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19th-century Russian 7-string guitars came in a large number of body shapes, as can be seen from the following images, some which are surviving instruments, some are detailed illustrations. All were culled from Google images, so if you own the copyright, and wish your image to be removed, please accept my apologies and do get in touch.
Late Baroque guitar outline, complete with “moustachioed” bridge decoration
Viennese shapes were popular, but more latterly the Spanish-guitar shape emerged, and some oddities too:
A common feature was the curved or cambered fretboard, which proved useful for the many passages where the left-hand thumb frets the lowest two strings:
According to Oleg Timofeyev, “I testify that the crowned (i.e. curved or cambered) fingerboard in general makes usage of the left-hand thumb, easier…the neck should be kept narrow as possible. However, there is also a limit to the narrowness of spacing between the strings: if the strings are too close to one another, the left-hand fingers can no longer guarantee a clean performance. The use of a crowned fingerboard offers a compromise between these two opposite tendencies: the neck comfortably fits the left hand, the left thumb easily reaches the basses, and the fingers get to the strings at angles that allow clean and relaxed performance.” [The Golden Age of the Russian Guitar – doctoral thesis, 1999]
Most of the guitars seem to have had stepped or ladder bracing, as opposed to the fan bracing of the Spanish guitar:
Another characteristic of many Russian guitars is the neck adjustment mechanism, seen in many of the Viennese models (though possibly of French origin), which allows the player to usefully adjust the action – the height of the strings above the frets. It is essential with such mechanisms for the fingerboard to be clear of the soundboard.
It’s difficult not to arrive at the conclusion that any guitar could be adapted for the basis of a Russian guitar, and that the one defining characteristic is the DGBdgbd’ tuning. Each body shape would strongly define the sound of the instrument, given the resonance of the common tuning. The more Spanish shape would provide a warmer, fatter, sound, while the baroque and Viennese shapes would emphasise upper partials, with a shimmering clarity which can be very attractive.
Here is a pdf catalogue – beautifully illustrated – of the many guitars in the Glinka Museum Collection:
Mårten Falk’s Collection
- Julius Zimmermann – unfortunately it arrived with a new bridge for six strings but still with the seven tuners on the head. I dare say Mårten will restore it to its original state as a 7-string.
2. Ivan Krasnoschiokov
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One of the more saught-after luthiers from the second half of the 19th century. See beautiful example in Mårten Falk’s Collection above. Here’s another belonging to Oleg Timofeyev: