The Romantic Guitar

I’m not a fan of modern carbon-fibre classical guitars, which shout loudly but not sweetly. I am a fan of small-scale guitars, strung in gut, with a beautiful intimate sound. I call this the Romantic Guitar, but find it suitable for a wide range of music, from 16th-century lute and vihuela repertoire, through to Brazilian and some contemporary music. Here are a few videos and sound files you might enjoy.

The guitars are both of 600mm string length (modern concert guitars are usually 650mm or 660mm), strung with Aquila Gut and Silk strings, and played without nails on the right hand, just the flesh of the fingers. It’s a quiet and intimate world, an antidote to the deadening cacophony of 21st-century life…

 

 

Go to my Reginald Smith Brindle Guitar Cosmos Page for mp3 files of his music played on the same guitar.

19 responses to “The Romantic Guitar

  1. Really beautiful playing! I’m interested in learning more about the romantic guitars that you’re playing. Could you post some links and details about these guitars? Maker, models, shopping for one – that sort of thing.

    Thanks!

  2. Hmmm. These guitars appear to be quite difficult to google. Links to your sites dominate most versions of my searches so far :)

    600mm must be rare, or Rodgriguez has stopped making short scale guitars. I haven’t found any short scale guitars to speak of by any maker. A lot of sites seem to suggest that 630mm is the short end of the spectrum. I’ve seen a few leads on UK sites, but those are usually sold out or have little to no details provided. I’m in the US.

    The last video on this page (about your technique) was very interesting and informative.

    You seem to know quite a lot about these guitars and you make a great case for them. They sound beautiful and I absolutely believe that this is exactly what I have been looking for.

    It would be so helpful to know several things like: Where you purchased your 600mm guitar; if it was made custom for you; if it’s a student model; cost; and other alternative makers/sources (perhaps you might know of) for finding a similar guitar if the same model can’t be purchased now.

  3. Hello, Rob – I found your site via the Delcamp forum, and see that you were at one time a regular there. I just wanted to express my appreciation for your video on your technique, your outlook, demeanor, and opinions on smaller scale guitars and playing without nails. I too play with flesh, and although one reason is that I find it harder to control the string action with nails, I genuinely prefer the mellower tone of flesh. [I realize that as a student I ought to at least learn how to use nails, before settling into a style or approach.] But anyway, thank you so much for all you have contributed. It is a joy to watch and listen.

    Rob, are you aware of any general guides as to how one’s hand size may help guide the choice of a guitar scale for CG? I realize many other factors are at play – flexibility, practice stretching, etc. I realize that many serious players can, with a great deal of practice stretching, obtain sufficient reach in their LH to play effectively on 650mm scale guitars even with quite small hands. I am merely a hobbyist, however, and after a couple years of work in CG method books and Delcamp, I have a span of only 20.5 cm from pinky to thumb (exterior, not centers), and 14.5 cm from pinky to index. Based on what I can find in the D. forum, this is small, especially for someone my height (6’1″). So as a middle-aged hobbyist I am unlikely to devote the time to the rigors of great hand stretches. This – as well as interest in travel guitars – led me to your posts advocating shorter-scale guitars. I would appreciate any suggestions you have that might help me choose an appropriate scale that would foster my interest in CG rather than put up speed bumps.

    kind regards – Carl

    • Thanks, Carl. Nails were developed as a way to increase volume and projection by concert guitarists. For a hobbyist, there is no need for them. Likewise there is no need for a guitar built principally for volume. Therefore the big 65cms (or even larger) guitars, played with nails, is difficult to maintain if you do not have the time to devote to it. But it is also unnecessary.

      We hobbyists are lucky. We can buy guitars built for tone, not volume, and we can cultivate the beautiful touch of the flesh of the fingertip.

      I have not carried out a survey of stretch length and fingerboard length, so I can’t help you with specifics. Suffice to say that for me, and I am 6’3″ tall, anything above 64cms takes time and effort to maintain. Below that length, I feel I can pick up the guitar anytime, and get straight to the music. The guitar is not in the way.

      I think 63cms is a good length, 64 max, 60 minimum.

