Early Guitars and Vihuela

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There's nothing specifically about string tensions on these instruments in the contemporary sources so I'd be grateful for the views of those who have actually played them.

To clarify: these are the instruments made by such as Benedid, Pages et al from the 1780s though to during or just after the Napoleonic wars, when the Spanish seemed to have started to use the six string guitar which had become popular throughout the rest of Europe. My preliminary feeling is that a tension rather higher than that for a similar string length lute or five course guitar may be appropriate to do justice to the music of the period, but...........

Martyn Hodgson

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I think the Sanguino in Den Haag has 7 courses and is from 1759. What makes you think it has been shortened? I have not heard that theory before.

Thank you for this.

Well, I could easily turn this on its head and ask why you should think such an atypical guitar configuration for 1759 (ie 8 single strings, just 8 fret spaces on the neck, replacement head (and neck?), etc) is in its original 1759 condition.

But I'd rather suggest that you carefully look again at the contemporary iconography, descriptions and extant instruments none of which suggest such an unusual instrument as being a typical (or even near) guitar of this time.  Later conversions of earlier guitars (and lutes) was common as changing fashions dictated new configurations and I suggest that this is what happened to this instrument.

I also suggest we need to be extremely chary of accepting such atypical instruments without a great deal of investigation (eg we know the head is not original and perhaps the neck is not just the shortened original but is a replacement too) rather than on simple assertion that it represents the state it left Sanguino's workshop in 1759.

MH

My only direct experience with the six course guitar is the spectacular 1768 six course Sanguino owned by Maestro Jose Luis Romanillos at El Centro de la Vihuela de Mano y la Guitarra Española. This is an absolutely spectacular example of luthier craftsmanship, with incredible detailing! There is one tantalizing picture on his website. I was privileged to handle and play it a little having gradually tuned it up to about a=396 maybe to a=415 I can't remember. Even below pitch there was no buzzing with beautiful internal resonance. I am certain the bridge is unaltered but I did not ask about any restoration, it appears completely original and too beautiful to alter. I am sure the neck was never shortened: it has metal frets with frets 1-9 on the neck and 10-12 on the body. The most notable feature is the 140mm body depth, and the huge body length (bigger than a 1a Ramirez. It has 6 courses. dealing with the bass made for the huge body Increasing the sound probably had less to do with higher tension strings I believe which may not have made more sound. 

The Sanguino in the Museu de la Música, Barcelona, is a less ornamented instrument with 7 courses with a low B. I don't think Sanguino made 8 courses nor single strings. Why is it stated that the neck was shortened? It also has 9 frets to the body with signs of frets 10-12 on the table. These Sanguino guitars where, I believe, a response to the expulsion of the harp by the Catholic church in about 1750, leaving a need for a plucked sound that someone may have hoped to fill with a guitar with almost the range of a theorbo in seven courses, thus making it able to compete with the archlutes and theorbos, which had similarly short fretted fingerboards. The Sanguino has a special strapholder on the back for playing it standing up also visible on this instrument.

Later this guitar was taken up by solo players, given 6 courses and, notably, seven courses still played today in Brazil. The body depth got less and body slightly shorter, with the neck lengthened to eleven or twelve frets.

The other aspect is the gut or silk wound strings and the factories in Spain. I think Guerau used gut bordones but Murcia probably used wound or demi-filee strings at least in the theatre. Slightly higher tension may have begun then? Somewhere around 3 -3.5 kg per string rather than 2.2-2.9 with higher tension on the single first string.

Regards to all (still learning the etiquette) Ken

Thank you for this.

Re. the Sanguino in the Museu de la Música, Barcelona, please see my earlier reply about this instrument. However, your comment about the Spanish Catholic church's response to the exlusion of harps (in sacred settings?) intrigued me.  Was there no similar exclusion on the use of other plucked instruments such as guitars in churches?  I'd be grateful to links to published academic papers relating to this (preferably in English please!).

Incidentally, I agree with your preference for tensions (c 3.0 - 3.5 Kg) on these six course guitars.

Martyn

PS I'm just about to post another question about these instruments and would be grateful for your views. 

Hi Martyn, I would love to... would you like to email first?

