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Thread: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

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    Default Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    I've been interested in mandos and CBOMs for about twenty years now, since I was in my mid-teens, and just recently came across a chance to acquire an odd CBOMish instrument I'd known of for years but never encountered: the Portuguese guitar, or guitarra portuguesa. The name is a bit misleading since it's not a guitar in our modern sense, but it's a "guitar" in the sense of the 1700s-1800s English guitar; for more confusing names, the instrument which tends to accompany the PG is very similar to a classical guitar, but in Portuguese called a viola de fado, though not at all resembling the English viola. Here's what one looks like, note that the Preston/peacock tuners are still the standard despite being obsolete most everywhere else for a century.



    As to whether a Portuguese guitar is properly a CBOM, it's kind of neither fish-nor-fowl, but I think has a much better argument for CBOM-hood than any number of other Iberian double-steel-course instruments. The CBOM has a round body with a long neck, good so far. It has doubled courses of steel strings, the lower ones in octaves, so far so good. Six courses, a little more than the usual CBOM, a little iffy. The tuning is where it gets odd: Coimbra-style is CGAdga from the bottom. Huh. So it has a fifth, then a second, then a fourth, then another fourth, then a second. The fourth and fifth parts are CBOM-ish, and it's not in all fourths(ish) such as a guitar would be, but really I can't recall any other string instrument that's big on seconds other than sawmill tuning on banjo. So it's nowhere near a GDae, nor a DAda. Its overall range (in Coimbra tuning) is about identical to the (tenor) mandola, from the same C to the same A, so some parallel there of range.

    The instrument's primary, arguably even sole, modern use is playing the fado genre, a style of music from the early 1800s that can be vaguely described as being a sung style somewhere between flamenco and the blues, mournful content preoccupied with fate and longing. It was originally a music for the dregs of society, played on streetcorners and in brothels by guys with switchblades and lots of tatoos. Over time it engaged in various struggles with the authorities, censorship and discouragement, but after enough decades had earned some popular acclaim, so the authorities instead bought it out, supporting the playing of fado as a very Portuguese thing to do... provided you got a performer's license, played approved songs, and literally wore the assigned "traditional" uniform for playing it. So moving into the 20th century, fado became mainstream, nonthreatening, and a national symbol heartily endorsed by the government and tourism boards. I've been to just a few performances in Portugal, and to the Fado Museum in Lisbon, and honestly a lot of modern-era fado is rather sappy and melodramatic, though still enjoyable, so I would simply love to see some performer doing reenacting of the old, dirty, edgy music. But I digress.




    I'd seen the Portuguese guitar on websites and things for years, but for a long while they were hard to come by in the US, and/or pricey over here. But I've been bouncing around and find myself in Portugal for a month or so, up in Porto in the north, so my first few days here I waltzed into a really awesome music shop (Porto Guitarra), played a number of their cheapies, and walked out with a really solid nationally-made new instrument for €258, really quite a deal. Portuguese made strings in general are surprisingly inexpensive. Most everywhere has them for the mid-€200s, even like regular "electric guitars and keyboards" mainstream music shops, and even FNAC which is like the American Best Buy, an electronics and media big-box store. The absolute cheapest aren't terrible, maybe a bit muted, but for about the same price at a nicer store I found a much better make. Oddly enough, I would've expected that since cheap new ones are that price, that I could find these cheapies used for like €150 or something, but despite checking their Craigslist-equivalent (olx.pt) and a few pawnshops, I've yet to find a used one lower than a new cheapie.



    So far as what I'm doing with one, with my background in mandolin, octave mando, DADGAD guitar, ukulele, and concertina: I'm leaving mine in the original tuning, and doing a vaguely DADGAD-influenced open playing on it, heavily based on using the bass C as a root, so the third fret of the A string as my keynote. Portuguese guitar is usually played with only thumb and forefinger on the right, using the nails, and generally with these odd strap-on fingerpicks, tensioned with cords and then wrapped with tape. I find the fingerpicks awkward, so I use the pads of my thumb and forefinger, but growing those two nails out a bit. Mainly playing some English trad melodies, like "The Week Before Easter/The False Bride", which fits nicely with the instrument's either parallel evolution with or descendance from the English guitar/cittern. And doing a number of Anglo-American ballads like "Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still", and a few modern droney/slow pieces like "Brave Bombardier" by Boiled in Lead. I don't have a ton of desire to do fado, though I have an online manual for it so will probably try at least some basics for kicks.


