More Than Six
or Playing the Notes Other Guitars Cannot Reach, by James R. Smith

1. Intro | 2. Guitar Types | 3. Strings | 4. Learning | 5. Repertoire | 6. Conclusion | This article was originally published in Classical Guitar Magazine



























2. Multi-String Guitar Types

In the first part of this section, the guitars discussed have their top six-strings in standard E-tuned sequence, in the second part, advantageous changes to this are outlined.

The instrument to be discussed is not the Russian folk-guitar, which probably deserves an article to itself, but a classical E-tuned type with one additional bass string. The additional bass string is commonly chosen as a D ­ a tone below E. Other choices are possible, and as will be discussed later, some strings are particularly flexible and can accommodate a change of a tone or more, thus giving an obvious advantage. Where the seventh is not chosen as D, B is a frequent and useful choice, and with a flexible seventh, C and A are accessible. Considering a seventh in D, what does this offer? If your wish is to play 'standard' repertoire, then bass D re-tuning vanishes, there is an additional advantage (present in bass D tuning), that the seventh string moves the fretted notes on the sixth, two frets up, for example, bass G is now found at the fifth fret and bass F at third. Thus, the noticeable stretches, B on first to G on sixth, and A on first to F on sixth are sizably eased. To these advantages is added an acoustic one. With the addition of a seventh string, you will find that the guitar begins to take on an enhanced sound quality. One of the reasons for this will probably lie in the wider and therefore stiffer fretboard. The string energy is, in consequence, expended more on setting in motion the sound board, rather than in having some of its energy lost in exciting the acoustically dead neck. Within the indicated repertoire, the seven string guitar has much to commend to it. It has the disadvantage that it is a 'special order' item. No major studio that I know of, has a seven-string guitar as a standard item in its catalogue.

There are two typical choices for the tuning of the additional bass strings. The first follows typical lute strategy, namely, dropping a tone at a time and has the seventh at D and the eighth at C, with other options readily available, for example, taking the eighth up to C# or down to B for particular pieces, indeed the D can be tuned to D# if required. These kinds of tuning are very suitable for solo performance. For ensemble, as used by Peter Rueffer in the Pro Arte Trio, a seventh at D and an eighth at A, with retuning to G, or B / Bb, for example, offers a fairly straight-forward way of obtaining a useful bass-line with a scale length of 65cm, rather than the more demanding 70cm for a baritone, or 75cm for a bass. One is here in the realms of the arranger for an ensemble, conceived as ranging from a duo to an orchestra. If funds are not especially limited, one can choose whatever instruments are considered appropriate to the pieces played, and one notes in professional groups (duo, trio, quartet) using the guitar family, this is what seems to happen ­ the mix of instruments from the guitar family may show some changes throughout a programme. However, in guitar orchestras, the use of an octave bass has much to commend it.

As with the seven string, the eight will usually offer acoustic enhancement, and there is the advantage that a number of major guitar studios have eight-string guitars in their catalogues.

Nine Strings.
Although these have been made, the ninth being tuned to B or Bb, they are, like the seven string, special order items, likely to be subject to special prices and longer delivery times. For these reasons, I pass on to the ten-string.

Historically, there were two well-known forms of tuning of these instruments, one having what is known as baroque tuning, the other using a type known as Yepes tuning. The first type derives its name from lute-usage, it is a minor third down on a renaissance ten-course lute and is essentially the four lowest diapasons of a baroque lute. The bass tuning follows the pattern

7th-D, 8th-C (or C#), 9th-B1 (or Bb1), 10th-A1.

Further re-tunings are possible, e.g., re-entrant tuning of the 9th and 10th to assist certain pieces for eleven course baroque lute, but one usually strives to remain within this pattern. Yepes tuning, occasionally referred to as modern tuning, has the following pattern

7th-C, 8th-A#, 9th-G#, 10th-F#

Where the bottom three strings are at pitches from the fifth and sixth strings of the guitar. This tuning is therefore of a type referred to as re-entrant. Janet Marlow, a pupil of Yepes, uses different tuning, viz, ...

