Guitar after Panormo

Guitar after Panormo early 19th century, by Clive Titmuss, 1987
– used for Sonata for Guitar and Piano by Carulli and Rondo in B minor by Giuliani.

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The Panormo guitar which is used for the Carulli Sonata and the Giuliani Rondo is practically identical to one pictured in the Sor Methode, c. 1830. I was fortunate to be able to examine the original instrument, play it for a while, take measurements and make a fairly accurate copy.
The original had more or less lost its voice, though it was still in excellent condition. I chose to make an inexact copy in order to widen the fingerboard to more ergonomic proportions, and used some joined wide maple ribs for the back. I copied some features which surprised me, especially the ivory frets. They turned out to work wonderfully, wear hardly at all and allow for a low action, lower than metal substitutes would permit. They do not stress the gut strings and do not flatten the windings of the copper overspun strings. The singing character of the instrument gives it a unique ability to emphasize the upper voices, because the lower three strings are comparatively quiet.

There were several technical challenges in the lutherie, including my first V-joined head, which took days for me to understand. I’ve made many of them since then, and feel that it’s worth the trouble. The pin bridge was another challenge, made from old-growth rosewood reclaimed from the music desk of an old Broadwood grand piano that was beyond repair. The turning of ivory pins was also a new adventure. Once it was complete, though, the real learning began.

The great realization that one has in playing any period instrument is that modern technical tricks simply will not work. It is a revelation to play on a good reproduction of a period instrument, because one becomes the student. A rider also learns from his horse.

The guitar won’t support the use of apoyando (rest stroke) and one soon realizes it’s better to adopt the hand position depicted in minute detail in the Sor method, with the little finger resting on the soundboard and with the thumb held outside the hand. In doing so, a cantabile style is easier to achieve, one which generally de-emphasizes the ubiquitous vibrato commonly used on the tall modern frets, and one that uses detached articulation as a way of making clearer rhythmic emphasis. There’s a tendency for late Classical period guitar music to sound machine-like in a way that was not intended, and the choice of the instrument itself is partly responsible.

Sor himself advocated thumb-index in playing scales, a technique held over from the lute, and of course he played without nails. His compatriot Aguado, whose method was more influential in the end, advocated the use of alternating rest stroke and the use of nails; these features became the standard technical apparatus in the 19th c. I suspect that Aguado used deeper, larger guitars from the Madrid school of the early nineteenth century which would support his aggressive technique. The building style of the London-made Panormo is more conservative and calls for a more sensitive style of play.

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