    So that's the Portuguese guitar, and what I as a CBOM player am doing with one. I expected at first it'd be something I messed around with a bit and then sold before moving on, but I'm thinking this one might be a keeper, or if work picks up, possibly even something I might buy a nicer one of. If you like odd CBOMs, these are really worth a try if you come across one, whether you consider it a proper CBOM, an odd cousin, or just an interesting axe.
    Last edited by MatthewVanitas; Jun-21-2015 at 11:24am.

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Interesting looking critter.
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    The first mention of Boiled in Lead Ive ever seen here! Great bunch of guys, great show if you ever get the chance to see them.
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewVanitas View Post
    So that's the Portuguese guitar
    Nice one with the two sound holes. That would appeal to me!
    "Danger! Do Not Touch!" must be one of the scariest things to read in Braille....

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Great band, Boiled in Lead. They got me in the mindset to appreciate Cordelia's Dad and then Tim Eriksen's solo work, so a good start. You really don't hear that much said about BiL anymore, though as I understand it they were rather influential. I hadn't realized they'd made a 2008 album, so I'll have to get that. So far as Tim Eriksen though, I have an idle fancy, if work picks up again and I can afford a nicer Portuguese guitar, to mail him my cheapie since I bet he could do fascinating things with it.

    I'm thinking to expand the Wikipedia article on the Portuguese guitar, with a section on usages of the PG outside of Portuguese music. If anyone recalls any players/bands that have used it, do let me know here. I definitely need to add mention of Stefan Sobell (and write a bio of him in general), since it was his buying a PG at a used shop in Leeds that led him to design the modern cittern. I told the owner of Porto Guitarra the story about that, which he was surprised by. He also didn't know, even though he carries them, that the Irish bouzouki is not at all an archaic instrument, and was actually invented not long before he was born.

    Here's Sobell back in the day, with his PG in hand:




    I've mentioned the Coimbra style thus far; the other style is the Lisbon style. The Coimbra is larger and more resonant, with a slightly longer neck, and tuned a whole step lower. Visually, the distinctive bit is the headstocks: Coimbra has a flat shield at the top, the Lisbon a violin-esque scroll.

    The two-hole is indeed cool, I believe the local shop might have one or two like that, they seem far less common. The Fado Museum (where that photo is from) has a lot of neat pieces. The historical early PGs were notably smaller than the current ones, closer in size to the modern CDGA mandola.

    I was doing some Irish session tune stuff on my PG today, though thinking I'd feel more comfortable with a flat-pick playing that style. Also pondering whether it'd be easier if I tuned up the lowest string to D, to get DGADGA. The problem is that those Preston tuners can't just infinitely wind each direction, they've a little metal hook on a slider, so only have a couple inches to move before they bottom or top out, plus the instruments are lightly built so I'm loathe to uptune it too much. I could put a lighter gauge on it, and maybe if I picked the right gauge I could get it so the string reaches D before it hits the top, and can get down to C before it bottoms out. Some of the few past PG threads on MandoCafe mention a few musicians here who put a D on the bottom, removed the low G, slid everything a place down, and put a high D on the top, resulting in a DADGAD instrument. To one degree, I want to challenge myself to work within the current tuning, rather than insist that everything has to be in a tuning I already know, but I'll keep it as a possible option for later.

    The other trouble with trying to change tunings on these is that the strings are double-loop, so if you aren't using pre-packaged PG strings, you have to have or rig up a type of tool to create a loop at the far end, at the exact right spot so it meets the hook a bit before the bottom, giving it space to pull up.


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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewVanitas View Post
    I'm thinking to expand the Wikipedia article on the Portuguese guitar, with a section on usages of the PG outside of Portuguese music. If anyone recalls any players/bands that have used it, do let me know here.
    Andy Irvine played one in the earlier days of Planxty.

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Good call, I've added Irvine and Sobell to the article!