7th-B, 8th F#, 9th-C#, 10th-G#1

This tuning is therefore re-entrant on the 7th and 8th strings, and offers bass support on the 9th and 10th. While the foregoing is not a complete list of all types of tuning that have been or are currently being used, they can be considered as the bases from which other have emerged. Baroque tuning can be definitely associated with the nineteenth century virtuoso, Mertz, and for this reason is also referred as romantic tuning.

While baroque tuning may seem a natural option, particularly, to those acquainted with lute music, and it is a generally capable strategy for extending the range of the guitar, Yepes tuning may appear strange. Yepes tuning, other than the similarity in the number of strings, is a completely different concept from baroque tuning. A prime motivation of Narciso Yepes in his collboration with Ramirez, in developing this form of tuning, was to overcome a feature of the guitar, viz., the non-uniformity of response of notes across the whole range. This arises (in part) from the overtone sequences coming from the various open strings when vibrating in sympathetic resonance. Some notes receive little harmonic re-inforcement from standard guitar tuning, but using the indicated semi-tones of the bottom three strings, does supply a more complete spread of overtones. Of course, the choice of re-entrant basses does offer some advantages when playing in remoter keys. Additionally, the seventh string can be tuned up to D, easing all standard six-string repertoire. A further use, thoroughly explored by Yepes, is retuning of the ninth and tenth strings to G and F, respectively. In conjunction with the seventh at C, it is found that this gives convenient access to some of the eleven course baroque lute repertoire. With a suitable choice of pieces, dropping the seventh from C down to B or even A, can give access to items from the repertoire for thirteen course baroque lute. The various types of tuning all have their adherents, indeed, many ten-string players have two or more instruments each in different tunings. No tuning is uniformily competent across all eras and genres. Thus, Yepes tuning is unsuitable for late renaissance lute music, and baroque tuning does not work for modern compositions aimed at Yepes re-entrant tuning. The advantages of Marlow tuning are set out in her book, cf. ref. 15.

Terz Guitars.
It is probably best to start by recalling some basic facts about these instruments. A terz guitar is a somewhat smaller classical guitar tuned in G, that is, the strings are tuned to the respective notes of the third fret of a standard guitar. Scale lengths are 61-63cm. Having some popularity in the early nineteenth century, they are relatively rare at the present time though they are still in the standard catalogues of some major Spanish makers. Additionally, some professional ensembles use them. Without realising it, probably most players have seen a six-string terz guitar, for in general size they are a 'three-quarter' classical guitar often used for younger players. When tuned in E, these instruments are usually rather modest in volume and tone, but respond better with high tension strings. A noticeable further improvement occurs when tuned in F or G, for then the higher frequencies of the smaller sound board are readily and consistently excited. Noting that when tuned in G, and with the third tuned to A rather than Bb, they are identical in tuning to a renaissance lute, younger players have a cheap method of simulating a six-course lute, for these instruments, lie in a price range from under £70 to about £250, and, unfortunately, even student lutes start at about £600/£800. Thus, for school use, these three-quarter size guitars have some interesting opportunities for experiencing a quite different sound when approaching simple renaissance solo or duo pieces. Coming to quality specialist studio or concert models, terz guitars exhibit a brilliant, and often-times, a crystal-like quality that is an attractive characteristic of the type. They can, of course, be made in seven, eight and ten string form, and thus for the guitarist who wishes to play lute repertoire and continue with modern guitar pieces on their standard instrument, they offer an instrument adapted to the requirements of their technique. More will be said on this point when discussing repertoire. The tuning of the four bass strings of a ten-string terz follows renaissance lute practice in descending tones as

7th-F, 8th-Eb or E, 9th-D, 10th-C,

thus an eighth at E corresponds to the eighth at C# on a standard instrument, a convenience for certain keys. Although some persons may have tried re-entrant tuning on a multi-string terz, I am not aware of any professional use.

