A New Variation of Bouzouki

Larry Carter -

Guittern combines a cittern-like tuning
with the body of a 12-string guitar
that has been modified to 10 strings.

I've played Guittern in the
Kansas Fiddling & Picking Contest
four times over the last 21 years
(Misc Acoustic Instruments Division)
and have won first place each time.
(As you can tell from this video, the judges
have been VERY forgiving of errors - largely,
I suspect, because the instrument just sounds so cool.)
Video is from August 2010 using a thumb pick.
Other years I've used flat pick for crisper sound.

More Guittern Videos
HERE is an original song based on a Mother Goose rhyme

The resonance of the sound produced by double-string instruments like mandolins, octave mandolins, bouzoukis and 12-string guitars is legendary. The modern cittern (sometimes called a 10-String Bouzouki, and definitely NOT to be confused with either a 16th century cittern or a 10-string guitar) is often played in Celtic bands and is my personal favorite double-string instrument.

The term "guittern" has been used rather loosely lately, even being applied to single-course instruments with 5 strings such as here. These all sound like worthy experiments, although I personally think the double-string approach is necessary before the "cittern" part of the name should be used. As I see it, the term "guittern" should be reserved for a 12-string guitar body modified for 10 strings. Any 12-string guitar can be easily converted to one, as I'll explain in detail below, but my personal preference is what the Giannini guitar company calls the "Craviola" design. Here is what mine looks like. Giannini guitars were originally made in Brazil, which where my first one was made. My current one was made in a Giannini plant in China, and it is remarkably well-made. Next to it is Jimmy Page playing his Craviola used in recording "Stairway to Heaven."
Considering that all the domain names for "guittern" were available when I checked on getting this "" domain, it appears no one else has given this instrument much notice. It is time for this remarkable instrument to claim it's standing as a new type of bouzouki. If you have ever played a cittern, imagine the possibilities if you had a LOW tonic down on the bottom of the scale providing a drone-like bottom end to the sound. Although it is tuned lower than a cittern due to the 12-string guitar's longer neck, a capo can easily bring it up to familiar keys. The range of sound from low to high on a guittern is so wide that new compositions might burst forth for you like they did for me, compositions that simply cannot be played on a cittern.

Even better, anyone with a 12-string guitar could experiment with one just by putting on different strings. If the sound doesn't appeal to you, just change the strings back to 12, put the tuners back on and be done. But if it does appeal to you... WOW!

Guittern lovers of the world, unite!

It was 1983 when I fell in love with the double-string sound of the modern cittern (some call it a 5-course bouzouki) after hearing a concert by Gerald Trimble and Johnny Cunningham. Even though Johnny was one of the greatest of all Scottish fiddlers, it was Gerald's cittern that captured my heart. Not only can Gerald be credited with introducing the modern cittern to the world stage, but his "First Flight" album showed a command of the instrument that, in my mind, is unmatched to this day.

As a guitarist, I REALLY wanted a cittern. Since they were basically hand-made by special order in those days by luthiers like Stefan Sobell, I did the next best thing and, the summer of 1989, I tried converting a 12-string guitar to a 10-string cittern. As is explained in detail below, it didn't work out as originally planned, but by continuing to modify the design I ended up with a new type of bouzouki with resonance that is astonishing and a range that is exhilarating.

I struggled with what to call this instrument for 25 years. At first I called it a 10-string guitar - until I found out that this is the name for a specific instrument that has been around for hundreds of years. There is even a chat room online where people share music, so that wasn't going to work. For the last 20 years I called it a baritone cittern - until I found out that a luthier had started making a baritone cittern, so I decided that wouldn't work either. I was lamenting this problem recently to Kelly Wertz , and he suggested "guittern." I had considered this before and thought it just sounded funny. Now, after two previous failures at naming, it sounds right.

Guittern. So, there you have it. Thanks, Kelly.

