English guitar

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English guitar
English guitar.jpg
English guitar made by William Gibson in 1772
Classification String instrument (plucked)
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322 (necked box lute)
(Chordophone with permanently attached resonator and neck, sounded by a plectrum)
Developed18th century
Related instruments

The English guitar or guittar (also citra), is a stringed instrument – a type of cittern – popular in many places in Europe from around 1750–1850. It is unknown when the identifier "English" became connected to the instrument at the time of its introduction to Great Britain, and during its period of popularity it was apparently simply known as guitar or guittar. The instrument was also known in Norway as a guitarre and France as cistre or guitarre allemande (German guitar). There are many examples in Norwegian museums, like the Norsk Folkemuseum and British; including the Victoria and Albert Museum. The English guitar has a pear-shaped body, a flat base, and a short neck. The instrument is also related to the Portuguese guitar and the German waldzither.


Early examples had tuning pegs (similar to a violin or lute), but many museum examples have what are commonly referred to now as Preston tuners, an innovation that appears closely linked with the instrument.


It usually had ten strings in a repetitive open C tuning, [1] of which the highest eight are paired in four courses (doubled strings),

C E GG cc ee gg

in Helmholtz notation.

The English guitar may have influenced the development and tuning of the Russian guitar, which has seven strings tuned to open G in thirds (G–B, B–D, g–b, and b–d) with two in fourths (D–G, and D–g):

D, G, B, D, g, b, d.

See also

Related Research Articles

Classical guitar

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.

Lute Plucked string musical instrument

A lute is any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back enclosing a hollow cavity, usually with a sound hole or opening in the body. It may be either fretted or unfretted.

Mandolin Musical instrument in the lute family

A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is generally plucked with a plectrum. It most commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, thus giving a total of 8 strings, although five and six course versions also exist. The courses are typically tuned in a interval of perfect fifths, with the same tuning as a violin. Also like the violin, it is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.

Viol Bowed, fretted and stringed instrument

The viol, viola da gamba, or informally gamba, is any one of a family of bowed, fretted and stringed instruments with hollow wooden bodies and pegboxes where the tension on the strings can be increased or decreased to adjust the pitch of each of the strings. Frets on the viol are usually made of gut, tied on the fingerboard around the instrument's neck, to enable the performer to stop the strings more cleanly. Frets improve consistency of intonation and lend the stopped notes a tone that better matches the open strings. Viols first appeared in Spain in the mid to late 15th century and were most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque (1600–1750) periods. Early ancestors include the Arabic rebab and the medieval European vielle, but later, more direct possible ancestors include the Venetian viole and the 15th- and 16th-century Spanish vihuela, a 6-course plucked instrument tuned like a lute that looked like but was quite distinct from the 4-course guitar.

Zither Class of stringed musical instruments

Zither is a class of stringed instruments.


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. It looks much like the modern-day flat-back mandolin and the modern Irish bouzouki, and is descended from the English guitar. 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.

Bandora (instrument)

The bandora or bandore is a large long-necked plucked string-instrument that can be regarded as a bass cittern though it does not have the re-entrant tuning typical of the cittern. Probably first built by John Rose in England around 1560, it remained popular for over a century. A somewhat smaller version was the orpharion.

Portuguese guitar

The Portuguese guitar or Portuguese guitarra is a plucked string instrument with twelve steel strings, strung in six courses of two strings. It is one of the few musical instruments that still uses watch-key or Preston tuners. It is iconically associated with the musical genre known as Fado, and is now an icon for anything Portuguese.

Russian guitar

The Russian guitar (sometimes referred to as a "Gypsy guitar") is an acoustic seven-string guitar that was developed in Russia toward the end of the 18th century: it shares most of its organological features with the Spanish guitar, although some historians insist on English guitar ascendancy. It is known in Russian as the semistrunnaya gitara (семиструнная гитара), or affectionately as the semistrunka (семиструнка), which translates to "seven-stringer". These guitars are most commonly tuned to an open G chord as follows: D2 G2 B2 D3 G3 B3 D4. In classical literature, the lowest string (D) occasionally is tuned down to the C.