      Hope that helps?
      Cheers,
      Rob

  4. Thank you for your quick reply! Funny you should consider yourself a hobbyist … thus clearly demonstrating the different levels of hobbyist!

    To underscore your point – I play almost exclusively in a 16’x12′ sunroom to an audience of 2 cats, a digital audio recorder, and a digital camera. My projection needs are limited to a foot or so.

    I do have a short scale guitar of sorts already – it’s a nylon-string Washburn Rover travel guitar (model RO-20), discontinued. It has a 48mm nut and a 60.3 cm scale. With its hardfoam case, it’s great for travel, and the neck is fantastic, if comparatively thin. But the pear-shaped body is quite small – upper bout of 13cm, lower 21 cm, and a depth of only 4.5cm. So it can be hard to stabilize, though a strap helps. Still, I occasionally use it for Delcamp recordings (esp. early romantic pieces). I suspect a 3/4 or 7/8 MR or Cordoba would have a substantially larger body that would be easier to stabilize (if not as good for travel). I’m eyeing models of with nuts of 48-52 mm and scales of 600-630, various combos thereof.

    If and when you travel, how do you handle practicing in hotel rooms with thin walls? Do you use a string mute of some sort, or do you have any kind of a silent guitar? Perhaps as a more accomplished hobbyist, you are far less likely to annoy people with your practicing. As I hinted – that’s what led me into all this, trying to pick out a silent guitar for travel practice, and reconsidering whether or not it was worth it, especially if a 52/650 was not ideal for my hand size. Mutes are OK but I have heard they can lead to excessively aggressive plucking (so as to hear the muted note adequately) and a potentially concomitant hand injury.

    kind regards,
    Carl W

  5. Strike that – you are a musician.

    • Hi Carl. I don’t do gigs, and rarely if ever travel. My audience is two robots and a small bear. But they can be critical! I teach privately for a living, and love doing so. So, I guess I’m not really a hobbyist, although I do consider music both my job and my hobby – in that I am lucky.

      Let me know if you find something that works for you.

  6. Quick note – I discovered something perhaps quite relevant. Having a small span (pinky to index, or to thumb) does not necessarily imply small hands. It could mean your hands are inflexible, laterally. I did some measurements and my hands are overall average-sized. 2nd largest in my family of 4. But my span is the smallest of all of us. My fingers just won’t move laterally so much. This implies to me I’d do better with a shorter scale, but not necessarily smaller string spacing. That 7/8 Senorita is calling my name! But for someone on a budget, or someone with a laminate top guitar who does not want to worry about what a solid top might do in really low humidity conditions, might a capo on the first fret be a good solution? It would reduce the scale from 650 to 613.5. Capos can be a bit bothersome for first position fretting (e.g., x10010), and fret markers would need to be covered up or moved. But it would preserve the comfortable body size and string spacing. Is there a reason not to do it longer-term? Thanks.

  7. Hi Rob, I love what you do. I used to play the cello, but it was too big of a voice for me. My teacher said I chose the cello because I thought I could hide behind it. I switched to guitar, but my nails are the wrong shape and don’t respond to nail orthodontics. So I decided to “break the rules” and play without nails. I played for a long time without looking at my right hand, just listening to the sound of my guitar, and I found a sound that I really like. Then I discovered your website and low and behold my right hand position is the same as yours! Perhaps this is a good omen. A Kremona 7/8 620 mm is on the way. Thank you for all of your amazing videos.

