Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

I've just started the process of building a (mostly) flat-backed vihuela modeled after some pictures I saw on the web, and am pretty much flying blind - I haven't ever seen a vihuela "in the flesh". Most of it seems straightforward enough, but I have a question about the rosette and soundhole. Many of the instruments I've seen pictures of seem to have a black background that seems like it completely occludes the soundhole. Do vihuelas generally have no real soundhole? What is that black layer generally made from. - is it parchment? And is that what's glued to the soundboard?

Thanks so much for any light you can shed on this. Does anyone know of any vihuelas that might be on display in the New York area? I'd love to be able to go and look at one.

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It must have a sound hole of some sort. I am no expert but my vihuela has the sound hole cut directly into the table in a geometrical pattern.

Thanks for the response. I have seen (and played) instruments with no soundhole, e.g,, a Turkish Saz, and a Saxon box lyre. It changes the spectrum of the sound, favoring more bass and less midrange. The instrument gets a little less loud. But, with a large soundboard, it can still be plenty loud. But it was those "existence proofs", along with the pictures I saw on the web, that prompted me to ask.

Cutting the rose into wood of the top, I understand, is more of a lute/oud thing, and glued-in roses were more of a vihuela/early guitar thing. But this is purely "google-smarts". As I said, I've never touched a vihuela or seen one except on the web. I love the sound that I hear on the YouTube videos, and like the fact that you can play lute music on it without modifying anything.

I think, for this first attempt, I will try to build something more like what you have. Thanks again!

My baroque guitar - which is a much nicer instrument - has an elaborate parchment rose built up in layers. Just looking through my collection of CDs of various luminaries playing the vihuela, a simpler rose seems to be de rigeur although in some cases this may be cut flat out of parchment rather than cut into the table. A sotr of cross between the lute and baroque guitar.

Many vihuelas have a rosette of which some are made of cut and glued parchment and some are carved from wood. 

The black stuff you see may be just the shadow cast because not much light hits the inside of the instrument as compared to the outside, which then translated through a typical camera's dynamic range, won't show many details on the inside ;)

If you don't feel like cutting a rosette, you may leave a hole, which is depicted in some paintings with a vihuela.

Go to the site of the Jacquemart Andree collection in Paris and look for the vihuela there.  It represents the only indisputable example of a sixteenth century vihuela (albeit a bass size instrument). Obtain a copy of the plans and base your reconstruction on this - necessarily scaled down if you require an instrument around nominal G tuning rather than a 'bass' vihuela

Here's one link:


You don't need to construct your instrument with the elaborate 'jig-saw' make-up of the original. You'll also see that the (original) rose design is much plainer than found on most later five course guitar roses.  And perhaps just have a single rose (although in the same pattern) rather than the original which has one large central rose and four satellites (interestingly, all with a similar design).



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