5-course guitar after Jean Voboam, Paris, 1687 by Clive Titmuss, built in 1995
(Click for larger image)
The body of the guitar is yew (Taxus latifolia), and Asian rosewood (Dalbergia spp.) with light fillets of yew sapwood. The soundboard is German spruce (Picea excelsa). Bridge and pegs are rosewood; the bridge is veneered to match the binding.
The rose is made from sheepskin parchment worked with punches and knife; seed pearls sewn at the bottom. The assembled “wedding cake” is placed into the instrument before the back is put on. The binding of the back is the same design as that on the front. The rose circumference is inlaid in the soundboard with the same scheme as the binding.
The neck is a mitred construction made from split and planed pear-wood, veneered with rosewood ribs, tile purfling, fingerboard and binding. The longer neck piece is mitred to a heel, allowing for the veneering of each piece so that ribs and the ivory/ebony purfling strips meet exactly. The neck and heel form a dovetail that fits into a block in the body.
A rosewood plaquet with white/black purfling is found where the sides meet at the lower bout, and one on the head. The plaquet on the head is inscribed with ink “Clive Titmuss/1995”. The neck and head shelf-joint is dressed with a rosewood veneer.
The body, neck and head of the instrument are trimmed in the Voboam family’s ébeniste style. White/black/white tiles alternate with b/w/b. On the binding, each fillet is purfled with a further black/white line. Each tile is separately mitred and mounted on the instrument, along with purfling and larger tiles, to build up a mosaic effect in black and white, small scale and large combined, reflecting the Roccoco spirit of decoration which flourished in interiors in the last quarter of the 1600’s in Northern Europe.
The form, shape and décor of these instruments became so famous, that they became set-dressing for more luxury goods–works of art by Anthoine Watteau. (Watteau’s paintings links: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437926) More on guitar iconography: https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/players-guitarists-in-art/
The date of the original model instrument, 1687, makes it exactly contemporary with the music of Robert de Visée, whose music is what inspired the instrument Livre de Gitarre (1682) and Livre de Pièces de Guitarre (1686). These two books are at the pinnacle of quality in the music of the 17th century. I designed the instrument specifically with this composer’s music in mind.
String length 665 mm. Total length 951 mm, lower bout 250 mm, upper bout 220 mm, body depth 86–95 mm. At the bridge courses are c. 14 mm apart on centre, 9.5 -10 mm apart at the head nut. The action is 4.2 mm at the XI fret (body joint) across the choir.
This instrument is inspired by seeing the original in Paris and carefully reproducing the original, with due alterations from excellent modern plans by Pierre Abondance, 1982, with details, photos and descriptions.
The bars of the back, which are large but not numerous compared to modern practice, are made from split yew wood. Other that the main bars and re-inforcements under the rose and XII fret area, there are no other bars on the soundboard.
The soundboard is quite thick at the edges, to accommodate the parquetry binding, but thinned in the centre. There is a small crack there, repaired during bridge changes. The body is deeply scooped out to allow for plenty of room under the strings.
Unlike a modern guitar, a baroque guitar’s lower courses are mostly the same size as the upper courses and should me the same height to play the “campanelas” fingerings–lower strings tuned to produce higher notes, and played in combination with them.
The action is balanced for the combination of complex ornaments, plucking and occasionally vigorous strumming which is the hallmark of the style.
17th century guitars are notorious for looking lovely, but not having much in the way of musical resources. This is overstated because the Voboam design is clever: The rosewood and longer string length give it the sustain that is needed, the yew gives it the lightness and projection, and the décor makes it a work of art, an investment, not only a musical instrument.
The instrument was chosen to appear in Fine Woodworking’s Design Book Seven
About the tiles: The parquet material used to decorate this guitar comes from a source which pre-dates CITES (Committee on Trade in Endangered Species). All the material is re-purposed from keyboards from wrecked pianos, soaked off, scraped to thickness and re-engineered into tiles. Though the source is exempt from CITES, the re-use is not, therefore in Canada a permitting process is involved to complete the sale.
Most EU countries and the US, follow a similar protocol for antiques and personal possessions that pre-date CITES, and many common materials of the past are subject to this treaty. The permit process also makes sure that the trade in antiques or works of art is strictly controlled, and to make sure no new material is used for repair. To obtain the permit, I am required to prove the source of the material to the relevant authorities (Environment Minister’s office) in Canada and it ensures that legal trade is conscientious and verifiable.
Within Canada I have had success with the permit application in a short period, and I can ship the instrument to any point in Canada without restriction.
All instruments built by Clive Titmuss come with custom-fitted cases.
Prices do not include shipping and insurance.
If you have any questions about the instruments, please contact me.