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Thread: 17th Century Private Stocks

  1. #1

    17th Century Private Stocks

    I was browsing around the Metropolitan Museum site, and found these wonderful instruments dating from the 17th Century. Venice was the Stevensville of its day in the guitar making world, even more so than Cremona. Talk about bling! Typically, guitars of that era had 5 double courses of strings, thus were 10-strings. I'd suspect Keef would enjoy...



    and



    Frets in that day were actually wound around the neck and made from the same gut the strings were made of. I've read some accounts by scholars who've re-created the old gut strings, and evidently the double courses were required because gut was not nearly as bright as today's nylon or carbon strings, certainly nowhere near today's silk&steel, and did not sustain very well. The double-course helped with both brightness and sustain.

    The guitars were small because they generally weren't played in large ensembles and most were played in the home. Evidently, they were very popular with high-born ladies, no doubt this is why these examples are so ornate. Since guitars were mostly solo instruments then, they didn't have to be very loud to overcome a large group of instruments, so the bodies were small (and no doubt the popularity of the instrument among women was another reason for the smaller size, too).

    All the research I've done indicates that headstocks were glued onto the neck at that time, instead of the whole assembly being one piece.

    The rose in the sound hole was either carved wood or made of intricately worked parchment in 3-d patterns.

    What's interesting to me is the continuation of the basic shape of the guitar, and certain timeless elements; sure, our acoustic guitars are larger and different, yet there is nearly always a spruce top, a hardwood body (one of the above guitars has the hardwood overlaid with ebony and other marquetry), an inlaid fingerboard, etc. Remarkably, though the instrument had evolved to six gut strings by C.F. Martin's day (1833), the body was pretty much the same dimensions, and there seems to have been a natural evolution of the instrument. The idea of an inlaid binding around the neck and top of the guitar is obviously a very old tradition, too.

    The necks were often carved with 3D relief figures and inlays in back; since the gut frets literally wrapped around the neck, I'm sure that smooth playability wasn't a concern, and concerns about a "fast neck" most likely didn't enter into the picture very much at the time.

    Too bad they didn't have the internet in 1630. I can only imagine how much fun the Sellas Forum would have been! Instead of flame wars, there just would have been...wars. Duels with swords and pistols over perceived slights and insults. En garde!
    Last edited by LSchefman; 07-13-2013 at 04:57 PM.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member cosmic_ape's Avatar
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    Shoot, and people already say PRS guitars look like furniture. Imagine if they did anything like this!

  3. #3
    chief Shawn@PRS's Avatar
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    Too pretty to gig with Bro!

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic_ape View Post
    Shoot, and people already say PRS guitars look like furniture. Imagine if they did anything like this!
    Here's an interesting side-note: C. F. Martin emigrated to the US from Germany because as late as the 1830s there was a dispute between the furniture makers' guild and the violin makers' guild as to who would be allowed to make guitars.

    Martin and his father, who also made guitars in addition to furniture, were furniture makers' guild members. Historically, the furniture makers' guild had made the guitars, but the growing popularity of the instrument made the violin makers jealous, evidently.

    The furniture makers' guild won out, but C. F. was so disgusted by the process that he emigrated to the US in 1833 after winning the dispute.

    But in any event, just tell anyone who calls a PRS a furniture guitar, so was a Martin.

    Speaking of blingy furniture instruments, here's an early Gibson mandolin; everything was carved, there is no pressed or steam-bent wood, even on the sides, nor is there any plywood. Gibson had obtained a patent for his carved rims and methods, one of which was that he came up with the idea of a sound chamber in the heel of the neck (!):



    I'm growing increasingly interested in the old luthier's tradition of creating beautiful and unique instruments. I must be going over to the dark side.

    Also of interest is the creation of guitar cases for these instruments; most were wooden "coffin cases" until late in the 19th Century! In fact, one museum has a small 'mandolino' made by Stradivari and the case is a painted black coffin case similar to those used by Martin for many years, etc.

    In the mid 20th Century, most Martins shipped in soft or reinforced canvas gig bags - I guess there's nothing new under the sun. Seems that until the late 40s, the cost of the case was really, really high in relation to the guitar - in old Martin catalogs the cases were selling for as much as 60% of the cost of the guitar! No wonder you see so few with the original case.

    So people would order them in the reinforced canvas case (probably reinforced with cardboard), use that until it wore out, and only later buy a case from their dealer.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 07-13-2013 at 06:59 PM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  5. #5
    Senior Member veinbuster's Avatar
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    You might find the Guitar Salon interesting. It is an eclectic mix of museum and store.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn@PRS View Post
    Too pretty to gig with Bro!
    I'm too pretty to gig with.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

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  7. #7
    Authorized PRS Dealer GTRMAV's Avatar
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    Very Cool. Ymmm... Thanks for sharing!
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    Senior Member jfine's Avatar
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    The virtuoso plucked-string instrument of the period was the lute, not the guitar. The archlute or lute-theorbo was an extended-range instrument with extra bass strings--the things could be up to six feet long (try balancing one of those in your lap!), and had about the same range as the harpsichord of Bach's day. The poor guitar was considered to be a folk instrument, not suitable for "real" music, until Segovia came along in the 20th century. Imagine what they'd have thought in the Baroque period if they could have heard a modern rock band! "Four musicians? Louder than an entire orchestra and a church organ combined? Devil's work!"

