Romantic guitar

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Early Romantic guitar (ca.1830, Paris)
by Jean-Nicolas Grobert (1794-1869)

The early romantic guitar is the guitar of the Classical and Romantic period of music, showing remarkable consistency in the instrument from 1790 to 1830.[1] By this time guitars used single strings of six or more (compared to, for example, the Baroque guitar with nine or ten strings paired to make five courses). The romantic guitar eventually led to a different type of guitar in Spain: the fan-braced Spanish guitars of Torres, which may be seen as the immediate precursor of the modern classical guitar.


The first unaltered guitar strung with single strings rather than pairs of strings was a guitar built by Ferdinando Gagliano in 1774, in Naples. This guitar, displayed in the Heyer museum in Cologne before it was dispersed, showed some main differences between the baroque guitar and what would later become the classical guitar. For example, it had 5 single strings, inlaid brass frets on the neck, a long neck (11 frets where the fretboard met the body) relative to string length, a pegged, terminal bridge, and a characteristic figure-8 shaped tuning head. This “missing link” lacks only a sixth string before resembling the distinctive early romantic guitar.[1]

The earliest extant six string guitar was built in 1779 by Gaetano Vinaccia (1759 – after 1831)[2][3] in Naples, Italy. The Vinaccia family of luthiers is known for developing the mandolin. This guitar has been examined and does not show tell-tale signs of modifications from a double-course guitar.[1] Authenticity of guitars before the 1790s is often in question. This also corresponds to when Moretti's 6-string method appeared, in 1792.

France also began to produce six string, single-stringed guitars around the same time, and some years later Spain began as well. The Italian, French, and Spanish six-string guitars all differed from the baroque guitar in more or less the same ways. Other than the differences pointed out in the first single-string guitar above, the guitar gradually had more pronounced curves and a larger body, ornamentation was somewhat restrained and was placed mostly around the edges of the body and sound hole. The decorative rose covering the sound hole was also removed to allow more volume. Frets of the instrument were changed from tied gut to fixed strips of harder material (first ebony or ivory, then metal). And the wooden pegs were later on replaced by metal tuning machines.[1][4][5]


The abundance of instructional books in this period reveals that there was no standard way to play the instrument. They mainly used earlier traditions; for example the right hand was supported on a table, even though the Spanish guitarist Nicario Juaralde warned against resting the little finger on the table for more right hand freedom. Mainly the thumb and first two fingers were used for plucking and in the 19th century free stroke (tirando – letting the fingertips rise after the note is played) was typically used. Because of the narrow fretboard, the left-hand thumb was used by some guitarists to play notes on the sixth string; however Sor mentions this negatively in his method – Sor suggests that the left-hand thumb should rather be centered at the neck (and notes that neither bass-string fingering choices, nor holding/supporting of the guitar require the "high" thumb positioning). Romantic guitars were often held by a strap around the player’s neck, and Dionysio Aguado invented a “tripodion” for holding the instrument. Unlike most classical guitarists today, players were divided as to whether or not use fingernails. Fernando Sor, for example, did not, while his compatriot, Aguado, did use them.[4] Aguado was also the first guitarist to advocate a relaxed relationship between the player and the instrument. His method encourages the player leaning back in his chair, with two feet solidly on the ground rather than using a footstool, and the edge of the chair is used to keep the guitar from sliding down to the right, projecting the neck upward and closer to the player’s torso rather than way out to the left.[6]




  1. ^ a b c d Stalking the Oldest Six String Guitar
  2. ^ The Classical Mandolin by Paul Sparks (1995)
  3. ^ Early Romantic Guitar
  4. ^ a b Harvey Turnbull, P. Sparks. "The Early Six String Guitar." from the Groves Online Dictionary article: "Guitar", last updated December 2009
  5. ^ "Early Six String Guitars" from the book Dangerous Curves: The Art of the Guitarby Darcy Kuronen, 2001.
  6. ^ Thomas Heck, "A Relaxing Way to Hold the Guitar: Variation on a Theme by Aguado?" from Soundboard magazine, 2004. Vol. XXX No. 3 2004: 31 – 34.
  7. ^ Guillemin, Amédée (1882). El mundo físico : gravedad, gravitación, luz, calor, electricidad, magnetismo, etc. Barcelona Montaner y Simón. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Heck, Thomas Fitzsimons: Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer. 1995. ISBN 1-882612-00-0
  • Heck, Thomas Fitzsimons: The Birth of the Classic Guitar and its Cultivation in Vienna, Reflected in the Career and Compositions of Mauro Giuliani (d. 1829). Yale University. 1970. (Thesis)
  • Ribouillault-Bibron, Danielle: La Technique de guitare en France dans la première moitié du XIXe siècle. 1980. (Thesis) 1
  • Walter, Adrian Charles: The Early Nineteenth-Century Guitar: An Interpretative Context for the Contemporary Performer, with a Specific Focus on the Compositions of Mauro Giuliani and Fernando Sor. 2008. (Thesis) 1
  • Frédéric Ben Attar, Frédéric Carpino and Ingrid Riollot: Les Guitares romantiques (Musée de la Lutherie et de l'Archèterie Françaises, Mirecourt) 1
  • Sinier de Ridder: La Guitare
    • La Guitare, tome I: Paris 1650–1950 1, 2
    • La Guitare, tome II: Mirecourt, les provinces françaises 1, 2
  • Erik Pierre Hofmann, Pascal Mougin, Stefan Hackl: Stauffer & Co. 1
  • Christof Hanusch: Masterpieces of German Instrument Making – "Weissgerber" Guitars by Richard Jacob 1, 2, 3
  • James Westbrook: The Century that Shaped the Guitar. 2005.

External links[edit]