Tag Archives: Lutes


Guitarra Leona

Name: Guitarra Leona.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Guitarillos > Bajo.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Veracruz, Mexico.
Region: Central America.

Description: The Guitarra Leona [lioness] also goes by other names, bumburona, bombona, vozarrona, big guitar. It is a large-sized four stringed flat-backed composite lute that plays the role of bass in Son Jarocho. Slightly smaller in size to the guitarrone as played in Mariachi. It is struck with a plectrum that is usually a piece of bone or carved bull-horn.

Citations: Bibliography: Cultural Atlas of Mexico. Music . Mexico: Grupo Editorial Planeta. 1988. ISBN 968-406-121-8 ;

Baroque Guitar

Name: Baroque Guitar.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Period: 1600-1750.
Country: Many.
Region: Western Europe & Europe.

Description: The Baroque guitar [c. 1600–1750] is a string instrument with five courses of gut strings and moveable gut frets. The Baroque guitar replaced the Renaissance lute as the most common instrument found in the home.

The earliest attestation of a five-stringed guitar comes from the mid-sixteenth-century Spanish book Declaracion de Instrumentos Musicales by Juan Bermudo, published in 1555.

History: The first treatise published for the Baroque guitar was Guitarra Española de Cinco Ordenes. The Five-course Spanish Guitar c. 1590 by Juan Carlos Amat. The baroque guitar in contemporary ensembles took on the role of a basso continuo instrument and players would be expected to improvise a chordal accompaniment. Intimately tied to the development of the Baroque guitar is the alfabeto system of notation.

Tunings: Three different ways of tuning the guitar are well documented in seventeenth-century sources as set out in the following table. This includes the names of composers who are associated with each method. Very few sources seem to clearly indicate that one method of stringing rather than another should be used and it is often argued that it may have been up to the player to decide what was appropriate. The issue is highly contentious and different theories have been put forward.

Boroque Guitar Tunings
Ferdinando Valdambrini [Italy, 1646 / 7] A / D / G / B / E
Gaspar Sanz [Spain, 1674] A / D / G / B / E
Antoine Carre [France, 1671] D / G / B / E
Robert de Visée [France, 1682] D / G / B / E
Girolamo Montesardo [Italy, 1606] D / G / B / E
Benedetto Sanseverino [Italy, 1620] D / G / B / E
Giovanni Paolo Foscarini [Italy, 1640] D / G / B / E
Francisco Guerau [Spain, 1694] D / G / B / E

Citations: Bibliography: Harvey Turnbull, The Guitar – From The Renaissance to the Present Day 3rd, impression 1978 London: Batsford [ISBN 0 7134 3251 9] p. 15: Chapter 1 – The Development of the Instrument. Lex Eisenhardt, Bourdons as Usual – In The Lute: The Journal of the Lute Society, vol. XLVII 2007;


Name: Gittern.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Many.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The gittern was a relatively small gut stringed bowl-backed instrument. It first appeared in literature and pectoral representation during the 13th century in Western Europe; in which this includes Iberian Peninsula, Italy, France and England. The name of this instrument changed by way in language based on where the gittern was played.

It was also called the guiterna in Spain, guiterne or guiterre in France, the chitarra in Italy and quintern in Germany. A popular instrument with court musicians, minstrels, and amateurs, the gittern is considered ancestral to the modern guitar other instruments like the mandore, bandurria and gallichon.

Etymology: The gittern had faded so completely from memory in England. Identifying the instrument proved problematic for 20th century early music scholarship. It was assumed the ancestry of the modern guitar was only to be discovered through the study of flat-backed instruments. As a consequence, what is now believed to be the only known surviving medieval citole was until recently labelled a gittern.

In 1977, Lawrence Wright published his article The Medieval Gittern and Citole: A Case of Mistaken Identity. in issue 30 of the Galpin Society Journal; with detailed references to primary historical source material revealing the gittern as a round-backed instrument – and the so-called ‘Warwick Castle gittern’ [a flat-backed instrument] as originally a citole.

