Multi-Bass 7-string, 8-string, 9-string, 10-string and 19th Century Harp Guitars
Editor's Note: The best site on the internet for "harp guitar" is by my friend and colleague Gregg Miner. Gregg's site is www.harpguitars.net. I highly recommend a thorough review of that site.
Fahrbach: 12-String harp guitar
Some 19th century guitars had more than 6 strings in order to extend the instrument's range. Usually, these extra strings were bass strings tuned in pitch below the guitar's low E string. This was not a surprising development, since the first 6-string guitar was simply a Baroque 5-string guitar fitted with an extra 6th bass string. There was tremendous experimentation with guitar design in the 19th century as evidenced by the wide array of body shapes, designs, and decorations, as well as the number of strings. There is some evidence to suggest that perhaps single-course 7-10 string guitars and guitar-lyres may have been invented before the 6-course guitar which was first double-strung. The extra strings were attached either to the side of the headstock, or by using a double neck. The construction must be slightly altered to widen the bridge, and also to handle the extra tension of additional strings. Unfortunately, if the bridge is too tight by over-compensation, the tone quality of the guitar will suffer, or sound different from a 6-string. A high quality multi-bass guitar with a great 6-string sound requires a skilled luthier to balance the tension requirements with tone production. Whether or not guitars existed in this time period with fretted 7th-10th courses is a subject of some debate. According to Matanya Ophee, in his article on the Lyre Guitar in the "New Grove" based on an earlier article: "M. Ophee: -The Story of the Lyre-Guitar-, Soundboard, xiv (1987v8), 235v43": "The article includes photos of lyre guitars with 9 strings, all under the fingerboard. (These were instruments in the collection of Robert Spencer, now at the RCM in London)." Ophee goes on to say, "There is no question that the 7-string on the fretboard design existed already in the last decades of the 18th century. It may be true that Stauffer and Panormo did not make guitars with 8 fretted strings, but such guitars did in fact exist. Several sources, including the Doisy method of 1801, speak of guitars and lyre guitars with up to 9 courses on the fingerboard, some single strung, some double and some even triple." In addition, the Russian 7-string guitar in the 1820's and possibly earlier was fretted across all 7 strings, as is evident by examining the scores.
Some 19th century guitar music has the extra bass notes written in the score. Usually, they are written at normal pitch to accommodate the vast majority of 6-string players, but an octave adjustment (8va) is indicated. Some Mertz is written with extra bass notes; they are written at 6-string pitch with an octave notation so that players with a multibass instrument can play the note at its intended lower pitch. Legnani has some pieces for guitars with 6 or 8 strings. Napoleon Coste's music usually calls for the drop-D 7th string; it is often played on 6-string guitars, but with compromises: Coste's music cannot be played in drop D tuning because it calls for 6=E relationships, and the Drop D is extensively utilized with great effect. It is of course possible for the modern player to raise the octave of these low notes to fit a 6-string guitar, but the full intended sonority of the music is somewhat compromised. The lower bass notes are not used all that frequently, but when they are written, they add a great deal to the piece. The extra bass notes also provide sympathetic vibration with other strings, even on 6-string music. For example, if you play a D chord using only the 4 treble strings on a 7 or 8 string guitar, and then immediately dampen the strings, you will notice the low D string is vibrating at about 20% of plucked volume, even though it was not plucked. It vibrates sympathetically because it is the same pitch at a different octave. This provides a "pedal tone", a kind of background harmony that increases the resonance and overtones of the guitar, giving an interesting effect. This was not a new idea, as other ancient instruments used this principle. Some instruments through the centuries had sympathetic strings inside the body. In modern times, the Yepes 10-string tuning is designed to more evenly spread the sympathetic overtones. A disadvantage of these instruments is the increased difficulty of playing. On a 6-string guitar, the 6th E string is always on top, thus providing an absolute point of reference. The 5th A string is likewise found as the 2nd string down from the top. On an 8-string guitar, the 6th string is now the 3rd string from the top, which takes away the top-side point of reference; the 6th string point of reference then becomes relative to the thumb's current location. The A string is found either relative to the thumb's current location, or relative to the trebles. 10 string guitars can be even more daunting at first. It can take several weeks of pure frustration and a great loss of accuracy to learn a multi-bass guitar. Once learned, however, accuracy and skill will improve over several months to gain full proficiency. Fernando Sor mentions the extended bass guitar in his "Method for the Spanish Guitar" English Translation of 1836, published by Tecla Editions. The crux of his opinion is that extra strings are fine if a player has mastered the 6-string guitar (no doubt in reference to Coste and others), but should never be used to compensate for having bad left hand technique which prevents the player from fretting the bass notes. While discussing proper left hand technique (which is basically the same technique used today), Sor mentions that bad technique can cause some players difficulty in playing the bass notes unless it is on an open string, and therefore "Some have thought to remedy this inconvenience by adding a number of covered strings to the guitar; but, would it not be simpler to learn to employ the six? Add resources to an instrument when you have drawn every possible advantage from those which it offers; but do not attribute to the instrument what you should impute to yourselves."
