19th Century Guitars

19th Century Guitars

A Brief History

 The  classical six string acoustic guitar of the 19th Century resembles  several fretted zithers from the ancient Mediterranean world. The word  "guitar" comes from, "qitara", an Arabic name. The baroque guitar of  Spain and the Vihuela generally had five string courses. Treble strings  were paired. These earlier musical  instruments are closer to the lute  in both tuning and construction. The "Spanish" guitar comes to Spain by  way of France, Italy and Austrian makers early in the 19th Century.

At  present the earliest unaltered classic guitar, datable with certainty,  is an Italian instrument in Stockholm, Musikhistoriska Museet annex,  with the label "Gio. Battista Fabricatore fecit An 1791 in S.M. del  Ajuto, Napoli." (Thomas Heck, 1972) Harvey Turnbull tells us in, The  Guitar from the Renaissance to the Present Day (New York, 1974), that  the guitar with six single strings is probably of French or Italian  origin, [but] definitely not of Spanish origin (p. 64).

Whether  it was the French or the Italians who made the first classical six  string guitars, 1790-1830 displayed a strong consistency in design.  Because of the abundance of fakes using similar labels at the time, it  is difficult to attribute surviving guitars to their makers. From what  does survive, the first classic guitars were probably made in Naples in  the 1770s or 80s. Such instruments can readily be found dating from the  1790s with such labels as Gagliano, Fabricatore, Valenzano, Trotto, and  Vinaccia. The original classic guitars, were soon being faithfully  copied in Vienna and elsewhere in the early 19th century. Johann Georg  Stauffer is one of the more innovative and documented Austrian makers.  

After Louis Panormo began building guitars in the"Spanish Style" in London  in the 1820's, his son-in-law, A.F. Huerta, performed with his  Panormo-built guitar in the United States, spreading awareness of the Spanish Style to C.F. Martin.  

Soon Martin began to abandon the Viennese Style guitar in favor of the Spanish Style.  The Panormo and Lacôte guitars were of excellent quality and were what would have been one of the most commonly found guitars in pre-1840 America.  

I personally own a replica 1832 Panormo guitar which I play for my period music performances.  Beyond  my interest in fretless banjos and because of my living history  performances and interest in early music, I have collected a few 19th  Century guitars and some information that I thought I would share.  

I am not a guitar dealer nor am I a luthier qualified to  appraise these old instruments.  I share this  primarily for the benefit  of re-enactors and others interested in the appearance of authentic  instruments of the period.