Stephen Barber & Sandi Harris, Lutemakers
Catalogue and Price List 2016
1  Six course lutes 8  Gallichone/mandora, colascione
2  Seven and eight course lutes 9  Mandolino
3  Basslutes 10  Continuo instruments
4  Ten course lutes, 9-course lutes 11 Renaissance and Baroque guitars
5  Wire-strung instruments 12 Vihuela, viola da mano
6  Eleven and Twelve course lutes 13 Student Lutes
7 Thirteen course lutes  14 Footnotes

Para ver la pagina en Español

Renaissance and Baroque guitars

The guitars offered here range from the simple 4-course instrument to the late 18th Century Prévost. They all have double courses (except for the metal-strung chitarra battente) and we feel that they are a reasonably comprehensive representation of the various schools of guitar building across Europe from 1520 - 1780. We have measured and documented many other guitars not listed here, and this section is intended to be a representative sample of our work in this area; guitars not listed here can be accepted as commissions – we have a large archive of measurements and information on guitars not mentioned below; please ask for further details and information.

Having first met the late Robert Spencer back in the spring of 1973, Stephen first encountered original baroque guitars in Robert's collection, including the Prévost model listed below (No.16) and a meeting shortly afterwards with James Tyler, another pioneer – and, as it were, an early champion of the early guitar – further developed Stephen's interest in early guitars. In early 1976, at the invitation of Ian Harwood and the Royal College Of Music, Stephen was commissioned to produce for publication technical drawings of the earliest known guitar (then as now) the Belchior Dias instrument of 1581. He'd already set out to measure and document (sometimes for publication by the museums who owned them) as many important early guitars as he could get access to, in public and private collections; later, working together with Sandi, this ongoing research has continued to the present day. The knowledge and experience thus gained is reflected in the list of instruments we offer.

We have used the broad terms 'renaissance guitars' and 'baroque guitars' below simply to help locate the different models, grouping them into the two main types asked for by players, namely the (usually) smaller 4 or 5-course guitars often tuned in a' and the later, usually larger instruments.

Guitars have become increasingly popular in recent years, and many players buy them to use in a continuo context, as well as for playing the solo repertoire; our guitars are renowned for their articulation, brightness, depth of sound and projection, and they work very well for both continuo and solo playing. One of our long-standing customers, the American lutenist, continuo expert and opera director Stephen Stubbs, comments that our guitars "Play straight out of the box, as if you've always known them". A recent owner of one of our flat-backed Voboam models, Tuomas Rauramaa, writing from Finland, said:

"It is really a wonderful instrument. The workmanship is excellent. The upper register is very clear and the lower is nicely full, making it ideal for both solo and continuo. The general sound and feel of this guitar is just like the idea of a baroque guitar I had in my head when I decided to get one".

We have a large database of measurements and photographs of original guitars which we have measured over the last 30 years, and as well as the instruments listed below, we like to develop and build new models, working from this archive of information: one of the new models we currently have under development, which we are working on a prototype copy of, currently planned to be ready later in 2008 – is the Antonio Mariani 1680 guitar in the Leipzig Musikinstrument Museum; details of this guitar can be found at No 19 below.

In early January 2004, we built a very interesting instrument for a continuo player and accompanist here in the UK, what is effectively a theorboed guitar – the Chitarrone Francese (No. 18 below) for a player based in the UK; there are images of a recently-completed version of this instrument, along with further details, below, at No. 18.

The provenance of the original instruments upon which the guitars listed below are based, is listed here as where the originals were located when we measured them. Some instruments have since been sold, and their current whereabouts are not always known to us.

We'd like to open this page of the website by presenting an image of two quite different guitars:


Above: in the foreground, a copy of the 1641 René Voboam guitar in the Ashmolean, Oxford, alongside a copy of the 1581 Belchior Dias guitar in the Royal College of Music, London. Both of the original guitars were drawn by Stephen (the Dias in 1976 and the Voboam in 1981) for the museums which own them, these drawings are available by writing to the museums themselves. The Voboam copy – made in 1990 – was until recently owned by Stephen Stubbs (he traded it for a more recent and less decorated instrument – a copy of the 1680 Alexandre Voboam we had built) and the Dias model (made in 2003) is owned by João Duarte, of Lisbon, Portugal (where the original Dias guitar – the earliest known surviving guitar – was made).

Documentary, technical drawings

Over the years, Stephen Barber has been commissioned to produce for publication by the Museums who own the original instruments, detailed documentary technical drawings of the following guitars:

Dias 1581, Stradivari 1680, René Voboam 1641, Jean Voboam c.1680.
The drawings are all full-size, and are accompanied by explanatory notes; they can be obtained by writing to the Museums concerned.

– Renaissance guitars

Alonso de Mudarra's 1546 book Tres Libros de Música contains the first appearance of pieces for a four-course instrument, therein called a guitarra. The four-course guitar seems to have been most popular in France, rather than in Spain or even Italy; starting with Simon Gorlier's 1551 Le Troysième Livre . . . mis en tablature de Guiterne, a considerable volume of music was published in Paris from the 1550's to the 1570's. In 1551 Adrian le Roy also published his Premier Livre de Tablature de Guiterne; and in the same year he also published a tutor, Briefve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tablature a bien accorder, conduire, et disposer la main sur la Guiterne. Robert Ballard, Grégoire Brayssing (interestingly, born in Augsburg), and of course Guillaume Morlaye (c. 1510 - c. 1558) significantly contributed to its repertoire. Morlaye's Le Premier Livre de Chansons, Gaillardes, Pavannes, Bransles, Almandes, Fantasies – which has a four-course guitar illustrated on its title page – was published in partnership with Michel Fedenzat, and amongst other music, they published six books of tablature by the great lutenist Albert de Rippe (who was very likely Guillaume's teacher).

1. Four-course guitar

(Own design, based on the plantila of the Belchior Dias guitar below)

Vaulted back of 11 ribs; back and sides in walnut, neck and pegbox in walnut or pearwood; pernambuco pegs; wood & parchment rosette.
String length: 540mm
Pitch: a' (tuning: a' - e' - c' - g )

The four-course guitar shown above is owned by Rosemary Hodgson, of Melbourne, Australia.

£3800 with flat back (£4200 with vaulted back)

This guitar is also available as a five-course, as illustrated above; this instrument is owned by Jane and Tony Scheuregger (Minstrels' Gallery, Norwich, England).

2. After Belchior Dias, Lisbon 1581

(London, Royal College of Music Museum No. 171)

This is the earliest dated surviving guitar known; vaulted back of 7 deeply-fluted, double-bent ribs in kingwood (dalbergia cearensis) rio rosewood, walnut or cypress; neck and pegbox in ebony (as original) or pearwood; ebony pegs with bone collars & pips; parchment rosette. Also available in a plainer version, with simple vaulted back (as shown below).
String length: 553mm
Pitch: a' (tuning: a' - e' - c' - g - d )

This copy of the Dias has a simple vaulted back made from rosewood; its neck and pegbox are carved from one piece of ebony (as the original) and its pegbox inlays are also copied from the original. It is owned by João Duarte, of Lisbon. João could not believe just how clear and loud this guitar is; we had also shown it to Andrew Maginley (who owns one of our 1680 Voboam guitar copies) just before sending it to João, and he was astonished, noting just how easy it was to draw sound from the little guitar, commenting upon its sheer playability and how well it spoke and projected; João told us that Hopkinson Smith was equally impressed when it was shown to him at a seminar.