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    Bobble Head Moderator JMintzer's Avatar
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  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by jfine View Post
    The virtuoso plucked-string instrument of the period was the lute, not the guitar. The archlute or lute-theorbo was an extended-range instrument with extra bass strings--the things could be up to six feet long (try balancing one of those in your lap!), and had about the same range as the harpsichord of Bach's day. The poor guitar was considered to be a folk instrument, not suitable for "real" music, until Segovia came along in the 20th century.
    Actually, this is a modern myth, due in some part to the transition of the ten-string double course guitars of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, to the 6-string of the 19th. We know, for example, that many guitarists played all of the instruments you mentioned. We know that in the early 18th Century, the guitar was taken quite seriously. In fact, in Spain's Royal Court, the plucked string master was called the "Royal Guitarist", and we know that among them was Robert de Visée, who also played and wrote for the lute, and the other plucked instruments of the day, and died in the early 18th Century. That he was considered a guitarist, and had a Royal patronage, as did others, is certainly evidence that the guitar was not merely regarded as a popular folk instrument, at least in Spain.

    The very existence of the obviously high-end, serious guitars I started this thread depicting, and others known to have been made by luthiers such as Stradivari, clearly indicates that the instrument wasn't some bit of folk-foofery. Only the nobility or very successful merchants in Venice at the time could have afforded such instruments. These weren't going out to the farmer or milkmaid living in a thatch-roofed cottage.

    It's my belief that as Western music became more orchestral, and much louder, with music written for ensembles and new instruments capable of filling a large concert hall, such as piano (pianoforte = soft-loud in Italian), instruments of limited volume like the guitar, lute, harpsichord and others intended for the much smaller music rooms of the nobility fell out of favor with musicians who wanted to play the current music in the new, large, open-to-the-public concert halls that began to appear all over Europe in the middle of the 18th Century as the industrial revolution began to take hold. This is especially true of Northern Europe, where the industrial revolution took hold more successfully than in more pastoral countries like Spain.

    Remember, too, that the gut-strung guitar, lute, etc., were very soft sounding instruments. Until the advent of steel and nylon strings, they simply could not fill a large hall with sound. It is not a coincidence that most of the older soft instruments are rarely played today except for the historical repertoire; harpsichord, lute, clavichord, harmonium, and many others have been lost to the dust of time because they weren't loud. Bowed instruments like the violin, brass, woodwinds, and of course percussion are far, far louder than the gut-strung, unamplified guitar. Listening to a closely-miked harpsichord sounds loud on recordings, but as a person who has played a number of harpsichords, I can tell you that this is a very quiet instrument compared to a piano.

    Imagine the 18th century, pre-microphone, concert hall audience trying to listen to a concert on a tiny little gut-strung guitar. It wasn't gonna happen.

    It is our Northern-Eurocentric cultural bias that leads us to believe that the guitar was relegated to folk music, but this isn't a good assumption even though it was popular among the cognoscenti for years.

    Much of the earlier music was simply discarded and lost. We know via research, for example, that even a good chunk of Bach's music was lost, and Bach was regarded as a genius in his lifetime, so you'd think his music would have been properly preserved. Some was, some wasn't. It's hardly surprising that we have few examples of music written for instruments that fell out of favor.

    There isn't a lot of sackbutt music around either, but every serious orchestra of the 15th - 17th Century had one!

    We also know that Torres, who was the 19th C. father of the modern classical guitar, produced instruments not for folk music, but for classical music, and this is why his designs were almost universally adopted as the modern classical "Spanish guitar." They differ also from many of the guitars employed for the Flamenco style. The Torres design had much wider bouts and is still in use today. It is a far larger instrument than had previously been used. Why the larger size? Because it was louder.

    In Spain and Itlay, there were many famous 19th Century classical guitarists, who reached wide audiences, and the guitar remained popular, as did the guitar repertoire among players and especially Spanish composers.

    The Northern European and American concert bias was for large, Germanic ensemble playing. So these players may have been ignored by Northern European and American concert audiences, but they were not ignored in their countries. Guys like Mauro Guiliani, Fernando Sor, and many others spanned well into the middle of the 19th Century. Later in the century you see composer/players like Heitor Villa Lobos, Tarrega, Lignani, etc., spanning the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

    Because the guitar wasn't seen often in the concert halls of the 19th Century due to its restricted volume and decreased popularity with serious musicians, it is assumed that the instrument wasn't taken seriously, which is not the case.

    In fact, if you look at the development of the modern classical music instruments that began in the late 18th Century and continued into the 20th, you see larger, louder instruments of all kinds. The piano developed from a harpsichord-sized intstrument into the 8-9 foot Concert Grand; the double-bass and tuba grew; the kettle drum evolved. Etc, etc.

    In the guitar world, of course, we see the development of steel strings, dreadnought bodies, metal guitars with sound cones, and finally, the electric guitar.

    In my opinion, what brought the classical guitar back to prominence was not Segovia, it was the microphone and the record player. Segovia was indeed a great player, but there were many others. How did his work get out of Spain, reach a large audience, and get in the mainstream of serious music? It was via the recorded medium.

    For the first time in a long time, audiences could hear the beauty of classical guitar for themselves, not in the concert hall, but in their homes. The intimacy of a recording of a solo instrument designed to be heard in a small room and not a concert hall was once again appreciated.

    I'm certain that if it was not for the record player, we would all be members of the PRS Accordion Forum today.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 07-14-2013 at 01:55 PM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

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