Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

guitar-art - 8/9/94


History of the guitar by Ioseph of Locksley.


NOTE: See also the files: harps-msg, instruments-msg, music-bib, p-songs-msg,  song-sources-msg, recorders-msg, SI-songbook1-art, drums-msg, flutes-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: locksley at indirect.com (Joe Bethancourt)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: ARTICLE: Period Fret. Inst. UPDATE

Date: 19 Jul 1994 18:42:03 GMT


                       THE GUITAR PRE-1650              

                                  - Ioseph of Locksley, OL, Pel, &c.


        It is probably well-known, at least among most musicians, that the

steel-string guitar (the acoustic type) as played in the USA today, is out-

of-period with the current interest in historical re-enactments and the

proliferation of Renaissance Faires all over the country. It also tends to be

assumed that no moderately priced replicas of "period" (pre-1650 CE)

instruments, that can be played by the modern guitarist, exist on the

market....and that is WRONG!


        Before we pop that particular bubble, however, we must look at the

known history of the Guitar, or at least its' ancestors, before 1650. I say

"known" history, because much of the instrument's evolution is not solidly

known, but is only inferred from paintings, carvings, and other

representations, as the basic fragility of the wood has caused most of the

actual period pieces to disappear, or become untunable and unplayable.


        Obviously, the European LUTE will be our starting point. This

instrument, which apparently developed from the Arabic OUD (which entered

Europe thru the Crusades and the Moorish conquest of Spain), has between six

and ten "courses" (paired strings played as one) of between twelve and twenty

strings. These strings were made of catgut (sheep intestine), and the "frets"

(raised finger-stops for the notes along the fretboard) were made of catgut

tied around the fingerboard/neck, with a few wooden or ivory frets glued to

the top of the soundboard. The fretboard is on the same level with the

soundboard, not raised higher as in the modern guitar, and may be heavily

ornamented with inlay. The body is pear-shaped, and rounded in the back,

rather like half a watermelon.


        The bridge has no "saddle" (the bone, plastic or ivory piece that the

strings rest on), and the peghead tends to be cranked back from the neck

almost at a right angle (though early Lutes had their pegboxes set at the

gentle curve found on the Oud and the Guitarra Moresca), with wooden

transverse tuning pegs in a hollow pegbox, similar to a modern violin.


        The THEORBO is a variation of the Lute, with several extra bass

strings attached to an extra pegbox. That, and the fact that the pegboxes are

not at a right angle to the neck, but rather "in line" with it, distinguishes

it from the normal Lute. It covers (approximately) the Baritone-Bass range.

This, and the Arch-Lute, are easily recognizable by their extreme length.


        The ARCH-LUTE is similar, but is (generally) a descant, or melody,

instrument like the regular Lute.


        Lutes are usually tuned to a pretty high pitch, to capitalize on their

clear "silvery" sound. Thus, while a modern guitar can be said to be tuned in

"E", a Lute would be tuned in "A," almost three whole tones higher.


        Let us clear up one misconception right now: the Lute may be tuned

either with the same string relationships as the modern guitar, and fingered

the same way (allowing for the higher initial pitch, of course), which is

called "new" tuning, or the third course can be tuned down a half tone (from

"new" tuning) for the "old" tuning pattern.


        A guitarist can easily shift to lute, using New Tuning: if he finger

picks, then no problem with playing late Medieval and Rennaissance styles

(polyphony), while if he flatpicks, well, that was the early lute technique of

single string work (monody) so he or she is home free there, too!


        By the way, the exact pitches of the tunings depends on the whim of

the player. I happen to tune my Lutes in "A" because they sound their best

there. Some other lute might sound good in "G" or even in "E" or one of the

half-steps in between, or a quarter-tone in between......pitch was not

standardized until the mid-1700s so don't worry too much about being at

"concert pitch."


        There is a much-quoted saying about the Lute being difficult to tune,

and due to it's use of gut strings, tuning can be a bit of a problem. The

reason Lute players tended to tune often was simply because they used a number

of different tunings. See below for several examples of this "scordatura."


        Lutes have a sound that cannot be matched for intimate gatherings.

They are sweet, silvery and sensual. They are also damn quiet. Thus, a rowdy

tavern, or a campfire songfest is NOT suitable for the talents of the Lute.