Gregg Miner, an expert, collector, and recording artist in stringed instruments and especially the harp guitar, points out that guitars with floating extra basses should be called "harp guitars" while guitars with fretted extra strings are extended-range guitars. The only references I could find from 19th century music documents, is the term "basse" or "bass" guitar. Other music refers to it simply as "guitar with 8 strings" (or 10 strings, etc.). The double neck "contra" guitar was a Viennese designation. Gregg's site is www.harpguitars.net.
The "Harpolyre" was patented by Jean Francois Salomon in 1829. Gregg Miner explains this instrument on the following web page: Harpolyre Page. According to Richard Long in GFA Soundboard Magazine, Vol. XXXIV, No. 3, 2008 on page 86-87, "The new instrument had 21 strings on three necks; the central neck (manche ordinaire) was tuned like a standard guitar... Above the central neck was the chromatic neck, with seven silk strings with metal windings. Below the central neck was the diatonic neck, with eight gut strings.... the designations or, di or ch above certain notes [refer] to the neck on which the notes are played." According to Matanya Ophee, "This was an instrument with three necks with a total of 21 strings. It was invented by one fellow named Salomon, who also wrote a method for it. Several people wrote music for it, including Sor, Carcassi and de Fossa. But like all white elephants, it never survived. There is one of these in the Metropolitan Museum in New York." The Sor harpolyre pieces are published by a Japanese publisher, Gendai. See Sor-Gendai. They are in Vol. 9 GG309. Simon Wynberg has recorded the Marche Funebre on the Chandos label (thanks to Dave Starbuck for pointing this out). There is a new CD by John Doan, titled "The Lost Music of Fernando Sor" on an original 1830 instrument. There are also videos of Doan playing the Harpolyre on YouTube; superbly played and using what I consider authentic period technique as well.
The Lacote Heptacorde Model was derived from collaboration with Napoleon Coste. A few surviving instruments exist dating from the late 1830's into the mid-1850's. This instrument design won Lacote an exposition medal in 1839, which was mentioned in several Lacote labels after 1839. The 7-string guitar had an extra "floating" bass string above the fretboard. It was only utilized for the open drop D, and occasionally tuned to C. Much of Napoleon Coste's music was written for 7-string guitar (as was music by his associate Søffren Degen (1816-1885) ). Their music can be played on a normal 6-string guitar, but the low bass notes must be transposed up an octave. The extra low bass also allows many drop-D pieces to be played without de-tuning, or to occasionally drop the octave of normal D's for added resonance or emphasis especially at cadence points. The Lacote Heptacorde on the left is in the private collection of Bernhard Kresse. This model of Lacote is called a Heptacorde (e.g. Seven String Guitar). It was apparently derived from collaborations between Rene Lacote and the famous French composer and student of Fernando Sor, Napoleon Coste, who composed for and advocated the 7-string guitar. Later Heptacorde models introduced the tail piece and extended fretboards, while earlier examples had flush fingerboards and a pin bridge. There are very few surviving original Lacote Heptacorde guitars. This model of guitar is shown in two famous photos of Napoleon Coste. Two excellent articles can be found on the Harp Guitars site: Harp Guitars Lacote Heptacorde article
The pictures at left are of a French guitar from Mirecourt restored by Bernhard Kresse and owned by Raphaella Smits, and played on her CD. Original period 7-string guitars are rare. According to Kresse, the extant early 19th century extra-string guitars have wider necks. The first 6 strings are fretted and the additional strings are beside the fingerboard (floating). On Lacote's 10-string guitar with a wider neck, the frets stop after the sixth string.
