"The Lute ain't me grand'father!"
- Said the guitar with anger.
"And I've fair had enough
Of always playing Bach's stuff !"
As we know, the guitar is not always a good-natured instrument. And nothing makes it lose its temper quicker than reading in the press about a new young talent showing a remarkable display of ignorance by declaring, for example, that "J.S. Bach was interested in the lute. If he had known the guitar, he would certainly have written for that instrument since it's the evolution of the lute", or to hear the presenter of France-Musique (radio programme) who, while repeating what she has read in the press without checking its validity, informs her listeners that "the lute has been replaced by the guitar and the piano."
A quick look at the chronological table will quickly convince you - were it necessary - that the guitar has almost nothing in common with the lute at Bach's time, save a neck, a sound box and strings...
"Lucs et quinternes" (lutes and guitars) were already both in existence well before the sixteenth century (1). However, from this time onward texts and iconography together with surviving music, corroborate this parallel existence. The chronological table shows the situation of the principal plucked string instruments (2) for the sixteenth century and the "baroque" era: number of grouped strings or courses, tuning, publications, links to representations, etc.
Of course, this is a rather broad view, without taking into consideration the many variants which can be found in tuning, doublures of courses, different sizes of instruments giving lower or higher pitched open notes than those usually taken as a basis for comparison. This table is a rudimentary guide - precious for those who are new to the subject - but which could certainly never do the same justice as a reading of exhaustive works such as "The Early Guitar" by James Tyler (new edition coming out soon), "The Chitarrone" by Kevin Mason, or the 600 page thesis by François Dry on the Vihuelists.
Gerard Rebours - translated by Laura Brownrigg
(1) As seen in the Cantigas de Sancta-Maria (XIII century)
(2) There were many others, although less widespread: cittern, mandora, pandora, angelique, colascione, theorbo-guitar, English guitar...
Extract from Les Cahiers de La Guitare, with the kind agreement of the editor.