They are also incredibly fragile. Don't take them anywhere there may be any

kind of horseplay or bad weather, and keep them in a hard case.


        The Lute was not the direct ancestor of the guitar, however. It may

have been one of the major predecessors, but what we have here is a remarkable

proliferation of many different wood-body fretted instruments that all

contributed a great deal to the eventual development of what we know as the

guitar, and the added problem that, in Spain where the guitar was finally

truly developed, the Lute had associations with the Moors, and thus was NOT

very popular.


        The other instrument that must be considered of equal importance with

the Lute is the CITTERN. This is an instrument that usually has a pear shaped

body with a flat back, four to five courses of strings made of wire, and

permanent fretting, either chromatic, or diatonic like the modern Appalachian

Dulcimer. The pegs may be held in a hollow pegbox like the lute, or they may

be mounted vertically in a peghead similar to many modern guitars and

mandolins. Tuned similarly to the mandolin, in fifths, the chording and

fingering are the same. It was always played with a plectrum, usually a goose

quill, but a modern flat pick works just as well.


        These instruments are also very loud, and thus suitable for tavern

brawls, dance music, and just about anything where the music needs to be heard

over a crowd. I have had great success with mine at RenFaires. A good Cittern

player is a joy to hear!


        Citterns were found almost everywhere in the Renaissance, as witness

the quotation from Thomas Dekker:


                        "Is she a whore?

                        A Barber's cittern for every man to play on?"

                                        -The Honest Whore


        Or even (O Rare..) Ben Jonson, who said:


                        "That cursed barber....I have married his

                        cittern that's common to all men!"

                                        -The Silent Woman


        Citterns are such fun....'tis a pity she's a whore! Incidentally, the

term "slattern," or "slut," may have evolved from the word "cittern."


        (I suppose I should add here that tuning the Cittern is a matter of

individual taste. The "mandolin" tuning, fifths, is the most common, and the

most usable in a modern context.)


        The Lute/Cittern family tree leads, with many offshoots and false

starts, directly into the GUITAR.


        At this point, I need to point out that the very names of these

instruments can be a source of argument and repeat that many of them have only

carvings and/or paintings as our sole source of their design characteristics,

and some only have the fancy "court" models, or only one surviving example,

from which to judge. The subject is further complicated by non-standardized

spelling, and the entrance of foreign words into other languages along with

the instruments. The very name "Lute" is simply a mispronounciation of the

Arabic "al Oud!"


        Thus, bear with me if you disagree on my naming system! I have done

the best I can with the resources available, trying to make a very complex

subject usable for the average person.


        The GUITARRA MORESCA was apparently a 4-course instrument, with a peg-

box that slanted back from the neck in a shallow curve. The body was an oval

shape, like the outline of an egg, and it is most interesting to note

that it's soundboard MAY have been made of skin, similarly to the modern Banjo!

This skin was laced to the body and the frets were probably tied. It had it's

heyday around the 13th Century, probably descending from the Arabic Rebec, as

witnessed by its' name.


        The GUITARRA LATINA, however, is our connection, as it had a small

body with two defined bouts, and three or four courses of strings. In size it

ranged from about the size of a Baritone Ukelele to the size of a Parlor

Guitar (see below) and was quite popular in the 13th Century. The soundboard

was wood, but otherwise it was similar to the Guitarra Moresca. It was about

as large as a Baritone Ukelele.


        The GUITTERN was a five-course, sometimes permanently fretted

instrument that used gut strings and was played either with a pick, or the

bare fingers. The body shape was in varying patterns, but the most common

seemed to be a lot like a modern violin. Like the modern violin, or mandolin,

it tended to have a movable bridge and a tailpiece to fasten the strings,

though the strings were sometimes fastened to a bridge like the Lute's, with

no saddle. The string courses are tuned in unisons, usually, but sometimes may

be found tuned in octaves like the modern 12-string guitar. The soundboard was

flat, with no angle below the bridge.


        It MAY have some relation to the CYTOLE, which had four or (rarely)

five courses made of wire, and a VERY small body. Sometimes it's courses were

tripled, like the modern TIPLE.


        Wire strings, whether of brass, steel or silver, seem to have come

into use in about the 13th Century.


        The CHITTARRA BATTENTE, which is known to have used wire strings, had

a soundboard that sometimes was angled downwards behind the bridge, like a

"round-back" mandolin. This is known as a "cranked table" style. These were

popular in the mid-1500's, on to the end of the SCA's period (1650, dammit!).

