By Alan di Perna | Photo Courtesy of the National Music Museum
Antonio Stradivari, the first name in violin making, also built a small number of guitars. Made in 1700, the Rawlins shown here is one of only five (or four, as some scholars claim) Stradivari guitars known still to exist.
The instrument is publicly displayed at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota, which acquired it in 1985 with funds donated by Robert and Marjorie Rawlins. The acquisition has made the museum a pilgrimage site for lovers of early guitar history, and with good reason. The Rawlins exhibits the same impeccable workmanship and premium materials found in Stradivari violins, right down to the legendary luthier’s celebrated varnish.
“The guitars that Stradivari made are very interesting,” says Arian Sheets, NMM’s curator of stringed instruments. “They’re not typical of the ornate Italian guitars of the period. There’s a lot less superficial decoration and inlay work. Stradivari was probably the first maker to highlight the natural beauty of the wood on a guitar. He used a spruce top and beautiful violin-style figured maple for the back and sides instead of ebony or the other tropical hardwoods that were commonly used at the time.”
The Rawlins Stradivari is strung in five courses, which is typical of the baroque period to which it belongs. The top’s ladder bracing was also common at the dawn of the 18th century. However, the same can’t be said for the guitar’s ample 29-inch-scale length, which has been the cause of much speculation over the years.
“It’s a long scale length but certainly not impossible to play,” Sheets says. “It works but at a lower pitch, like a baritone guitar. There is a recording of one of the other surviving Stradivari guitars [Robert De Visée: Livres de Pièces pour la Guittarre (Brilliant Classics, 2012)], and it fits in very well with some French music of the period.”
The circle-and-diamond inlay motif on the rosette and bridge is a signature Stradivari pattern and was also used on a quartet of violin family instrument he made for the Spanish court. Though the guitar’s ornamentation is spare, it is still quite elegant, befitting its unimpeachable ancestry.
January 1: Arcangelo Corelli’s influential Opus 5 violin sonatas, including the “La Folía” variations, are published.
February: Russia, Saxony and Denmark-Norway declare war on the Swedish Empire, starting the Great Northern War in Europe.
March: A 15-year-old J.S. Bach begins studies at St. Michael’s School in Lüneberg, Germany.
June: Attilio Ariosti’s La Festa del Himeneo premiers in Berlin at the Leitzenburg palace theater.
November 1: Spain’s King Charles II dies, triggering the War of the Spanish Succession.