Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

Hi all. Being primarily interested in the romantic guitar, I began to stumble on information and videos of baroque pieces (played on regular guitar), then actual baroque guitar, and now vilhuela. I've played guitar for quite some time, and am a little embarrassed to have to admit that I knew nothing of these wonderful instruments. Up until now I've been happy watching and listening them being played, but I find myself quite interested in going further and having a try myself. Sadly, obviously baroque guitars and vihuelas do not grow on trees - the only way to purchase one seems to be to commission one. Before that ever happens though, I have been trying to find definitive descriptions of them ... there seem (particularly with the baroque guitar) so many variations on pitch and courses, that I am not sure where to begin. Is there a standard, or is the variety the appeal?

I think I'd love to find a festival or day of some kind in the UK where I could see with my own eyes, these wonderful instruments being played by you folk.

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Hello Spencer,
I don't know where in the UK you are, but there are several Early Music Festivals. For instance, there is Greenwich, or York. If you let us know where you live approximately, I'm sure we can find some more leads for you.
And as to instruments, there are regularly used baroque guitars for sale at the website of the British Lute Society, or Wayne Cripps' page.
Regards, Jelma van Amersfoort
Thank Jelma, much appreciated.
I live in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire (about 30 mins from Cambridge). Any upcoming events would be of interest!
Hello, Spencer,
While you are waiting for expert answers you could have a look at http://www.lutesandguitars.co.uk/htm/cat12.htm
You'll find a very fine section here on different types of baroque guitars with photos of many fine replicas.
The same can be said of Alexander Batov's website as well. Good luck! And if you don't want to pay a fortune you can have a look at TindasLatinas and tbe baroque guitars by Martin Zalapa. I have just ordered one myself, expecting it to arrive soon after 8 to 10 weeks. I ordered mine to have the first string single, and with the string length of 65 cm, this is also very commo and is the same as the Classical guitar, making the frets the same as on a classical also.
Best wishes
Hi, Spencer,

Kowing that a novice giving an advice to another novice is not appropriate, I would think you would be better off making it clear which music you are interested in playing. Different types of music, especially the ones for baroqule guitars, should require different types of instruments.
I sure you know this but the vihuela and baroque guitar are two different instruments. So you need to decide which you want as music for one can't be played on the other. However, the instruments themselves do not vary very much. The vihuela has six courses tuned in unison but the baroque guitar has only five. The 4th and 5th courses on the baroque guitar can be strung in unison or in octaves - but you don't need a separate instrument for the different methods of stringing - this is just a matter of personal taste which method you use.

If you decide to join the Lute society you would be able to hire a vihuela from them as their fleet of hire instruments does include one. Sadly it doesn't yet include a baroque guitar - although when I die I have promised to bequeath mine to them. You could also get a copy of my booklet on the stringing of the baroque guitar and the latest copy of Lute - the journal which is devoted to rather esoteric articles on the baroque guitar.
Thank you everyone :)
I am aware the two are completely different instruments Monica. I think my main confusion was with the baroque guitar, which you say has five courses - although I am sure I have seen them offered with differing numbers of courses, and in different keys, so I wasn't sure where to begin.
As for the type of music I am most interested in; I am most drawn as I say to the 19th Century Romantic guitar period, so would love to discover that Sor and Carcassi perhaps indulged in these instruments also (!), but my understanding is that these instruments are dated much earlier. I have enjoyed the Sanz pieces I have found on the baroque guitar. Vilhuelas seem much more affordable, but so far I haven't found as much information as readily available.
Well - no. Baroque guitars always have only five courses. The point is that the instrument can be strung in three different ways - with a low octave and high octave string on both the 4th and 5th courses, octave stringing on the 4th course only with the 5th course "re-entrant" - that is - in unison in the upper octave, or with no low octave strings on either course - fully re-entrant - the lowest sounding course is the 3rd course and the 4th and 5th in unison in the upper octave. The other thing is that "scordatura" is frequently used - creating a different interval pattern between the courses from the standard. However, it is only necessary to have one instrument provided you have time to keep changing the stringing or retuning it. The other thing about baroque guitar music is that whichever the way in which instrument is strung you can't really play the music on the classical guitar. This is because in the music the high octave strings are more important the the low ones - the "re-entrant" effect is always present. Music for vihuela can easily be played on the classical guitar. All you need to do is to tune the third string down to F sharp.

Having said all that - which you probably know already - it is possible that Sor played a 5-course guitar early on in his career. But the 6th course began to be added about 1750 and all his surviving music is for six courses or six single strings - the double strings were abandonned towards the end of the 18th century.

As far as buying an instrument is concerned - I would try to borrow one first to see how you get on. I don't think vihuelas are any less readily available than baroque guitars.
You are speaking about two different instruments. My advice would be to listen to both types -baroque guitar and vihuela- of music and see which one you like best. A baroque guitar can also be used to play continuo accompaniments. You may like that, too.
Thank you again everyone, things are a little clearer. I was never in doubt that these are two different instruments, but was confused about the baroque guitar, and Monica has cleared that up for me. I will be trying to find somewhere local where I can hear these instruments being played. :)
Why don't you try You Tube. Lots of people have posted recordings of themselves playing baroque guitar especially. Look under Rob Mackillop and Richard Mackenzie for a start as they are friends of mine. You should get some nice pieces. Lots of people on this list have posted recordings too.

I have spent a fair bit of time in the past few weeks watching those very videos Monica, they're what really got me interested. :)
I've also been reading about the Early Music Festival in Greenwich in November. I guess this is a big thing for some of you guys, but I couldn't see much mention of early stringed instruments - performance, demonstration or otherwise - in the listings apart from cello..?
Well - it is devoted to Early Music in general. Lots of people, especially makers of musical instruments, publishers erc. have stalls and there are concerts. The Lute Society always has a stall and like Jelma - I would recommend that you join. I am one of the prime movers of things to do with baroque guitar and vihuela, these being my speciality. I think you said you live in Peterborough - a very nice place - and so it would be relatively easy for you to get to meetings which are held on Saturday afternnons. The next is on Sept. 11 with a recital by Rosemary Hodgson. I am not sure whether she is playing the lute or vihuela but she is a lovely player. At the November 20th meeting there is going to be a talk on Mudarra's songs with vihuela and a recital by Nigel North. You get a quarterly magazine as well. Come and join us.


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