The 1820 7-string shown left is from the Musee de la Musique - another example of the Coste-style 7-string guitar with the normal 6 strings plus an added drop D in the bass. Most likely, this guitar was not built in 1820, but may have a Lacote label of "182_" which was used well into the 1830's.
It is difficult to determine if this guitar was originally built as a 7-string, or if it was later converted. If it was converted, it surely must have been converted in the Lacote workshop as it bears the patent Lacote tuners and headstock design; it may also have been a custom-made guitar. The body shape and dimensions conform to 6-string models. The bridge is not centered; it is longer on the bass end to accommodate the extra bass string. The headstock appears to have been built normally, but with the side attachment added. The 7th string is a "floater".
The Russian 7-string Guitar
The native Russian guitar of the early 19th century was a 7-string instrument with open G-major tuning (tuned DGBDGBD). The modern guitar, or what we think of as Early Romantic Guitar - was actually a Western European invention, as tuning intervals differed across the globe. Many Western European 6-string guitarists visited Russia and the romantic guitar was also played. The best person to contact for information about the Russian 7-string guitar is Oleg Timofeyev. Oleg is a specialist in the Russian guitar -- more about his bio on Mel Bay Authors and TalismanMusic. Oleg has recorded probably the only CD in existence on this instrument. The amount of repertoire is vast, but not readily available in the West. Oleg collects original Russian guitars from the 19th century from the point of view of a performer and almost all the time has one for sale. Oleg carries the modern 7-string guitar by Vladimir Azhikulov, the only Muscovite maker specializing in Russian seven-string guitars. Editions Orphee carries "The Russian Collection" - these are transcriptions of 7-string Russian guitar music for the modern 6-string guitar. Several Russian 7-string pieces are available from REX by: Alexeeff, Sarenko, Aleksandrov, and Pettoletti. In addition, Donald Sauter Facsimiles of Guitar music in the Library of Congress has the "Journal of St. Petersburg" by Andrei Sychra, which he will provide for a small copying fee, containing 144 pages of music. Sychra in particular sounds the most "Russian" and exotic to my ears, and truly delightful. The Alexeeff pieces are operatic arrangements of Western operas (Bellini, etc.). The album by Aleksandrov consists of interesting short pieces in a more Russian style (sounds like the minor section in Sor's Largo op. 7), similar to Sarenko. Pettoletti is also western-based music, with occasional excursions into Russian tonality - superb compositions. The Russian 7-string guitar was tuned differently from the 6-string guitar as follows: 1=D (down a whole step), 5=B (up a step), 6=G (up three half-steps), 7=D (a seventh string tuned down to "drop D" or sometimes "C"). Typically the music poses many fingering problems on a 6-string guitar, although Donald Sauter has been able to play this music on a 6-string guitar by using many different tunings, depending on the piece. Usually the open G bass string poses the most problems. On my 8-string guitar, I re-tuned to Russian tuning (G-Major Open Tuning) in order to play the music as written. To compensate for string tension, I tuned down 1/2 step on all strings first. One could also re-string the guitar with different gauges of strings, (e.g. about 2 gauges higher for 1=D, 2 gauges lower for 5=B, 3 gauges lower for 6=G). The open 1=D, 5=B, 6=G strings change the sonority and resonance of this music considerably, since guitar music always has notes ringing longer than indicated, overtones, etc.. Having an open D-string treble is used a lot for alternating notes, and the open G-major triad which is in many ways the "essence" of this tuning. Although a new tuning is awkward at first, you can learn it quickly especially by adding lots of fingerings. This tuning in many ways is superior to our Western tuning: it provides an open G-major chord in the open strings, it simplifies the tuning since the top 3 strings are tuned the same an octave apart as the next 3 (DBG,DBG,D), and it changes the intervallic pattern which allows for more ergonomic fingerings. The Russian composers used this tuning effectively, and wrote music that is simple to play in Russian tuning, but often awkward or impossible in 6-string western tuning without alteration to the score. This music is well worth exploring, and there are many gems to be had, especially for players who have 7-10 string guitars and are willing to learn the new tuning. Steel string players often play in different tunings, whereas most classical guitarists are only exposed to 3=F# for Renaissance music, 6=Drop D, and occasionally 5=G, and a couple of pieces by sor with 6=F. Alternate tunings significantly change the resonance of the guitar and can be fun to experiment with. In the first half of the 19th century, St. Petersburg was a major artistic center which rivalled Paris and Vienna in a cultural perspective. Many of western Europe's finest actors, artists, and musicians toured, worked, and lived in Russia. Sor lived in Russia for 3 years, LHoyer briefly stayed in Russia, and Pettoletti moved there permanently. Most of the major guitar composers toured Russia during that time period.
