minstrel: period guitars

nickolas kaugon ollaimh at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 17 13:26:53 PDT 2008

there are quite a few period instruments that resemble the guitar but most have signifigantly different action and playability. better to find the instrument you like the playability and sound of and not worry if it looks like a guitar.

the cittern family  provides a lot "guitar like" sounds and actions for those into something like a modern steel string. they do have challenges but i think they are worth it for the grreat sound.

i am  believer in carbon fibre strings for lutes. gut is finiky, lasts only weeks at peak sound, and break a lot ,and respond badly to moisture and barometer changes.

carbon fibre gives much the same sound and lasts years--they are expensive up front . i just bought four sets with extras for the high and low breakables and extras for different overwounds n but they cost me 400 bucks, now the last time i did this the carbon fibre strings lasted ten years. few breaks as well.

i've been thinking of trying them on my harp.

for cittern strings the older ones have brass and iron strings you can get from harpsichord makers and twisted brass for the overwounds in modern lower strings. late citterns sonetines had almost equivalents to modern steel with over wounds--though most over woumds are with copper or silver in period. now musicians with a lot of over wounds would be from the richest class, they were extremely expemsive. that's whay many citterns were tuned with reentrent tunings where the lower strings go back up in pitch with the lowest in the middle, you need only unwound strings or only one over wound--and you do get a very distinctive sound. i use a reentrant tuning on my late nedieval cittern and it had a bright ukelele sound--great for strumming to ballads. tuning does take time and you ofen tolerate a bit of out of tune more then a modern instrument so as not to delay a performance--however you do get the knack of it eventualy.

i understand the literalists with gut strings but thats way too expensive and inconvient for me, especially for out door events where the  weather changes are constant.

for gut strung guitar like instruments there was a german version of the calescione--they were usually italian and long necked--that is short necked and was with six strings at a tension near modern classical guitars. they had gut fretts and friction pegs, you could get one of those friction peg lute guitars and be sort of period, better to be with out metal frets. it is odd thay almost never had metal fretts with the gut strung instruments as early citterns had metal fretts. they often used softer metal so they needed more repair, and they had little ramps before the freat on the finger side so you wouldn't stretch the string too much when hammering down--this kept intonation. all very pretty, i love these instruments. my earkly cittern is light as a feather and had a lovely carved headstock and a hree layer rosette--all very tie comsuming but these instruments are works of art.

there is also the battista family that is a lot like the classical guitar.
there are web pages on this.

if you are into celtic music as i am nothing beats the late rennaisance cittern, it's almost like a modern bouzouki for action with a much nore etherial sound.

i'mm off to vacation at the lamegue barooque festiva with my true love this will be a great week


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