The Alt Guitar.
An eleven-string instrument tuned like a terz guitar and with the eleventh string at Bb. The instrument is a relatively recent innovation and was brought into prominence by the acclaimed performance of Gran Sllscher of the Bach lute suites on an instrument made by George Bolin. Scale length is akin to typical requinto usage at 57cm for the first seven strings, but thereafter increases until at the eleventh is 76cm, a figure one would expect to find on a bass guitar. Figure???, shows how this is achieved. The bass strings are fretted from their respective nuts and an immediate consequence of the carefully chosen extra lengths is that the bottom four bass strings, in descending order, tune to the sixth string at their respective frets, four, five, seven and nine, only just a little higher in position than the basis nut position. Thus, the convenience of finding certain low notes on strings eight, nine, Ö , is lost. This is not a disadvantage for the renaissance and baroque repertoire one would typically seek to perform on these instruments, but may be an occasional inconvenience in transcription or composition. This is the original string disposition. Some later models have used a uniform string length and are therefore of terz type. Another feature, is that the body-neck junction occurs at the tenth fret rather than the twelfth, though on the original concept of the instrument there is concave body curvature on the treble side to assist upper fret playing.

The sound character of these instruments is similar to the terz, and like the terz they have excellent projection. There is now a substantial number of Scandinavian makers who produce these fine instruments, and pictures of their products can be found in the web site noted at the end of the references. At the moment, they also exist in the catalogue of the Japanese maker Asturias and are hand-built by the master luthier, Tsuji. Altogether, a remarkable and successful innovation.

The Arch Guitar.
In 1982, Peter Blanchette, the American guitarist, received from Walter Stanul, the first thirteen string arch-guitar, an instrument they had jointly-planned, combining elements of the vihuela, baroque lute and modern classical guitar. All strings are over the fret-board, it is less waisted than a modern guitar, indeed more like a vihuela, and the fret-board runs flush with the table-top at the neck-body junction. The original tuning was comparable to a terz or alt guitar, the bass notes descending diatonically. They have been tuned in F#, and Elliot Gibbons introduced what was termed 'cadential' tuning, which involved some re-entrant strings among the bass. They have also been produced in nine and eleven string format, and a 'tenor' version a fourth below the original 'alto' in G has been produced and is played by Jean Chaine. As to the music that has been played on them and the wonderful sound they produce in both solo and duet form, one can do little better than direct attention to the review by Steve Marsh of the CD by James Kline (Classical Guitar, December 2001), and that by Chris Dumigan of the CD by Peter Blanchette and Peter Michelini (Classical Guitar March 2002). A visit to the relevant listed websites provides further information on instruments and recordings.

One final point on terz, alt or arch guitars. Music arranged or written for them, treats them as a transposing instrument, that is to say, the music is written as for an E-tuned guitar, and one finds the frets in the usual way. The relative shift of the strings (typically a minor third up), produces the intended key and pitch. Thus, a piece in C minor (three flats), appears in transposed key as A minor, for which guitarists will normally breathe a sigh of relief!

The Brahms Guitar.
While those who know requintos may have thought of adding an A above a tenor's top E, it is to the considerable credit of Paul Galbraith ­ who with the laudable aim of increasing accessible repertoire ­ pursued the idea (in conjunction with an additional bass string at A/C) with David Rubio, who produced the very fine eight-string instrument that can be heard on the CD, "Introducing the Brahms Guitar", cf.ref 9. The advantage of the instrument in terms of upward and downward range is obvious, but although there is the comfort of the middle six strings being standard, it will entail 'a period of adjustment', like all multi-string guitars. A prime constructional technical problem to be addressed is fitting the guitar with a set of strings that have similar tensions and therefore produce a similar acoustic to the standard instrument when working at their desired frequency. Seeing the relative scale lengths of the guitar family, one therefore needs a short scale for the top A and a long scale for the bass A. Rubio therefore adopted a workable solution in slanting both nut and bridge to achieve this. As to the results, one can do no better than listen to the CD mentioned to find what a successful implementation of the concept this has been. The instrument has a guitar-sound across the range and is well-balanced.

NEXT | 1. Intro | 2. Guitar Types | 3. Strings | 4. Learning | 5. Repertoire | 6. Conclusion

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