The Golden Age of the Russian Guitar by Oleg Timofeyev
"Not many people in the West are aware of the great wealth and magnitude of the Russian guitar tradition in the early 19th century. This tradition was associated with the 'Russian guitar', a seven-string instrument in a unique 'chordal' tuning, DGBdgbd’. Among the noted early 19th-century composers for this instrument are Andrei Sychra, Mikhail Vysotsky, Semion Aksionov, Vasily Sarenko, Nikolai Alexandrov, and many others. These composers left a substantial number of high-quality guitar compositions distinguished by a unique Russian 'flavor': these works incorporate original Russian folk songs and dance tunes and sound refreshingly different from and yet uncannily similar to their Western-European counterparts. Guitarist Oleg Timofeyev is the only performer / scholar in the West to bring carefully selected programs of this music into modern concert halls. He performs on rare Russian guitars from his own collection that range from ca. 1800 to ca. 1870. Since 1994, Timofeyev has presented his unique hour-long program that elegantly balances educational aspects of the music with superb and truly "Russian" entertainment. As the author of the first Ph.D. dissertation on the subject (Duke, 1999), Timofeyev complements his virtuosic performances of the repertoire with selected readings from the diaries and memoires of the time that refer to the Russian guitar." - www.talismanmusic.org
The 8-string guitar is a good compromise between the 7 and 10 string guitar. It provides the same range as the 10-string, although scordatura and fretting of bass notes is sometimes required. To improve playability, my duet partner, an amateur luthier, had the idea of making slight adaptations to early 19th-century designs, so that a fully-fretted 8-string neck can be adapted to the 19th century guitar body. Kenny Hill built a fine 8-string Panormo-based design to my duet partner's specifications (first picture to the left). Based on observations of the Hill guitar and several other multi-bass guitars, as well as extensive correspondence with luthier Bernhard Kresse, Mr. Kresse built my personal guitar to my specifications based on an adaptation of the Anton Stauffer design to the 8-string, a fantastic concert guitar in every aspect (second picture to the left). This is a modernization of the 19th century design as Staufer did not build frettable 8-strings. The 8-string is usually tuned 7=D 8=A. However, some pieces require one string tuned to C; for example, Legnani's 8-string pieces call for an open low C. Advantages:
This period floating 8-string guitar made by Reis in approximately 1840 is a rare surviving example of the multi-bass guitars. It is patterned after the famous Viennese builder Anton Stauffer, as many Viennese builders copied Stauffer's design. This guitar has a robust tone and is recorded on the CD Romantic Guitar - Brigitte Zaczek. Note that the extra 2 strings are not fretted and only the open string can be played. The headstock is a typical figure 8 shape, where the assembly for the 7th and 8th strings is interlocked with the figure 8. Although the extra bass notes provide the Drop-D and Drop-A, the lower bass notes vary in distance from the sixth string. This design can cause playing accuracy problems when playing tasto or ponticello. The bass notes can be tuned to A, B, C or any note which suits the music.
