Baroque guitar

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Baroque guitar
Guitar MET DP232758.jpg
Baroque guitar built by Matteo Salas,
c. 1630–50
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322 (plucked)
Developed17th century
Attack Fast
Related instruments

The Baroque guitar (c. 1600–1750) is a string instrument with five courses of gut strings and moveable gut frets. The first (highest pitched) course sometimes used only a single string. [1]



The Baroque guitar replaced the Renaissance lute as the most common instrument found when one was at home. [2] [3] The earliest attestation of a five-stringed guitar comes from the mid-sixteenth-century Spanish book Declaracion de Instrumentos Musicales by Juan Bermudo, published in 1555. [4] The first treatise published for the Baroque guitar was Guitarra Española de cinco ordenes (The Five-course Spanish Guitar), c. 1590, by Juan Carlos Amat. [5] [6]

The baroque guitar in contemporary ensembles took on the role of a basso continuo instrument and players would be expected to improvise a chordal accompaniment. Several scholars have assumed that the guitar was used together with another basso continuo instrument playing the bass line. [7] However, there are good reasons to suppose that the guitar was used as an independent instrument for accompaniment in many situations. [8] Intimately tied to the development of the Baroque guitar is the alfabeto system of notation.


Three different ways of tuning the guitar are well documented in seventeenth-century sources as set out in the following table. This includes the names of composers who are associated with each method. Very few sources seem to clearly indicate that one method of stringing rather than another should be used and it is often argued that it may have been up to the player to decide what was appropriate. The issue is highly contentious and different theories have been put forward. [9] [10] [11]

A very brief list of composers and tunings:

The guitar player (c. 1672), by Johannes Vermeer Jan Vermeer van Delft 013.jpg
The guitar player (c. 1672), by Johannes Vermeer
Double guitar (1690) by Alexandre Voboam, 1690 (exhibited at Kunsthistorisches Museum) Vienna - Double guitar Paris 1690 - 9606.jpg
Double guitar (1690) by Alexandre Voboam, 1690 (exhibited at Kunsthistorisches Museum)
Ferdinando Valdambrini (Italy, 1646/7)
Gaspar Sanz (Spain, 1674)
Accord sanz.png E - B - G - D - A
Antoine Carre (France, 1671)
Robert de Visée (France, 1682) [12]
Nicolas Derosier (Netherlands, 1690)
Accord de visee.png E - B - G - D (in octave) - A
Girolamo Montesardo (Italy, 1606)
Benedetto Sanseverino (Italy, 1620)
Giovanni Paolo Foscarini (Italy, 1640)
Francisco Guerau (Spain, 1694)
Accord montesardo.png E - B - G - D (in octave) - A (in octave)


Sample of makers

Matteo Salas (1600s).

Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737). Of his five surviving guitars, the 1679 "Sabionari" [13] is the only one in playable condition. It is the solo instrument on more than a dozen videos at Two other Stradivari guitars are in museums. An instrument of 1688 [14] is in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, and an instrument of 1700 [15] is in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.

Nicholas Alexandre Voboam II (c. 1634/46–1692/1704). French luthier with three guitars bearing his signature (from a total of 26 attributed to the Voboam Family). [16] [17] The guitars of Alexandre were held in high esteem during his lifetime and a century later were still considered desirable instruments. [18]

Contemporary makers of baroque guitars can be identified by Internet searches.


Christopher Morrongiello Christopher Morrongiello playing a baroque guitar (by Princess Ruto, 2013-02-11).jpg
Christopher Morrongiello


Related Research Articles

Classical guitar member of the guitar family used in classical music

The classical guitar is a member of the guitar family used in classical music. An acoustic wooden string instrument with strings made of gut or nylon, it is a precursor of the modern acoustic and electric guitars, both of which use metal strings. Classical guitars are derived from the Spanish vihuela and gittern in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which later evolved into the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Baroque guitar and later the modern classical guitar in the mid-nineteenth century.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing the strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.

