Instruments | Vihuela & Guitar | Renaissance | Classical
The vihuela had a waisted body but it cannot be said to have been figure-of-eight shaped, for the inward curve was slight. It was flat both front and back and could have several roses. Like the lute, it carried gut strings in pairs – usually six or seven courses. The fingerboard was crossed by gut frets. More popular in Spain than the lute, the vihuela was among the accomplishments of both Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile; it seems to have been an instrument of the elite.
The name of the guitar has encouraged some to trace its origins to the ancient Greek kithara. The biggest question, however, is whether it was adopted from Arabic musicians or was already native to western Europe by the Middle Ages. Like the cittern, the Renaissance guitar had a flat back and front body, with a gentle waist. Held across the body of the player at a rising angle, with the fingering left hand higher than the plucking right, it was smaller and quieter than the modern instrument. Sixteenth-century guitars had four or five courses; the four-course was preferred for polyphonic music and the five-course as an accompanying instrument.
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