A network for historic guitars and vihuelas
I am new here and I and going to attempt to make a renaissance guitar. Luckily for me, my dad likes to build cabinets and such on his free time so I have access to all the tools. All I need is a basic plan or just the measurements. It would be nice if I could get a plan but Measurements would do fine.
Welcome Javier. Sorry I cannot help you with the Renaissance guitar plans but one of our EG&V members has some info on his web site. You might already have seen it but here is the link: http://www.cincinnatiearlymusic.com/renaissance_guitar.html
No plans but an interesting essay on building the instrument. It will give you some ideas.
You might have to do what most of us builders of "old" instruments have to do if there are no extant instruments around, Fake It! I think most use the drawing from the front of the Guillaume Morlaye and Simon Gorlier guitar books as a good model.
Congratulations on your plan to build a renaissance guitar. Fun to build an at least as much fun to play.
4 years ago I decided to do the same after a visit at the workshop of Sebastián Núñez in Utrecht. and have been infected with the luthier-virus since.
Sebastián has drawn his version of the Morlaye-Gorlier image.
Following advice from Sebastián I made mine of solid maple with a spruce top.
Sebastian presented good arguments to believe building from solid wood could have been don in the early days as well. (As is been done until now in descendants of the early guitar in Latin America)
Practical advantage is that you don't need to use a mold en bend wood. Disadvantage is that you need a lot of material.
You can read my experiences on my weblog http://guitarra-renacentista.blogspot.com/search/label/guitarra.
Unfortunately the oldest part is in dutch (You can try the Google translation at http://translate.google.nl/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fguitarra-renace.... Funny english but maybe useful)
Here are some more helpful links:
Alexander Batov is a member here, a UK-based builder of fine early instruments, and a very helpful person if you have questions. There is a wealth of information on early guitars and vihuelas on his site:
Probably the most important consideration in making one of these is the soundboard. The thickness and bracing are not at all like a modern guitar. See Scott's link to Larry Brown's site for a really cool tutorial. Otherwise, from what I have read from the research I have been doing on these, as with lutes and other early stringed instruments, they were built pretty light. Modern guitars, especially those built for steel strings, are built like tanks compared to the early instruments. Getting the correct balance between building a light, responsive instrument, and one that will not implode when strung up to tension is the key methinks.
Although mahogany has been harvested for it's beautiful, hard red-brown wood since a little after the discovery of the Americas (ca 1500) it didn't seem to be high on the "top ten" list of instrument woods until fairly recently. That doesn't mean it is unacceptable to use it. Afterall, we don't really have any original Renaissance guitars to look at so it may be historically correct to use it.
As to which wood is best, what we can say with some degree of accuracy is that historically, Maple seems to be the prefered wood along with things like cherry, Cypress, Yew wood and occasionally various rosewoods...to mention a few.
It's your instrument, you can make it out of what ever you want. And many do with unique and very interesting results (one of my favorites is a Baroque guitar a friend made from Grape wood...beautiful looking instrument, sounds very nice too). If you have a nice piece of Mahogany and you like what it looks like, go for it.
Mahogany can be a little problematic for beginners when it comes to bending the sides. Early guitar shapes have generally quite soft curves so I don't think there will be an issue. But take time, be patient with the wood and it will reward you with a beautiful instrument.
And like Mark says; there are lots of makers in this forum and elsewhere on line that will share their experiences with you should you need a little coaching.
Yes mahogany will work. The back and sides wood, though less influential than the top, also affects the tone. All else being equal, mahogany guitars are often described as "more woody" and less bright than say maple or rosewood. Mahogany is softer than maple and rosewood, generally speaking, so that accounts for the softer, "woodier" tone.
That being said, beware of the Early Music Police as I'm sure someone will certainly object to the use of mahogany on a Renaissance guitar based on the few surviving instruments. If an original doesn't exist that has mahogany back and sides, they'll cry anachronistic!! As long as you are building this for yourself and not trying to sell it to one of them, ignore any nay-sayers and build it out of whatever is available to you. Luthiers of old, just as luthiers of today would have used what was available to them and if mahogany from Africa or Asia became available through trade - just as ivory and silk did- then it would likely have been used regardless of the few extant examples we have left to study.
As far as the topwood goes, European spruce seems to be the only thing used as far as I know. Picea abies or, picea excelsa. And though you could experiment with other tonewoods used in guitar building such as Sitka, Engleman, or Adirondack Spruce, or Western Red Cedar, the sound would be different. I will probably experiment with all of these as time goes by, but that's just the way I am.
If you are looking to reproduce an instrument that sounds as near as possible to what would have been played in the place and time that the music was written for it, then research the materials that were available to European builders of the time and use the same materials (including gut strings). If you are experimental, then use whatever you want!
Well said Mark. I didn't want to get too far into which woods are best and explinations as to why but it's good you went down that road a little bit. It'll give Javier an idea what to expect from the wood.
Just for interest sake, another wood I might add to your list of topwoods for early Renaissance instruments, would be Abies Pinsapo or Spanish Fir. I'm not sure it is easily available these days but it shows up in period instruments originating in Southern Spain and elsewhere along southern Europe. I have a replica Castilian baroque guitar with that as the top wood and the sound is excellent. Also I think some of the early 20th century classical guitars from that area have Spanish Fir tops.
One wood that has always puzzled me as to why it's not found in furniture let alone musical instruments until the late 19th century in furniture and mid 20th (Ramirez) in guitars. They might have known of it from Captn. Juan de Fuca and his travels up the west coast of North America in the late 16th/early17th century and certainly Captn. Cooks voyage to the same area in the 18th century.
I've always found it curious that it appears that it was not used in some form or another earlier.
Thank you both so much!
I'll be sure to post pics on the site while I'm building.
Hi, Javier, welcome to the forum.
As for the construction of the renaissance guitar, Peter Forrester's answer to my inquiry may be worth referring to:
Also, Daniel Larson reports his examination of "Chambure" vihuela and the building of his copy of it with illustrative photos here (scroll down and click either of the two pictures at the bottom):
The construction of "Chambure" vihuera seems to coincide well with the above linked Peter's description of
his renaissance guitar.
Hope this would be of any help.
While on the topic of topwoods, for those interested and living in North America, European Spruce can be obtained from John at:
I have only bought one set from him so far, and it was the lowest grade he sells (I'm poor and cheap!) but it is fine quality wood and his prices are pretty good, even for the higher grade sets if you consider the transportation costs and compare them to what other luthier suppliers are selling native-grown high grade sets for. Several builders on the MIMF have also given him high recommendations.
He also carries European Maple and Ash.
Congratulations on contracting the luthier virus! You do some amazing work! Thanks for the blog! It helps all of us interested in building these wonderful instruments.