Historical analysis and remaking of two German keyed guitars from the Romantic period using traditional and digital technologies

Daniel Wheeldon

Edinburgh College of Art thesis and dissertation collection


This creative practice PhD examines and reconstructs two nineteenth-century German guitars: one made in Mittenwald by Mathias Neüner in 1810; the other bearing the names F. Fiala and Matteo Sprenger, probably made in Karlsruhe in 1843. The only nineteenth-century keyed guitars known to survive, these two instruments are like ordinary guitars of the period in that they have six strings of gut and silk of the usual scale length. Each, however, has a removable piano hammer mechanism within the guitar body that enables hammers to strike the strings through a hole in the soundboard. Although it seems that keyed guitars were known of throughout the nineteenth century, accounts of them are inconsistent and vague. This thesis combines a thorough study of historiographical sources with examination of the surviving instruments, placing them within a context of nineteenth-century music and musical inventions. I demonstrate that keyed guitars have their origins in the trade for domestic musical instruments and were preceded by similar keyed citterns (pianoforte guittars) in London in the 1780s. Their role and reception in Germany, however, were quite different, being marketed to a smaller more dispersed audience and chiefly to the nobility. Reconstructing these instruments has allowed an in-depth analysis of the surviving objects, from a maker’s perspective, and offers a better understanding of why various design elements were incorporated into these hybrid instruments. Each instrument has had a complex and contrasting material history, which can only be understood through a study of the objects themselves. Some elements have required reinvention, to best represent the originals as functioning keyed guitars. Full-scale 3D drawings of the instruments were made, from which it has been possible to directly apply the use of digital technologies to assist the process of manufacture. The process of researching and recreating these instruments shines new light on nineteenth-century instrument culture, making obscure instruments available to contemporary audiences, and allowing for the incorporation of and reflection of the efficacy of new technologies in instrument reconstruction. This multifaceted study brings a wealth of new information, and a means of experiencing a niche of musical culture hitherto lost to obscurity.

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