The bridge MAY have used a saddle by this time, and, because of the use of

wire strings, it probably had permanent, metal frets.  It can be found with

either a fixed bridge, like the Lute, or a movable bridge and tailpiece



        The BANDORA was probably a variation on the Cittern, with a flat-back

and a body shape very similar to the modern "A-Style" mandolin, that is, with

a pronounced lower bout, and a very small upper bout. Sometimes the general

shape looked very much like an elongated, six-lobed cookie. It ranged more

into the bass than the standard Cittern did.


        The VIHUELA DE MANO was the six-course instrument of Spain, and looked

a lot like the modern guitar, save that it used gut strings in six courses.

It's brother, the Vihuela de Arco, was played with a bow ("arco") rather than

the bare hands ("mano"), while the Vihuela de Pinola was played with a

plectrum (flat pick). It is obviously different from most of the pre-guitars

in that it's body is quite large, being about as large as a modern "classical"

guitar. It also tends to have several soundholes in the top. The frets were

tied, and it used a fixed bridge. It is probably the direct ancestor of the

modern American 12-string guitar, which came into North America thru Louisiana

and Texas out of Mexico.


        The FOUR-COURSE GUITAR had four courses of gut strings, or sometimes

single strings, a guitar-shaped body with a flat soundboard, a lute style

bridge, and the back tended to be slightly rounded with a distinct ridge up

the center, rather like the hull of a boat. The frets were tied, like the

lute, and it was about the size of a child's guitar.  The pegs were set

vetically thru an actual peghead, which was usually figure-8 shaped. It, and

the 5-COURSE GUITAR (see below) were considered plebian, common, instruments,

while the Vihuela was the instrument of the Aristocracy, at least in Spain.


        The FIVE-COURSE GUITAR seems to have appeared around 1490, and was

similar to the Four-course models, with the addition of the extra course of

strings in the bass.


        The ENGLISH GUITAR was probably another name for the five-course

guitar, and reflects the burgeoning popularity of the instrument with all

classes of people, at least outside of Spain.


        The BAROQUE GUITAR apparently came on the scene in the very early

Seventeenth Century.  These guitars use gut or nylon strings, have a "long

and skinny" body with both upper and lower bouts being about the same size,

and the bracing is usually three crossbars under the soundboard. The tuning

pegs are usually wood, set vertically thru the peghead, and the frets are

permanent, whether wood, ivory, or metal. The surviving examples tend to be

highly ornamented, but this survival may be due to the fact of their valuble

ornamentation. Most of the instruments would tend to be plain. They were a

Five Course Guitar.


        All of the above instruments tended to have a fingerboard that was on

the same level with the soundboard, with the soundboard extending into the

fingerboard area by several inches. The "modern" raised fingerboard apparently

did not appear until sometime around the advent of the Parlor Guitars (see



        The SIX (SINGLE) STRING GUITAR, the true guitar, apparently did not

develop until sometime after 1750 but, as always with this instrument, we

cannot be absolutely sure about this date.


        PARLOR GUITARS are very similar to Baroque guitars, with the

exceptions that their tuners are usually mechanical, after about 1820, and the

lower bout of the body is a bit larger than the upper bout. I would accept

these as a reasonable attempt at using a period instrument, so long as gut or

nylon strings are used. If you own an old Model 1887 Washburn, this is what

you have. WARNING: many of the American made Parlor guitars have "pin" bridges

the same as on modern steel-string guitars. If you use steel strings on these

old parlor models, you will ruin them. They are made for gut or nylon strings



        The modern "CLASSICAL" GUITAR was not developed until circa 1840, in

Spain, by Torres.


        The various types of modern guitar are usually distinguished by

strings, body shapes, and interior bracing:


        Classical guitars use gut or nylon strings, have a body with the lower

bout larger than the upper, and use (usually) a bracing pattern that looks

much like the ribs of a fan, in the area under the bridge, under the

soundboard. They are very much out-of-period. If you can find a 3/4 size or

1/2 size classical guitar, it will look very much like a period intrument,



        Archtop guitars use steel strings, have a soundboard that is carved

and arched like a violin, and, much like a violin, usually have soundholes in

the shape of an "f" on either side of the bridge. These are blatantly out-of-

period, and are usually found with electric pickups.