As evidenced by this example in the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, 9-string guitars also existed. As today, luthiers will build any instrument as a custom order; the nine-string guitar seems to be a rarity based on lack of printed music. Presumably the performer would make their own arrangements. This instrument is by Lacote, made in 1827, and shows the same characteristics as the Coste Lacote: the wooden finger rest on the top and the tail piece. According to MFA, "It had formerly belonged to Eugène Peletin of Paris, a student of the French guitar virtuoso Napoleon Coste." According to MFA, "Description: Back of mahogany over softwood substrate. Ribs of solid mahogany. Two-piece belly of fine grain spruce. Multi-layer binding of ebony and ivory/whalebone around edges of belly and soundhole. Neck of mahogany. Headstock of maple sandwiched by mahogany; upper surface stained black. Nut of ebony. Custom finger rest, bridge, and stringholder of maple. Tuning pegs of rosewood. Fingerboard of ebony with seventeen frets of nickel silver. Six regular strings and three sub-bass strings lying off fingerboard. Four lateral braces on belly and back. Original wood coffin-type case lined with green wool. Overall length 920 mm, body length 435 mm, upper bout 232 mm, waist 173 mm, lower bout 300 mm, body depth 88 mm, string length 625 mm."
Modern 10-strings, popularized by Narciso Yepes, have frets on all 10-strings. According to John McCormick, "The "Yepes" tuning is intended for the purpose of utilizing the extra strings mainly as sympathetic ones. They are tuned as follows: 7- C below the 6th E, 8 - A#, 9 - G#, 10 - F#. None of these are normally fretted with the left hand. They are all intended to resonate when other strings are played, similar in principle to the baroque Viola D'amore which employed seven bowed strings with seven sympathetic strings under them." Other players point out that the extra bass strings are often played open or fretted. The early classical / romantic 10-string guitar was in a different tuning than the modern Yepes tuning. There were basically two tuning schools: Step-wise Tuning (10=A octave below 5th string, 9=B, 8=C, 7=D), and the Carulli Decacorde tuning.
The Carulli Decacorde
One form of 10-string guitar was called the Decacorde. Rene Lacote made several 10-string guitars, which were likely played by Carulli and others. Shown are a Lacote 1826 and 1830 from Musee de la Musique. The Carulli-style Decacorde has 5 fretted strings and 5 floating basses. I have strung and tuned my 10-string guitar according to Carulli's Decacorde method facsimile in order to try it out and provide a first-hand report to the readers of this site. A modern 10-string guitar works fine, but be sure to use appropriate string gauges and tensions (I used a set of normal classical guitar strings for strings 1-5, use a high tension 5th string for 6=G because it is tuned a step below A, for 7=F use a low tension 6th string because it is tuned up a half-step, use a normal 6th string for 8=E, use a high tension 6th string for 9=D which is drop D tuning, and use about 2 gauges higher for the 10th string C.) The Carulli Decacorde method, opus 293, describes the tuning as: C', D', E, F, G, A, d, g, b, e'. Strings 1-5 are tuned the same as the standard guitar. In Carulli's time, the guitar very recently changed from a 5-course instrument to a 6-course instrument, and so having the top 5 strings the same must have seemed very natural to many guitarists of the day. The remaining bass strings are tuned in descending order step-wise, e.g. 6=G, 7=F, 8=E, 9=D, 10=C. Scordatura is intended for the basses as needed by key. The basses can be tuned by a half step according to the key signature, e.g. the 7th string may be tuned to F#, 10th to B, etc.. Carulli explains the tuning in the method and has various exercises for different tunings and key signatures. Unfortunately, aside from the music contained within Carulli's method book, I have not located any further music specifically composed for Carulli's Decacorde. However, the tuning is perfectly adaptable to playing any standard guitar repertoire, and it is especially effective at handling transcriptions where bass notes (especially F and G) are problematic to sustain or to reach when a counterpoint treble melody is in a high position. In Baroque lute transcriptions the open strings for C, D, E, F, G, A allow bass notes to be sustained as written, and facilitate the fast-moving "walking" bass lines found in Weiss, Baron and others. With the open basses, and tuning the basses according to the key signature (for example tuning 5=A-flat and 6=E-flat for the key of C-minor with 3 flats), it is usually possible to play every note with no alteration to the transcription, and with no awkwardness in hand position. There are two negatives however with this tuning: 1. It is awkward to learn at first, especially to accurately hit the E bass string on the 8th string. 2. Compared to so-called "Romantic Guitar" or "Baroque" tuning of a 10-string (10=A octave below 5th string, 9=B, 8=C, 7=D), the Carulli Decacorde has no basses lower than C, which means raising the octaves of basses if the original source uses the extended range. In a suite by Baron for example, only 2 notes in the entire suite were lower than C (both B-natural), thus it seemed a good compromise. With some Weiss pieces that use low basses extensively, the transcriber may be better off in using the A/B/C/D tuning.