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The theorbo is a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck and a second pegbox. Like a lute, a theorbo has a curved-back sound box with a wooden top, typically with a sound hole, and a neck extending out from the soundbox. As with the lute, the player plucks or strums the strings with one hand while "fretting" the strings with the other hand; pressing the strings in different places on the neck produces different pitches (notes), thus enabling the performer to play chords, basslines and melodies.


The cittern or cithren is a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance. Modern scholars debate its exact history, but it is generally accepted that it is descended from the Medieval citole. Its flat-back design was simpler and cheaper to construct than the lute. It was also easier to play, smaller, less delicate and more portable. Played by all classes, the cittern was a premier instrument of casual music-making much as is the guitar today.


The vihuela is a 15th-century fretted plucked Spanish string instrument, shaped like a guitar but tuned like a lute. It was used in 15th- and 16th-century Spain as the equivalent of the lute in Italy and has a large resultant repertory. There were usually five or six doubled strings.

Francesco Corbetta

Francesco Corbetta was an Italian guitar virtuoso, teacher and composer. Along with his compatriots Giovanni Paolo Foscarini and Angelo Michele Bartolotti, He was a pioneer and exponent of the combination of strummed and plucked textures referred to today as "mixed" style.

Gittern Medieval necked bowl lute

The gittern was a relatively small gut strung round-backed instrument that first appears in literature and pictorial representation during the 13th century in Western Europe. It is usually depicted played with a quill plectrum, as we can see clearly beginning in manuscript illuminations from the thirteenth century. It was also called the guiterna in Spain, guiterne or guiterre in France, the chitarra in Italy and Quintern in Germany. A popular instrument with court musicians, minstrels, and amateurs, the gittern is considered an ancestor of the modern guitar and other instruments like the mandore, bandurria and gallichon.


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Mandore (instrument)

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Pedro Caldeira Cabral is a musician who specializes in Mediaeval, Renaissance, Baroque and Iberian music.

Classical guitar repertoire

To a greater extent than most other instruments and ensembles, it is difficult to compose music for the guitar without either proficiency in the instrument or close collaboration with a guitarist. As a result, a large part of the guitar repertoire consists of works by guitarists who did not compose extensively for other instruments. Music prior to the classical era was often composed for performance on various combinations of instruments, and could be adapted by the performer to keyboard instruments, the lute, or the guitar. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, a significant amount of music has been written for the guitar by non-guitarist composers.

John Griffiths (musician)

John Griffiths is a musician and musicologist specialised in music for guitar and early plucked instruments, especially the vihuela and lute. He has researched aspects of the sixteenth-century Spanish vihuela, its history and its music. He has also had an international career as a solo lutenist, vihuelist, and guitarist, and as a member of the pioneer Australian early music group La Romanesca. After a thirty-year career at the University of Melbourne (1980–2011), he now works as a freelance scholar and performer.

Monica Hall is an English guitarist, author and musicologist. A reviewer and writer for The Lute Society (UK) and article contributor to the Lute Society of America Quarterly and Classical Guitar magazine. Hall's main field of study is the baroque guitar and vihuela.

Guitarra morisca

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Lex Eisenhardt is a performer and recording artist on early plucked instruments, such as the vihuela, the baroque guitar, and the 19th-century Romantic guitar. He studied lute and guitar at the Utrecht Conservatory. In 1981 he was appointed professor of guitar and early plucked instruments at the Sweelinck Conservatorium. In the forefront of the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) on the guitar, Eisenhardt was the first to make several gramophone recordings with music by the Catalan composer Fernando Sor on a period instrument from the early 19th century. He has given solo recitals and lectures in many European countries, Australia, and the United States. Well-known guitarists such as Johannes Moller and Izhar Elias studied with him.

Antonio Carbonchi was a 17th-century guitarist and composer who wrote two influential books on lute playing.