        American guitars use steel strings, have a body shape of classical,

parlor, "dreadnaught" (large body) or "jumbo" (VERY large body) form, and

bracing under the bridge in the shape of a "X." This last was, apparently,

developed between 1915 and 1930 in America, either by the Larson Bros., or

C.F.Martin & Co. This subject is a matter of much controversy in guitar

circles. I have seen an instrument that seemed to be a parlor guitar, with

vertical "patent" friction pegs, "X" braced, and possibly made before 1910!

The matter, like much of the guitar's history, is obscure. Needless to say,

the larger bodied sizes are blatantly out-of-period.


        However....the 12-string guitar, when strung with courses tuned in

unisons (or in octaves like the modern practice) if tuned similarly with nylon

strings on it, played Lute-style, will pass for a Vihuela de Mano, at least in



        Play it with a flat pick, with wire strings, similarly to a Cittern

and I would have no serious objections to raise.





LUTES: .... tend to be a bit on the expensive side of things. A good used one

can be had for about $600.00, with prices ranging from there up to $5000.00 or

more! There is a decent 8-course Lute made by Aria for right around $900.00

new, and it is a bit more strongly made than most, but it may not be still in

production. It is a good Lute for the money. Some kits are available, and are

well made, but do NOT buy anything called a Lute that feels heavy and massive.

It will not respond properly to your touch. A good lute will reverberate on

its' own from just voices in the room! Learning the Lute can be the devotion

of a lifetime.


CITTERNS: ....... range from about $450.00 for the Trinity College "Octave

Mandolin" up to about $1500.00 for the best ones. A modern Mandolin is a

"Soprano Cittern," while a Mando-Cello would be classed as a "Baritone/Bass

Cittern." Round-back mandolins, what would be called "lute-back soprano

citterns," are quite acceptable, and very period. To learn to play it, find a

book on mandolin and take it from there. If you tune it like a plectrum banjo,

remembering the shorter scale, 5-string banjo chords work just fine. A Greek

BOUZOUKI will serve well here, too, and usually comes with a lute-style back!


PERIOD GUITARS: ....... can be had very easily! The VIHUELITA, a five-string

tied-fret guitar used in Mariachi bands, is, with the exception of the raised

fingerboard, a five-course guitar. These Vihuelitas are usually inexpensive

enough that the job of filling in the peghead slots, and replacing the modern

machine tuners with wooden pegs (and even adding 4-5 extra pegs to make it

even more authentic) is feasable. There is an instrument called the CUATRO

that is much like the Guittern, and the six-string "parlor" guitars, of lesser

value than Martin, Larson (Ditson), Lyon & Healey or (Geo.) Washburn.....the

"no-names" that can be found sometimes hanging up in music stores and pawn

shops for very little money....would work just fine also.


        I have also seen an instrument called a GUITARILLA, a six-course

"guitar" on a Bandura-like body, tuned in "terz" tuning, i.e. a third higher

than a regular guitar. The REQUINTO is similar, being a "terz" guitar, but has

six single strings and is shaped, and braced, like a modern guitar.


        Some Mexican-made 12-string guitars, being of extremely light

construction, would make good Vihuelas de Mano, when string with nylon and

their usual terrible "action" (the height of the strings off the fingerboard)

lowered. I would like to experiment with this, and with doing the same thing

to a Mexican BAJO DE SEXTO (a Baritone-Bass 12-string), whose construction is

even more period than most.


        If you MUST use a steel-strung 6-string, Martin makes their Size 5

model (5-18 or 5-28, special order only) which at least looks fairly period,

but retails new, as of this writing, for about $1680.00 for the 5-18. The 00-

16NY, the famous "New Yorker" model, runs about $1576.00, which is a hefty

piece of change. It would "pass" for a Parlor or Baroque guitar. The others

above usually sell for between $200.00 - $500.00, thus being both within

pocketbook range, AND more period.


        There are also some reproductions of period instruments available from

some Japanese makers. H. Yari has made several of these, and the "guitar-

lutes" (lute bodied guitars) of the Wandervogel of 1920's Germany are still

available also, though high in price.


