole (which now looked quite empty...).

This model, with the pegbox in a figure of eight shape that resembles the shape of the guitar itself, still has the friction pegs. The bridge has some remnants of a mustache and the strings are fixed with bridge-pins : small peg-like items that make the pulling force of the strings go right to the wood of the front, instead of via the glue of the bridge.

The strings were made of gut, in the now familiar tuning E A d g b e'.

This model was mainly made in France and Italy.

For lots of information about this type of guitar see earlyromanticguitar.com.

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Stauffer guitar
example : custom made after Stauffer Legnani guitar by Martin de Witte, NL 2000
L=950 B=305 H=80mm
scale 620mm
You Tube
Stauffer guitar

In Austria the guitarmaker Stauffer worked in the early 1800 together with the Italian guitar viruoso Legnani to design a new type of guitar.

This model has a flat peghead in the shape of a sideways curl of a violin (somewhat resembling the modern Fender tuning head), on which (on the back) a special (closed) metal tuning machine was fixed, with all 6 tuners on the left side. A similar device is still used on tamburitzas (see Europe east).

The neck was fixed to the body with only one special screw (the fingerboard was free from the soundboard), which could be turned with a key, and this also adjusted the angle of the neck, making it easy to adjust the hight of the strings (the "action").

The bridge still has some remnants of a mustache, and the strings are fixed with bridge-pins.

This type of guitar was mainly made around Vienna. One of the apprentices of Stauffer was C.F. Martin, who later went to USA to make guitars, which was the beginning of the famous Martin guitar factory.

 

For lots of information about this type of guitar see earlyromanticguitar.com.

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Panormo guitar
example : from website guitarsalon.com
L= B= H=mm
scale ~620mm
You Tube
Panormo guitar

In England the (baroque) guitar had never been very popular, until around 1800 the family of Panormo (who were Italian instrumentmakers) came to London. Here they became quite famous, making guitars in the Spanish tradition.

Their main model shows the nowadays more or less standard way of machine heads in an open peghead, and a slightly raised fingerboard. There are still some remnants of a moustache on both sides of the bridge.

 

For lots of information about this type of guitar see earlyromanticguitar.com.

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terz guitar
example : picture from website Guitarcentre
L= B= H=mm
scale ~550mm
You Tube

terz guitar

The terz guitar is a small size (classical) guitar, which is tuned a minor third higher than a normal guitar (top string in g'). The higher tuning of the gut or nylon strings gives it a bright tone. Of course to get the same tuning you could also put a capodastre on the 3th fret of a normal guitar.

They are often sold as "child's guitar", because of the smaller size. It is similar in size to the requinto of Spain and Mexico (see North America ).

The terz guitar was popular in Vienna round 1800 and especially with composers like Giuliani and Diabelli.

There is now a kind of revival in USA with small size steel string guitars, also using the name "terz guitar".

 

For lots of information about this type of guitar see earlyromanticguitar.com.

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harp guitar
example : picture from website harpguitars.net
L= B= H=mm
scale mm
You Tube
harp guitar

The harp guitar is in fact a normal classical guitar (with 6 fretted strings) that have an extension to the body or to the neck (or even a separate neck) with a number of extra strings (3 to 9) that are only played unfretted, and in general are meant for bass notes. Player/composers like Coste often used this instrument. The Austrian schrammel gitarre is a harp guitar (see EuropeEast)

This arrangement makes the harp guitar different from a multi-string guitar, with 7, 8, 9 or 10 strings, that all can be fretted (see miscellaneous).

Usually the string length of the bass strings is more or less the same length as the fretted strings. Each maker designed his own model and they had quite a variety of solving the problem how to fix the extra strings. To get a clear idea, and for extensive details about all different kinds of harp guitars, see : www.harpguitars.net

 

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lyre guitar
example : picture from website National Music Museum
L= B= H=mm
scale mm
You Tube
lyre guitar

The lyre guitar became popular in Europe during a short period : mainly 1800 - 1820. This instrument was more a piece of art / architecture, heavily inspired by Classisme (from ancient Greece and Rome).

Because of their larger bodies they were supposed to have more volume. It is of notice that they always had 6 single strings in a period that that was not yet common practice on all guitars.

The lyre guitar usually had two decorated sound holes and on both sides of the neck the body had extending arms, ending in some way on a piece that joined up with the tuning head.

It was mainly played by ladies (of standing). The shortlived rage has only provided us with a wide range of pieces of art.


For lots of details about lyre guitars see www.harpguitars.net.

 

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parlor guitar
example : Washburn reissue 1890, bought 1997
L=970 B=345 H=100mm
scale 630mm
You Tube
parlor guitar

In the second half of the 19th century people got more leasure time and played guitar for their own enjoyment - although the banjo and the mandoline were still far more popular.
In the USA some postorder firms (like Lyon and Healy) sold thousands of this type of guitar - quite large in their time, but still small compared with modern size guitars. As they were mainly used at home, they were known as parlor guitars.

The body shape was more or less fixed. The bridge had small (square) extensions on both sides (usually decorated), and the strings were fixed with bridge pins. It had a simple inlay rosette around the soundhole and tuning machines on an open peghead. The fingerboard was raised above the front.

The strings were originally still made of gut, later of steel.

 

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classical guitar
example :
Ibanez model 373,
bought 1972
L=1010 B=345 H=100mm
scale 650mm
You Tube

classical guitar

Around 1850 the Spanish guitarmaker Torres designed the type of guitar that is now standard for playing classical guitar music. It is also called Spanish guitar.

The main characteristics are the tuning machines on an open peghead, 6 single (gut, later nylon) strings, a wide fingerboard raised above the soundboard, a special heel, and a flat square bridge with a (bone) saddle. Inside the body is a special way of (fan)bracing to strengthen the soundboard.

Compared with the old baroque guitar, there is not much decoration on this type of guitar, but those few bits are usually the only items by which a maker can be recognized : the shape of the top of the peghead, the rosette inlay around the soundhole, the inlay strip on the bridge and on the join in the middle of the back. All the rest (like the dimensions and proportions of the body), was since Torres more or less fixed.

Tuning is E A d g b e' and playing is in 'classical style' : plucking each string separate with the fingers and thumb.

   
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