History of lute-family instruments

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  1. Harvey Turnbull, The Guitar (From The Renaissance to the Present Day) (3rd impression 1978), London: Batsford ( ISBN   0 7134 3251 9), p. 15: "Early lutes, vihuelas and guitars share one important feature that would have been of practical concern to the player; the frets, unlike the fixed metal frets on the modern guitar, were made of gut and tied round the neck" (Chapter 1 - The Development of the Instrument).
  2. Manfred F Bukofzer, Music In The Baroque Era (From Monteverdi to Bach), London: J. M. Dent & Sons (1st UK edition 1948), p. 47: "The Spanish fashion in Italy brought a speedy victory of the nosiy guitar over the dignified lute".
  3. Donald Jay Grout, A History Of Western Music, London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1962, Chapter 7: New Currents In The Sixteenth Century, p. 202: "By far the most popular household solo instrument of the Renaissance was the lute."
  4. Tom and Mary Anne Evans, Guitars: From the Renaissance to Rock, London: Paddington Press, 1977, p. 24: "The first incontrovertible evidence of five-course instruments can be found in Miguel Fuenllana's Orphenica Lyre of 1554, which contains music for a vihuela de cinco ordenes. In the following year Juan Bermudo wrote in his Declaracion de Instrumentos Musicales: 'We have seen a guitar in Spain with five courses of strings.' Bermudo later mentions in the same book that 'Guitars usually have four strings,' which implies that the five-course guitar was of comparatively recent origin, and still something of an oddity."
  5. Harvey Turnbull, The Guitar (1978), p. 41 (Chapter 3 - The Baroque, Era Of The Five Course Guitar): "The new era is heralded by Juan Carlos Amat's little treatise Guitarra Espanola de cinco ordenes...."
  6. Evans, Guitars (1977), p. 24: "We know from literary sources that the five course guitar was immensely popular in Spain in the early seventeenth century and was also widely played in France and Italy....Yet almost all the surviving guitars were built in Italy....This apparent disparity between the documentary and instrumental evidence can be explained by the fact that, in general, only the more expensively made guitars have been kept as collectors' pieces. During the early seventeenth century the guitar was an instrument of the people of Spain, but was widely played by the Italian aristocracy."
  7. Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music In The Baroque Era (From Monteverdi to Bach), London: J. M. Dent & Sons (1st UK edition 1948), p. 26: "The basso continuo ... required at least two players, one to sustain the bass line (string bass, or wind instrument) and the other for the chordal accompaniment (keybooard instruments, lute, theorboe, and the popular guitar)."
  8. Lex Eisenhardt, ‘Baroque guitar accompaniment: where is the bass’ Early Music 42, No 1 (2014) p. 73-84.
  9. Monica Hall, Baroque Guitar Stringing : a survey of the evidence (Guildford: The Lute Society, 2010) ISBN   0-905655-40-0.
  10. Lex Eisenhardt, Italian Guitar Music of the Seventeenth Century, University of Rochester Press (2015).
  11. James Tyler and Paul Sparks, The Guitar and Its Music (Oxford University Press, 2002).
  12. Robert de Visée, Livre de guitare dédié au roy: " ne faut pas oublier une octave à la quatrième corde, elle y est très nécessaire".
  13. "The Sabionari Guitar".
  14. "Guitar 1688".
  15. "Guitar".
  16. The Guitar (From The Renaissance To The Present Day) by Harvey Turnbull (Third Impression 1978) - Publisher: Batsford ( ISBN   0 7134 3251 9) - p20 (Chapter 1 - The Development Of The Instrument)
  17. "Recent Research About The Voboam Family And Their Guitars by Florence Gétreau (Heritage Curator for 20 years at the Conservatoire de Paris and Director of Research at Institut de recherche sur le patrimoine musical en France)" (PDF).
  18. The Guitar (From The Renaissance To The Present Day) by Harvey Turnbull (Third Impression 1978) - Publisher: Batsford ( ISBN   0 7134 3251 9) - p20 "Alexandre's reputation lasted long after the seventeenth century. An advertisement in the Journal de Musique for September 1770 offered 'an excellent guitar made in Paris by the celebrated Voboam in 1675'.... "(Chapter 1 - The Development Of The Instrument)