Wright’s research also corresponded with observations about the origins of the flat-backed guitarra made by the 16th century Spanish musicologist Juan Bermudo. With this theoretical approach it became possible for scholars to untangle previously confusing and contradictory nomenclature. Because of the complex nature of the subject, the list and links below should assist in further reading.

History: From the early 16th century, a vihuela shaped and flat-backed guitarra began to appear in Spain and then later in France in coexistence with the gittern. Although the round-backed instrument appears to have lost ground to the new from which gradually developed into the guitar familiar today, the influence of the earlier style continued.

Examples of lutes converted into guitars exist in several museums, while purpose-built instruments like the gallichon utilized the tuning and single string configuration of the modern guitar. A tradition of building round-backed guitars in Germany continued to the 20th century with names like gittar-laute and Wandervogellaute.

Up until 2002, there were only two known surviving medieval gitterns, one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the other in the Wartburg Castle Museum. A third was discovered in a medieval outhouse in Elbląg, Poland.

Construction: The back, neck and pegbox were likely carved from a single piece of timber. Occurring less rarely in the 15th century. The body was formed around system of tapered ribs. Unlike the sharp corner joining the body to the neck seen in the lute, the gittern’s body and neck either joined in a smooth curve or straight line. The sickle, or occasional gentle arc pegbox, made an angle with the neck of between 30-90 degrees. Unlike the lute, most pegboxes on gitterns ended in a carving of a human or animal head.

Most gitterns were depicted as having three courses [total of six pared strings] or more commonly four courses [total of eight pared strings]. There are also references to some five course gitterns in the 16th century. Although there is not much direct information concerning gittern tuning, the later versions were quite possibly tuned in fourths and fifths like the mandore a few decades later.

Frets were represented in a few depictions mainly Italian and German, although apparently absent in most French, Spanish and English depictions. The gittern’s sound hole was covered with a rosette, a delicate wood carving or parchment cutting, similar to the lute.

Citations: Bibliography: The Encyclopedia of Music. New York: Hermes House, 2002 P. 118 ;  The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments [2nd Edition] “Quinterne [quintern]” ; Tyler, James [January 1981]. “The Mandore in the 16th and 17th Centuries” [PDF]. Early Music. 9 ; Meucci, Renato. “Da ‘chitarra italiana’ a ‘chitarrone’: una nuova interpretazione”. Enrico Radesca da Foggia e il suo tempo: Atti del Convegno di studi, Foggia, 7-8 Aprile 2000. pp. 30–57. ISBN 978-887096347-2 ; Tyler, James; Sparks, Paul [1992]. The Early Mandolin. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 1–7. ISBN 0-19-816302-9 ;


Name: Qanbus.
Type: Cordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Tuning: G / B / D / A / E
Country: Yemen, Malaysia.
Region: Middle East, Africa & South East Asia.

Description: A qanbūs or gambus [in Arabic: قنبوس‎ qanbūs] is a short-necked lute that originated in Yemen and spread throughout the Arabian peninsula. Sachs considered that it derived its name from the Turkic khomuz, but it is more comparable to the oud.

Distribution: The qanbūs spread through out the Middle East, on route to South East Asia by trade routes on the Indian Ocean. Southeast Asia especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei where it is called the gambus, it sparked a whole musical genre of its own.

Today it is played in Johor, South Malaysia, in the traditional dance Zapin and other genres, such as the Malay ghazal and an ensemble known as kumpulan gambus “gambus group”. Kumpulan gambus can also be found active in Sabah, especially in the Bongawan district of East Malaysian Borneo. In the Comoros it is known as gabusi and in Zanzibar as gabbus.

Citations: Bibliography: Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary of Music – Page 9, Gambus by Margret J. Kartomi ;


Name: Bulgari.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Crete, Greece.
Region: South Europe.

Description: The bulgari or [in Greek: μπουλγαρ] is a string instrument that originates from Turkey, especially from Anatolia among the Oghuz Turks living in the Taurus Mountains, similar to the bağlama and the çağür. The Bulgari belongs to the family of tambûr [long necked lutes] an instrument class that started in early Mesopotamia, which started to spread in the Ottoman Empire approximately around 14th-century.

