11 String
11 String
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11 STRING ALTO

In the mid 1960’s, about the same time as the Ramirez/Yepes 10 string collaboration, Swedes, luthier Georg Bolin and guitar teacher Per-Olof Johnson got together to try and sort out the problem of “playing the lute like a guitar”.


They wanted to bring about a modern equivalent of the lute with the advantages and similarity of the modern guitar. In particular Per-Olof wanted to be able to pluck the instrument using the normal guitar right hand ‘nail’ technique rather than the traditional finger tip technique lute players use on a course of two strings. To simply swap between the two is extremely difficult. Other factors included better projection / sound, fingerboard familiarity and the ability to read Renaissance and Baroque tablature directly. They called it the Altgittaren. In later years, one of
Per-Olofson’s star pupils Göran Söllscher, brought the instrument to world prominence.
 
Commonly called 11 string Alto the Altgittaren is a special type of 11 string ‘Terz’ or G guitar tuned a minor 3rd above the normal guitar. The first seven strings use a shortened fingerboard (scale ~575mm) whilst the scale from string 8 to 11 is progressively lengthened from ~575 to 770mm. The varying scale lengths on the bass strings means their diameters are narrower generally allowing normal guitar strings to be used at a similar tension but at a lower pitch. This keeps things simple and maintains string feel and familiarity.


A typical tuning for the Altgittaren is: Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-c-f-bb-d-g and it is read / notated as G-A-B-C-D-E-A-d-g-b-e. So you read the music and position fingers similar to a normal guitar. It is thus a transposing instrument like a clarinet or saxophone. In Guitar Family Tuning terminology it is an 11 string G or Terz guitar. In absolute concert pitch it is an Eb instrument like an Alto saxophone or clarinet. It should not be confused with the 6 string Alto guitar which is tuned a 5th higher than a normal guitar and is so named in guitar family terms whereas the 11 string Alto is probably correctly named in absolute concert pitch terms. Please note that the third string is often tuned a semitone down to a for many Renaissance and some Baroque transcriptions.

What does it sound like? Its higher pitched by roughly 3 semi tones (frets). Think conventional tuning for the guitar but re-tuning the G   string down a semitone and then putting a capo on the 3rd fret across all strings. Then add 5 more bass strings in a stepwise manner. Particularly suited to Renaissance lute compositions, much of the 6 10 course Renaissance lute repertoire can be directly read. Compositions for the 14 course archlute can also be directly read or simply adapted as it has a similar tuning. For Baroque period compositions re-tuning can be accomplished quite easily (as was commonly done on the lute) and thus 11/13-course Baroque lute, long-necked theorbo and chitarrone repertoires can be considered and adapted to the 11 string Alto. The closer one can get to original tuning the closer one can get to what it would have originally sounded like to the composer as keys, voicings, overtones, sympathetic resonances etc can be replicated and very often also the easier it will be to play.

11 String

Laudarra offers two 11 string models:

Bartolex Cedar or spruce tops, laminated rosewood back / sides cutaway.
Milagro Cedar or spruce top, solid rosewood back / sides. Optional cutaway.
 
MILAGRO BARTOLEX LITCHFIELD FRIGNANI Multi String Guitars. ALESSI tuning machines PETERSON tuners. Delivery Worldwide.