This guitar is also available in a four-course version. The fingerboard decoration of the original, a mosaic design of interweaving wavy lines of white/black/white purfling (either bone/ebony/bone or holly/ebony/holly), repeated on the front of the pegbox and at the lower junction of the ribs, is available as an extra option (the pegbox inlays are shown above). Belchior Dias is known to have built vihuelas as well as guitars; he is identified on the original guitar by both a label inside, and an engraved red-stained ivory panel on the pegbox front, bearing these letters:

B C H I O R 


£3800 with flat back, £4200 with simple vaulted back (with parchment rose as shown above)

£5000 with back as original. with double-curved, bent ribs

(solid ebony neck, mosaic fingerboard, pegbox decoration and rib decoration as per original guitar extra – £POA)

This unique guitar by Dias is remarkably similar in concept and construction to the unsigned 6-course Vihuela from the former Chambure collection in Paris (No.6 in the Vihuela, viola da mano section - a copy of which is shown below right); no other instruments have the same deeply-fluted, vaulted back construction with double-curved, bent ribs (acanalada e aconvada (Tumbado, according to the original sources); and their neckblocks – carved from the same piece of wood as the neck and pegbox in both cases (ie, with no 'mechanical' v-joint between the neck and pegbox, but carved to give the illusion of one) – are carved and bevelled in identical ways. We're sure they originated in the same workshop.

Little is known of Dias' biographical details; it seems that he was related to (possibly even the son of) one Diogo Dias, a citizen of Lisbon. a charter dated March 25th 1551 states that Diogo had been appointed principal violeiro to Duc João III.

There is mention of what might be this very guitar (or a very similar one) as existing in the Medici collection in Florence, interestingly the inventory mentions it as having been fitted with walnut pegs, and accompanied by a case. Unfortunately for Alexander Batov, it is described as a guitar, not a vihuela.*

Above: in the centre, a copy of the Dias guitar made with a simple vaulted back; on the right, a copy (our first version, made in 2001) of the Paris Chambure vihuela, and on the left our 'evolution' version of the Chambure. We offer a full copy of the Dias with its back also made from 7 deeply-fluted and curved ribs (as the original has, and in kingwood or rosewood) built like the two vihuelas here. Stephen made two copies of the Dias with its 7 double-bent back ribs for a private collector, back in 1976 when he was drawing the original guitar**. This person had approached the RCM museum – the owners of the original – and upon discovering that a full technical drawing was being prepared for publication, commissioned two instruments; unfortunately, part of the deal was that no photos would be taken or published – an undertaking that Stephen regrets to this day.

Until our recent work on the Chambure vihuela, few had asked for (or been willing to pay for) a proper copy of the Dias with the 7 deeply-fluted ribs which the original has; indeed, in the late 1970's and early 1980's - when Stephen was measuring and drawing many important historical guitars - few players were taking the early guitar seriously.

However, we will be building a full copy of this very important guitar as soon as current pressure of work permits us the time, and images of this will appear here in due course; its back and sides will be made from Kingwood, as per the original.

** Recent dendrochronological examination of the original Belchior Dias guitar's soundboard has confirmed Stephen's original opinion (from 1976, written in the Notes which accompany the published drawings of the Dias - formed whilst drawing the instrument for publication, and which has since been extensively quoted) that the present soundboard is from the early eighteenth Century, probably French work, and therefore not original. This soundboard exhibits year-rings dating from 1642 - 1725.

*Recently, Alexander Batov has posted a number of misleading claims on his website suggesting that the Dias guitar is, in fact, a 6-course vihuela. These claims are not supported by a thorough and impartial examination of the evidence presented by the Dias guitar, and the recently-published Catalogue of the Royal College of Music agrees with our position regarding the Dias: it is a guitar, not a vihuela, despite Batov's ill-informed speculations. On the Footnotes page of this website, we publish the true facts about this very important instrument (along with several images of the original) which the reader can contrast and compare to the misleading speculations and false assertions which Batov has published, and continues to present on his website:

All of the other makers currently offering versions of the Chambure vihuela (and the Dias guitar) – the originals of which both share the same fluted-back construction – only seem to have taken an interest in these instruments after we'd made the first prototype and started selling them (and all of this relatively-recent, sudden 'interest' curiously manifesting itself only after our stolen moulds featured in a scurrilous article in the amateur newsletter FoMRHI in 2002, and a talk given by the same person to the Lute Society in London in January 2003 – which got them all thinking about using moulds – duh! – and after we'd posted extensive details of the original and our prototype here on this website). Some may say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we'd reply that on the one hand it is still imitation, and on the other hardly sincere; and the motivation is far from flattery. We are, however, pleased that our pioneering work seems to have inspired and generated new interest in vihuelas and early guitars.

3. After an anonymous Iberian guitar, c.1580

(ex-Robert Spencer collection)

Flat back, of 11 ribs in ebony with kingwood or rio rosewood sides; neck veneered with ebony with white/black/white purfling inlays; ebony pegs with bone collars and pips; parchment rosette.
String length: 680mm
Pitch: e'


An instrument with striking similarities to the Dias; its proportions are similar, and the decoration of both fingerboard and pegbox are almost identical. It would appear likely that this instrument, if not from the same workshop, was certainly strongly influenced by the same school of building which produced the ideas in the Dias guitar. Following its discovery in a private collection ( ex-Sebastian Isepp) it was rebuilt in 1974 at which time its neck, which had been shortened, was lengthened to give its current practical size; Stephen was fortunately able to examine this important instrument back in 1973, prior to its restoration, and is therefore in possession of full measurements and photographs of its original state, following Robert's acquisition of it from the Isepp collection. It is a very elegantly-proportioned instrument, and an interesting example of a what may possibly be a relatively large guitar for the late sixteenth Century.

Chitarriglia / chitarrino

4. After Giovanni Smit, Milan 1646

(Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 8448 & 8449)

Vaulted back of 13 ebony ribs with holly spacers; ebony sides of 5 ribs with holly spacers; neck and pegbox veneered with ebony, ebony pegs; wood and parchment rosette in 3 tiers. A four course guitar - an example of the fact that they continued to be made and played well into the 17th, and even early 18th Centuries.
String length: 370mm
Pitch: c" (or d" ) { tuning: c" - g' - e' - b' }


These two unique little guitars by Smit in the Vienna KHM collection seem to have been made as a matching pair; they are very small, and their decoration is similar. One has its original 4 course arrangement (8 pegs) and its original bridge, and has a border of little triangles of mother-of-pearl set into black mastic around its rosette, belly and fingerboard; it is in generally better condition than the other, which has red triangles set into black mastic as a decorative theme, and was crudely converted to metal stringing, probably in the last century (its original bridge position can be clearly seen, in the same place as the intact guitar). These instruments have identical rosettes, outlines, pegbox shapes, body designs, and their dimensions are so close that it is quite obvious that they were made on the same mould, probably intended as a matching pair of guitars.

There is speculation that Giovanni Smit was an English immigrant, John Smith (!) with an Italianised name, as was Christopher Cocks (see 9. below).

– Baroque guitars

5. After a guitar labelled "Jacopo Checchucci in Livorno 1623"

(London, private collection)

Vaulted back of 17 fluted ribs, in ebony, rio rosewood, snakewood, or red rio rosewood striped with ebony; neck, pegbox and fingerboard veneered with ebony; spectacular, almost trompe l'oeil parchment rosette in 6 deep tiers (it gives the impression of being impossibly-deep for the vaulted back of the guitar when viewed three-quarters on); ebony pegs with bone pips (also available to special order as the originals, in bone).
String length: 625mm (also available in other lengths up to 680mm)
Pitch: f# ' (or e' with a string length above 660mm)


When one of these guitars was being played to a group of young children at a workshop presented by the Globe Theatre, London, recently, a young girl of around 4 or 5 years old, having stared intently at its rosette for a few minutes, asked: "Is that where the fairies live ?".

A guitar with a shorter string length than many other Italian or Italian-influenced guitars, although the size and proportion of its body allow a mensur of up to 680mm, whilst retaining its general proportions - the most popular size we build is 670mm. In its original configuration, it is a useful model for the player who prefers a shorter scale or a higher pitch. There is some doubt concerning the "Checchucci" label, since this maker is not recorded anywhere, although the instrument itself is beautifully proportioned and constructed (the back and sides of the original are ebony ribs inlaid with ivory filigree leaf-trails) with a magnificent and unique rosette design (detail, above).

The guitar shown above, made in 1999 for Rolf Lislevand, was used on his Santiago de Murcia CD recording (Astreé E8661).

A five-course baroque guitar we made in 2003, after an original guitar labelled "Jacopo Checchucci in Livorno 1623. Its vaulted back has 17 fluted ribs, in ebony striped with ghostly-white holly; it has a six-tiered parchment rosette. An instrument that earns its keep, it is owned by Jim Bisgood, one of the musicians of the Globe Theatre, London – where it has been played many times.