        Period technique was mostly chordal strumming, to accompany song, very

much like the Mariachi technique for the Vihuelita. There is evidence,

however, of melodic lute-style playing, too, but the simple "rhythm strum"

sort of thing is quite period and acceptable, and, if done correctly can be

quite effective, even to the point of seeming to play the melody using chords

only!  Listen to a modern autoharp player to get an idea of how it's done.


        Other instruments of the modern world can "stand-in" quite nicely. Get

creative, do some research, and go for it!




TUNING: The strings are named low to high, i.e. in the mandolin

        tuning given, G D A E, the "G" is the lowest note, and the "E" is

        the highest. The strings are numbered with the highest pitched being

        #1 and proceeding thru the lowest string, which has the highest

        number....confusing, but traditional.


              *  Modern Instruments (standardized tunings):


Guitar Family:


         Modern Guitar: E A D G B E          

                        D A D G B D ("Double "D" " Good for modal ballads

                                    in "D")

                        D A D G B E ("Drop "D" ", good for stuff in "D")

                        D A D D A D (I use this one for simulating an Oud,

                                    for belly dance music)

                        D A D G A D (the popular tuning for Celtic music)

                        D G D G B D ("G" tuning, chorded like a 5-string


                        D A D F# A D ("D" tuning, played like the "G" tuning

                                     but with everything moved over one

                                     string worth)

                        E B E G# B E ("E" tuning, played like the "G" tuning

                                     but with everything moved over -two-

                                     strings worth)

         "Terz" Guitar: G C F Bb D G

         Requinto: G C F Bb D G

         Vihuelita: C F Bb D G (the 4th string, the "F", is tuned an

                               octave high in a ukelele style re-entrant


         Tenor Guitar: G D A E (one octave lower than a mandolin)

                       D G B E (1st four strings of the modern guitar)

                       D G B E (same as above, with the 4th string tuned an

                               octave high, in a re-entrant tuning)

         To tune a guitar to "lute" tuning, use a Tenor Lute (see below)

            tuning from "E": E A D F# B E, for "old" tuning, or just leave

            it as it is, for "new" tuning.


Mandolin Family:


         Mandolin: G D A E (same as violin)

         Mandola: C G D A

         Octave Mandolin: G D A E (one octave lower than a Mandolin)

         Mando-Cello: C G D A (one octave lower than a Mandola)

         Bouzouki: D A D A

                   D G B E

                   G D A E

                   D A F C




         Ukelele: A D F# B  (4th string, "A", in higher octave,

                            re-entrant tuning)

         Tiple: (Pronounced TEE-play) C E A D (South American version. 4th

                                              string, "C", is octaved)

         Tiple: (Pronounced TIPPLE) A D F# B (North American version. 2nd, 3rd

                                             and 4th, "A", "D", and "F#", are



    *  Older Instruments (the tuning may or may not be these same tones,

       but the relationships between the strings will remain the same):


Oud: (Turkish style) D G A D G C


Lute: "new" tuning: 8-course E# B A D G C# E A (descant tuning: see below)

      "new" tuning (Virdung ca. 1500): G C F A D G (the "viel accord")(alto)

      "old" tuning: 8-course E# B A D G C# E# A (descant tuning: see below)

      "Sharp" tuning: G C F A C E

      "Flat" tuning: G C F Ab C Eb

      "Accord Nouveau": A D F A D F  (17th Cent.)


      Praetorius mentions the following tunings for various kinds of

          lute (note: 1st string only is given; string relationships

          remain the same):


                 Small octave Lute: D or C

                 Small descant Lute: B

                 Descant Lute: A

                 Choir or alto Lute: G

                 Tenor Lute: E

                 Bass Lute: D

                 Large octave bass Lute: G


Arch Lute: same as Descant Lute, with extra bass strings tuned descending


Theorbo: F G A B C D E F G C F A D G (or the same intervals one tone higher)

Arch Mandore: C G C G C

              C F C F C

Mandora: C G C G C

         C F C F C

Pandurina: G D G D

Bandora: C D G C E A

         G C D G C E A

Opharion: G C F A D G

          (a seventh course was added to the bass after 1600; it may also

          be tuned like a Lute)


Cittern: mandolin tuning: G D A E (same as Octave Mandolin)

                          D G B D (open "G", same as modern Plectrum banjo)

                          D G C D ("G Dorian mode")

             five-course: G D G B D (open "G")