The French musicologist William André Villoteau mentioned in his journal an instrument with two strings existing in Cairo called the tanbour boulghari or bulgarie. The bulgari proceeded to implant itself into Greek culture through Crete when refugees came from Anatolia in 1920, although a type of bulgari seems to have existed in the 19th-century among Christian and Muslim populations.

Citations: Bibliography: Laurence Picken, Folk musical instruments of Turkey, Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 276-278 Observation reported by Turkish professor Ali Raza Yalgin, in his work from 1940 ; WEBMAN.gr. “Stefanakis Antonis – Zaros, Crete”. www.stefanakis-antonis.gr. Mid-East Saz Owners Manual Villoteau, William 1807 ; Recherches sur l’analogie de la musique avec les arts qui ont pour objet l’imitation du langage – Librairie Imperial ; Facaros, Dana 2003 Crete. New Holland Publishers. p. 61 ;


Name: Arbajo.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Nepal.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The arbajo is a type of Nepali plucked lute, long-necked and four stringed, now described as largely extinct and superseded by the smaller sarinda bowed Nepali sarangi. Some of the few musicians still playing the arbajo are of the Gaine caste, in Lamjung District and Kaski District of western Nepal.

Citations: Bibliography: Carol Tingey [December 1994] Auspicious music in a changing society: the Dāmai musicians of Nepal. Heritage Publishers ISBN 978-81-7026-193-3 – Retrieved 24 March 2012.. …ancestry are not confined to the damai, but are prevalent in the folklore of other Indo-Nepalese occupational castes. Always accompanied by the cow’s hoof, which became the (now extinct) plucked lute arbajo [Helffer 1977:51] ;


Name: Zhuihu.
Type: Chordophones > Fiddles > Huqins > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.313.7
Country: China.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The zhuihu [in Chinese: 坠胡, pinyin: zhùihú] also called zhuiqin or zhuizixian, Zhuiqin or Zhuizi. It is altered from Sanxian [a three-stringed musical instrument] can be used to perform solo and tutti. Since Zhuihu have a wide diapason, a soft sound and relatively high sound volume, performers can use it to imitate the voice of human and animals.

Origins: There is one legend attributed to the origin of Zhuihu. During the Qing Dynasty [1644-1911] Emperor Kangxi forbade all the opera performances in the Forbidden City and artists had to earn a living on the street. One day, an artist’s Sanxian was bitten by mice and the covering leather of the sound box got a hole in it.

In order not to miss the performance, the artist had to use a thin wooden piece to replace the leather and used a bow from Huqin (two-stringed Chinese violin) to play the Sanxian. This musical instrument, that can not only play music but also imitate human voice, was later called Zhuihu.

Citations: Bibliography: Shen, Sin-yan 2001. Chinese music in the twentieth century. Chinese Music Society of North America. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-880464-04-5. Shen, Sin-yan 1991. Chinese music and orchestration: a primer on principles and practice Chinese Music Society of North America. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-880464-00-7 ; Website: web archive – chinaculture.org [Zhuihu Article] ;


Name: Surbahar.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: Surbahar [in Hindi; सुरबहार in IPA: s̪urbəhɑːr]. The translation comes to a literal meaning “Springtime of Notes”. The Surbahar a plucked string instrument used in the Hindustani classical music of North India.

History: The sitar emerged some time in 1820 during the 19th century. According to some scholars, beenkar Umrao Khan of Lucknow [or some say by his teacher, beenkar Pryar Khan], who belonged to Tansen’s tradition by his daughters lineage. He had a large sitar and named it “surbahar”, to teach the alap, jodalap of druphad anga to his favourite students. Ghulam Mohammad was one of them.

Tuning: Depending on the instrument’s size, it is usually pitched two to five whole steps below the standard sitar, but as Indian classical music has no concept of absolute pitch, this may vary.

Construction: The surbahar is essentially the same as the sitar, although a “bass” version of this instrument. However there are some features that set this instrument apart from the sitar. The differences are noticeable. The scale length of the surbahar, between the nut [meru] and the jawara [bridge] determine the length to be 145 cm or more.