£6600 with its back and sides made from holly striped with ebony

The version shown above has its back striped from holly and ebony; this option adds £400 to the price of the instrument, due to the scarcity of large clear pieces of pure white holly, and the added difficulties of working it alongside ebony (one of the technical challenges is to keep fine black dust from the ebony from contaminating the grain of the holly, and keeping the crisp black / white contrast of the timbers pure).

6. After Andreas Oth, Prague c. 1630

(Stockholm, Musik Museet Nr. 147484)

Vaulted back of 13-21* fluted ribs in ebony, rio rosewood or snakewood (the original has 21 ribs, but we offer a less expensive version with fewer ribs); ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs; wood and parchment rosette in 3 tiers.
String length: 660mm
Pitch: e'


Oth trained in the Sellas workshops in Venice before moving to Prague and establishing his own workshop; his guitars are similar to those of the Sellas family, although they are often of superior workmanship. This model is also available with engraved mother-of-pearl panels on the fingerboard and pegbox, and fine white/black/white purfling between the ribs.

7. After Giorgio Sellas, Venice 1627

(Oxford, Ashmolean Hill Collection No. 39)

Vaulted back of 11-19 fluted ribs in ebony, rio rosewood, snakewood or yew; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs (also available with bone collars and pips); wood and parchment rosette in 3 tiers.
String length: 680mm (also available, as other Sellas models, at 660mm or 670mm)
Pitch: e'


By keeping the belly free of the extraneous inlay and decoration often found on these guitars, we have produced what we feel is an instrument which nevertheless incorporates the quintessential elements of the Sellas style, in this magnificent example from the Hill collection.

This left-handed version, owned by David van Ooijen, Den Haag, has ribs from ebony striped with kingwood; the pegbox is edged with mammoth ivory, the engraved panel at the lower junction of the side ribs is also mammoth ivory; at his request, the bridge moustachios were not fitted to this instrument, although they would normally be.

Giorgio Sellas was also trading in snakewood, as is mentioned in his will dated 1649: "I have different kinds of wood, wood for violins and snakewood (legno serpentino) and other parts . . .". Small and large guitars are also mentioned in this will; Sellas died on September 19th 1649.

Many of the old makers were involved in the making and supplying of rosettes and other parts of instruments, as this reference to the activities of Giorgio Sellas (from a document dated February 19th, 1637) makes clear: "In the presence of this notary and undersigned witnesses, all business owners in this City that I recognise, it is stated under oath that the ship San Giacomo docked in the port of Malamocco, Venice, bound for Spain, was loaded with the following goods to be delivered to Mr Alessandro and Francesco Mora in Lisbano; to the above mentioned Mr Mora: one box of guitar tables of good quality purchased from Mr Giorgio Sellas, violin maker of this city, who has them delivered from Germany . . .

8. After Martin Kaiser, Venice 1699

(Berlin, Musikinstrumenten Museum Nr. 1579)

Flat back in yew; 2-piece construction with inlaid fine white/black/white purfling around edge; ebony ribs with 7 inlaid white (holly) stripes; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs (also available to special order as the originals, in bone); gilded parchment rosette in 4 tiers.
String length: 710mm
Pitch: e'


A very interesting instrument, which seems to carry influences of the Voboams in the design and materials of its body; the original has a delicate leaf-trail inlay along the rear of the neck and pegbox of kingwood inlaid into ivory, and its pegbox is veneered with ivory, edged with mother-of-pearl. A guitar with a fairly long, elegant body, 2 centimetres longer than the 1680 Stradivari (No. 10. below). Restored by Ingo Muthesius in Berlin.

This guitar is owned by Wim Maeseele, of Brugge; its back is from figured walnut, the rosette not gilded.

9. After Christopho Cocko, Venice 1602.

(Paris, Cité de la Musique / E.2090)

Flat back in ebony, rio rosewood or snakewood (original is ivory), 11 ribs to the back, 5 to the sides; ebony-veneered neck, heel and pegbox, pegbox inlaid with white (bone) lines; ebony fingerboard; upper & lower belly inlaid with fleur-de-lys and heart motifs in bone edged with ebony; soundhole surround inlaid with 3 rings of bone diamonds; simple wood and parchment rosette .
String length: 640mm
Pitch: f'


This is the only guitar attributed to Cocko / Choco / Choc / Hoch , who is thought by some to be an Englishman who trained in the Sellas workshops, and gained entry into the lutemakers' guild by marriage, thus avoiding the problem of being illiterate (which is generally supposed to be why the labels & etiquettes carry similar variations on his Italianised name).

Interestingly, recent research in the Venetian archives has revealed that a maker called Cristoforo Coch was born in either 1620 or 1623, in Atriban, near Innsbruck, his father being Gallo Coch. He married Margherita Hausbrilin in 1638, and is referred to as Christoforo Choc in 1641; by 1668, he was mentioned in documents as having retired, and no longer the owner of a violin and lutemaking workshop. Various moulds for guitar-making are listed in an inventory taken of his workshop contents in 1664, although there of course remains the problem of definite attribution of this guitar, which cannot be by the same 'Christoforo Choc', since it is dated 1602.

The inlay on the rear of the neck of the original guitar (in kingwood inlaid into ivory) is similar in style to other instruments by him, including a theorbo in Berlin, a liuto attiorbato in London, and one in Nürnberg. Whichever 'Choco' made this instrument, it is a very interesting, early example of a flat-backed Venetian guitar.

We are grateful to Charles Beare, the distinguished expert and researcher of Venetian luthiers, for supplying background information on the Venice lute and guitar-making workshops.

The guitar shown above has its back and sides in marbled ebony; owned by Frank Pschichholz, Berlin; a recent version was made for his student Tabea Brode, of Dresden.

Guitars by Antonio Stradivari & the surviving fragments, templates and notes attributed to him

The great Cremonese violin maker produced a range of plucked as well as bowed stringed instruments during his working life; patterns for several of these instruments survive, many in the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona. Among the fragments are seven items concerned with guitars: some show details such as pegbox outlines, soundboard plantilas, and information relating to body depths and string spacings.

The surviving moulds, patterns and tracings for harps, lutes, guitars, mandoras and mandolinos are located in the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona, and the Cité de la Musique in Paris.

Stradivari's stringing instructions

Intriguingly, a detailed decription of Stradivari's intended stringing of five-course guitars is included in the surviving documentation:

First and Second strings: Questi deve essere compani due cantini di chitara (These strings must be like guitar-cantini, ie the guitar first string).

Third and Fourth strings: Queste deve essere compane due sotanelle di chitara (these strings must be like two guitar-sottanelle, ie the guitar second string)).

Fifth and Sixth strings: Queste deve essere compane doi cantini da violino grossi (these strings must be like two big violin first strings).

Seventh String: Questa altra corda deve essere un canto da violino (this string must be a violin first string).

Eighth String: Questa altra corda deve essere una sotanella di chitara (this string must be a guitar second string').

Ninth String: Questa altra corda deve essere un canto da violino ma di più grossi (this string must be the thickest possible violin first string).

Tenth String: Questa corda deve essere un cantino da violino (this string must be a violin first string).

On the rear of this document are dimensions for the length and width of a theorboed guitar: Misura della Longezza et Largezza del manico della Chitarra tiorbata. Stradivari was clearly concerned with the making of theorboed guitars, as there is further evidence relating to this: adjacent to a drawing of a larger fingerboard: Misura della Longezza et Largezza del manico della tratta di Citara tiorbata et in su la detta tratta ge vanno susa sette bassi (Measure for length and width of a theorboed guitar neck, on the neck are to be placed seven basses). The only indication regarding the stringing of these seven basses refers to the thickest string: Questa in cima deve essere una quarta da violino è il restando deve da chitarra tutte sette (this top one must be a violin fourth string and the other seven must be guitar strings).

The anomaly between this description and the drawing for the instrument is that the latter shows only seven strings rather than the seven-plus-one of the text.