    The next one the article has already confuses me: it says that Steve Howe of the band Yes also played Portuguese guitar. But all the pics I find of it show quite a different instrument, some sort of long-necked bandurria? Different peghead, different body, different soundholes. Really no visual resemblance:



    Video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh30YHK2ACM

    There's a good forum discussion about it on a Yes fansite here: http://www.yesfans.com/archive/index.php/t-11376.html . But really I think it's not at all a PG and he just called it that as some oversimplification. Anyone have any rebuttal, or should I go ahead and remove that erroneous mention on Wikipedia, as even though he calls it that it really isn't one?


    That aside, I see some mention on GoogleBooks of a couple non-Portuguese jazz musicians that have used the instrument, as well as an Angolan genre called lundu that uses it. The latter being Portuguese-descended but I think enough of a split-off that it can fairly be considered distinct from Portuguese use.

    EDIT: yet again, might be mistaken identity on the lundu issue, since from poking around it looks like the instrument is rather the "viola d'arame", a smallish double-strung steel-string guitar with a figure-eight shape, kinda like a steel-strung Baroque guitar, that's used in lundu instead. As I've noticed a lot with string instruments around the world, there are just two few and too vague of names and they all run together. A similar issue necessitates my always having to clarify that I play the Appalachian/mountain/lap dulcimer, not the completely unrelated zither thing with the hammers!

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    [QUOTE=PseudoCelt;1411575]Andy Irvine played one in the earlier days of Planxty.

    Didn't Andy Irvine play it restrung with just four courses (rather than six)?
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    At 2:25 of "Raggle Taggle Gypsy O", you can see a zoomed in shot of Andy Irvine's fingerboard, showing he has 4 courses, probably the middle 4 of the normal six.
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewVanitas View Post
    Good call, I've added Irvine and Sobell to the article!

    The next one the article has already confuses me: it says that Steve Howe of the band Yes also played Portuguese guitar. But all the pics I find of it show quite a different instrument, some sort of long-necked bandurria? Different peghead, different body, different soundholes. Really no visual resemblance:



    Video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh30YHK2ACM

    There's a good forum discussion about it on a Yes fansite here: http://www.yesfans.com/archive/index.php/t-11376.html . But really I think it's not at all a PG and he just called it that as some oversimplification. Anyone have any rebuttal, or should I go ahead and remove that erroneous mention on Wikipedia, as even though he calls it that it really isn't one?


    That aside, I see some mention on GoogleBooks of a couple non-Portuguese jazz musicians that have used the instrument, as well as an Angolan genre called lundu that uses it. The latter being Portuguese-descended but I think enough of a split-off that it can fairly be considered distinct from Portuguese use.

    EDIT: yet again, might be mistaken identity on the lundu issue, since from poking around it looks like the instrument is rather the "viola d'arame", a smallish double-strung steel-string guitar with a figure-eight shape, kinda like a steel-strung Baroque guitar, that's used in lundu instead. As I've noticed a lot with string instruments around the world, there are just two few and too vague of names and they all run together. A similar issue necessitates my always having to clarify that I play the Appalachian/mountain/lap dulcimer, not the completely unrelated zither thing with the hammers!
    Pretty sure Mr. Howe's instrument is a laud.
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Good call, edited Wikipedia accordingly to remove that misleading bit. I'll add the other non-Portuguese jazz musicians in later. I'm keeping Irvine in even if he didn't play the instrument in a traditional manner, it's still the same instrument just in an alternate stringing method, I reckon.

    Tomorrow is the saint's day of São João de Bonfim so everything is going to be closed, but later in the week I'll try to swing by the guitar shop and ask out of curiosity how feasible/affordable it is to get these shipped to the US. The cheapest one I'm seeing on eBay right now are US$280 plus another $90 for shipping (US$70 shipping to the UK).

    I want to say even a few years back I didn't or rarely ran across PGs on US eBay, so either things are getting more open to international sales, or more dealers of niche things getting online more seriously.

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    I swung by Porto Guitarra today to get some flatpicks, and ask about getting a low D string to replace my C strings if I decide to go that route. Got the flatpicks and they make playing Irish session tunes easier, but I already miss the easier harmonizing I get with fingerpicking, so my use of picks may be limited. And Tico, the owner, said that it'd be no problem at all to sell me some single strings that would hold a D.

