Early Guitars and Vihuela

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Starting to play Baroque Guitar - suggestions and advice very welcome!

I have had my  BG for a fortnight now and have started to get more used to some of its eccentricities. I play classical, but in the last year I have played just a bit of lute and ren guitar so dealing with the  paired strings is not too much of a surprise.


I havent quite settled on a playing position yet - It is a little easier for me to have a steep angle, like in classical. But a shallow angle seems fine too and puts my hand in  a thumb-under position which I have been experimenting with (I think thumb-out became more common in the 17th century though.)


I am surprised that right hand is more problematic. Some chords seem tough compared to classical. Precise finger placement  seems even more necessary to avoid buzzes.The BG is only 1 cm longer, though the distance from A-e is maybe 15-20% greater. With time I will adjust to the extra distance, but it was a surprise as on classical my spread is quite good. Bar chords are tougher for me too.

is ther evidence that there were 5 course guitars with shorter string length, closer to ren guitar size? Some of the alfabeto chords must have been quite tough for 17th century beginners on a long scale instrument, especially as average hand size would have been smaller


Any suggestions welcome. The info on this site really  is invaluable - many thanks to all





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You have only had it for two weeks. Be kind to yourself, and allow your hands time to find the right shapes and stretches. If you have a reasonably high standard on classical guitar, you might feel you should have the technique for BG, but you don't. None of us who came to the BG via guitar or lute, had the right technique within two weeks. I suggest you slow down, don't try to advance so quickly. Enjoy the journey into a new musical landscape. Believe me, you do not need a smaller instrument. Your hands will slowly open up. The BG is a unique instrument, and requires not only a different technique, but a different mind set as well. Rob

Thank you for those words Rob.


I too have played guitar and lute most of my life and get frustrated with my  accomplishment (or lack of)on the baroque guitar. It's good to be reminded to cut oneself a little slack and to let the development happen naturally at it's own pace.

Thanks for your  kind and encouraging words , Rob.

I know my hand (and mind) are gradually adjusting and opening up.

I am deliberately not playing any of the baroque piece I know on classical - the motor memory from those pieces is not helpful at all - an interference to progress in fact. It is fun starting totally new (and easyish) pieces.


Hans - I looked at a few Hertzberg pieces - You are right,the pieces fall nicely under the fingers and are beautiful. A slight challenge to read from manuscript , but it is mainly clear.

For me the big right-hand challenge came from switching to a re-entrant tuning.  Even the so-called French tuning (bordon on D) requires a definite change in mentality (cambio del chip, as they say in Spain).  You play along, and expect the lower notes to be further up on the thumb side.  It definitely makes it hard to play when the pitch you hear isn't what you expect to hear.  I quickly went to fully re-entrant (no bordones) because I was focusing on G. Sanz...  That's even harder to get used to.  And definitely, playing brand new pieces is the way to go.  I still can't play some Sanz pieces that I had learned on the modern guitar, just because of old habits of hand, ear, and mind.


One big issue is in phrasing.  As a guitarist, I was used to grounding phrase concepts in the lowest notes of the harmony -- thinking in terms of so-called pedal tones.  With the lowest string in the middle of the courses, that was hard to internalize.  One thing that really helped was to let the notes ring as long as possible...  especially on the open G.  And often to emphasize the open G the way you might emphasize an open A or low E as a pedal tone...  even if (or especially if?) it's in the middle of a linear passage as a so-called octave jump.


Well, 2 years in, and I'm finally feeling a little decent about it -- can finally read Spanish/Italian tabelature without having to translate top-to-bottom.  So yes...  definitely give yourself some time. 


The only down side in switching back and forth between Baroque and modern guitar is fingernails.  Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

You play along, and expect the lower notes to be further up on the thumb side.  It definitely makes it hard to play when the pitch you hear isn't what you expect to hear.  I quickly went to fully re-entrant (no bordones) because I was focusing on G. Sanz...  That's even harder to get used to.

Ive played charango and ukulele, so the re-entrant aspect  is not too much of a surprise. I experimented with substituting treble strings for string 4 and 5 on a spare modern guitar to play Sanz, and liked the sound (I think it was after reading one of your posts about this a few months ago).

At the moment I have bourdon on 4th but not 5th. I am enjoying Sanz at the moment so will try fully reentrant on baroque some time soon.


The only down side in switching back and forth between Baroque and modern guitar is fingernails.  Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.


I am trying a short-nail hybrid, trying to get flesh for baroque and some nail for classical. Not too bad but not  ideal; I will probably move on   to no-nail soon. I don't   mind no-nails on classical with aquila strings

Apparently you already know how obsessed I am with fully re-entrant tuning, so I won't belabor the point.  I'll just urge you to go long enough to really have fun with it.  It really is a significant difference, and for me anyway it has brought new conceptions of guitar playing.

A brief update -it may be of interest to others starting to play or interested in trying the baroque guitar


It certainly is getting easier with time not  'normal' yet compared with classical, but the left hand is adjusting well.  I am still working on pieces I didnt try on classical. In retrospect I would have started with very very very easy pieces rather then just fairly easy pieces!


I worked on some Sanz with fully re-entrant tuning - very satisfying. Now  I have changed back to  semi re-entrant and working at some Murcia (La Jelousie and Zarambeques). And also some movements of the Folia from Herzberg (thanks for the recommendation- it is a real gem and very playable)


One current problem I am trying to solve is downward slurs and trills on the paired strings in higher position - the two strings of the course seem just a bit too far apart for total control , especially for my pinkie which is quite skinny. Maybe it is a guitar thing rather than a technique thing, though my guitar does look to have similar course spacings that others have (just looking at close-up pictures)


Best wishes, Tony


and thanks again for the encouragement - it means a lot

i suppose i am *slightly* fortunate in approaching BG from a background of lute and ukulele - i have no later guitar training or mentality of any sort to work against. 


must say, saving up to buy my first guitar and acquiring my first guitar chordbook makes me feel like i'm 15, rather than 30 :D


James Tyler mentions no rest-strokes, only free-strokes. is this the general consensus?

Baroque guitars were certainly of different sizes - and some must have been smaller than what is considered appropriate today as they were tuned as much as a 4th apart.   Mine does actually have a string length of only 61.5cms because I wanted it like that -  being of the fair sex and a lot of women played the guitar in the 17th century.  All these generalizations are based on what has survived to the present day.   Mine is based on an instrument by Tessler in the Royal College of Music.   Apparently the neck has been cut down and this is certainly the case of another surviving Tessler guitar.   It would be interesting to know when and why they were cut down - certainly whilst still 5-course instruments.   There is however a problem with a shorter string length and that is that it makes playing barres at high frets very awkward - and these are commonplace in the repertoire.   So - as you are not of the fair sex (I think) perhaps you should just do what Rob suggests and persevere.   Monica  



Hello Monica

Yes! Not the fair sex, but with smallish hands. They do  spread quite well with a little gentle persuasion, so I will be patient and take Rob 's advice and let time and daily practice take its course.



Maybe not what you have in mind when you think about baroque guitars.  But this one




has a 62.2 cm string length.  Mine is a lot like this one and it works just fine.

mine's a 66cm Thomann too. i play a 67cm Harz-model archlute, but playing that doesn't tire my hands. after some 10 minutes of the 66cm BG, my left hand starts hurting. it must be the constant full chords and barrés, as i rarely do those on archlute, where i'm usually playing 2-3 part harmony.


i'm very very much encouraged by Rob's words about the hands opening up.


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