Extended Range Guitar

11 String Guitar

Like most classical guitarists, I play the conventional Spanish guitar with 3 nylon treble strings and 3 silver wound nylon filament strings. 

While I still enjoy the 6 string guitar, I have always appreciated lute music and early music in general. I have also made many guitar arrangements of music for other instruments such as lute and keyboard.

The lute is pear shaped, largely strung with gut courses (mostly pairs of strings tuned in unisons or octaves), has a low action and is most effectively played with the flesh of the fingertips. These points make it difficult for a musician to combine performing on lute and guitar using right hand fingernails and modern guitar technique.

My interest in making arrangements of other instruments' music and in playing early music more faithfully than possible on 6 string guitar, eventually led me to seek a guitar that had additional strings. In 2019 I commissioned my first 11 string guitar from the Swedish luthier Heikki Rousu.

11 String Guitar in Conventional Tuning by Heikki Rousu, 2019

In the case of my primary guitar, the first 6 strings are as on a normal guitar and the extra bass strings descend diatonically from the E 6th string, as in the Romantic tuning of a 10 string guitar. Strings are usually tuned (1-11) E, B, G, D, A, E, D, C, B, A, G but the extra basses are altered chromatically depending on key. 11 string guitars can alternatively have all strings of the same length and on the fretboard, in which case special strings are needed which gradually increase in thickness.

On my guitar the highest sounding 8 strings are frettable & of the same length (approximately 650 mm scale length). Strings 9-11 operate like diatonic harp strings, played open, and increase incrementally in length. The left hand stretch beyond 8 fretted strings is rarely needed in lute music so having a fretboard under strings 1-8 only, makes the neck less heavy. Having strings 9-11 as unfrettable, gradually increasing in length, means normal E 6th strings can be used, ensuring an even tone and easy availability. Strings 7 & 8 are respectively high and extra high tension E strings.

The advantages of my guitar compared to 6 string guitar are:

The potential disadvantages are:

The best known 11 string guitarist is probably Moran Wasser: https://youtu.be/abbSA08CBP0

11 String Alto Guitar by Roman Kutzenov, 2021

11 string alto: this is the more common type of 11 string guitar. It is similar to the above guitar by Heikki Rousu, but is higher in pitch, usually tuned as a normal guitar but up a minor 3rd from conventional tuning. My version is tuned up a major second.  It has a shorter scale length than the Rousu guitar, the neck joining the body at the 10th rather than 12th fret, and only 7 strings are frettable. The originator and most famous maker of 11 string alto guitars was Georg Bolin. The alto guitar's first and most celebrated performer is Goran Sollscher: https://youtu.be/PNXwkpsALJw

Other accomplished alto guitarists include:

Andreas Koch - here playing one of my compositions: https://youtu.be/5jAkr05Wras

Paulo Martelli: https://youtu.be/wJ_-robIesw

Nils Klöfver: https://youtu.be/BsdgMzfj6Zc

Carsten Grøndahl: https://youtu.be/gD92vUOQLSc

 13 String Guitar by Michael Sander, 2021

One of my main reasons for adopting 11 string guitars was to play Baroque lute music, which requires a lower bass range than that available on 6 string guitars. However lutes of that period were tuned very differently from the modern guitar. Consequently, even though my main 11 string guitar has a wider range than 13 course Baroque lute, it is not possible to play this lute music in its original form without some alteration, on my guitar.

In order to address this issue, I started seeking a 13 string guitar that could be strung and tuned as a Baroque 13 course lute, save for having single strings instead of the largely (double string) courses of a lute. In July 2023 I was fortunate to find a nearly new example of one of these guitars, made by the German luthier Michael Sander. The guitar uses special strings and is tuned like an open D minor chord, with basses descending diatonically below that. Strings 1-13 are: F, D, A, F, D, A (open D minor chord), G, F, E, D, C, Bb, A. With this guitar it is now possible for me to play directly from the Baroque lute tablature manuscripts of S. L. Weiss and of other composers of the period.

Michael's guitar has 8 fretboard strings of standard 650mm length and, tied to a separate headstock, 5 lower open bass notes. The guitar is made with only European woods, purposefully avoiding scarce tropical hardwoods, yet sounds excellent. I highly recommend Michael to those seeking a similar guitar. His website is: https://www.feinegitarren.de/en/guitars/multi-string-guitar.html

There are very few guitarists who use 13 string guitars tuned as Baroque lute. The most prolific recording artist of this type of guitar is Afshin Torabi: https://youtu.be/2mUGPcyX5FA?si=0piQhUxeVzyLgGJ4   

Another is Mark Anthony McGrath: https://youtu.be/-b-gUYiDFzk?si=4tfhUktOaf1y_Mms