Larry Carter - www.LCarter.Com

There are two accounts regarding how I converted a 12-string guitar into a guittern. The first is the true story about the first tune I composed on Guittern, "The Bat in the Meadow." The story relates how, the first time I played the new instrument the morning following the conversion, it was promptly blessed by an interaction with a Little Brown Bat. Really! I hope to soon record an album of my original guittern songs and instrumentals that will include the tale of this serendipitous encounter, so check back.

What follows is the second version of the conversion - the nuts & bolts details for those of you who possess an extra 12-string guitar (I'll bet you're not playing it much anyway, right?), a fondness for the double-string sound of a cittern/bouzouki, and an experimental spirit.

Converting 12-string Guitar to Guittern

About the "Craviola" design: (from the website)

"A simple idea in 1969 from the great guitarist Paulinho Nogueira would become an international success: the Giannini Craviola. With an unusual shape and an unique sound, the Giannini Craviola made its mark and conquered fans around the world. It sounded a little like the Harpsichord (Cravo in Brazilian Portuguese) and a little like the 10-string Brazilian Viola; thus the Craviola name was born (Cravo + Viola = Craviola). Numerous musicians fell in love with the Craviola and helped to create its fame and identity across various musical styles. Among the most famous is Jimmy Page, guitarist and composer of the legendary classic rock group Led Zeppelin, who got to know the Craviola in the early 70's and recorded several hits with his 12-string model. The most widely known is the iconic "Stairway to Heaven", beloved by fans for its unique timbre that's often compared to instruments from Asia and the Middle East. Jimmy Page recorded other successes and made several live appearances at Led Zeppelin shows, further strengthening the Craviola's fame as "the instrument with in the shape of a drop". Other famous musicians known for playing the Craviola include Puerto Rican guitarist Jose Feliciano, as well as Luis Bonfa one of the fathers of the Bossa Nova. Giannini itself has a long and storied history, beginning in November of 1900, when renowned Italian luthier Tranquillo Giannini decided to pursue his dream of setting up a workshop to build acoustic instruments in Brazil. His dream proved a success, and to this day, Giannini continues to practice the lessons of the company's founder, bringing together time-honored techniques of Tranquillo's craftsmanship with the most efficient and modern methods of industrial technology. Giannini products are fully imbued with the reliability, craftsmanship, and ultimate care that have been the hallmark of the Giannini name since 1900."

The "Craviola" design was first developed by the Brazilian company Giannini.

My first thought was that I could just rebuild the bridge and nut (the top bridge) for 10 strings instead of 12, then tune it like a cittern only lower since a 12-string guitar's neck is much longer than a cittern's. I'd have to replace some of the original strings to get the double-string notes of a cittern rather than the octave-double-string set-up on a 12-string, so I bought new strings with a mind toward specific gauges. I followed one of the traditional cittern tuning (4-1-5-1-5 for you technical types reading this), specifically DD-AA-EE-AA-EE, low to high.

Two problems were immediately obvious:
1) The lowest double strings were so long that they rattled together and sounded awful.
2) Unless I wanted to build a new nut, the strings sat lopsided toward the lower side of the neck. This looked and felt awkward.

So, I started experimenting. First I removed one of the low strings. The single string sounded fine against the doubles, so that solved the first problem. Strings were now even more on the lower side of the neck, and that 10th tuner was now empty, so I got the idea of adding a 10th LOW string for the tonic (the 1) - an extra thick A string meant for an acoustic bass guitar. Now it was almost open-tuning for the key of A (A-D-AA EE-AA-EE , low to top), and I often use a capo to move it back up to the key of C, D or E. What I ended up with, then, is a 10-string cittern-like instrument that has six open notes rather five as on a cittern and a lower tuning.

If you have an extra 12-string guitar sitting around that you don't play anyway (hey, it can happen) and you want to experiment, I hope you will let me know how it turns out. I suspect you will love it.

Larry Carter
Email: Larry "at"

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