Along with the two guitars dated 1680 and 1700 (and the 'Giustiniani' guitar – for further details, please refer to the description after the entry for No.11 below) a neck and pegbox attributed to Stradivari survive (in a private collection) complete with part of its associated heel and neck block; the inscription incised into the rear of the pegbox – in similar style to the 1680 and 1700 instruments – gives its date as 1675.

This pegbox outline is another variation, a different design to those of the two complete guitars. Six sets of triple lines run along the length of the rear of the neck and continue up the heel (the main veneer is maple, with the triple inlaid lines being ebony/maple/ebony). The pointed end of the heel is unfortunately missing, and the whole fragment is sadly in very poor condition, although the large modern screw which is currently fitted through the block (and through the heel and into the neck) is in the same place as the larger of two nails revealed by X-ray analysis of the Oxford guitar; the smaller, locating nail is also in a similar position to that found on the Oxford example. The core of the neck and heel appears to be maple, and the block is poplar. Interestingly, like the 1680 Oxford guitar, there are no signs of the wear-marks which the fitting of tied gut frets would produce; the 1675 fragment has fixed metal frets, but these seem to date from the 19th Century, and are brass.

The image above shows a copy of the 1700 guitar we made in late 2004 for Gary Boye; its elegant proportions and subtle detailing and decoration are clearly seen here (for further details and images, see the description below at No.11).

Three different styles of rear neck decoration by Stradivari are thus known: the 1675 guitar neck as described above, the 1680 instrument with its mostly maple-veneered surface inlaid with a few simple lines – to all intents and purposes identical to the 1681 Giustini guitar's (see images below), and the 1700 guitar with its predominantly ebony-veneered neck with six white inlaid lines (see image above); all four have the theme of the rear of the neck continued up the heel.

Stephen Barber is probably the only modern baroque guitar specialist and maker who has handled and examined both the 1680 and 1700 Stradivari guitars (the 1680 instrument in 1979 and the 1700 one in 1983 respectively) and the neck/pegbox fragment, and was thus able to compare, measure and photograph them in considerable detail and depth.

He was the first person to notice that both guitars have a 3mm diamater wooden 'plug' inserted into both side ribs, around halfway down, at the narrowest part of the waist – probably associated with the ribs being temporarily 'pinned' to the internal mould while the guitar was being constructed – probably an echo of the violinmaker's technique of fixing front and back plates to a violin's endblocks with small wooden pins whilst being glued down (these are usually subsequently mostly obscured when the purfling is applied, but in the context of these two guitars, they are exposed to the gaze of the curious and observant). One of Stradivari's surviving guitar moulds has little wooden pegs still protruding from its surface at the waist, as though they were left behind when the last guitar was made on it; they coincide pretty well exactly with where the plugged holes appear on the 1680 and 1700 instruments.

The 1680 and 1700 guitars are inspiring originals to work from, and in keeping with the innovative and individualistic approach adopted by Stradivari in his violin-making, these two guitars are quite unlike those being made by other Italians at the time.

10. After Antonio Stradivari, Cremona 1680

(Oxford, Ashmolean Hill Collection No. 41)

Flat back and sides in 2 pieces of bookmatched, figured, flamed maple inlaid with three sets of triple ebony/maple/ebony lines (along the centreline and near the widest point of the lower bouts, thereby producing two small 'wings' in this area); neck, heel and pegbox veneered with flamed maple, inlaid with ebony lines; ebony fingerboard; with bone edgings; boxwood pegs; carved and pierced pearwood rosette; bone inlays around soundhole and on bridge top veneer; bridge moustachios reconstructed from ultra-violet light examination of the original, with reference to Hipkins & Gibb, 1888.

String length: 740mm (as original; also available at 670mm)
Pitch: e'


This guitar was probably originally intended primarily as a continuo instrument, given its 740mm mensur, which incidentally gives 12 frets to the neck (unusual for a guitar of this period). We offer it also at 670mm, which gives 10 frets to the neck. Its bridge has distinctive triangular cut-outs for the strings instead of drilled holes, allowing some adjustment to the string spacings within each course - and to the string height - in a similar manner to the 1641 René Voboam and 1690 Alexandre Voboam guitars, which also have their original bridges intact (Nos. 13 and 14 below); this feature also allows the soundboard more flexibility.

A close copy of the original, with its 12 fret neck, at 740mm; owned by Scott Horton, Texas.

11. After Antonio Stradivari, Cremona 1700

(Shrine to Music Collection, USA)

Flat back and sides in 2 pieces of bookmatched, figured, flamed maple; ebony-veneered neck with inlaid bone lines; ebony-veneered pegbox, the front with inlaid bone lines, the rear with a central maple panel; boxwood pegs; carved and pierced pearwood rosette; bridge moustachios reconstructed from ultra-violet light examination of the 1680 guitar, of a similar design.
String length: 650mm
Pitch: f'



These images are of a copy of this guitar built in late 2004; its rose – like that of the 1680 example above – is constructed from three thin layers of fruitwood. Following the cue provided by the 1888 photogravure image of the 1680 guitar, we've made this instrument's moustachios from the same wood as the bridge and rose.

Owned by Professor Gary Boye, Lenoir, NC.

This 1700 instrument – slightly smaller than the 1680 Oxford example, its body some 2 centimetres shorter – has been extensively restored, and the only probable original parts are the back, sides, neck, bridge and rosette and its surrounding inlaid decoration. However, this guitar, generally smaller than the Oxford instrument, corresponds to the Cremona templates attributed to Stradivari, both in the outline of its body and pegbox, making it a useful alternative 'Strad' model to the famous Hill example; both guitars were originally owned by the Hill family.

These views of the pegbox and lower end of the soundboard reveal some of the detail differences between this model and the Ashmolean 1680 example; the rear of the 1700 instrument's pegbox is similar to that of the 1680's, but its front is treated differently, with multiple inlaid white lines. The fingerboard does not have a decorative bone edge running along its length, and the rising curved triangle inlay is not crowned by a spade; the bridge and soundhole decoration of the 1680 instrument comprises diamonds and squares, whereas the 1700 instrument has diamonds and dots.

We've fitted this and the 1680 guitar with moustachios (they're missing from the originals) the designs of which are taken from the water-colour illustration (reproduced subsequently as a photogravure image) made in 1888 by William Gibb of the 1680 guitar seven years after its present owners, Hills, bought the instrument in 1881. The watercolour was painted in 1888 by Gibb (we own an original, 1888 print) as one of the illustrations used in Musical Instruments, Historical, Rare and Unique – the text by A.J. Hipkins – which was published by A.C. Black in London in 1921.

In this image (Plate XXIX in the book) the 1680 guitar has its moustachios still in place, although they were subsequently removed by a Hill workman during restoration work, probably in 1914; their shadow can be seen in the published black & white photographs of the guitar in the David D. Boyden catalogue of the Hill Collection (Oxford University Press, 1969), and Stephen – having examined the instrument with ultraviolet light – drew their traces on the 1978 published drawing of the guitar, which is available from The Ashmolean, Oxford.

We made an example of this model in early 2004 for Gary R. Boye, Ph.D., Music Librarian, Appalachian State University, who contributed Chapter 8, "Performing seventeenth-century Italian guitar music: the question of an appropriate stringing", of "Performance On Lute, Guitar And Vihuela" (1997, Cambridge University Press, edited by Victor Anand Coelho, ISBN 0-521-45528-6). Gary sent us this message in February:

"Dear Stephen and Sandi, I had some time (finally!) to really give the guitar a good workout last week and over the weekend; it is flawlessly made and the sound is exceptional – even at this early stage. The fullness of tone throughout the instrument satisfies a need I have felt for some time: most baroque guitars I have played in the past sounded brittle and dull in the mid to high ranges (and flaccid in the lower ones). Yours has a consistency throughout its range that allows a much greater variety of color and volume; in fact, I'm sure I will be exploring the shadings of sound I can get from the instrument for some time. The guitar feels absolutely solid to the touch and is quite easy to fret without the least rattle or buzz. I can't imagine a better quality instrument.

