A New Variation of Bouzouki
Larry Carter -

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

I've competed on Cittern-Guitar in the
Kansas Fiddling & Picking Contest
on four occasions between 1989 and 2010
(Miscellaneous Acoustic Folk Instrument Division)
and have been lucky to have won first place each time.
Video is from August 2010 using a thumb pick.
Other years I've used a flat pick for crisper sound.

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 or 5-course bouzouki, and 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.

It was 1983 when I fell in love with the double-string sound of the modern cittern 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 remains remarkable today.

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 and since there was no way I could afford a hand-made instrument, I did the next best thing and, in the summer of 1989, converted a 12-string guitar to a 10-string cittern. 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 added resonance that I really like.

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. Then I called it a Baritone Cittern, until I found out that a luthier had started making what he called a baritone cittern, so I decided that wouldn't work either. I then tried "Guittern," as you can see in the videos, but that sounded weird to me after a while. Now I'm just calling it a Cittern-Guitar.

I started with a standard cittern tuning - double strings in 4-1-5-1-5 configuration, low to high. Aside from the lower tuning relative to a cittern (easily solved with a capo) I was puzzled at first about how to keep the long double strings at the bottom from rattling against each other. My solution was to put a single string on the 4 and add a very low 1. This adds a low drone that I really like, plus has the advantage of making the spacing on the fret board more even. So, my tuning is now 1-4-1-5-1-5, low to high, starting with low A and using a capo to move up to (usually) key of D. So, it is still a 10-string instrument, but over 6 courses instead of 5.

I think it is time for this remarkable instrument to claim it's standing as a new type of bouzouki. Anyone with a 12-string guitar could experiment just by putting on different strings and a capo. If you like the sound, you might want to file the slots a little wider on the nut to accommodate wider strings, although if you always use a capo like I do even this isn't important. If the sound doesn't appeal to you, just change the strings back to 12 and be done.

is my most recent original recording
The Mouse Who Played The Fiddle
Cittern-Guitar, Mandolin, Bodhran


is a video of me performing a children's
song I based on a Mother Goose rhyme,
The Old Man in Leather

Why I start with a Craviola-style 12-string guitar

Any 12-string guitar could be easily converted to a Cittern-Guitar, but my personal preference is what the Giannini guitar company calls the "Craviola" design. I like the sound, and the distinctive look automatically says to most people that this isn't your standard 12-string. Giannini guitars were originally made in Brazil, although more recent ones are from their plant in China. Jimmy Page played his Craviola when recording "Stairway to Heaven."

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.

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