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A musical instrument of the chordophone family, the lyre-guitar was a type of guitar shaped like a lyre. It had six single courses and was tuned like the modern classical guitar, with a fretboard located between two curved arms recalling the shape of the ancient Greek lyre.

The lyre-guitar nearly always had a built-in pedestal allowing it to stand upright when not in use.


Painting depicting a woman with a lyre-guitar.
A lyre-guitar depicted here in a painting by Francisco de Goya, c. 1805. Its popularity at the time was encouraged by the revival of classicism

Claimed to have been invented in 1780 by Pierre Charles Mareschal, a prominent French luthier, who accused the French musician Phillis Pleyel of stealing his design for what he called the Lira Anacreòntica [1] The lyre-guitar enjoyed great popularity as a salon instrument especially in Paris between 1780 and 1820. It became very much in vogue and pervaded the highest levels of society; Marie Antoinette played one[2] and the great guitarists of the day such as Ferdinando Carulli, Fernando Sor, Matteo Carcassi, Mauro Giuliani and Pierre Jean Porro wrote music and methods for it.

Girl with a lyre-guitar
A postcard showing a girl playing a lyre-guitar, c. 1870. The classical theme is typical of the period

Its decline coincided with the waning of the popularity of the guitar as a salon instrument, increasingly supplanted by the piano which benefitted from ongoing improvements to its keyboard action. The lyre-guitar nevertheless persisted, not so much as a musical instrument, but more commonly as a symbol of classicist ideals appearing in numerous allegorical paintings (e.g. Mähler's portrait of Beethoven), and later on, photographs as a prop for evoking ancient Greek and Roman themes.

"The idea was to create an instrument which looked pretty and provided a visual accessory to help ladies of fashion to assume the gracious pose of Greek “kithara” players. This visual likeness became a potent ingredient of the culture of the upper classes.",[3]

Although the lyre-guitar is rarely heard or recorded it is not extinct. A body of nearly forgotten repertoire exists often by highly notable guitarists of the golden age of the guitar. Today lyre-guitars can be made to order by luthiers and authentic examples exist in museums and private collections.

Lyre-guitar luthiers[edit]

Ludwig van Beethoven holding a lyre-guitar in his hand - painting by Joseph Willibrord Mähler 1804/05


  • Lyre-guitar. Étoile charmante, between the 18th and 19th century by Eleonora Vulpiani
  • Matanya, Ophee (1987–1988), "The Story of the Lyre-Guitar", Soundboard, XIV/4 ( Winter)
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 1980. ISBN 0-333-23111-2.
  • Bonner, Stephen (1972), The classic image: European history and manufacture of the lyre guitar, 850-1840, Bois de Boulogne: Harlow, ISBN 0-900998-09-1


  1. ^ "Plagiat dénoncé aux musiciens et aux amateurs des lyres nouvelles, inventées par Mareschal, Luthier à Paris", 1780, by P. C. Mareschal.
  2. ^ " La lyre-guitare" in "Les Cahiers de la Guitare", 1988, by D. Ribouillault.
  3. ^ Matanya Ophee, "The Story of the Lyre-Guitar", in Soundboard XIV/4, 1987-1988 Winter
  4. ^ The Steve Howe Guitar Collection (Balfon Books UK) - (ISBN 1-871547-64-4) - (First British Edition 1994) - p51. Image of Roudhloff Lyre Guitar c.1815. The lyre guitar is marked with "Roudhloff the elder son" who is known to have opened a workshop in Fitzroy Square, London in the early 1900s.

External links[edit]

Historical sources[edit]

Sheet Music[edit]