guitar-art - 8/9/94
History of the guitar by Ioseph of Locksley.
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.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: locksley at indirect.com (Joe Bethancourt)
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
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
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):
Modern Guitar: E A D G B E
D A D G B D ("Double "D" " Good for modal ballads
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
E B E G# B E ("E" tuning, played like the "G" tuning
but with everything moved over -two-
"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: 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,
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"
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
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.
WHERE TO FIND THEM:
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
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
Smith, Douglas Alton: The Lute: Instrument for the Ages
FRETS (period.) March 1982
Trimble, Gerald C.: Instruments of British Isles Music
FRETS (period.) April 1980
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.