I don't know about the stringing, but the short neck is not atypical. If I had the time, and I was home, I could send you photos of others, also one I owned, the size of a ukulele with 5-courses from 1790s and you can't tell me someone shrunk the whole body. Anyway, I must end this thread now, and concentrate on my own research. Best of luck with yours. James
Martin, re your comment: ' the Hague Gemeente Museum - no one surely thinks it was originally made as an eight string instrument, and with such a shortened neck too!)'. I for one, believes the neck was not shortened, but originally made short.

I have a replica of Juan Pagés 6 course guitar of 1808 (currently in Brussels MIM, 64cm s.l.) and after experimenting for some months, I arrived to a rather satisfactory stringing arrangement which consists in gut strings for 1,2,3rd courses and octaves for 5th and 6th. So far, the best sounding pitch is A=415, and the gauges I use are the following: 1st (single): 0,52 ; 2nd (double): 0,58 ; 3rd (double): 0, 73; 4th (unison): Aquila D94 or similar; 5th (bass and octave) a normal 4th modern guitar string, and gut 0,64 for the octave; 6th bass and octave, a normal modern guitar 5th string for the bass, and gut 0,80 for the octave.

I hope this could help a bit....

Best wishes
Gabriel 

Dear Gabriel,

Many thanks for this. From your specifications I was able to calculate the tension profile (in Kg) as below. I've also added what I eventually decided to use.

                                     G S                                    M H                   

1st course (single)        4.5                                    4.2

2nds                              3.1                                    3.3

3rds                               3.1                                    2.9

4ths                               2.9                                    3.4

5ths                               3.4 (octave 3.0)                 3.4 (unisons)

6ths                               3.2 (octave 2.7)                 3.2 (octave 2.9)        

Interestingly,  we both seem to use very similar tension profiles - except fperhaps or the fourth course.  Ken Hartdegen (16 June above) also suggested a generally similar overall tension scheme (ie 3.0 - 3.5 Kg).

Amazingly, we both decided to use a modern guitar 4th string (at D) for our 5th string (at A), and a modern guitar 5th string (A) for our low 6th string (E)!  I found these were preferable than using modern wound lute strings which had too much 'zing'.  I also used Saverez wire wound thirds (G strings) for my 4th course strings and think these work well but might explain the slightly higher tension on the fourth course in my scheme than in your.

I'm interested in that you employ an octave on the fifth course as well as on the sixth.

I'll reply to your other posting on the General discussion site there.

regards,

Martyn

Ama

                                       

Dear Martyn,

thank you for your detailed answer! I think your option regarding 4th course is probably better than mine. But I don't have the proper strings to change now (I live in Buenos Aires, and it is expensive and complicated to buy lute strings here, so I must arrive to a big order of strings to make them more affordable). I agree with you regarding 5th and 6th courses, modern classical guitar strings work reasonably well. And I hate Pyramid or Savarez wound silverpated strings!.

I decided to place an octave in the 5th course, because I am playing a program which include mostrly late baroque works on Latin American sources (Mexican and Peruvian) and this stringing is much more equilibrated for that repertoire, than all wound basses. Indeed, José Vargas y Guzmán (1776) suggests this stringing method. I have just recorded this repertoire, together with some sonatas for guitar and basso continuo (Vargas y Guzmán and Arizpacochaga).

Bes wishes

Gabriel

I have a Spanish baroque guitar that has an inscription on the head stock "La Guerrera de Cadiz 1761" that I suspect may be a Francisco Sanguino as it has 7 fan braces. What makes me think that it may be a Sanguino aside from the fan bracing are the proportions of the body which are perfectly consistent with his work, and the depth of the body, another characteristic of Sanguino guitars. The guitar has suffered the usual 19th century conversion to six strings probably in the 1830s, perhaps in London, as it is fitted with Baker machine heads for this period. The conversion saw the original tie bridge replaced with a six pin bridge. A fingerboard was added. The scale was shortened to 645mm-- probably had been 670mm. I suspect the neck was replaced with a narrower neck from another guitar which didn't have a Spanish heel or zoque, and so required the use of a dove joint. Nevertheless, it was too long and was shortened, and a Panormo style head was crudely grafted on to it.  The guitar whoever made it is a wonderful instrument.

https://youtu.be/mGcOZ2Cw4F0

https://zavaletas.squarespace.com/collectors-guitars-1/1761-guerrera

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