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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Hello James, 

  Thanks for weighing your case. I could probably live with a 6 pound case, not a 12 pound case, though. I did see the Karuna case, perhaps I'll go for that if I'm not happy with any other option. 

  I'd also like a car cover because I've grown used to having that extra level of protection on my other two cases. I'm just too worried about picking up a case when it is not latched. I don't do that if I have to zip up a cover first.

Hello James, 

  So, I went ahead and order a case from Kingham. Bob is a great guy to work with and my maker, Dr James Westbrook, was able to supply a plan and an outline view. I went with the red velvet interior and a blue leatherette outside for a red, white, and blue look! I decided I wanted something a little different than a black exterior. I'm looking forward to receiving the case. Oh, they're going to fit it with backpack rings and a strap.

The Kingham cases are great.  Let me know how you like the Bow Brand gut strings.


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