Guitar and Renaissance lute
Guitar and Renaissance lute
Click here to hear a lute

The lute was originally an Arabic instrument, introduced into Spain by the Moors. It was an important instrument throughout Europe by the 15th century but was progressively replaced by a number of variants, particularly the theorobo and the chitarone, and by the guitar.

The lute has a pear-shaped body with a broad neck and fingerboard. The head of the lute, which carries the tuning pegs is mounted at 90 degrees to the neck. The lute is strung to give six courses which may be either single or double stringed.

The theorbo has a longer neck than the lute with an extra pegboard giving six or seven extra bass courses. The chitarrone is a larger version of the theorbo with the courses divided between a pegboard lower down the neck and one at the head.

The guitar probably originated in Spain in the 14th century. The earliest guitars had three pairs of strings plus a single string. The guitar became popular in other European countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Late in the 17th century, a fifth pair of stings was added and in the middle of the 18th century, a sixth sting was added and the double stings were made single, giving the guitar its modern form. Early in the 19th century, the lyre and the guitar enjoyed a period of popularity. During that century, the body of the guitar was broadened and the curve at the waist was made more pronounced.

Violin and viola
Violin and viola
Click here to hear a violin

Stringed instruments played with a bow are thought to have originated in ancient Persia. In Medieval Europe there were two types of fiddle – the “viola da gamba” (leg fiddle) and the “viola da fraccio” (arm fiddle).

The violin was developed from the viola da fraccio in Italy early in the 16th century. The shape of the violin remained relatively unchanged until about 1800 when modifications were made to assist players cope with more demanding music. Early violins have a shorter, thicker neck that is less angled back, a shorter fingerboard and a flatter bridge than more modern instruments.

Early bows were generally convex in shape with a tapered point. From the late 18th century, they gradually became longer and concave in shape with a swelling towards the tip.

Violin making reached unequalled heights late in the 17th century and early in the 18th century with the Italians Antonio Stradivari and Guiseppi Guameri and the Austrian Jacob Stainer all making superb instruments.

Did You Know?

Antonio Stradivari and his sons made about 1,100 violins during his lifetime. About 512 of these remain and the location of most of them is well known. Most of the remainder, which have been destroyed by accident, fire, war etc, have been accounted for.

However, many violin manufacturers, particularly in Germany, but also in Bulgaria, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Japan, England and elsewhere, produced violins which they labelled “Antonius Stradiuarius, Cremomemfis Faciebat Anno 17 “, often with the last two digits of a year pencilled in by hand, just as Stradivari had. Tens of thousands of these violins were mass-produced every year up until 1957 when the words “Copy of” began to be included in the label.

The chance of finding a violin labelled as a Stradivarius that was really made by the master is minute.

Levin mandolin
Levin mandolin
Click here to hear a mandolin

The mandolin was developed from the mandora, or small lute, in Italy in about 1700. It faded from popularity early in the 19th century but enjoyed a revival at the end of the century when mandolin orchestras came into vogue. Mandolins usually had tortoiseshell mounts on the belly and ornate inlay on the fingerboard. The best known models were the Milanese and the Neapolitan. The earlier Milanese mandolins had gut strings and were played with the fingers. Neapolitan mandolins had wire strings and were played with a plectrum.

The piano derived from the harpsichord and the clavichord. It differs from its predecessors mainly in allowing the player to control the volume of the sound produced.

The earliest known piano was made by Bartolemeo Cristfori in 1709. The early development of piano took place mainly in Germany until 1760, when twelve German masters migrated to London where they established a school that developed the piano resembling those we know it today.

The grand piano shape was first made in 1770. The development of the piano from that time was designed to cope with increasing sting tension and the consequent increased stress on the soundboard. This led to the development of the metal-framed piano in 1800. This, and other improvements in design and manufacture, principally in Germany and the United States where manufacturers like Steinway and Chickering became famous.

Double-manual harpsichord (1749)
Double-manual harpsichord (1749)
Click here to hear a harpsichord

At the same time, manufacturers sought to produce a more compact design than the grand piano. The square piano was popular introduced in the mid 18th century. This was based on the design of the spinet in which the strings run in the same plane as the keyboard but at an angle to it.

About 1840 when the upright piano became popular. In the upright piano, the soundboard is placed vertically at 90 degrees to the keyboard.


Did You Know?

Over the past 100 years, more than 5,000 different brands of pianos have been produced.


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