Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

"GREAT MUSICAL CURIOSITY___An extraordinary improvement has just been made in the SPANISH GUITAR, till now considered as a mere musical toy. The new Guitar will rank among the most agreeable instruments; it is full of power, and the beauty and clearness of its tone, particularly in the high notes, strike the hearer with surprise. No Guitars are genuine, but those sold by the Inventor, H. BARELLI, 43, Great Titchfield-street, Marylebone, where the celebrated Patent Foreign Strings may be had. Guitars exchanged."  
- Advertisement from Mr. Henry Barelli in the London Morning Post on May 3, 1842.

I have had the good fortune of purchasing a reproduction of this great musical curiosity from Dr James Westbrook, luthier and esteemed scholar of the classical guitar and its construction. His biography is here: http://www.wolfson.cam.ac.uk/people/dr-james-westbrook 

The guitar sounds wonderful, and, indeed, strikes the hearer with surprise. It has deep bass, probably due to the increased depth of the body when compared to other guitars of the period, and sparkling trebles. This guitar is certainly a departure from earlier romantic guitars and points the way to the development of the modern classical guitar. James built his reproduction with a spruce top and a solid spruce body. The neck is veneered with ebony, tricky business when compared to ebonizing, which, as far as I know, is just painting the wood. The tuners are original from the 1800s and have ivory buttons.  

In 2012, James submitted his PhD thesis, titled: Guitar Making in Nineteenth-century London: Louis Panorama and his Contemporaries. The thesis will be published as a book. For people interested in buying a copy of the book, they should put their name on a list, here:

http://earlyguitar.ning.com/forum/topic ... ndon-based

James wrote a wonderful article about the history of this guitar. The article appears in American Lutherie, The Quarterly Journal of the Guild of American Luthiers, Number 121, Spring 2015. I wish I could attach the article, I assume I cannot, so, I will attempt to summarize it in a few sentences. 

Basically, this model of guitar, made by the Roudhloff brothers, Dominique and Arnould, with some input from a Mr. Barelli, used X-bracing, a form of bracing that turned up shortly afterwards in the guitars of C.F. Martin. While the assumption is that X-bracing was used to support the increased tension of steel strings, X-bracing actually goes back to English guittars (citterns), which, although strung with steel strings, had strings that were of low tension. 

Martin's first X-braced guitars were strung with gut, not steel, adding further to the confusion about the reason for the use of X-bracing. So, the question is whether Martin learned of X-bracing from a Roudhloff guitar. This question is still open to debate, from what I can gather from the article.

This guitar was named a "melophonic", which is an invented word that means "melodious sound." Regondi played one of these guitars to good effect in August of 1842. "The audience (about 700 persons, the large Concert room being full), accustomed to the insignificant sound of the common Guitar were taken by surprise and delighted by the sweet and full-bodied tones of this new instrument."

Any thoughts on what strings would work well with this instrument? James had it tuned down a semitone using high tension strings. I didn't think I could force my teacher to tune down at every lesson, so those have been replaced with normal tension strings tuned to 440.

And now, the pictures! These were all taken by James, I haven't been able to produce any better photos of the instrument. The last one shows the guitar in a full size guitar case so you can get some idea of its size in relation to a modern classical guitar. I'm still searching for a better case for it and have so far failed. The guitar is 12.5cm deep at the bridge, making it hard to find a small case that is deep enough. Suggestions welcome. 

Oh, and I need a strap. I ordered the Ace reissue of the iconic Jimi Hendrix strap but I'm open to other ideas. ;-) There are just too many choices in the strap world.

As I believe that James frequents this forum, I hope he will correct any of my mistakes in the above description of the guitar and its construction.

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The Citterns were low tension for 'steel' strings but then again there are 10 of them. I have an original Preston (Longman) and I think I would describe the bracing as substantial. I've only seen the cittern X bracing in pictures but there's no mistaking it as X bracing. It is possible that the guitar world (Roudhloff) came to X bracing as a separate and later discovery but I have my doubts.

I have a Roudhloff ca. 1848 for sale on this forum, with the x bracing; which is thin and light.  A 3/4 size classical guitar case might work; TKL makes one.  Describing sound is always tricky, but I think this guitar has a smoother sound than the ladder braced instruments of that period.  I most often use normal tension modern classical guitar strings, but of course gut would be more appropriate.  The Bow Brand co. which is in England makes harp strings that are suitable for guitar.  I like .70 on the 1st, .80 on the 2nd, and 1.00 on the 3rd.  The bass strings from Aquila's Ambra set are good.  

Hello James, 

  Thanks for the information on strings, I will experiment. At the moment, I have it strung using normal tension strings at 440. I'm still trying to decide if I preferred the sound of it with high tension strings tuned down a semitone. I think there is a definite difference. Can you tell me a place to order individual Brand strings? There seem to be different types, Natural Gut, Lever Gut, etc, so I am confused. 

  What do you tune to with gut strings? 

  I saw your listing after I had already committed to buy James' replica. I suppose I would have been tempted if I hadn't found this guitar. I love this little guitar and play it all the time, it's a lot of fun to play, and it is stunning to look at with its spruce over spruce look.

  As for cases, sadly, I don't believe anybody makes a 3/4 guitar case anymore. The one that I saw from TKL was almost as big as my Bam case. I think they use the full size mold and just put in more stuffing. As a result, I'm on a mission to source a case. I need something that does not weigh a lot because I live in New York City and carry my guitars on my back. I need something that weighs less than 8 lbs, like a Visenut. I tried the Japanese Superlight case but it is only 11cm deep and my guitar is 12.5cm deep. So, the search continues. 

Hi Larry, what is the string length of the guitar?  I order the natural harp gut (varnished) in 8ft. lengths which makes the price very reasonable.  If you play without nails the unvarnished gut might be better.  I contact the company directly, and the strings are shipped from the UK.  A travel bag might work for you; they are very light, and you can put a towel around the guitar.  Or you could order a Kingham made to measure case.  I had a TKL parlor guitar case once that was a pretty good fit.  Are you sure about the 12.5cm body depth?   My Roudhloff is 10.3cm at the deepest, as are my modern classical guitars.  The travel bags are loose fitting, so they would adapt to your guitar.  Otherwise a custom case?

Hello James, 

  The scale length is 640mm. I play with nails, and since I have two modern guitars that I play in rotation with this one, I'm not going to cut my nails off. I'll look into ordering the strings directly. Thanks.

  I can't risk damaging a guitar like this one by carrying it in a travel bag. It's not about the cost, I just can't find a suitable case that is light and of the correct size. I talked to Pegasus up in Scotland but they were quoting me weights that were of the equal of my full-sized case. I'm afraid Kingham will be the same. If it's being made out of plywood, it will be too heavy for me. Those cases are fine for people who own cars, but not for me.

  Yes, the body depth is 10.3cm, but the depth including the bridge is 12.5cm. I measured the Japanese super light using CD jewel cases, a trick James told me about, and it was only 11cm deep. I wasn't that impressed with the quality of the case anyway but at least it was a case designed for parlor sized guitars and it was light. 

  Do you have any ideas of who would make me a light parlor-sized custom case?

I play with nails and the varnished gut lasts longer; it's worth a try. My experience with Kingham cases is they are light. Perhaps the Colorado case co. could be helpful. Regarding pitch; I tend to keep it at a'=430 or lower.
Hello James,

Could you post a link to where I could order 8 foot lengths of varnished gut strings directly from Brand? I can't seem to find it. Thanks!

I don't have a link.  I emailed them with my order request through the contact information on their website.

Hello James, 

  Ok, I've put in an order for the gut strings and will give them a try. How long do they last for you? As I recall, you said you play with nails. 

  What tension Aquila Ambra strings do I buy for the basses if I tune to 430? 

Hi Larry, probably the Ambra 900 set is the best choice, but the 800's and 2000's would work. I've tried all those on the guitar and it's just a matter of personal preference.
Thanks. I ordered a couple of the 800 sets and the superior tension Alabastros, I hope that's ok. Don't ask me what superior tension means. Next time, I'll try the 900s.

Hi Larry, I weighed the Kingham case for my vihuela and it's 6.5 lbs; not as light as I thought.  The Karura case co. makes a carbon fiber classical guitar case that's under 6 lbs, and if it was customized to fit your smaller guitar, might be even less.


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