Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

.I am a classical guitarist who also wants to play the lute and vihuela. I have developed a right hand technique where I play on the left hand side of the nail (looking from the back of the hand) for the classical guitar, and on the right hand side for lute and vihuela. The right hand side of the nail is chamfered so I get more flesh contact between finger and string. I also use a different wrist position for classical guitar and lute/vihuela. I use the same amount of thumb nail contact for all three instruments.
It would be interesting to hear from any other members who also play classical guitar and lute or vihuela and what they do about right hand position and nails

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Hi Steve,

I'm a long time classical guitarist that fairly recently came back to Renaissance lute after many years. I didn't have as much of a problem with my right hand position as I was expecting.

My early instructor was a Spainish woman that came from the "school" of Regino Sainz de la Maza and she could get the most full, round and romantic tone from her guitar that I've ever heard. A lot had to do with her nail shape and angle of attack on the string. That's what I tried/try to emulate.

I've always used a nail shape that followed a long shallow arc from the left side of the finger to the right (looking at the back of the hand) with the right only marginally longer than the left. I also keep my nails fairly short so that the length is just shy of the end of the finger. I find that shape and length gives me the most options for tonal variation with the minimal movement from the finger tips (ie. relax finger tips - more flesh; curve finger tips - more nail). My thumb nail follows the same long shallow arc except that it is somewhat longer on the right than the left as well as overall.

I don't really change my hand to arm relationship from guitar to lute except that, with lute, I drop my right shoulder to allow the arm to come around just below the major part of the curve toward the bottom end. I find that gives me the oblique angle of attack on the strings/courses (that I like) and makes it easy to get a good tone. I also find this position allows me to attack the strings with the most fleshy part of the finger with the nail only for support except if wanted for tonal effect. I don't use the thumb under hand position as many do but would consider my hand position more like that of a Baroque lute player (or a guitarist playing lute).

My lute is a fairly large body Venere copy (8 course) so this position works well. I've tried the smaller bodied lutes like Frei/Heiber and others to find that some modifications would be in order. But I like my lute so researching those modifications is not on my agenda at the moment.

As to the guitar, I mainly (almost exclusively) play 19th century instruments/repertoire where there are enough technical similarities (thumb index is often used for scales passages, is one example) to make the right hand switch relatively painless. I find the left hand has more adjustment to do than the right but that is another discussion.

I do have to pay attention to programing when performing to make sure that the first piece after an instrument switch is one that will give my hands sufficient time to adjust...read "leisurely paced". I'm hoping this will diminish as I gain more experience...But, a buddie who performs many many concerts a year on guitar and lute assures me that it will always be thus...one can hope otherwise.

Sorry for the rather lengthy responce. An issue that will be interesting to see how others deal with.
I'm playing lutes, renaissance guitar, baroque guitar and romantic guitar, all instruments without nails at all... but not really modern classical. On romantic guitar it is possible to play without nails as Carcassi, Sor (and also Tarrega) did, and I'm using low tension strings on this instrument to get a better sound.
Hello Steve, I play lute, theorbo, 19th century guitars and modern classical guitar, all without using my nails, for about 10 or 12 years now. I don't consciously change my RH technique much for different instruments. Though I may play a bit softer than average on the modern classical guitar, people often don't notice I play without nails.

Some string types work better for playing without nail, such as gut, oldfashioned Savarez and nylgut strings. And it takes some time to adjust the RH technique.


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