The Guittar in the British Isles, 1750-1810

Poulopoulos, Panagiotis

The guittar, now commonly known as the ‘English guittar’, is a small plucked instrument which was widely used in the British Isles from the middle of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th centuries. Appearing in a variety of shapes and sizes, and having essentially wire strings and an open major tuning, it was more related to the cittern, and quite different from the Spanish guitar. Being cheap, elegant, and relatively easy to play, the guittar quickly became popular among amateur musicians, especially upper-class ladies. In addition, the guittar was at the forefront of mechanical and technical invention, and especially the later types of the instrument were often fitted with several innovative devices that found use on other contemporary or successor instruments.

This thesis refines the results of past research concerning the guittar by undertaking a critical review of the relevant literature, and by introducing new data collected during the detailed examination and comparison of numerous surviving guittars in museums and private collections. The results are supported by the investigation of a wide variety of primary sources, including literary references, newspaper advertisements, patent records, legal documents, music scores, and iconographical evidence. The research has led to the establishment of a methodology for the documentation and classification of extant guittars using a prototype template, and to the creation of various reference databases for the future study of the instrument. This thesis is the first complete study of the guittar in the British Isles during the second half of the 18th century. It presents the most important facts and figures related to the origins and development of the instrument, while documenting and highlighting its main historical, musical and technical features, with emphasis on aspects of design, construction and decoration. Additionally, this thesis examines the guittar’s social and cultural role as a predominantly domestic female instrument, and also brings to light new interesting details about the establishment of a guittar trade within and outside the British Isles. Finally, it accounts the main reasons for the decline of the guittar and also identifies its significance in the wider fields of musicology and organology, indicating possible relations and influences with other contemporary musical instruments across Europe.

The Guittar in the British Isles, 1750-1810

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