This instrument is an 18th century 10-string guitar, with 10 single string courses. It pre-dates the Carulli-era 10-string guitar and must have co-existed with the very earliest 6-course guitars invented. "An arch-guitar by F. FIEVEZ in LILLE. XVIII° c.
Photos courtesy Jean Michel RENARD - Old Musical Instruments
The Romantic 10-string guitar in step-wise tuning is strung with frets on the first 6 strings as normal, with additional floating bass strings. Romantic tuning, we can assume from written period music, was tuned 10=A 9=B 8=C 7=D, followed by the normal 6 strings. This tuning is sometimes referred to as "Romantic" tuning today, or as "Baroque" tuning (presumably because the tuning may be useful for transcriptions of Baroque music). In addition to 19th century guitar music, the 10-string guitar is useful for Baroque music of Weiss, Bach, Baron and others which utilize an extended bass note range in counterpoint, and for 8-course and 10-course Renaissance lute music. The amount of material available to transcribe on the internet is vast; I use the Django software and library primarily. According to Gary Southwell: "Johan George Scherzer - Scherzer was apprentice to the famous Stauffer along with another noted maker C.F. Martin. While Martin moved to America, Scherzer stayed in Vienna and eventually took over his master’s business. He is known to have won first prize for 'best guitar' at the celebrated guitar competition in Brussels 1852 organized by Makaroff. Revered especially in Russia during the late 19th century Scherzer has remained relatively unknown to modern guitar enthusiasts. Although there are few surviving instruments, his reputation is due for re-examination. Having had the pleasure of studying many of the known examples of his work I feel he should be regarded amongst the very finest guitar makers of all time. The celebrated guitarist, Mertz, is known to have used Scherzer guitars."
The Scherzer 10 String Guitar 1862
Double Neck Contrabass and Harp Guitars of the late 19th Century
These guitars have an extra neck to support the additional strings. They varied from 9 strings to 13 strings typically. Although the extra neck exists for the low bass strings, they are played only as open bass strings. These guitars were known as Contrabass / Contra-bass guitars, and later evolved into the harp guitar. The Contra bass guitar is still used in Viennese traditional folk music ("Schrammel Music"). These designs are probably from the mid to late 19th to early 20th century.
Shown are in order:
1. A Viennese Contrabass guitar, with floating bass strings, similar to the Reis example.
2. A 12 string double neck harp guitar.
3. An original Schertzer 11 String: a 6-string neck with an extra 5-strings for bass notes.
4. A 13-string adaptation of Schertzer by Bernhard Kresse, also based on 19th century harp guitars.
Stephen Bright of Austin, Texas runs a 10-string guitar newsgroup and internet radio station (which also includes any fretted or harp guitar varieties with 7 or more strings). It covers modern and historical instruments, technique, discussion and repertoire. SITE: www.CathedralGuitar.com
Another great resource is the lute music on the web. Vast amounts of lute tablature have been digitized into the Django software format, which translates between lute tab and standard notation for editing and transposition for the guitar or any instrument. 8-10 course Renaissance lute music and Baroque lute music is a prime source of multi-bass repertoire. See link: Free Lute Music