One of the "secrets" to the success of this instrument, I believe, is the attention you've taken to building an historically correct and functional bridge. It's simply too important for the sound of the instrument to skimp on, as other makers seem to do. Also, the design really helps in adjusting string height to play the upper octave separately. I would like to experiment with a low A (415) on the 5th course and possibly a high g' on the 3rd course, as we discussed when planning the instrument.

Once again, thanks for the guitar – it was definitely worth the wait and I hope to make good use of it in the coming years, Sincerely, Gary".

The 'Giustiniani' guitar of 1681

An Italian colleague recently drew our attention to the existence of another guitar attributed to Antonio Stradivari – dated 1681, and very similar in several aspects to the 1680 Oxford example – which is in a private collection in Italy. Several alleged and somewhat unlikely 'Stradivari' guitars have surfaced over the years, and have been fancifully and optimistically attributed to the great Cremonese master, but this guitar does appear to be genuine.

The rear of the pegbox of the 'Giustiniani' guitar, showing the date 1681; the style and execution of the lettering are very similar to the Oxford guitar of 1680. The only original veneer on the pegbox rear is the central panel containing the lettering, the twin ebony & maple lines and the wider (outer) ebony veneers were replaced at the time the guitar was converted to six double courses from its original five (this work involved plugging the original 10 holes and re-drilling). The work was done rather roughly: the second peghole on the treble side (the second from the right in the lower row above) was even 'bushed' a second time, the very off-centre hole was plugged and re-drilled, as can be seen clearly here. Note also the second peghole on the bass side was drilled very near to the edge. Recent X-ray analysis has revealed the original positions of the ten pegholes as drilled by Stradivari.

It has apparently been in the possession of the Venetian Giustiniani family since it was originally made for a member of the family in 1681; the family archive demonstrates this clearly. Its body dimensions are very close to those of the 1680 Oxford guitar, and it was probably made on the same mould (although the curves of the treble and bass upper bouts are noticeably different). The soundboard 'tab' which extends along the neck bears the arms of the illustrious Giustiniani family, a double-headed eagle; this device is incised into the wood in a similar manner to the crest found in the same place on the Oxford guitar – ie, it is executed in incised lines filled with a black mastic.

The outline of its pegbox is very similar to that of the 1680 guitar, and the decoration of the rear of the neck and pegbox are handled in the same way; its fingerboard is also edged with bone, and there is a similar inlaid spade motif at the lower end of the soundboard. Regrettably, the rosette of the guitar is missing it is thought that this disappeared when the guitar was converted to six single strings (presumably in the early 19th century).

The inlaid ring surrounding its soundhole is identical in concept to the Oxford example, with diamonds and squares of bone in a ring, set in black mastic.; curiously, whilst the 1680 Oxford guitar has an even number of diamonds and squares – 18 of each – the 1681 guitar has an odd number, 23 of each. Interestingly, although its original bridge was removed at the time it was converted to a 6-string guitar, the bridge moustachios have survived, apparently more or less intact (although marks on the soundboard suggest they may have been moved from their original positions). They are very similar in design to those illustrated in Plate XXIX in Musical Instruments, Historical, Rare and Unique by A.J. Hipkins & William Gibb – which probably depicts the original condition of the 1680 Oxford guitar, seven years after its present owners, the Hills, bought the instrument at auction in 1881; the likelihood is that it shows the 1680 guitar before it was restored by them. In Gibb's watercolour image, the 1680 guitar's moustachios appear to be made from the same terracotta-coloured timber as the bridge and rosette; the colour suggests the use of a fruitwood (probably pear, like its bridge and rosette); however, the moustachios of the 1681 guitar are made from ebony, or possibly a dark-stained fruitwood.

The similarities between the 1680 and 1681 guitars are obvious, and equally the subtle differences between them are tantalising; the choice of quite differently-figured maple for the back and sides (much smaller, tighter curls on the 1681 instrument) and the simple, unpurfled (along the central join, that is) two-piece back of the 1681 guitar echoes in a very sublime way the difference between Stradivari's bowed string instruments and their choice of woods. Internally, they both have strips of manuscript paper over the back joints, and as linings between the sides and back. Their barring differs in that the 1681 guitar reveals only two main transverse soundboard bars (one above and one below the soundhole) whereas the 1680 guitar (X-rayed by John Pringle and Stephen Barber at the Radcliffe Infirmary Oxford, in 1982 while they were preparing drawings for Hills, the owners of the Ashmolean collection) originally had three transverse bars – one above and two below the soundhole.

We've often wondered if the back of the 1680 Oxford guitar has two outer 'wings' because Stradivari used two pieces of maple originally sawn for 'cello ribs, and added the 'wings' to make up the desired width. The Giustiniani guitar's back is made of two pieces, but without the inlaid lines of the Oxford guitar of the previous year, and no line along the wood-to-wood centre join; the little wooden pins which originally were used by Stradivari to fix the sides of the guitar to its mould are are clearly visible, as in the 1680 and 1700 guitars.

It's very interesting to be able to compare these two guitars from consecutive years, and see just what subtle differences and ideas Stradivari brought to each instrument, built as they seemingly were on the same mould – and presumably no further apart in time than a maximum of just under two years (possibly only a few short months actually separating their construction). It has been suggested that the 1681 guitar has had its neck shortened 'by about 80mm' (although no evidence has been adduced to corroborate this claim – which seems to be solely based upon the difference between the existing guitar's string length of 649mm and the Oxford guitar's 740mm). But since the 1681 guitar's existing, later bridge perhaps obscures the exact front edge of the original bridge, we wonder just what its original string length actually was – given that many suppose the 1680 guitar to have been perhaps primarily intended to be a 'continuo' instrument.

The 1680 guitar's string length of 740mm yields a neck with 12 frets; the existing 1681 guitar's string length (with a much later bridge fitted) is 649mm, its neck having 9 tied frets, with the tenth just on the body. The existing bridge position of the Giustiniani guitar appears (with their respective bodies being almost identical in length – at 470mm for the 1680 guitar and 473mm for the 1681) to be in more or less the same place as that of the 1680 Oxford guitar: 96mm from the bottom at its upper edge (the Oxford guitar's is 95mm) thereby lending further evidence to the speculation that they were built on the same mould.

A surviving original guitar case?

The case of the 1681 guitar has also survived; it is interesting in that it was designed so that the guitar was inserted into the case from the bottom end. It is lined with printed paper, of a very similar provenance to that found in the case which accompanies the mandolino in Charles Beare's collection (see catalogue 9, No.1) which Stephen first examined back in 1979, when drawing the Oxford guitar for publication. Charles is convinced that the case is original.

Traces of the Giustiniani family crest can be seen on the outside of the case; the case is made from poplar, its panels glued and fixed with iron nails; the outer surfaces were originally painted with red tempera on a gesso ground.

12. After Alexandre Voboam, Paris 1680

(London, private collection)

Flat back of 4 or 5 pieces in cypress or yew, inlaid with triple stripes of ebony/holly/ebony; walnut sides; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony soundboard half-edgings and ebony pegs; parchment rosette in 3 tiers.
String length: 650mm
Pitch: e'

£5200 (basic version, with walnut sides, no chevron decoration and plain ebony half-edging; as shown below)

The original instrument has the distinctive black & white 'Voboam' chevron decoration around its belly and along its neck; however, for this guitar, we've adopted the style and detailing of other surviving, plainer guitars by Alexandre Voboam: the 1690 double guitar in the Vienna KHM (No.14 below) and another guitar dated 1652 (No.20 below) neither of which have the black & white chevron decoration. This keeps the cost of this model down, whilst producing a guitar which is historically correct in terms of its design, construction and aesthetics.


This is the basic version of this model - as ordered by Stephen Stubbs, Andrew Maginley, Radamés Paz and others.

The original guitar from 1680 is a fine example from the Voboam guitar-making dynasty by Alexandre Nicolas (c.1625-1692), younger brother of René (c.1606-1679?). The original has the typical black/white chevron edging to the belly, soundhole and fingerboard and pegbox, with 5 white lines inlaid into the rear of the ebony-veneered neck, which continue along the heel, and ebony side ribs with 2 inlaid ivory panel lines; it also has ebony side ribs with inlaid white lines, we use holly for these inlaid lines. A fully-decorated version is available, as the original, with the chevron inlays around the belly, neck edges and soundhole surround.

