The Guitar in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Julie Carmen

In the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) world there are high standards for recovering and reconstructing the truth in history. Recorded history determines how we re-create the Middle Ages, and it is with much determination that we search for as many facts as possible for each of our varied interests. This article seeks to clarify the historical authenticity of one of the most popular musical instruments, the guitar. In preparation for this search, guidelines had to be set as to what the Society deems “authentic.” Is it more aesthetically pleasing to see an instrument as identical as it would have been in the Middle Ages, even if the materials used to create it may not allow for the best tone, or would it be permissible to use finer or modem materials to keep a longer-tuned, better tonality instrument when performing? It is the opinion of this author that modem materials do not ruin or change the sound or purpose of an instrument, and that a guitar should be treated as an equal representation of a medieval instrument if used in a performing arts competition, say, up against a plastic recorder, a modem-day lute or a ceramic drum. It is commonly believed that the lute is far older than the guitar. Although the focus of this article is on the latter instrument, occasional comparisons to the lute are included to assist the reader in a better under-standing of the evolution of medieval stringed instruments. Despite the lute’s stronger claim to precedence, however, there is evidence to suggest that the guitar, or the ancestor of the guitar, is far older than is commonly realized.

The Guitar in the Middle Ages and Renaissance



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