A network for historic guitars and vihuelas
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...........
I have on loan a six course from a University collection; a Josef Benedid made in 1800. I call in string orders to Boston Catlines, and Mr. Henriksen helps with the specifics of diameter and type of strings. However, from my experience I think there would be no problem putting on low tension nylon or gut guitar strings. Getting the first string exactly right for the perfect balance of volume and liveliness is not easy though. As with lutes and Baroque guitars there is a fine line between too heavy and too light a gauge. Overall I think your preliminary feeling is probably correct; they (this particular instrument anyway) can handle slightly more tension than what you might use on a lute or Baroque guitar.
If you don't know the tensions then please let me have the string diameters and material (eg gut or whatever), the string length and the pitch you use (eg A 440). I can then calculate the tensions myself.
I probably shouldn't reply, as I know little about string tensions, but having owned over a dozen original 6-course guitars, I get the feeling they were meant to sound buzzy (almost like a flamenco guitar), whether this is due to low tension strings, or low action, or both, I don't know. One thing I do know, is that they were used long after the Napoleonic wars. I would say, in Spain, the six-single-string guitar started appearing in the mid 1820s and the six-course guitar was virtually out by the mid 1830s
Thank you. I'm interested in your comment that 'I get the feeling they were meant to sound buzzy (almost like a flamenco guitar). Is there any evidence for this of which you're aware?
It's just that the most original untouched ones I have had (original nut, bridge etc), have played like that, no matter what strings I put on them.
Thank you for this.
It's interesting that all of the six course guitars you have played exhibited buzzing on the frets. There may, of course, be various explanations for this (including that the 'Old Ones' wished it this way!) but pertinent to my query is that higher tensions may go some way to reducing the effect (presuming it is unwanted). It would be interesting to know the range of different strings and diameters you say you've tried.
I posted the following on the General Discussion forum so you may not read it. But I'd be interested to know what strings you employ on the bass courses of your six course guitars. As I say below, I think modern lute overwound are not really suitable (too much 'zing' I think). The only 18thC/early 19thC instruments I've actually seen with original (I think!") wound strings were some English guittars (the lowest string was copper wound on silk floss) and various instruments by Light et al which I worked on in the 70s for Castle Museum York which also had copper wound basses on silk floss. Of course, slightly earlier (say 1760s) Spanish guitar practice might have been different and I guess a plain gut high twist might also have been used on the fourth course.
As sent to General Discussion:
Further to the previous recent discussions (in the Early Romantic Guitar forum) around the string tensions and the fretting (ie fixed metal or gut loops) of these particular instruments, I'd be grateful for any views on suitable readily available modern strings for the basses: ie the fourth, fifth and sixth courses. The string length is 644mm and the pitch at modern A440.
I'm supposing that at this period (the 1760/70s onwards) the fourth and fifth courses of these instruments are now overwound and strung in unison but the sixth course has just one low overwound and a high gut octave (following early sources).
Rather than using modern overwound lute strings (eh Kurschner etc) which seem to have relative thinner cores than modern classical guitar wound strings and so give excessive 'zing', I'm considering using ordinary classical guitar strings (eg Saverez or D'Addario Pro Arte) but using the modern guitar fourth strings for the fifth course (ie tuned a fourth down) and similarly a modern fifth string for the sixth course - this will give the tension of around 3.5KG I'm seeking as well as, hopefully, less 'zing'.
Any feedback of practical experience of stringing such instruments much appreciated.
Hello Martin, just a tiny comment: they were in use from the 1750s at least; see for instance the portrait of lady Waldegrave somewhere on this site.
Thank you for this
Yes I know the painting. But it's dated as 1765 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Cotes)
which doesn't really suggest these instruments were in use from the 1750s.
And there are other possible sports such as the V&A Tielke six course (eleven pegs) tho' some doubt has appeared as to whether it was originally made with eleven pegs.
In any event I was asking about late eighteenth century Spanish six course guitars: have you any views on string tensions on these?
See also the instruments by Sanguino in various collections. There is an 1758 example around I believe.
I have some views (but they are views, not _evidence_). In fact, I have commissioned a replica Pages 6-course awhile ago that should be finished sometime this year. I plan to start out with a stringing derived from 18th century 5 course, gut trebles, with an added 6th course and take it from there. As a musicologist, I would like to know exactly which gauges to use, but as a musician, I plan to experiment until I find something that works.
James' opinion that maybe they were meant to buzz (a little) is very interesting. We should be careful not to project our 21-century ideas on an optimal sound onto a 18th century subject.
Thank you for this.
It seems to me that by starting with what we are comfortable, that we can run the danger of prejudging the matter and, understandably, conforming to our own current personal preferences for stringing (eg five course guitar stringing).
This is why I was asking for other views and, especially, for any early evidence on stringing of the six course Spanish guitar from this period. The use of the guitar (both six course and six string) from the later eighteenth century for arpeggios rather than for strumming play is also a feature which I don't think we shouldn't ignore.
Regarding Sanguino's instruments, which original six course ones from the 1760s and earlier do you have in mind? Certainly from the 1770s his six course instruments were sought (see
for example, Music in Spain in the Eighteenth century - Malcolm Boyd, Juan José Carreras) but much before then we need to be careful that previously made, but still extant instruments, were not converted into a new fashionable style at some later date. Certainly some of the extant guitars by him show very considerable make-overs (such as the 1759 in the Hague Gemeente Museum - no one surely thinks it was originally made as an eight string instrument, and with such a shortened neck too!).
All much food for thought - but I'd still like to continue seeking any stringing evidence rather than simply relying on my own, personal, preferences.