Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

An old question is when and why the 6th string was added to the guitar.
When, late 18th century. Why? JF Scheidler gives an answer to that in his guitar method
which he published around 1803. JF Scheidler is known for the duo's for guitar and violin.
In his method for guitar and lyre he writes that the guitar has only 5 strings and that the 6th string was adopted fom the lyre. Also interesting is that he plays with the pinky on the deck without nails.

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Was it not more of a problem with the 5th and 6th courses if these were to be strung in unison rather than with the upper ones?   I seem to remember that Merchi says something along these lines.


It was Baillon I was thinking of

He says "I have observed that if this octave stringing is inconvenient, two overspun strings [i.e.bourdons] are even more so.  If the two strings are of equal thickness it is almost impossible for the thumb to strike both together.  If only one is struck the second serves no purpose; if they are struck together their vibrations sound mutually…"

I'd never really thought about it, and as you say, it's an old question, but the addition of the sixth string (in the end) goes along with single strings, and, as Scot says, fixed metal frets.

No doubt this has been gone over many times: addition of low sixth string, the move from double to single courses , and (movable) gut to fixed metal frets.

In Britain and France, wire-strung instruments - with fixed metal frets - were very popular from the middle of the 18th century. The French 'cistre', (especially 1770s-1780s) was  typically seven-course and had a low A and a lower E. And these wire-strung instruments morphed into single course, gut instruments around 1800ish.

And.. the Russian guitar appears in the late 1790s with seven single gut strings (but tuned to a G  chord)

It's interesting that a little later one still sees pieces marked for "Guitare ou Lyre"....Matteo Carcassi, Trois Rondo Op. 2 as one example and there's more from guys like Carulli, Giuliani, Sor...I suppose it's good marketing. Lots of folks were playing the lyre and/or the guitar so one would want to make sure they knew the music was playable on their instrument and buy it.


The other thing I find interesting is that, earlier in the Renaissance and Baroque eras,  there didn't seem to be the need for publishers to specify which plucked stringed instruments. One just looked at the music in tab, decided how many courses were needed and if the music seemed to need more than what your lute had, you made adjustments and just played it. 


One might run into a little issue playing theorbo music (for example) on a six course renaissance lute because of difference in tuning and number of courses but generally speaking if you liked the piece you just made adjustments and played it on the instrument you had.





Publishers in the Renaissance and Baroque eras didn't specify which plucked instrument was intended?? Scot, are you sure about this?

Don't they all say something like: Dominico Bianchini: Intabolatura De Lauto, or Francesco Coriandoli: Sonate sopra la chitarra spagnolo, or Anthony Holborne: The Cittharn School etc etc etc

Yes - I was puzzled by that suggestion.   Certainly as far as the baroque guitar is concerned the sources usually state that the music is for that instrument although this is obvious from the notation at least in Italian sources and the music can't be played on anything else.   This is also true of much cittern music because of its re-entrant tuning.

I'm very sorry guys, I've been under the influence of some extremely strong antibiotics for a couple weeks, so probably should not be participating in this discussion nor any other in fact. My thoughts tend to flow between one reality and various alternatives...some remarkably more interesting that others ;)...it's a very good thing I'm not allowed to drive or operate my power tools...but the doctor didn't say anything about discussing....maybe he should have.


I'm sure I didn't mean to imply that the type of instrument (lute, Theorbo, guitar, cittern...) was not indicated. I believe at the time I was thinking of the discussions we often have on this site concerning the tuning used in a particular baroque guitar manuscript or on lute sites concerning the appropriate number of courses on the lute for manuscript X. These kinds of things were not always evident just by looking at the cover or authors/publishers notes. It's only until we enter the work and discover we need guitar tuning A instead of B to best realize the music or our lute needs 9 courses rather than 7.


Anyways, it was one of those comments (undoubtedly from one of those "alternative realities") that doesn't go anywhere to further the discussion at hand and is best disregarded.



Scot, I hope you are feeling better soon!

Yes - I hope you will be feeling better soon.   Have  a rest and take care.   Monica


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