Early Guitars and Vihuela

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I'd be grateful if members could let me know what string height they find best on the Early Romantic Guitar. To be specific: by string height I mean the distance required to depress the string to the fingerboard (not to the top of the fret - the usual 'action' measurement) at the 12th fret,  for both the first and sixth string.

I've fairly recently dug out my Grobert copy for a few shows and, as I start to pluck harder, I find I'm getting some string rattles (possibly on adjacent frets) in the lower positions (ie on frets 1 to 5) on the first and second strings.  Whether or not the belly has sunk I don't know (it doesn't seem to have) but the depressing distance (as described above) of the first string at the 12th fret is only 3.0mm which seems low by modern guitar standards. The frets are about 0.9mm high so the 12th fret 'action', if you prefer that measure, is only some 2.1mm.  Clearly this all makes for ease of playing in the higher positions - but at the expense of some string rattles.

So in making the necessary adjustments it would be interesting to know what others use on similar instruments ie 6 string guitars from period 1800 - 1830.






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I am facing the same problem. But i think its because of the belly that's been sinking  a bit. It looks like it has sunk but i'm not sure.. I've been told that by raising the bridge a bit the problem is solved. havent tried it yet.

I know its not an answer to your question, I just wanted to share some same experiences.


I'm sure you know all this Martyn but for others benefit: Action is normally measured from the top of the fret to the underside of the string, 3.0 mm (high 'E') being an average for a modern Classical Guitar. Romantic Guitars nearly always have a shorter string length but are usually played at slightly lower string tension. I don't see any real reason why it should be any different to that of a modern Classical, although some people seem to think that it should be the case. It is Player dependent though. Anyone can make a Guitar buzz if they put enough energy into the string. IMO 2.1 mm is being very optimistic if you want buzz free playing. You might find the belly rising and sinking (a touch) in respect to humidity changes. The flat soundboards of Romantic guitars tend to go slightly concave and never seem to fully return. 

I agree with Michael although I generally use a lower action (ca 2.5mm, bottom of first string to top of 12th fret) on my replica early romantics than I would on a modern. But, as Michael points out, that does depend on a number of things including the player and their personal technique: Nails/no nails. pinky planted/not planted etc. Although minor differences these all have an effect.


This time of year can also be problematic for guitars depending on where you are. Spring usually is a wet and warmer time of year so the higher humidity can cause the woods to swell and move. Some modern luthiers supply extra long saddles or extra taller saddles with their instuments so that the player can adjust the action easily as the wood moves through the seasons. We also leave our windows open longer to let fresh air in after the long winter so the humidity in our home often creeps up without us realizing it...


I find flush fingerboard instruments (which I assume your Grobert, like the original, is) are sometimes more susceptable to "back bow" or the fingerboard swelling and causing the neck to bow back away from the plane of the soundboard (especially at the join of the neck and body). This can give the illusion of the action lowering. Most often this corrects itself as the humidity drops to a level more comfortable for the guitar. This also happens to raised fingerboard instruments but, in my experience, not quite so dramatically.


If you haven't noticed this buzzing previously and from where you say it mainy is and not having seen the instrument...I'd make a guess that it's a humidity issue. In both yours, Martyn and possibly in Lars's as well. Check what the humidity is in your home/studio, where-ever you keep your guitar and I suspect it's over 50%. I don't know what the makers built the instrument at but usually builders keep the shop humidity between minimum 40 and max 50%. To know for sure you'd have to contact your luthier but somewhere between those two numbers should be close.


If it is a humidity issue, it will reverse itself as the relative humidity, where the guitar is mainly kept, enters the zone that the guitar was made at....if it doesn't then it's time to look for other causes.




thank you Scot.

regarding the sinking of the belly between the soundhole and the bridge. Can that also be caused by too high a tension on the strings. I've graduatly been using a bit higer tension than I used to do, but can the tension pull the brigde towards the soundhole and thereby causing the strings to come closer to the fingerboard. Hope it makes any sense, what Im writting.

Modern Classical Guitars are built with a dome to the soundboard, you might call that convex. Romantic Guitars are made with a soundboard that is flat. Even without ever putting on strings, the Romantic Guitar Top will become slightly concave. The result of humidity changes, as I stated earlier they never seem to go back to flat even when the humidity returns to normal. 

Over time all Guitars exhibit a slight bulge behind the bridge and a slight dip in front of the bridge. This may be a reason why some French Romantic Guitars have a harmonic bar just behind the bridge, to counteract the tendency for this bulge. It is a result of string tension and is quite normal. It only becomes a problem when this becomes severe. These deformations to the soundboard are common to most stringed musical instruments - Guitars, Violins, Harps etc.  Increasing the string tension will almost certainly mean that over time the distortion will become a little more severe. . . but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be a problem. It all depends on how much string tension, Soundboard stiffness/thickness and the harmonic bars. I suspect that what you are seeing is quite normal, unless you are playing with super high tension strings.

In terms of humidity we have faced a rather harsh Spring. At least we have in Northern Europe. I've been monitoring house room Humidity for near on 15 years and I've NEVER seen the humidity plummet as low as it has done in late March 2013. 25% RH is pretty rare for the depths of a cold winter but that's the kind of figures I was reading just a couple of weeks ago. As a contrast (and now that the snow has gone) I'm now reading 42% RH. 25% RH can be very dangerous to musical instruments, soundboard cracking time. In such conditions it's a very good idea to store the instrument in it's case (when not being played!) with a suitable humidifier. A perfectly adequate but cheap humidifier is a piece of damp sponge contained within a plastic film canister (you can still get them). I drill a few holes in the canister lid. Providing you keep the sponge moist it will be perfectly effective. If you really want to be safe place two or even three inside the case. Only when the humidity is low though. Winter are usually the danger months although you should monitor RH with an accurate hygrometer. Accurate Hygrometers are another subject.


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