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Lute guitars are an ancient form of stringed instrument that are most similar in appearance and sound to modern acoustical guitars. They have been in existence since ancient times, with the earliest form, called an ud, originating in the Middle East and North Africa. Lute guitars achieved even greater popularity during the European Renaissance in the 1500s, when a number of innovations were made to expand the instrument's musical capabilities. Although these instruments faded from existence over time, recent renewed interest has resulted in the creation of modern lute guitars.
Unlike an acoustic guitar, which has a kidney-shaped body and flat back, lute guitars are usually pear-shaped and have a rounded back. In general, lutes are also smaller than other guitars. The number of strings on a lute can be more or less than an acoustic guitar, and they may be arranged into groups of two, called courses. The construction of strings on guitar lutes changed over time to expand the musical range of the instrument. The earliest lutes, called uds, had four courses, usually with a single string at the top called the chanterelle. Over time, the number of courses as well as the overall length of the instruments increased.
During the European Renaissance, lute guitars were one of the most widely used instruments. A great deal of music was written for them during this time, much of which still survives. Some arrangements were created for a single lute that may have accompanied a singer, while others were played by groups of two, three, or four instruments. A number of innovations were made to lute guitars during this period. The number of courses increased, and the technology for constructing the strings changed and improved. The shape of the body also became more rounded than previous versions.
After approximately 1700, lute guitars virtually disappeared. The reasons for the decline in popularity are not well understood, but may be related to the rise of larger orchestras with louder instruments, like the harpsichord. In the early 19th century, interest in the lute as well as Baroque music and Renaissance culture was renewed. As very few examples of ancient instruments survived, enthusiasts pieced together as much information as possible through paintings and drawings and also used the music to provide clues about proper construction. Modern instruments are now constructed in low volumes and are usually custom made for individual buyers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a lute guitar and how does it differ from a regular guitar?
A lute guitar, also known as a lutar, is a stringed instrument that combines elements of the traditional lute and the classical guitar. It typically has a rounded back like a lute and a fretted neck like a guitar. The main difference lies in the body shape and the sound produced; lute guitars have a more mellow, softer tone compared to the brighter sound of regular guitars. They often feature six courses of strings, which can be single or paired, unlike the six single strings of a standard guitar.
What types of music are best suited for a lute guitar?
Lute guitars are particularly well-suited for Renaissance and Baroque music, which were originally composed for the lute. Their soft and nuanced sound also makes them a good choice for folk music and some classical pieces. Musicians who seek to perform historical music authentically or who enjoy the unique timbre of the instrument often favor lute guitars for their repertoire.
How do you tune a lute guitar?
Tuning a lute guitar can vary depending on the number of courses and the specific model. However, a common tuning for a six-course lute guitar is E A D G B E, which is the same as a standard classical guitar. This allows guitarists to transition to playing the lute guitar with greater ease. Some lute guitars with more courses may require additional tunings that are more complex and closer to historical lute tunings.
Are lute guitars suitable for beginners?
Lute guitars can be suitable for beginners, especially those interested in early music. However, they might present a slight learning curve due to their unique shape and string courses. Beginners may find it easier to start with a standard classical guitar and then transition to a lute guitar as they become more comfortable with the fundamentals of playing and reading music.
Where can I purchase a lute guitar and what should I consider when choosing one?
Lute guitars can be purchased from specialty music stores, online retailers, or luthiers who specialize in early instruments. When choosing a lute guitar, consider the quality of craftsmanship, the type of wood used, the number of strings, and the size of the instrument. It's important to play the instrument or listen to samples if buying online to ensure you are satisfied with the sound. Additionally, consult with experienced players or educators for recommendations tailored to your needs and skill level.