The citole was a string musical instrument, closely associated with the medieval fiddles and commonly used from 1200–1350. It was known by other names in various languages: cedra, cetera, cetola, cetula, cistola, citola, citula, citera, chytara, cistole, cithar, cuitole, cythera, cythol, cytiole, cytolys, gytolle, sitole, sytholle, sytole, and zitol. Like the modern guitar, it was manipulated at the neck to get different notes, and picked or strummed with a plectrum. Although it was largely out of use by the late 14th century, the Italians "re-introduced it in modified form" in the 16th century as the cetra, and it may have influenced the development of the guitar as well. It was also a pioneering instrument in England, introducing the populace to necked, plucked instruments, giving people the concepts needed to quickly switch to the newly arriving lutes and gitterns. Two possible descendant instrument are the Portuguese guitar and the Corsican Cetera, both types of cittern.

Course (music)

A course, on a stringed musical instrument, is either one string or two or more adjacent strings that are closely spaced relative to the other strings, and typically played as a single string. The strings in each multiple-string course are typically tuned in unison or an octave.

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.


The mandora or gallichon is a type of 18th- and early 19th-century lute, with six to nine courses of strings. The terms were interchangeable, with mandora common in Northern Italy and Central Europe, and gallichon in Germany.

The Ceterone (Italian), was an enlarged cetera, believed to be similar to the chitarrone as a development of the chitarra and lute to enhance the bass capabilities of these instruments.

Ten-string guitar

There are many varieties of ten-string guitar, including:

Gregory Doc Rossi known professionally as Doc Rossi, is a citternist, composer and scholar born in Dayton, Ohio in 1955, emigrating to Europe in 1984. Today, he lives in Portugal after spending some years in Italy and Corsica. He studied music from an early age and began performing at 14. He has B.A.s in Music and English Literature, and was awarded the Ph.D. in 1991 from the University of London, where he wrote on Shakespeare and Brecht under the supervision of René Weis and Keith Walker. He studied historical technique with Andrea Damiani and has had tuition from John Renbourn, Ugo Orlandi, Richard Strasser, Christopher Morrongiello, Ljubo Majstorovic and John Anthony Lennon. Rossi has had a lifelong interest in the cittern, having built one at the age of 13. He now performs on a variety of instruments, including the diatonic Renaissance cittern, the modern Celtic cittern, the Corsican cetera, and especially the so-called English guittar (sic) or cetra, an 18th-century instrument. He also plays fingerstyle guitar, bass guitar, tenor banjo, and mandolin family instruments.

Mandore (instrument)

The mandore is a musical instrument, a small member of the lute family, teardrop shaped, with four to six courses of gut strings and pitched in the treble range. Considered a French instrument, with much of the surviving music coming from France, it was used across "Northern Europe" including Germany and Scotland. Although it went out of style, the French instrument has been revived for use in classical music. The instrument's most commonly played relatives today are members of the mandolin family and the bandurria.

The halszither is a stringed instrument from Switzerland. It has nine steel strings in five courses and is tuned: G2, D3 D3, G3 G3, B3 B3, D4 D4.

Repetitive tuning

Repetitive tunings are alternative tunings for the guitar. A repetitive tuning begins with a list of notes that is duplicated, either at unison or at higher octaves.

Preston tuners

Preston tuners or machines is a type of machine head tuning system for string instruments, named for English cittern maker John Preston and developed in the 18th century. Preston claimed to be the inventor of this design, though scholars note the originator could be the luthier John Frederick Hintz, who advertised such a mechanism as early as 1766. The tuning mechanism was also used on the German cittern known as the waldzither, and is associated with the early-20th-century instruments built by C. H. Böhm.


  1. Annala, Hannu; Mätlik, Heiki (2007). "Composers for other plucked instruments: Rudolf Straube (1717-1785)". Handbook of Guitar and Lute Composers. Translated by Backman, Katarina. Mel Bay. p. 30. ISBN   0786658444.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)