£7400 (decorated version as described above)

See also No 20, below.

13. After René Voboam, Paris 1641

(Oxford, Ashmolean Hill Collection No. 40)

Flat back of 5 or 7 ribs in cypress or yew, inlaid with triple stripes of ebony/holly/ebony; sides in ebony with 2 inlaid white, holly panel lines** (see entry following No.15) or in figured walnut*; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs; ebony half-edging to belly; extraordinarily delicate parchment rosette in Star-of-David design in 5 tiers.
String length: 696mm (also available at 670mm, and mensurs in between)
Pitch: e'

**£6000 with ebony sides, *£5400 with walnut sides.

(Both of these options are for the basic version, specification similar to No. 12 above; for other decoration options, please refer to the list following No.15, below)

These images show two versions of the fingerboard (chevrons, left & right above - leaf-trail centre above) as well as the back in yew with black/white/black inlaid lines.

Above: Sandi working on a version of the 1641 René Voboam guitar; in these images, the fingerboard has not yet been fitted, neither has the distinctive bone & ebony 'chevron' decoration around the soundboard edges and along the edge of the neck. The deep parchment rosette (made by Sandi) can be seen, as can the pegbox (constructed from no less than 232 individual pieces, in this decorated version of the guitar – compared with the 3 pieces (core, front veneer and rear veneer) that the basic version of the guitar has). This version of the guitar has ebony side ribs and a 5-rib yew back.

The best-preserved and least altered of all the known surviving Voboam family guitars, this magnificent instrument is excellent for both solo playing and continuo/accompaniment. Its (original) bridge has distinctive rectangular cut-outs for the strings instead of drilled holes, allowing some adjustment to the string spacings within each course - and to the string height and hence the action - in a similar manner to the 1680 guitar by Antonio Stradivari in the same collection, and the 1690 Alexandre Voboam double guitar, which also have their original bridges intact (Nos. 10 above and 14 below); this feature also allows the soundboard more flexibility. Interestingly, this feature is also present on the Paris Chambure vihuela bridge.

Also available decorated as the original, with ebony/bone chevron edging around belly, fingerboard and pegbox, fully decorated pegbox front & sides, inlaid leaf-trail or chequerboard design in fingerboard (in ebony & bone), intricate bridge with inlaid chevron top veneer & 'moustachios' with bone & ebony 'flower ' design, and chevron ring around the soundhole, to special order.

Please ask for current prices.

14. After Alexandre Voboam, Paris 1690  

(Vienna, Kunsthistorischesmuseum Nr. 8453)

Unique double-guitar, with 2 necks, 2 rosettes and 2 bridges ! The smaller guitar is on the treble side of the larger one.

Above: an image of the original, from the Julius Schlosser catalogue

Flat back of cypress, inlaid with triple stripes of ebony/holly/ebony; figured walnut sides; ebony-veneered necks, pegboxes and fingerboards; 'moustachios' to both bridges; both parchment rosettes are painted gold, the larger one in 4 tiers, the smaller in 3; ebony pegs.
String lengths: 710mm and 440mm
Pitches: e' and a' (b' is also possible)


A composite image of this unique guitar, with the 2 rosettes rendered closer together for purposes of comparison.

This extraordinary guitar is in completely original condition, and is plainly-constructed for a Voboam instrument; it is interesting to have an example of what seems to have been the plainer Voboam style, since most of the surviving instruments are decorated to a greater or lesser extent.

Its sides are in figured walnut, without the inlaid (ivory) lines which characterise the Voboams with ebony sides, and the soundboard half-edgings are plain ebony 2mm wide, whereas all of the other surviving Voboams have a variety of white and black chevron inlays of varying degrees of complexity; its fingerboards are also plain ebony, and its neck and pegbox faces are plainly veneered in ebony. All of this may well point to the style of guitar which was built by the Voboams for players and working musicians, alongside those made for rich patrons.

One of the most interesting and significant features of this unique guitar to have fortunately survived intact and unaltered are the bridges (so many of the surviving guitars by the Voboam dynasty have bridges which have been replaced or vandalised) which have distinctive rectangular cut-outs for the strings instead of drilled holes; this of course permits some adjustment to the string spacings within each course, as well as to the string height and hence the action. This is in a similar manner to the 1680 guitar by Antonio Stradivari, and the 1641 René Voboam guitar (both in the Oxford Ashmolean collection) which also have their original bridges intact (Nos. 10 and 13 above); this feature also allows the soundboard more flexibility. Interestingly, this 'window' feature is also present on the Paris Chambure vihuela bridge.

The 'larger' half is very similar in outline to the 1680 Alexandre Voboam (No.12 above) and others by him. The simplicity of its design, and the lack of an endbutton strongly suggests that this guitar was built for a professional musician working sitting-down, playing in an opera or theatre orchestra - it's what every continuo player needs, a transposing guitar, two instruments in one !

Dan Swenberg and Nel Snaidas (who were performing with the ensemble Bottom's Dream) grappling with the double guitar at the 2001 Regensburg Tage Alter Musik exhibition.

Having measured and examined the original double guitar, and noted what it was made from, we decided to use the example provided by this instrument as a basis for a plainer style of Voboam guitar, using walnut for the sides, and eschewing the chevron decoration of many of the surviving instruments by this illustrious Parisian family of guitar makers, in favour of a simple but elegant ebony soundboard half-edging, as well as the simpler ebony fingerboard and neck & pegbox veneer it has. Perhaps the Voboams built guitars in a plainer style for working players, alongside the very richly-decorated examples which were presumably commissioned by wealthy patrons.

An example of this 'plainer style' applied to another guitar design by Alexandre Voboam, dated 10 years earlier than this double guitar - and possessing an identically-sized body to its 'larger' half, can be seen in the Gallery, and at No.12 above.

15. After René Voboam*, Paris c. 1680. The so-called 'Rizzio' guitar.  

(London, Royal College of Music Museum, No. 32)

Flat back of 5 or 7 ribs in cypress or yew, inlaid with triple stripes of ebony/holly/ebony; sides in ebony with 2 inlaid white (holly) panel lines, or in figured walnut; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs; ebony half-edging to belly; gilded parchment rosette in Star-of-David design in 5 tiers (similar to that on a 1699 guitar by Jean in the Gemeentemuseum collection, Ec3-X-1973, Den Haag ).
String length: 685mm (original bridge missing)
Pitch: e'

£5400 (plain version with walnut side ribs; ebony side ribs £600 extra).

*A very interesting guitar, originally attributed to Jean Baptiste Voboam (1648 - 1731), son of René, but in recent years attributed to René himself, by the Voboam expert Florence Getreau, was originally supposed to have been owned by David Rizzio, secretary to and alleged lover of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, although this has never been satisfactorily proven.

Its decoration involves repeating fleur-de-lys motifs, with its bone pegs carved in this form, and its soundhole surround inlaid with 16 radiating repeats; the fingerboard and pegbox front are inlaid with a quatrefeuille design in mother-of-pearl and ebony inlays; these, along with the characteristic Voboam black-and-white chevron edgings to the belly and fingerboard, are available to special order, price on application.

We are grateful and indebted to Florence Getreau, a good friend and colleague, for her researches into the Voboam dynasty of instrument makers, and background information on their surviving guitars.

Price structure for Voboam guitar decorative elements, January 2014:

The following can be chosen when placing an order, the additional costs indicated here will be added to the basic price of the guitar.