    He said too that he routinely ships instruments to the US and Canada, no problem. Portuguese guitars run around €80 shipping, a little more for mandocellos and a little less for smaller strings. So for his most inexpensive "house brand" instruments you could get one in the US for €258 + €80 = €338 (US$377 as of today) which is really not a bad deal at all. He did say too that for sales in-shop the majority of customers are happy with the setup, but when shipping overseas he offers a good deal on a small tweaking setup before they ship since it's nigh-impossible to find a luthier familiar with the PG in North America. I have no financial interest in the shop at all, I just like encouraging folks to try unusual instruments, and I'm pleased as punch with my inexpensive local PG. There's a competing store, owned by Tico's biz partner before they split off to run their own shops, called Casa da Guitarra, so you can check prices between the two, but I prefer Porto Guitarra and Tico's good people. There are quite likely a few other good shops in Lisbon, Braga, Coimbra, etc. so by all means if anyone has a different preferred shop, shout it out and I'll try to swing by while traveling.


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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Been doing more mucking around figuring out how to use this critter. I'm playing a lot in open C because it's so easy, but I don't want to get totally confined to that. It occurred to me that it's be way easier to play in D if I could tune the bass up from CGAdga to DGAdga, but there's only so much tension to play with, and those hooks have a limited range of movement. As a test of concept, I lowered my C down to B, and it gets just a little rattly and loose, but still usable, and to my surprise the hook wasn't that much lower down the slider. I'd go out on a limb and guess I could probably find a lighter string gauge that could go as low as C at the bottom and still be playable, and tune up to D without topping our nor getting too tight. Basically finding something that would be a C# as my current tension level and at a length where the hook is right in the middle, so a slightly tight D or slightly loose C with a little hook wiggle room on the slider. With that I could pretty easily play in C, D, or G.


    My other thought, I've idly pondered for years having a little performing duo to play music of the American Revolution. Not necessarily strictly period instrumentation, but something reasonably close rather than a guitar. It strikes me that a cittern or English guitar (basically same as this) is a pretty reasonable instrument for that period, right? So I could use the Portuguese guitar for the plucked string. I can also play a folk fife in D (like a sideblown tin whistle), so I'd just need a fiddler to be the second half of the duo, and maybe have him occasionally play a small wooden snare drum, and we'd have a pretty solid period duo. I'm getting stoked about this possibility. Overall finding this instrument more appealing than expected originally.

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    I mentioned to a friend in the US that I bought a PG, and he sent me a link to a track from his recent album where the accompanist played the PG as well. You don't hear a ton of tracks of non-Portuguese music with PG; in this track is has an interesting application, a little tiple-like on the strums, but with some mando-like fills:

    http://thefireandtheashes.bandcamp.com/track/redeemer

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Any idea how much that twin-soundhole bass version in the photo costs? Love it...
    "Danger! Do Not Touch!" must be one of the scariest things to read in Braille....

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    The double-hole one shown is at the Fado Museum in Lisbon. I mentioned it to the owner at Porto Guitarra ("Tico" Rodrigues), and he said he's not aware of any modern maker producing those. Though not definitively sure, he believes they're not currently made because luthiers tried it out for a while, and concluded that the single hole just sounds better. That said, since all these are made locally in Portugal, it's not impossible that you could arrange with a luthier to have double-holes put on even a mid-priced model, perhaps.

    Oh, and in the photo the double-hole isn't a bass one, it's a standard Lisboa-style model. The reason it looks so big is because the ones next to it are older smaller instruments, which became obsolete over time as people favored more bass response, finding the early ones too tinny. I haven't seen any small ones amongst the few dozen I've seen outside museums, except I did see someone in Braga advertising a used "3/4" one on a sales site.

    There is, however, a rather larger modern innovation of the last 15 years, the guitolão, which has a "wider timbric range" and is tuned a fifth lower.



