Northern Renaissance Instruments
6 Needham Avenue, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 8AA, U.K.
Phone & Fax. +44 (0) 161 881 8134; proprietor: Dr. Ephraim Segerman [USA]
e-mail: email@example.com ; on internet: http://www.nrinst.co.uk
STRINGS FOR THE ENGLISH GUITAR
Following this page is the derivation of the stringing given here. The plain metal strings can be purchased in 5 metre coils, where one makes one's own loops (instructions available on request), providing many spares, or with loops already made. Some English guitars, tuned by turning bolts in hooked nuts, require a loop on both ends of each string. The range of distances between loops then needs to be specified. Alternatives for the 4th, 5th and 6th courses include all of those mentioned by Carpentier, plus twisted brass strings. High twist brass strings are not easy to make, weren't needed early in the 18th century, and few could make them when the English guitar developed from the cithrinchen. Overspinning a core with metal is much easier, and that ease helped the spread of the instrument throughout Europe.
The ED listed for a string that is wound or twisted is the diameter of a string of circular cross-section made of the material of the centre of the string, which has the same weight per unit length as the real string. The original pitch that English guitars played at was about 21/2 semitones below modern. If one must tune it higher, the modern alternative shown below is recommended. The prices of wound strings here assume that the windings are of copper or silver-plated copper. Solid silver would be more expensive.
THE STRINGING OF ENGLISH AND GERMAN GUITARS
There are many wire-strung cittern descendants in collections of old instruments. They were usually called 'guitars' originally, but collectors until recently have been calling them 'citterns'. The most common ones have 10 strings in 6 courses and were called 'English guitars' or just 'guitars', requiring the gut-strung variety of guitar to be called 'Spanish guitar'. They date from the second half of the 18th century into the early 19th century.
There occasionally have been remains of strings that could possibly date from the original musical culture that the instruments were built for, but there is no way of being sure about this. Contemporary information on stringing is needed. I know of no original stringing specifications for the English Guitar, but I do know (thanks to Stuart Walsh) of specifications by l'Abbe Carpentier published c.1771 in Paris for the 'Cystre' or 'Guitthare Allemande'. His 8-course instrument, with an 18 and a half pouce (50.6 cm) string stop, was tuned to D,E,A,d,e,a,c#',e' at opera pitch (2 to 3 semitones below modern). His first strings were of No 7 white metal (.270 mm iron), seconds No 6 white metal (.302 mm iron), thirds No 3 yellow metal (.426 mm brass), and fourths either No 1 yellow metal (.540 mm brass), metal wound on No 4 white metal (.380 mm iron) or metal wound on silk. These four higher courses were all unison pairs. The four bass courses, not specified quantitatively, were of metal wound on gut or silk. They usually were single, but if paired they had a high octave of plain gut. Appropriate proportions were to be observed for the wound strings, which probably refers to weight, so that tension would stay the same except for compensation for being a single rather than double course.
Carpentier sometimes had to play with a violin at a pitch a semitone higher, when his strings gave too dry and hard a sound and were liable to snap. He specified a compromise stringing that worked at both pitches, with No 8 (.239 mm) iron firsts, No 7 iron seconds, No 4 brass thirds and the same fourths (in all options) and basses as above. The violin pitch most probably was the Ton de Chappelle of the time, which was about one and a half semitones below modern, making the instrument's normal pitch two and a half semitones lower than modern.
The 18th century French string gauge system used then had six gauges for a factor of two in diameter, or approximately two semitone steps of diameter per gauge difference. The term 'semitone step' refers to a factor of a twelfth root of two (1.0595) in diameter or length, and a sixth root of two (1.1225) in tension. We assume that for each string there is an ideal diameter and the chosen gauge is the closest to it. So one may be up to a semitone step away from the ideal tension or diameter just because of the limited choice of diameters available. Such tension variation is much less noticeable with metal stringing than with gut.
Now let us consider the English Guitar, a very close relative of Carpentier's German Guitar. Carpentier mentioned it, giving no more than its tuning: c,d,g,c',e',g' (the fifth course is e in English sources), and called it 'Guitthare Angloise'. The vibrating string length on surviving instruments is typically between 42.0 and 42.5 cm, which is about 3 frets (semitone steps in length) shorter than the German Guitar. The tension-length principle suggests that its string tensions would be less by half that, or one and a half steps lighter. The pitch is 3 semitones higher assuming the same pitch standard (Carpentier stated that opera pitch was the same in Madrid, Berlin, Vienna, Paris and London). The steps in length cancel the steps in pitch, making the steps thinner in diameter equal the steps lighter in tension (one and a half). The resulting calculated stringing for the English Guitar (equivalent to the first set for the German Guitar) is: 1st: .248 mm (9.8 thou) iron; 2nd: .277 mm (10.9 thou) iron; 3rd: .391 mm (15.4 thou ) brass; 4th: .495 mm (19.5 thou) brass or its weight equivalent in metal wound on silk or on .348 mm (13.7 thou) iron. The 5th and 6th courses, being single, are metal wound on gut or silk at a somewhat higher tension. Three semitone steps heavier than equal tension is indicated from the Wensler stringing of the cithrinchen (FoMRHI Comm. 1498), the instrument's immediate predecessor.