Sunday, October 5, 2014

Appointment in Edinburgh with Fabricatore and Staufer - Part 1 Staufer

Last Monday I visited Edinburgh University for an appointment to continue my study of nineteenth century guitars. At left is a Giovanni Fabricatore built in 1805, EUCHMI No. 290 and below is a Johann Georg Staufer built in 1829, EUCHMI No. 3838. I plan to devote a separate post to each instrument. I'll start with the J.G. Staufer.


Earlier in the history of the Staufer family the surname was spelled with one "f"as it still was when this guitar was built. "Staufer' is faintly visible just above the build number 480.

The Staufer is in nearly original condition including the nickel bar frets. For guitars that remain in playable condition these have usually been replaced with T-frets by modern players so it was special to see them. The fingerboard is not ebony or other hard exotic wood but a domestic  maple that was stained black. Here you can see that the stain has worn off through use in the first playing position. Note also that the string nut has been set up so that the first string lies further from the edge of the fingerboard than the sixth string -- a setup favored by many performers.

The replacement bridge is the one unhistorical feature. There is a pencilled note with the date 1963 on one of the back bars. Presumably this was when the current bridge was mounted. Probably at this time the thin plywood bridge plate that is found under the bridge was added  This  bridge is an example of a lack of understanding of the dynamics of Staufer's guitar design, as I will explain. The bridge block without the saddle is 12 millimeters high and the saddle adds another 6 mm.

This is about the same height that the fingerboard of the adjustable neck sits above the soundboard (17 mm). This is not what Staufer had in mind. He built his guitars with low bridges fitted with a bar saddle, rising  to only 6 or 7 mm above the soundboard. There is an acoustical advantage in having the strings lie this close to the soundboard. The disadvantage, if this were a conventional guitar, is that the players' fingers are cramped for space. The raised  neck of the Staufer design alleviates this problem and the neck's adjustability allows for further adjustment. For whatever reason someone chose to install a bridge that allowed the strings to lie parallel to the soundboard. Unfortunately but predictably, the increased torque generated by the high bridge caused the soundboard to collapse, threatening the guitar's integrity.

The soundboard has four harmonic bars, two above the rose, one to the bridge side of the sound hole and the fourth behind the bridge. I was able to measure the two bars nearest the sound hole, but access to the interior of the guitar was limited so I could only estimate the dimensions of the two distant bars. The bar directly to the neck side of the sound hole measures 22 mm high and approximately 7 mm thick. The bar nearest the front block appeared to be slightly smaller. The bar to the bridge side of the sound hole measures 17 mm high and approximately 8 mm thick. The fourth harmonic bar, the bar behind the bridge is much smaller; perhaps only 12 mm high tapering to 9 or 10 mmm before the beginning of a long scallop and then fitting into the lining at a height of only 2 or 3 mm.

These bars are shaped in the same style as the back bars with one exception that I'll explain later. As an example this photo shows the back bar at the guitar's waist. The wood grain is perpendicular to the bar's gluing surface, the sides are slightly tapered ending in a rounded top surface. The back bars end in a short scallop but the harmonic bars display longer scallops. Both sets of bars fit snuggly into low thin spruce linings. What doesn't show in the photo is the taper in bar height; highest in the center then tapering several millimeters to the beginning of the scallop.

The back was constructed with a single piece of maple that is lightly figured on its edges. The central part of the back has little curl and a grain pattern characteristic of wood cut well off the quarter. There is an advantage in using wood cut in this manner because the piece has a tendency to cup across the grain. This provides the maker with a partially pre-bent back. On this guitar the back is arched 4 mm across the lower bout, 2 mm across the waist and 3+mm across the upper bout.

A defining characteristic of Staufer's Legnani model is the longitudinal arch of the back. This is achieved by making the height of the side ribs progressively lower from the waist forward to the neck. On this guitar the depth of the rear is slightly less than the depth of the lower bout. The specific measurements including the thickness of the back and soundboard are: Rear 83 mm, lower bout 84 mm, waist 82 mm, upper bout 73.5 mm, neck 69 mm. The ribs are lightly figured maple.

I have already mentioned several features of the Staufer neck. This is a fine example so I will show the main features with a brief explanation.

Maple is used throughout and after all the shaping and fitting is completed the assembled neck is varnished  with black shellac. The peg head is made separately and is attached with a 'V' joint. The angle is 20 degrees.

The peghead is really cool. Six-a-side geared tuners fit in a cavity carved in the rear of the peg head. A beautifully engraved brass plate covers the workings. For contemporary aficionados reproductions of these tuners are available from several sources.

The heel is a separate block of maple glued to the neck and then shaped as one piece. Most of the heel is not visible as it protrudes into the guitar body. The rear surface is shaped to act as a fulcrum. The hole that is seen in the heel contains a screw that passes through and is treaded into the front block. By turning the screw with a clock key the neck angle can be adjusted; rising or lowering the distance of the strings above the fingerboard.

The edge banding of the soundboard mirrors sound hole rings.

This post is only half the story of my examination of the this guitar. It is the visual half. I made a profile tracing of the body and recorded numerous measurements. Soon I will make a working drawing that includes this information and post it on this site as a full size downloadable pdf.

All photos by the author.

Darryl Martin, Principal Curator, Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, graciously arranged my visit at a time of upheaval -- the home of the collection, St. Cecilia's,
is being readied for extensive renovations.

Doctoral student and Conservation Assistant, Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, kindly assisted my visit. By the way, Jonathan's thesis is on the lutes of Sixtus Rauwolf. Something to look forward to!

No comments:

Post a Comment