Stradivarius back story

The original of this guitar is the Stradivarius Baroque Guitar (dated 1680/88) in the Hill Collection in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is one of only 4 or 5 surviving Stradivarius guitars, depending on which authority you believe.

The original has an exceptionally long string length at 740 mm. The other surviving instruments of the latter half of the 17th century were typically longer than the modern classical guitar’s string length of 650 mm, but usually less than 700 mm. This suggests that the Ashmolean instrument was intended to be tuned lower than E, perhaps in D. I am making it with a string length of 670 mm, more in keeping with the average for 5-course guitars of the period and more easily tuned in E. I will keep the body size the same as the original, only reducing the neck length 70 mm.

It also differs from many other Baroque Guitars in the simplicity of its decoration. Many (especially those of Italian or French origin) had fabulous inlays of turtle shell, ivory and mother of pearl, and had vaulted and sometimes scalloped backs. Stradivarius’ guitars are flat-backed and plain by comparison, although this one has the typical ebony “moustachios” on either side of the bridge and you can also see traces of some “putti” on the area where the soundboard overlaps the fingerboard. I have reproduced the moustachios, but have yet to decide on the putti.

Roses of the period were extremely ornate with layered “wedding cake” parchment decorations seemingly climbing down into the soundbox. Stradivarius’ rose is a simpler affair but still complex compared to modern guitars, with its carved 3-layers of fruitwood. I have made the design a simpler one and substituted a layer of parchment as the base.

I have also made the back out of only 2 pieces of maple with a BWB line inlaid or sandwiched down the centre. The back of the original is made from 4 pieces. This choice in the original has all the hallmarks of being one forced by lack of suitable materials to hand – the outer two are not matched to the inner ones.

Stradivarius moustachios
Stradivarius moustachios