Chevron edging around belly, fingerboard, rosette, bridge top and pegbox front: £2000

Fingerboard centre panel inlaid with leaf-trail: £1400

Fingerboard centre panel inlaid with black/white chevron design: £1000

Pegbox edge decoration (multiple black/white sandwich both sides): £700

Ebony side ribs with inlaid holly panel lines: £600

Ebony-veneered neck & heel with 5 inlaid white lines which continue along the neck and up the heel: £500

No. 15 Rizzio guitar fleur-de-lys patterns (various levels available, using mother-of-pearl around rosette, fingerboard central panel and pegbox front): £POA

No. 15 Rizzio guitar bone pegs (turned, fleur-de-lys pattern): £POA

Inlaid pegs (as 1641 René Voboam): £POA

£POA = price on application

16. After Charles Prévost, Paris 1774

(Private collection, England)

Flat, 6-piece back in figured walnut, figured pearwood sides; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs; plain ebony half-edging; parchment rosette in 3 tiers; moustachioed bridge.
String length: 630mm
Pitch: f#' or f'

£5200 (plain version)

An interesting, typical example of the late 18th Century Paris school, in original condition.

A decorated version is also available, which follows the design of the original: mother-of-pearl and ebony triangle edging decoration around belly, soundhole and along pegbox front face, and at lower rib junction; the back ribs inlaid with coloured (green) purfling, multiple black/white/black purfling around belly and soundhole, either side of triangle decoration.


(decorated version as above; over 200 individually-cut and inlaid mother-of-pearl triangles are involved, the price reflects the labour and risk involved in working this material, which produces toxic dust when sawn and polished).

Chitarra battente

17. After an anonymous Italian guitar  

(London, Victoria & Albert Museum No. W.7. 1940)

Vaulted back - the deepest of this type we have seen - of 17 ribs in brazilwood (pernambuco) with holly spacers; neck and pegbox veneered with brazilwood inlaid with holly lines; brazilwood pegs; ebony fingerboard with brass frets, secured with bone wedges, set in a meantone fretting system (near to quarter-comma meantone); belly bent below bridge, strings secured on bone pins in central panel at lower rib junction; inlaid brazilwood 'heart' design at each end of the belly; wood and parchment rosette in single tier.
String length: 570mm (stringing 2x2, 3x3, 5 courses)
Pitch: e


This guitar, probably from the Sellas workshops, is in original condition, and one of the few surviving guitars purpose-built for metal strings, rather than a converted vaulted-back guitar with a shortened neck.

Owned by Rolf Lislevand, and featured on numerous CD recordings.

We know that archlutes, chitarroni, harps and other instruments normally strung with gut were sometimes fitted with metal strings to give another tone colour, often in a continuo context. Many surviving vaulted-back guitars were converted for metal stringing, and it seems likely, therefore, that metal-strung guitars enjoyed wide popularity and use by professional musicians - metal strings, although longer-lasting than gut, are more difficult to tune accurately.

The theorboed guitar - the Chitarrone Francese ?

Although this archlute-like instrument is also included in the continuo instruments section of the website, we have listed it here also because it appears to represent an overlooked approach to playing figured bass. The instrument depicted in this very accurately-draughted painting has five courses on the fingerboard (with the top string clearly single) and nine diapasons – compared to what would be expected on a similarly-sized archlute: six double fingerboard courses and eight diapasons.

There is a reasonable likelihood that it was, in fact, used by guitarists who strung and tuned the fingerboard courses like a guitar, and who would be used to reading from the bass clef, so that they could realise a figured bass part and play continuo on a theorboed guitar, rather than learn the completely different archlute tuning. The player's left hand almost exactly corresponds to chord 'L' in the alfabetto system ('L' corresponds to a difficult fingering for a C minor chord) Sanz uses engravings of hands to illustrate the chord positions in his 1697 book.

Suonatore di Liuto, by Antiveduto Grammatica, 1571-1626 Galleria Sabauda, Turin

There are several references in surviving books of guitar music to theorboed guitars and guitars fitted with diapasons (although no instruments have survived from this period with seven - or even nine - diapasons):

Giovanni Battista Granata's book Soavi concerti di sonate musicali per chitarra spagnuola, 1659 contains five pieces for chitarra Atiorbata which require five fingerboard courses and seven diapasons, starting at G and going down to low AA.

A manuscript volume by Henry de Gallot (c. 1660-1684) includes twelve tablature pieces for la guittare Theorbée which also requires five fingerboard courses and seven diapasons. Two chordal tunings are required for the tablatures: c-e-g-c'-e' and c-e flat- g-c'-and e' flat on the fingerboard and diapasons G-F-E-D-C-B-A.

Ludovico Fontanelli's manuscript books Sonate per il Chittarone Francese (1733, in tablature and notation) state the tuning of the Chittarone Francese (sic) to be: e'-b-g-d-A on the fingerboard followed by G-F-E-D-CC as the diapasons; the fourth course (d) is a unison and the 5th course (A) has an octave string, with the first course being single.

We were inspired to build the instrument shown below by Robert Spencer 's fascinating article The Chitarrone Francese published in the journal Early Music, April 1976, in which he discussed the instrument held by the player in the painting above. He suggested that the long-necked lute in this painting may be an elsewhere unrecorded type of guitar, since it has only five courses on the fingerboard, rather than the six we would expect to find (were it an archlute of some sort) and there is a five-course guitar next to the player on the table.

Robert states in the article that he had acquired two small manuscript books of music by Ludovico Fontanelli, Sonate per il Chittarone Francese dated 1733. Whether or not this music was meant to be played on the type of instrument in the painting is obviously open to conjecture and speculation, but Grammatica's depiction is intriguing, given the apparent accuracy of the other details in the work, the clothing, hand positions and so on.

Robert refers to this instrument as a chitarrone francese; however, one wonders if it is actually a theorboed guitar, since its size would permit stringing and tuning it with octaves like a baroque guitar, as well as like an archlute. In a recent discussion with baroque guitar specialists, the suggestion arose that this may also be the instrument that Granata had in mind in the pieces which conclude his Soave Concerti published in 1659 (quoted above) where we find pieces for a theorboed guitar.

There are several references in surviving books of guitar music to theorboed guitars and guitars fitted with diapasons (although no instruments have survived with seven - or even nine - diapasons); is this instrument depicted by Grammatica - being played alongside what is obviously a 'classic' vaulted-back five-course baroque guitar - possibly what was played when a 'theorboed' guitar was required ? The word chitarrone, after all, meant 'large guitar' in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries.

Roberto Meucci recently wrote about small lutes, revealing that in Italy they were called chitarra, so as not to confuse them with the chitarra alla spagnola. Sources from the early 18th Century also declare that the chitarra italiana or chitarrino is in reality a small lute.

The Chitarrone Francese shown above was made in January 2004 for Jim Bisgood, the English baroque guitar player.

18. Own design   

(Based on the painting Suonatore di Liuto, by Antiveduto Grammatica, 1571-1626 Galleria Sabauda, Turin)

15 ribs in yew or rio rosewood; ebony-veneered upper neck; lower neck veneered with ebony, with 15 white stripes to rear; white edging and stripe decoration to front of upper neck; engraved mammoth ivory panels on front of upper pegbox; large, single rose.
String length: 660mm (diapasons: 1040mm)
Stringing: 1x1, 4x2 / 9x1, as in the painting, set-up as a Chitarrone Francese

Pitch: e'

e'-b-g-d/d'-A/a (Fingerboard) G-F-E-D-C-BB-AA-GG-FF (Diapasons)

(Stephen Stubbs has recently suggested that, because in the painting the bottom two diapasons have been rendered by the artist as thinner strings than course 12, this may well indicate that courses 13 and 14 could be, respectively, G# and F#).

(1x1, 5x2 / 8x1 stringing is also available as an option)

£6000 with rosewood ribs £6600 with yew ribs

We were able to closely examine the original Grammatica painting when it was included in the London Royal Academy of Arts 2001 exhibition The Genius Of Rome. This reinforced our long-standing feeling that the draughtsmanship of the two instruments depicted was very likely reliable, and had been painted using real examples as models. Working from iconography in this way is always challenging, and of course we couldn't resist a shot at such a famous painting (it is reproduced, inter alia, as the cover of a CD by Rolf Lislevand of Libro Quarto d'Intavolatura di Chitarrone / Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger / Roma 1640 on Astrée Auvidus E8515, on which a chitarra battente by us can be heard { No.17 above}).

