Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Checchucci Baroque Guitar Drawing

I have made a drawing of the guitar by Jacopo Checchucci, Livorno 1628, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Accession Number 2001.707 and I am publishing the PDF as a free download as a service to early guitar builders. The file size is 633 KB and the printed drawing measures 58 cm x 106.5 cm. The guitar was the subject of my post on April 25, 2012.

Click on the link to view and download the PDF  Checchucci Guitar Drawing

The drawing is full size and includes primary measurements and general details. Some features I recorded in greater detail because the designs are handsome or the style of construction is interesting. I have omitted representing the inlaid ivory arabesques because they would have been time-consuming and difficult to render accurately. I believe the photos that are included in this description will better represent this feature.

The back is constructed with seventeen deeply fluted ribs of ebony inlaid with ivory arabesques. Each rib is separated by a triple spacer of ivory-ebony-ivory varying in width around 2mm. The back is not perfectly constructed. At any cross-section the widths of the ribs are uneven. The rib edges in several locations are also uneven and the center rib is tilted (you can see this in the photo) so that the bass side is higher than the treble in the area

of the deepest part of the back. Inconsistencies such as these made it difficult to make templates of the longitudinal and cross-sectional profiles. I decided to use the bottom of the flute of the center rib for the longitudinal profile. The cross-sectional profile is represented showing the tilted rib but without the flutes.

Photo: Museum of fine Arts, Boston

The side ribs, displaying the intricacy of the arabesques, are angled inward from the top, all around the perimeter of the body. The degree of angle varies  2 to 4 degrees from 90 degrees. The largest angle is at the waist and the smallest at the heel of the neck. The smaller angle at the heel is probably a result of the neck pulling up under tension and twisting the front of the body; as the crease over the front block in the back attests.

The neck is glued to the front of the body and secured with a nail as restoration photos show. Astonishingly, the heel is placed off-center to the treble side and the neck is angled back towards the bass so that the nut lines up with the center-line of the body. I will mention the neck angle later, but for now you can see the heel's position in the photo by comparing the visible width of each side rib. Note that the narrow end of the heel lines up with the center rib of the back which is denoted by the tiny ivory heart. The arabesque pattern is also symmetrical. Although this area of the guitar had been severely damaged -- the neck had violently detached from the heel -- there is no doubt that this asymmetry is original.

The elaborate aesthetic of the arabesques continues onto the neck and fingerboard and both face and back of the peghead.

Looking closely, the triple line that borders the heel continues the length of the neck as seen in the photo. There is a second triple line that is visible only as a single line running along the bottom edge of the fingerboard. This area of the neck and over-lying soundboard had been damaged at some point and incompletely restored.

At the peghead end of the neck both triple lines are intact. The veneer sandwiched between the lines is not the same black ebony used with the arabesques, but a dark wood streaked with brown, offering a pleasant contrast.

The tuning pegs are ivory and most likely are original.

On the face of the peghead all of the elements come together in a balanced design. The center panel of black ebony with arabesques is delineated by triple lines of ivory-ebony-ivory mitred at the corners. A field of reddish-brown wood surrounds the center panel and frames the two rows of ivory pegs. This, in turn, is edged with the triple lines. The scalloped edge is actually solid black ebony glued to the edges of an unknown wood that forms the core of the head. The two joints of this assembly are hidden under the outer most triple lines. The end of the peghead is veneered on top with black ebony while the exposed end of the core is painted black.

The rear of the peghead retains the same design motifs but accommodates the V-joint of the neck. Notice (between the first and second set of pegs) how the arabesque flows uninterrupted from the curved surface of the neck onto the centre panel of the peghead. The same reddish-brown veneer that comprises the bordering field on the face of the head is used on the rear, including covering the end of the head.  To complete the design two triple edge lines run off the end of the head rather than closing with a perpendicular line joining the two as on the face.

The fingerboard is black ebony inlaid with the now characteristic ivory arabesques. A triple line of ivory-ebony-ivory provides a border set about 4mm from the edge. These lines terminate at the nut while at the soundboard end they were once, presumably, joined by the perpendicular triple line with mitred corners, but which now remains fragmented as the restoration, previously mentioned, was left incomplete in this area.

The two-headed eagle, in black mastic, may represent an association of the guitar with a member of the Hapsburg family as suggested by the Museum's explanation of its provenance.

Black mastic arabesques surround the rose and embellish the area below the bridge. The tiered rose is gilded parchment with red accents. A ring of thirty-two ivory triangles set in black mastic bordered on each side by triple lines of ebony-ivory-ebony completes the design.

The bridge is a modern replacement. I marked the position of the front edge of the bridge on my plan but I did not include a drawing of it. I think it was designed and constructed in such a manner as to compensate for problems arising during restoration and is only marginally representative of historical practice. My explanation is complicated: Any marks on the soundboard denoting the position of the original bridge are covered by the foot-print of the present bridge. This bridge measures 15.6mm front to rear and was likely constructed a little larger than the original in order to conceal the usual damage to the soundboard associated with a bridge that has detached. The replacement bridge is centered on the soundboard as you can see by comparing its position to the peak of the arabesque that is centered on the soundboard. However, the strings are attached to the bridge off-center to the treble side. This arrangement compensates for two construction features previously noted. First, the heel of the neck is off-center to the treble. Second, the angle of the neck is angled towards the bass to the extent that the nut is in line with the center-line of the guitar body. As a result of this manipulation the strings do lie properly over the fingerboard and the guitar is playable. There is no way to know whether this arrangement is a re-construction of the original.

The border around the perimeter of the soundboard is composed of 104 parallelograms of ivory set diagonally in black mastic in such a way as to create a saw-tooth pattern. The outer edge of the design is bound by an ebony/ivory strip while the inner edge is delineated by an ivory/ebony strip.

Acknowledgements. I would like to thank Darcy Kuronen, Pappalardo Curator of Musical Instruments, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for arranging my visit and sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm.

All photos are by the author unless otherwise noted.