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Old 11-08-2012, 09:01 PM   #1
Eel Fingers
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Baroque and Renaissance music: How can I get the sound?

That is, without paying thousands for a bespoke replica Baroque guitar?

For some time I've really enjoyed learning Renaissance and Baroque era guitar music, particularly music that actually was written for the guitars of the time. Here's a YouTube clip of one "Kidneykutter" playing one of my favorite pieces, the Passacaglia in A-minor by Ludovico Roncalli. From his YouTube name, Kidneykutter is probably a transplant surgeon, which would explain his ability to afford an instrument which probably was made to order by some small luthier shop.

In Baroque times guitars usually had five courses, corresponding to our strings A through E today, and nine or ten strings depending on whether the high E string was single or double, as in KK's instrument here. The strings would be gut all the way across the board, instead of having the A and D strings wound with some kind of metal as they are today, even on classical guitars.

As I can't get the real replica, what else could I try?

I've tried a 12-string and to my surprise I was able to play it fairly well. It remains a possible solution although it does sound a bit too bright and steely for the sound I want.

I have seen four-course, eight-string ukeleles which are one course and two strings away from being perfect. If I could find a five-course ten string uke I'd be on it like cold on ice. Alternatively, even a five string five course uke would be good, but I can't find that either.

With regard to the guitar arrangements of this early music, I've found that the arrangers often write many of the notes an octave lower, e.g. if the original passage called for a third, like D and F, the modern arranger will write the D an octave lower. This is usually necessary, because if you play the third as originally composed, on the first and second strings, the sound is much too thin on a contemporary guitar. It wouldn't matter so much if this music was played in a band setting, but it isn't.

I think one issue with modern guitars is the winding of the bass strings. It's fine for most music we play today but for early Baroque music it gives way too much bottom to those strings, and makes for a metallic sound that doesn't always mesh well with the treble notes. This leads me to wonder if there exist string sets for standard dreadnoughts that have no metal at all? I've tried folk sets but they still have metal on the bass.

Finally I've noticed that there are some traditional guitar-like instruments of Latin America, like the charango, which seem to meet some of my requirements. They're hard to find in guitar shops though, and when they are available to try out they usually are tuned quite differently from a guitar so I can't really test it out. But if it's possible to use a guitar tuning it could work, assuming that it's playable as such and not intended more for strumming and ensemble playing.

So, has anyone else dealt with this peculiar preference of mine?
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Old 11-09-2012, 01:24 AM   #2
shreddymcshred
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Are you using a reentrant tuning?

If you are, make sure you know which octave to tune the strings to. In Sanz reentrant tuning, strings 4 and 5 are actually higher in pitch than string 3.

You could use a regular guitar string with ONLY unwound nylon treble strings like this

GEGBE (low to high)

Tune the lowest G up to pitch, and then up to A
Tune the lowest E up to pitch, and then down to D
Tune the rest as usual.

Here, you will no longer have wound strings, but you will have space for a "missing" string (you could just throw an extra one on as a bourdon)

Unfortunately, you won't be able to double string each course, but Sanz tuned them to unisons anyway, so you're missing out, but not a whole lot. It's the best mod for the price...5 treble strings is the only cost.

Further reading
http://www.guitarramagazine.com/GazparSanz#4
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Old 11-09-2012, 02:29 AM   #3
Eel Fingers
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At the moment my guitar is in standard tuning. I hadn't thought of trying the Sanz tuning but it might be an interesting experiment. I don't see myself using them to double notes as that seems rather awkward. On the other hand if the "new" G and A strings were going to be nylon, let's suppose, it might provide an interesting textural contrast. As it is I usually add a unison from an open string when feasible.

The video I linked also encouraged me to try out alternative ways of playing melodic runs. Like most of us, when I started playing I would naturally play a run of three or four notes on one string since that's the most straightforward approach for a beginner. But if you watch the way Kidneykutter plas the passacaglia, you'll see he often uses two or even three strings when playing a scalar passage. Besides providing a a richer sound and smoother scales, it helps the player to become more familiar with the mid-range frets.
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Old 11-09-2012, 02:43 AM   #4
shreddymcshred
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He is probably taking advantage of the campanela technique which is only possible when using the reentrant tuning because you no longer have to displace octaves or use awkward fingering
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Old 11-12-2012, 05:37 PM   #5
Eel Fingers
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shreddymcshred
He is probably taking advantage of the campanela technique which is only possible when using the reentrant tuning because you no longer have to displace octaves or use awkward fingering


I think you are probably correct, judging from the liner notes that came with a recording I have. On the recording, which was played using an instrument practically identical to Kidney's, the performer used the so-called French reentrant tuning shown here:



I can see how this tuning has its advantages, but you don't really need them for the piece played in the video. On a modern guitar, this number fits comfortably under the fretting hand, and through the judicious use of open strings an effect similar to the campanela can be achieved. For instance, at about :35 there's a descending run beginning with the open high E string. In the Chilesotti transcription it's rendered like this:



While it's clear to me now that Kidney is using the high unison A course, in the modern tuning you can achieve almost the same "chiming" effect if you start the passage with your hand in the third position and play the first three notes on the E, B, and G strings respectively. You continue with the open B note as you reposition your hand to fret the A note on the second fret; the overall effect is that you need to move your fretting hand relatively little. As a matter of fact this passacaglia is replete with passages that take advantage of open strings. For instance, the repeated three-note runs in the following excerpt



sound immeasurably better if the A and C notes are fingered on the fourth and third strings respectively, with the B played on the open second string. Granted it's not strictly compliant with Chilesotti's written arrangement, but it's hard to imagine that composers of the era would have expected performers to do otherwise.

Last edited by Eel Fingers : 11-13-2012 at 12:06 AM.
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Old 11-13-2012, 02:17 AM   #6
Eel Fingers
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shreddymcshred
Are you using a reentrant tuning?

If you are, make sure you know which octave to tune the strings to. In Sanz reentrant tuning, strings 4 and 5 are actually higher in pitch than string 3.

You could use a regular guitar string with ONLY unwound nylon treble strings like this

GEGBE (low to high)

Tune the lowest G up to pitch, and then up to A
Tune the lowest E up to pitch, and then down to D
Tune the rest as usual.

Here, you will no longer have wound strings, but you will have space for a "missing" string (you could just throw an extra one on as a bourdon)


Could the vacant space be used for a standard wound bass E string--I mean, one from nylon-core folk set? And in my case this will most likely be done on a Takamine dreadnought usually strung with steel strings.

As you say the lack of double strings is less than ideal, but it might actually work out better than a typical 12-string guitar.
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Old 10-16-2013, 11:51 PM   #7
Eel Fingers
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eel Fingers
I think you are probably correct, judging from the liner notes that came with a recording I have. On the recording, which was played using an instrument practically identical to Kidney's, the performer used the so-called French reentrant tuning shown here:





I've finally gotten around to experimenting with this. It's been helpful, although the fourth string (normally the bass D) is proving to be troublesome. At first I tried using an extra treble E string as shreddymcshred suggests and tuning it down one step from pitch, but it wouldn't really settle and hold its pitch. Recently I learned about the so-called Nashville tuning , in which what would normally be the three bass strings are an octave higher, so the next thing I tried was the D string from a Nashville set--the local shop sells individual strings.

All seemed well and good. The new D string wasn't wound so I was sure it would be just a step lower than the treble E, but no. It was a whole nine steps lower, just as an ordinary wound D string would be.

So, maybe next I should try the treble D from a 12-string set?

For the bass A position I used an ordinary wound G string and tuned it a step higher. Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that it's wound it's just the right pitch--one step below the open B.
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Old 10-17-2013, 03:51 AM   #8
Captaincranky
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I'd thought I'd post this just for the sake of doing so: http://www.godinguitars.com/godininukambiancep.htm



Since you mentioned 12 strings earlier a couple of things. They're all brassy sounding, period. Ya gotta love 'em though.

The strings have to be dead for a while before they mellow out.

You must use phosphor bronze string sets, 80/20 brass are just plain annoying.

Even acoustic twelves benefit a great deal from being plugged in. On those with a 3 band EQ, boost the bass, roll off the mids a tad, & give the high end a good healthy cut.

As an end game solution, you might look into one of Godin's "Multiac" instruments. http://www.godinguitars.com/godinmultnylonseriesp.htm While they are 6 string, a chorus and/or a short clean digital delay could fake the string pairs.

I realize these are modern day, inexact solutions.

Obviously, "plan B", is to grab a keyboard, and use some sort of harpsichord or clavichord setting.
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Old 11-05-2013, 09:17 PM   #9
Eel Fingers
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eel Fingers
All seemed well and good. The new D string wasn't wound so I was sure it would be just a step lower than the treble E, but no. It was a whole nine steps lower, just as an ordinary wound D string would be.


I feel like an idiot, but the string was an octave low only because I hadn't tightened the peg enough. But perhaps that's understandable, because it's not that hard to mistake different octaves of the same note when they're both being played on unwound strings. I've occasionally used this fact when by substituting an octave in order to imitate a unison.

So now I have a high Nashville-style set on my six string guitar. The bass E is the same string that one would normally use for G on a steel string, tuned down a third, and that is the only wound string on the instrument. The people at my local and very highly very highly regarded acoustic guitar shop assured me that steel strings would be just fine, and I don't see why they shouldn't be, from looking at the tension figures listed on the package.

And I'm pleased with the sound. It's really much better for playing this kind of music, although obviously not so good for later classical stuff.
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Old 11-05-2013, 09:19 PM   #10
Eel Fingers
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CaptainCranky, I want one of those!
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