  8. Hi Rob – just a quick follow-up comment, and one question.
    – In experimenting with a capo on 1st fret on 650mm guitar (thus 613.5mm scale), after tuning down a half step (so net result is standard tuning), the sound quality for any given piece seems rather distinct. It may be mathematically equal to a 613.5mm scale guitar, I am skeptical that all aspects of sound are the same. I get a ton more sympathetic vibrations, especially with 3rd string A2 and open 5th string A3. But there are others, less obvious. What’s more, the neck is wider at fret 1 by about 1mm. If you did capo 2 (580mm, like Yamaha’s 7/8 guitar), it’s about 2mm wider, to 54mm. That makes for quite a wide neck compared to a dedicated short-scale guitar. Bottom line, using a capo might mimic some of the essence of having a short-scale guitar, but it falls short in a number of areas of being equivalent.
    – After several weeks worth of delay, MF finally has that MR 7/8 guitar in – what was called the Senorita model where you live, they are calling the Caballero 8S stateside. Comes in full size, 7/8 (their 7/8 is 600mm) and 3/4 (559mm). Strangely, they do not state that there is a variation in nut width between these models. One would think by the product description that they’re all 52mm. I find it hard to believe. Do you think your Senorita model had a smaller nut, say 48-50mm? Just curious.

    • Hi Carl,

      Interesting comments. I don’t have the Señorita anymore. It was my wife’s guitar, and she sold it to one of my female students. I rarely see it now, and I can’t remember what the measurement is. But, generally speaking, one can over-think these things. Just grab a guitar and get playing ;-) The only classical guitar I have at the moment in a 1988 Ricardo Sanchis model, Madrid School, with a string length of 655mm…and I’ve got used to it just by playing it every day.

  9. Hi Rob, I’ve just wanted to say I’ve really enjoyed listening to all of your playing on your website over the last few weeks. I’ve recently become hooked on Sor and Tarrega so it was nice to discover your playing too.
    I’m in the process of commissioning a small bodied guitar and I’m trying to work out what route to take. Im looking for a soft, floaty almost Lute like tone. Im considering a small bodied Torres (1863) size guitar in either a 604mm or 630mm scale length. I wanted to ask if the scale length makes a tonal difference and would this guitar give me the tone Im looking for. I’ve also been looking and listening to a few Lacote guitars. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a long journey of discovery. :)
    Best wishes
    David

    • Cheers, Dave. The Viennese guitars by the likes of Stauffer, Reis, etc, have a more transparent tone, and often come in short string lengths of 59cms to 61cms. The Spanish school of Panormo and others, tend to have a fatter, warmer sound. The French school of Lacotes and the like, lie somewhere in between. Their string lengths average 63-64cms.

      I think you have a lot of listening to do! A Lacote would be a good average sound. On the other hand, if you are principally interested in Sor and Tarrega, and only have funds for one guitar, a Panormo might be worth considering. Sor mentions them, and they are close in construction to the Torres guitar used by Tarrega.

      Enjoy the journey!

  10. Just an update – I purchased a Cordoba Dolce recently and wish to report some initial impressions. This guitar is a solid-top cedar, has 630mm scale length and 50mm nut width.

    The Dolce is an attractive guitar that can sound quite nice, but it is difficult to be consistent. I think the top is so thin and sensitive that compared to a laminate top, you can really sound out some notes much more loudly than you intend. It’s a bit like going from a staid 4-cylinder econobox car to a V6 sports car (or even a sportbike motorcycle). Think of the accelerator as dynamic range – you have a much broader range, but it’s really easy to overdo it. So it requires more control from the player to get a consistent sound out of it.

    The top is so thin you see ripples reflected in the light – probably the bracing underneath. The basses can really boom out on this small guitar. Perhaps that is due to a more responsive top. Despite a smaller nut, the string spacing of the Dolce is, interestingly, the same as my full-size Yamaha – 42 mm E to E, on the outside. At the soundhole and saddle, though, the Dolce is 2mm narrower.

    The sound actually does not appeal to me as much as the laminate from the playing position (above/behind), but it does sound better in front, at the mic, if you play with great, subtle control. It’s just harder to do that. The laminates are more forgiving in a way, but they’re more limited, too.

    My main reservation about keeping it – other than having to keep it cased for half the year due to low humidity – is that the fretwork should be better. There’s really no binding on the neck. There’s an appearance of a binding, but it’s just painted on, and the frets stick out slightly. Not a great deal, but more any guitar above $100 US. All my other guitars have had bindings – appears the frets are clipped and, if not filed and polished, a binding is applied which provides the needed buffer between fingers and sharp frets. They would have been wise to do that.

    Just my thoughts – CW

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