The width of the neck is at least 11 cm in diameter of the sound table is over 40 cm. The gourd section of the back the back of the shell flat backed and round. The tied curved frets are often flattened on the bottom for structural support. The pegbox is installed as a separate component, bent back and has a scroll, open at the back with a bilateral [two left, three right] arrangement of the tuning pegs,

Citations: Bibliography: S. M. Tagore: Yantrakoś – on a sitar [Calcutta, 1875 in Bengali] ; C. R. Day: The Music and Musical Instruments of Southern India and the Deccan [Delhi, 1891, R 1977] ; Suneera Kasliwal, Classical Musical Instruments, Delhi 2001 ; Websites: India-instruments.com [surbahar article] ;


Name: Topshur.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Western Mongolia, Altai & Tuva in Russian Federation.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The topshur [топшур, topshur] is a two-stringed lute played by the Western Mongolian tribes called the Altai Urianghais, the Altais, and the Tuvans. The music played on the topshur is closely tied to the folklore of Western Mongolian people and accompanied the performances of storytellers, singing, and dancing. According to descriptions given by Marco Polo, the Mongols also played the instrument before going into battle.

Citations: Bibliography: Krader, Lawrence 1996 “Altaian” Encyclopedia of World Cultures ~ Macmillan Reference USA ; Pegg, Carole 2014 ; “Inner Asia” Grove Music Online,  Oxford University Press ; Pegg, Carole 2014 “Topshuur” ~ Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press ;


Name: Sitar.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: India, Pakistan & Bangladesh.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The sitar [in Hindi: सितार sitar; Punjabi: ਸਿਤਾਰ sitar; Urdu; سیٹر sitar]. It is a plucked stringed instrument, originating from the Indian subcontinent. The sitar is one of the prominent instruments played in Hindustani Classical Music. In the sub-continent the sitar is played through out India, Pakistan, Bangladesh & Nepal.

History: The sitar flourished under the Mughal Empire [1526-1858], and it is named after a Persian instrument called the setar [meaning three strings]. The sitar flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although it reached its peak in the 18th century.

Types: There are two major types of sitar available. The Gandhar-Pancham sitar whose string-configuration is used by Vilayat Khan and his disciples has six playable strings, whereas the Kharaj-pancham sitar having seven strings, invented by legendary Sitar Ratna Ustad Rahimat Khan, founder of Dharwad Gharana of Sitar.

Outside of India: Although the sitar is used widely through out the sub-continent. The sitar became popularly known in the wider world through the works of Ravi Shankar, beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the 1960s, a short-lived trend arose for the use of the sitar in Western popular music, with the instrument appearing on tracks by bands such as The Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and others.

Construction: A sitar can have 18, 19, 20 or 21 strings. Six or seven of these are played strings which run over curved, raised frets and the remainder are sympathetic strings. The sympathetic strings are called tarb or they are also called taarif or tarafdaar] which run underneath the frets.

The sympathetic strings have their own bridge. This bridge is entirely separate to the bridge the playing strings pass over. The sympathetic strings “ring” with in the resonance of each note when being plucked. The frets which are known as pardā or thaat are movable, allowing fine tuning.

The playing strings run from the tail end, over the bridge to the Meru or Ard Patri.   The first nut being the Meru or Ard Patri and the second nut is called the “Tar Gahan”. The flattened bridge or jawara is what is responsible for providing the buzz in the resonance of the sitar. The strings are usually of steel, copper or bronze or brass for the lower sounding bass strings.

For best results the jawara has to be solidly fixed onto the top surface which is usually carved out of jackwood. This allows for the greater transmission of sound and sustain felt through most of the instrument. The neck and tuning pegs are assembled during the process of building a sitar usually after the gourd is cut. The gourd is traditionally attached onto the jackwood neck by bamboo skewers and glued into place.

Citations: Bibliography: The Indian Encyclopaedia, 2002, p. 2988 Swarn Lata 2013 ; The Journey of the Sitar in Indian Classical Music, p. 24 “Thāṭ [Instrumental]” ; Ragini Trivedi, Sitar Compositions in Ome Swarlipi, ISBN 978-0-557-70596-2, 2010 ;