There are certain problems with working from the painting - the rose is not circular, but slightly ovoid, and its details not entirely legible or symmetrical; the chiaroscuro style of the the work throws shadowing over the bridge end (which is otherwise visible) and obscures its exact design; the body shape is also asymmetrical, and the alignment of the necks and strings had to be adjusted to allow a playable string band. But there is a wealth of inspiring detail to refer to in this wonderful painting, and we hope that our version of the instrument has done justice to Grammatica's vision - it certainly works very well as a theorboed guitar, clear and powerful, and very familiar under the fingers of a guitarist.

We have built this instrument on the body of the Matteo Sellas archlute (Bologna, Bardini Nr. 1748 - L.M.6 / No 5 on the continuo instruments page), since it appears to be very close to that instrument in outline. There are certain problems with transcribing information from the painting: the rose, for example, is painted not circular but slightly oval, and the body is asymmetrical in outline. The Sellas seems to us, however, to be reasonably near to the shape, style and probable size of the instrument depicted.

Regretably, we do not have available here images of the first Chitarrone Francese that we built in 1998, since the player who ordered it asked, for reasons of his privacy, that images of it be kept off of the website.

Early in 2004 we built another example for the English baroque guitar player Jim Bisgood – and he is more than happy to have images of his example posted here (see above). It is very closely modelled on the Grammatica painting, including the decoration and rose design. Jim intends to use it as a theorboed guitar, as a complement to the Checchucci 5 course guitar we built for him in June 2003.

Currently in preparation:

19. After Antonio Mariani, Pesaro 1680

(Leipzig, Musikinstrument Museum, No. 536; formerly collection of Musikwissenschaftl. Instrumentenmuseum der Univ. Leipzig)

Flat, 11-piece back in Macassar ebony with fine holly/ebony/holly stripes between the ribs; Macassar ebony sides; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs; plain ebony half-edging; bold, trefoil-design rosette in 4 tiers, unusually with each horizontal layer consisting of one layer of walnut backed with one layer of parchment filigree, and the vertical layers of walnut, pierced with a circular hole pattern; soundhole surrounded by a ring of mother-of-pearl diamonds and discs; moustachioed bridge.
String length: 680mm
Pitch: f' or e'


(plain version)

The only known guitar by this Italian maker, working along the Adriatic coast not far from and possibly contemporaneously with the great Giovanni Tesler, who worked in Ancona.

We were the first to observe that this very interesting instrument is unique in that it exists today as a flat-back guitar which was originally built as a vaulted-back, and subsequently converted. The reasons (and date) for this work are unknown, and it is also unknown if the conversion was carried out by Mariani himself; the rib outline from the original vaulted-back is clearly visible, although the conversion to a flat-back has been very carefully done. We are considering building a vaulted-back version after the first version has been built (the first version will have a flat back) to enable a comparison to be made between copies of the probable first and altered states of the original guitar.

Its very pretty and distinctive trefoil-design 4-tiered rosette is very similar to those which appear on other Italian instruments in the Nürnberg GNM collection by other makers (some anon) suggesting a possible common source and supply of rosette manufacture – something which many modern makers of early guitars (and lutes) have long suspected may have been the case.

The back and sides of the original are inlaid with delicate filigrees of ivory inlaid into ebony, interspersed with little diamonds, discs, ovals, hearts and teardrop shapes in mother-of-pearl, as is the rear of the neck and pegbox. Its fingerboard and the front face of the pegbox are inlaid with a bold design of mother-of-pearl ovals with a 'rope' of interweaving diamonds and discs similar to that around the soundhole edge; there is a large circular band around the soundhole, extending out to the edge of the belly at the waist, consisting of large truncated discs alternating with triangles, separated by the same 'rope' of the little diamonds and discs which feature on the fingerboard and pegbox front. The design of the pegbox edges is very reminiscent of work from the Sellas workshops and their followers.

(A decorated version can be ordered, with the inlays of the front of the pegbox, the fingerboard and the soundhole surround copied from the original; this involves over 60 relatively large, individually-cut and inlaid mother-of-pearl pieces. The price reflects the labour and risk involved in working this material, which produces toxic dust when sawn and polished).


20. After Alexandre Voboam, Paris 1652

(private collection, Italy)

Flat back of 8 ribs in cypress, yew or juniper, with ebony lines between; ebony edge binding between back and sides; walnut sides; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony/holly/ebony soundboard half-edgings; ebony pegs with bone pips; parchment rosette in 3 tiers; white inlaid panel lines on top of bridge.
String length: 686mm
Pitch: e'


We recently measured this instrument, the earliest known guitar by Alexandre Nicolas (c.1625-1692), younger brother of René (c.1606-1679?). Like his 1690 double guitar (Vienna KHM 8453, No. 14 above) this instrument is clearly a player's guitar; its simple design and construction echo that of the double instrument, and perhaps suggests that plainer, less expensive instruments were always available from the Voboam workshops alongside the more widely-known decorated instruments which feature in many museum and private collections.

The fixed wooden body frets extend up an and include fret 18, and appear to be original, and fitted during the playing life of the instrument; extra body frets are required by Granata, writing in 1680: "I have had my guitars made with a neck of eleven frets, and three other frets of ebony fitted into the soundboard of the guitar; obtain a similar instrument, studious Reader and this I assure you: that you will know the desire with which I have intended to help you in this book, and live happily." One of his pieces goes up to fret 17, and many call for up to 14 frets.

Stringing, tunings

We offer stringing for our guitars in either gut or modern stringing - Pyramid, Kathredale, Kürschner, Aquila nylgut, or Savarez, according to the taste and wishes of the player. With the re-entrant tunings used on guitars, all-gut stringing works convincingly and is both practical and affordable.

Although we keep an open mind regarding the tuning of 5-course guitars, and find the discussions which surround it fascinating and informative, we are happy to set your guitar up with whichever disposition you prefer, including any of the three 'standard' tunings for 17th Century guitar which modern players adopt: the French tuning with a bourdon on the 4th course only, bourdons on the 4th and 5th courses, or bourdons on neither. Please let us know your stringing preferences, and performance intentions, and we can advise.

Rosettes and moustachios

All of our renaissance and baroque four and five course guitars are offered with proper copies of their original bridge moustachios and parchment and/or wooden rosettes as standard. We have several hundred specially-made metal punches which are used to cut the design elements of the parchment rosettes (which is how most of the originals were made) which we have made from careful study and measurements of the original designs. This technique gives an accuracy and authentic 'feel' to the more complex rosettes which cannot be mimicked by using knives and carving chisels, as some attempt to do.

We make all of our rosettes in the workshop ourselves; we do not buy them in.

Many of the old makers were involved in the making and supplying of rosettes and other parts of instruments, as this reference to the activities of Giorgio Sellas (from a document dated February 19th, 1637) makes clear: "In the presence of this notary and undersigned witnesses, all business owners in this City that I recognise, it is stated under oath that the ship San Giacomo docked in the port of Malamocco, Venice, bound for Spain, was loaded with the following goods to be delivered to Mr Alessandro and Francesco Mora in Lisbano; to the above mentioned Mr Mora: one box of guitar tables of good quality purchased from Mr Giorgio Sellas, violin maker of this city, who has them delivered from Germany . . ."

Giorgio Sellas was also trading in snakewood, as is mentioned in his will dated 1649: "I have different kinds of wood, wood for violins and snakewood (legno serpentino) and other parts . . .". Small and large guitars are also mentioned in this will; Sellas died on September 19th 1649.

The rosette of the 'Chambure' vihuela (left) has certain stylistic similarities with the rosette of an anonymous guitar in the Vienna KHM collection; the basic elements of the pattern are apparent in both designs, the vihuela's rosette being generated on a multiple of three, whereas the guitar's is based upon a multiple of four. The guitar rosette is made from two layers of wood, the vihuela's from two layers of wood with a bottom layer of parchment. It is interesting to speculate on the origins of the two designs (and indeed the rosettes themselves) given what we now know of the trade in pre-made rosettes and entire soundboards between the early instrument makers across Europe. The guitar rosette was probably made several decades after the vihuela's.

And now for something completely different . . .


MTV gets everywhere these days: recently spotted, apparently taking place in a Checchucci guitar rose – location shooting of the new Alison Goldfrapp video, for her Norah Batty tribute DVD.