Eleven-string alto guitar

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11-string alto guitar
Head of 11-string alto guitar

The eleven-string alto guitar or altgitarr is an extended-range classical guitar developed by Swedish luthier Georg Bolin in the 1960s.

Original Bolin instruments are now rare and valuable.[1] The Bolin alto guitar most often has eleven strings, but a thirteen-string version also exists.

The 11-string alto guitar is one of the multi-string classical guitars which generally refers to types of classical guitars that have more than 6 strings. Multi-string guitars typically range from 7 to 13 strings, with exceptions of more strings.[2] However, 11-string is the most often used for performance of lute music, particularly Bach and Weiss.

The first 6 strings are tuned in the same interval with the normal classic guitars. Therefore, normal guitar music can be played on 11-string alto guitar with the same fingering.

In the United States, luthier Walter Stanul makes performance instruments ranging from 11 to 13-strings called the Archguitar. The design and the body shape of this guitar is similar to vihuela and thus it is fundamentally different from the one designed by Bolin.[3]


Georg Bolin first constructed 11-string alto guitar with collaboration with Swedish guitarist Per-Olof Johnson in 1960s. Johnson is the teacher of a well-known guitarist Göran Söllscher who made this instrument famous through his extensive usage of Bolin's 11-string alto guitar.[4][5]

Johnson was very fond of lute music, but the difference in playing techniques between guitar and lute is significant and he was looking for a way to be able to approach lute music on the guitar playing technique. Thus the goal of the design was specifically to be able to play renaissance lute music directly from original tabs using guitar playing technique.

This design goal introduced two main characteristics. The first is to tune the first 6 strings minor third higher (hence the name "alto guitar") in order to assimilate the lute tuning. It is equivalent to putting a capo on the third fret of the normal prime guitar. The second is to add five extra strings for lower notes.


The typical tuning of 11-string alto guitar is (from high to low strings): g d a f c G F Eb D C B.[6]


Current luthiers who build 11-string alto guitars are primarily located in Sweden, such as Heikki Rousu and Roger Strömberg. Ermanno Chiavi in Switzerland is known for his 13-string guitar built for Anders Miolin, but he also builds 11-string guitar as well.[7] It should be noted that Chiavi's guitar has the scale length of normal classical guitar of 650mm which is tuned in the same manner with classical guitar. Therefore, it is technically not an "alto" guitar. Yoshimitsu Hoshino in Japan built 11-string alto guitars with the same specification with Bolin's design in 1980s. However, he no longer makes them.[8]


Some of the guitarists who use the instrument are as follows:


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Georg Bolin's 11-string alto guitar for sale by Kurosawa Gakki
  2. ^ 16-string guitar by Philip Woodfield Moore
  3. ^ Archguitar shape by Archguitar.com
  4. ^ Göran Söllscher's profile by allmusic.com
  5. ^ Göran Söllscher's discography by Deutche Grammophon
  6. ^ 11-string alto guitar tuning by altoguitars.com
  7. ^ 11-string guitar by Ermanno Chiavi
  8. ^ Hoshino guitar no longer takes order for 11-string alto guitar Hoshino Guitar