In Boston, Massachusetts, at the Museum of Fine Arts, there is a gallery – #103 – devoted to musical instruments. (The gallery – it’s hanging sign and heavy glass door, both proclaiming: “Musical Instruments” – is located just inside the Museum’s Huntington Avenue entrance, off the right hand hallway that leads to the Rotunda.)
In the back of the Musical Instrument gallery is a tall, glass display case containing three very cool, very old guitars.
The oldest of the three guitars is the one on the right in the picture below.
That guitar was built in 1628 by Jacopo Checchucci in Livorno, Italy.
Jacopo built this 10-string guitar (5 pairs of strings, each pair called a “course”) out of spruce (for the front or “top”), ebony and ivory (for the sides, back and decorative trim). The strings and the frets – which are tied around the neck – are made of gut (yes, that would be from an animal) and inside the sound hole is an ornamental rosette made of “delicately cut pieces of parchment.”
The guitar on the left in the picture above was made in 1725.
This instrument, also known as a “chitarra battente,” was built by Jacopo Mosca-Cavelli in Perugia, Italy. The luthier used bloodwood, spruce, pearl and tortoiseshell for this guitar and strung it with fourteen metal strings. The strings are arranged in five courses, four of the courses containing three strings, and one course with just two strings. This is a very unusual instrument!
The third guitar in the case, the one in the center, is shown in the picture below.
This guitar was built by Nicholas Alexandre Voboam II in 1680 in Paris, France.
Nicholas built this nine string guitar – four double courses, one single string – out of red cedar, spruce, ebony and ivory (especially noticeable in the “roped” edging all around the top of the instrument). The strings are made of gut and the bridge – where the strings connect to the top – is in a design known as a “moustache.”
You can see the back of this instrument in the center of the first picture. In the second picture, the striped back of the Mosca-Cavelli instrument is on the right, and the highly-decorated back of the Checchucci instrument on the left.
For reference sake, the first guitars manufactured in America were made in 1833 in New York City by Christian Frederick Martin. (Christian was born in Markneukirchen, Germany in 1796.)
The world of guitars is a vast, wonderful and fascinating place.