    Clip of one being played: https://vimeo.com/52738720

    Mini-documentary about its development (no playing though) if you're curious about luthiery history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuUpx5g6zDY

    I checked out the automated YT captioning and it's hilariously wrong, so if anyone needs any bits translated, let me know.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guitol%C3%A3o

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Yes´Steve Howe is playing a spanish tenor laud ....of the bandurria instrumental family. BTW, on my own I do play both laúd tenor español & guitarra de coimbra, with gdaeBG tuning for some lauds, and agdaEB tuning for the guitarra. I have used these instruments playing along with church choirs, irish sessions & folk music. http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/al...hmentid=120562

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    I would like to thank all of you for your interest in these instruments and the music you play. It reassures me that there are others out there with the same disease. I AM NOT ALONE!

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Very definitely not, my friend, and a special thanks to Matthew for starting this fascinating thread.
    "Danger! Do Not Touch!" must be one of the scariest things to read in Braille....

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Lindsay View Post
    Very definitely not, my friend, and a special thanks to Matthew for starting this fascinating thread.
    Amen to that. I'm fascinated with the story behind fado - it reminds me of the rebetiko story, or the bal-musette of Paris. Urban working-class music that happened in seedy dives sort of thing. Great stuff!
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    The tuners are awesome, sort of gothic!

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Wondering if there are any good collections on CD of the early hard-core fado, would love some recommendations!
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    I would definitely like to hear some early fado, and see a "historically-informed performance" of such, complete with scruffy clothes, tattoos, and flick-knife! They even have a switchblade belonging to an early fado player on display at the Museu, and a mid-19thC dollhouse made to depict a brothel, showing the working ladies behind the scenes doing laundry, cooking, and playing the guitarra.

    I just moved down to Monrovia in West Africa (no CBOMs down here, sadly), so rather than leave my guitarra sit in a closet in the US or sell it at a loss, I just gifted it to a well-known US folk musician. Said musician knows they'll be receiving an odd instrument gift in mid-August, but no idea what it is, and I hope they'll be pleased enough to put a clip of their playing it on YouTube!


    Meanwhile, my local guitarra shop in Porto had two celebrities coups in one month:


    Ross Craig of Lenny Kravitz's band (Kravitz was visiting Porto, and Craig bought a PG, and bassist Gail Dorsey bought what appears to be a guitalele: http://blitz.sapo.pt/lenny-kravitz-p...invicta=f97185


    And in the same period, Sir Ewan "Obi Wan" McGregor also dropped in and bought a high-end PG: http://blitz.sapo.pt/ewan-mcgregor-c...-voltar=f96934

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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewVanitas View Post
    I would definitely like to hear some early fado, and see a "historically-informed performance" of such, complete with scruffy clothes, tattoos, and flick-knife! They even have a switchblade belonging to an early fado player on display at the Museu, and a mid-19thC dollhouse made to depict a brothel, showing the working ladies behind the scenes doing laundry, cooking, and playing the guitarra.

    I just moved down to Monrovia in West Africa (no CBOMs down here, sadly), so rather than leave my guitarra sit in a closet in the US or sell it at a loss, I just gifted it to a well-known US folk musician. Said musician knows they'll be receiving an odd instrument gift in mid-August, but no idea what it is, and I hope they'll be pleased enough to put a clip of their playing it on YouTube!


    Meanwhile, my local guitarra shop in Porto had two celebrities coups in one month:


    Ross Craig of Lenny Kravitz's band (Kravitz was visiting Porto, and Craig bought a PG, and bassist Gail Dorsey bought what appears to be a guitalele: http://blitz.sapo.pt/lenny-kravitz-p...invicta=f97185


    And in the same period, Sir Ewan "Obi Wan" McGregor also dropped in and bought a high-end PG: http://blitz.sapo.pt/ewan-mcgregor-c...-voltar=f96934
    Awesome post! The small 4-stringed instrument is a cavaquinho, an important instrument in Brazilian music, especially samba and choro as the bandolim players among us will testify.
    "But wasn't it all stupid nonsense, rot, gibberish, and criminally fraudulent nincompoopery?"
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    Default Re: Portuguese guitar (cittern) as CBOM

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson View Post
    Awesome post! The small 4-stringed instrument is a cavaquinho, an important instrument in Brazilian music, especially samba and choro as the bandolim players among us will testify.
    Cavaquinho I'm familiar with, and the rack behind him has ukes, cavaquinhos, and on the top row Portuguese equivalents, but the critter Dorsey is holding in his photo in the link clearly has six strings instead of four.

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