                          G D G B D (open "G", with the 5th string as a

                                     re-entrant, the same as a modern 5-string


                          C D G B D

                          A D G A D

                          A D G B E (same as Gittern)

                          D G D G D

                          A D A D A

                          A E A E A

                          D G D A E

         Lafranco (1533): A C B G D E

     Adrian LeRoy (1565): A G D E

           Virchi (1574): D F B G D E

Cetarone (bass cittern): Eb Bb F C G D A

                         E B G D E

                         (a re-entrant tuning is also mentioned, but

                         no intervals are given, by Agazzari in 1607)


Guittern: A D G B E (same as modern guitar, but without the low E string)

          A D G B E (re-entrant: 4th string an octave high)

4-Course Guitar: Probably similarly to the 5-Course Guitar, but without the

                 5th string(s) (see below)

5-Course Guitar: ca. Mid-1500's

                 D D G B E (4th and 5th, "D", tuned in same octave as 1st,

                           "E," in a re-entrant tuning)

                 A D G B E (5th string one octave lower than 1st thru 4th)

                 A D G B E (same as first five of modern guitar)

Vihuela de Mano: G C F A D G

                 C F Bb A D G

                 C F Bb A D G (note: tune to the same sound as a ukelele,

                               with the 4th string, the Bb, in the next octave

                               higher than the  5th and 3rd. This is known as

                               a "re-entrant" tuning and is very period.)

                 You may also use any standard Lute tuning.


Cytole: D G B E (re-entrant: 4th string (D) in higher octave similar to the

                ukelele. I dare say you could use a tenor ukelele, or even

                a tenor guitar, to stand-in for this instrument.)

Mandora: G D G D (in bass range. A mando-cello will work here quite well)

Guitarra Moresca: I suggest tuning it like a Cittern, as the descriptions of

                  it's sound from period Ms. would seem to indicate a "5th"

                  relationship tuning.

Guitarra Latina: Probably tuned like a Cittern, or like a Cytole, but if you

                 use a Cytole tuning, tune several tones lower.

Poliphant: Eight wire-strung courses tuned like a Lute, plus about 15 diatonic

           bass strings on a harp frame, similar to the Harp-Guitar of the

           early 1900's in the USA.

Stump: Seven wire-strung courses tuned in "old" Lute tuning, plus 8 open bass

       strings on a harp frame.


        Remember that many of these instruments are strung in pairs of

strings, with the strings of the pair tuned an octave apart. This is usually

done on the "bourdon," or bass strings, for added clarity and volume.


        On the odder relatives of the guitar, if the neck-to-bridge distance

seems a little smaller than a guitar's, measure both of them! If this "scale"

is shorter than a guitar's, it's very possible that the instrument needs to be

tuned to a higher pitch. A short-scale instrument is meant to be tuned high,

otherwise the strings will not have the correct amount of tension to

adequately stress the soundboard, and thus will rattle, twang, and have no

volume whatsoever.


        To find out where to tune it, put the instrument beside a known

instrument of similar design, with both bridges in line with each other. If

the nut (the piece between the fingerboard and the peghead) on the unknown

instrument is below the nut on the known instrument, then you must count the

frets between the known's nut, on it's fingerboard, and the nut on the other

instrument. The tones played on the nearest fret of the known to the other nut

will work as a tuning guide for the other instrument. This may sound complex,

but try it....it works just fine!


        This does NOT apply to Lutes, however, and be VERY careful not to

overstress the soundboard or the bridge, to avoid damage to the instrument due

to over-tensioning the strings. Go carefully, and if you are using wire

strings on any instrument, use the lightest gauge possible.







Elderly Instruments                             Mandolin Brothers

1100 W Washington                               629 Forest Ave

PO Box 14210                                    Staten Is. NY 10310

Lansing, MI 48901                              


                                                Boulder Early Music Shop

Lark in The Morning                             2010 Fourteenth St

PO Box 1176                                     Boulder, Colo. 80302

Mendocino, CA 95460

                                               Lute Society of America

Plucked String Inc.                            c/o Nancy Carlin

1930 Cameron Ct. Arlington, VA                 PO Box 11125

22210                                          Concord, CA




There are other shops that deal in this sort of thing, but these are the ones

I have dealt with personally, and thus can recommend them wholeheartedly.




        When you need to get strings for these beasts, you may run into a

problem. Nylon strings are, usually, not marked as to their diameter, so you

just have to be prepared to experiment using regular nylon guitar strings.

Lute strings are another story. DO NOT use nylon guitar strings on a Lute. The

soundboard of the Lute is considerably thinner than a guitar's, so the stress

placed on it by the guitar strings may tear the Lute apart. Use strings made

for Lute, and DON'T try wire strings on it!


        By the way: wound bass strings ("overspun bourdons") seem to be quite

period, for the Renaissance.


        Banjo strings work quite well for Citterns, as do mandolin strings.

When you go to the music store, take the instrument with you, and tell them

the tuning you wish to use, and ask for bronze-wound bass strings. These give

the best sound, in my opinion. If the nice man behind the counter seems not to

know what you are talking about, GO TO ANOTHER STORE until you find someone

who knows about string gauge/scale/tuning relationships. This is very

important, because, with wire strings, if you use a string that is too heavy

for your soundboard it will tear it apart!


        One final thing: please refrain from spilling alcohol on the finish of

these wonderful things. Alcohol will remove the finish quite nicely..... and

refinishing a musical instrument both lowers it's resale value, and damages

the tone. Refinishing is horrendously expensive, too....I remember having to

have an area the size of a quarter refinished on a solid-body electric guitar,

an instrument which did not need the CAREFUL refinishing of an acoustic

instrument, and the total bill was $89.75......and, by the way, if you have an

antique instrument DON'T have it re-finished! You will harm both the tone, and

the value! Even if it looks like something the cat dragged in and wouldn't

eat, talk to an expert about it before refinishing. In SOME cases (very

few!!!!) a refinish job is needed, and can be done in such a way as to not

harm the instrument.....but let an expert tell you about that.

        The same goes for weather: don't allow it to freeze, get wet, get

damp, or get too hot. Any weather that is uncomfortable for you is SERIOUSLY

uncomfortable for your instrument, and CAN and WILL damage it...badly! Leaving

it in a parked car in hot weather can cause the glue to soften, and the string

tension will then tear the instrument into very small bits! Very cold weather

will craze the finish, thereby letting dirt, oil and damp into the wood. Damp

weather will warp the wood, sometimes beyond repair. Be CAREFUL of these

pretty toys, and they will outlast you.


        I would add to this: buy a good, hard-shell case, or have one made,

and keep your instrument in it! Don't leave it laying about where people can

spill beer on it, walk on it, knock it over.....keep it out of direct sunlight

or cold drafts...don't let it get rained (or misted, or fogged) upon...in

other words, keep it nice and comfy, and it'll be OK.


        If you are traveling from a moist climate into a dry one, or vice-

versa, use a simple humidifier that can be bought from any music store. This

will (hopefully) keep the instrument from cracking under the stresses of the

humidity change.


        Don't let drunks play it. EVER. Don't let irresponsible people of any

kind handle it. EVER. It is perfectly socially acceptable (among musicians, at

least) to simply not let ANYONE handle it, except the owner.


        And remember, musical instruments are easily "fenced." Keep it where

you can see it.


note: DO NOT USE OLD, ANTIQUE INSTRUMENTS! These instruments are collectors'

items, and should be saved for the next generation to appreciate. If you are

a serious musician, and prepared to literally live for the instrument(s),

well and good, but if you only do it as a hobby, then......pass them by! Buy

a good, new instrument and save the old one from the wear and tear, and

possible serious abuse, that historical re-enacting tends to put on things.





Evans, Tom and Mary Anne: Guitars: from the Renaissance to Rock

                          Facts on File, New York 1977


Munrow, David: Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

               Oxford University Press, London 1976

               (Highly Reccomended!)


Smith, Douglas Alton: The Lute: Instrument for the Ages

                      FRETS (period.) March 1982

                      GPI Publications


Trimble, Gerald C.: Instruments of British Isles Music

                    FRETS (period.) April 1980

                    GPI Publications


and 30+ years experience on the part of the Author.


        *  (c) copyright 1989, 1990, 1994 W. J. Bethancourt III


This article may be reprinted in publications of the SCA and related

groups as long as the copyright information is left intact, and a copy of

the publication is sent to the author at PO Box 35190, Phoenix AZ 85069.


locksley at indirect.com           PO Box 35190       Locksley Plot Systems

White Tree Productions      Phoenix, AZ 85069 USA         CyberMongol Ltd


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org