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What Are Baroque Guitars?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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The baroque guitar is a specific kind of stringed instrument that was used in the baroque period, generally, in the 15th and 16th centuries. This kind of guitar has a slightly different body from modern varieties of the instrument that are sold in today’s music stores. There are also other differences that distinguish this specific type of guitar.

One of the unique elements of the baroque guitar is its strings. Strings for this instrument were usually made from animal materials or “gut” that was made into long, thin strands. This material had a texture similar to modern nylon strings that are used on classical or flamenco guitars. This is an example of how people in that time period were able to “manufacture” goods without modern methods or materials.

The strings on baroque guitars were composed of five “courses” or sets. There were five sets of strings, for a total of either nine or ten strings, depending on the specific guitar model. These provided for vibrant tones for each pair of strings.

Tuning for baroque guitars was different depending on various musical schools. Certain composers were responsible for the origin of specific tunings for the instrument. It’s important to note that music was a very important part of life in the baroque time period. The average academic student practiced guitar or another instrument for several hours each day, and use of the baroque guitar was considered something of a status enhancement.

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Baroque guitars were often used with sheet music, where today’s guitar players might more often utilize a “playing by ear” approach. The intricate nature of classical guitar music necessitated sheet music, which was often printed in a specific style to allow groups of musicians to play together. Several bars of the sheet music were printed multiple times on one page, with each set facing a different direction, so that musicians could gather around the sheet music and all follow along at the same time.

Baroque guitars as they exist today are largely collector’s items or items that are found in museums and historic representations. These items carry a very high value based on their age. Most originals are no longer played at all, but displayed for posterity. Some reconstructions of this instrument, though, are still sold for playing, and are used by ensembles that specialize in authentic performances.

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