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Thread: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

  1. #1

    Default 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    So everyone here I'm sure knows the ambiguity surrounding what constitutes a cittern, bouzouki, OM, etc. It seems like the general consensus is 5-course is a cittern, 4-course long scale is a bouzouki, and a shorter scale 4-course is an octave mandolin.

    Anyways, I have seen several pictures such as this Sobell: Click image for larger version. 

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    Every time I see these 6-course citterns, I always ask myself "how this is different from a twelve string guitar?" and "how is a twelve string guitar not a cittern?"

    Shape? Tuning? Style of playing? Whether the player wants to be referred to as a cittern player or not?

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    Butcherer of Songs Rob Zamites's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Tuning.
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  4. #3

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    I've currently got my carbon fibre 12 string guitar in with a tech being setup to be fully unison strung like the Veillete Gryphon etc but full 25.5 scale.

    It's not a permanent plan for a 6 course cittern type thing but rather to explore extended OM/zouk/cittern tuning options before committing to a new instrument. I think 6 courses might be a bit too much of handful despite being primarily a guitarist and a regular 12 string player.

    Initially I'm going to string it up DGDAdg (CGDAeg) though I've doubts about the high g course on that scale.

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    Registered User Niall Anderson's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    <Crack... Pop...> - a can of worms has just been opened...

    I tend to use the same sort of mental short hand as Boatswain to describe these instruments, but recognise that there's no particular accepted set of definitions and I wonder if we really need to have such a thing anyway? I think all these instruments exist on a continuum, and players and makers regularly expand away from the "archetypal" OM or cittern etc by changing tuning or adding a course of strings or using a guitar body in place of an onion-shaped body or...

    My main instrument is a 10 string, 65cm scale, unison strung instrument with an onion-shape body - it's simultaneously a 10 string bouzouki and a long-scale cittern (sort of a quantum superposition, really...), by one typology at least. The Sobell 12 string instruments (think maybe 3-4 have been made like this) seem to me to be citterns (by body shape and maybe bracing, and therefore sound - guess that would identify my starting point for instrument identification, actually), but are instruments that have headed off towards the guitar-end of the continuum, more so than my whatever-it-is, anyway. Joseph Sobol owns one of these Sobells and occasionally posts here - maybe he'll pop in to tell us how he views the instrument and how he uses it?

    Guess the main thing is that an instrument will give the player the sound and usability they want, in which case they should probably just duck the naming issue and call it Fred...

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    Luthier&Pickup maker ret. Soundfarmer Pete's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Originally, the back and neck of citterns were usually carved from a single piece of wood and the body was shallower at the bottom end of the body - deeper at the start of the neck which is the opposite to most instruments today......then there were English Guitars....usually 10 strings but with a deeper body and built up construction...a development of the cittern.
    The Portuguese guitar was a development of the English Guitar - similar but with 12 strings.
    So, I`d say it`s a Long Scale Portuguese Guitar

  8. #6

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Thanks for the posts guys!
    I guess until someone tunes one of these 6-course citterns into that of a guitar style tuning, it is still a cittern! Nevertheless I have in fact heard that Sobell's 12-string guitars "do well/best in open tuning," which makes me wonder if the 12-string guitar is now a cittern(?!). Anyways, it's a "debate" that can be argued both ways. I think I also read an interview with Andy Irvine (or maybe on his website, can't remember) where he mentioned that many people mistakenly believe his guitar-shaped bouzouki is guitar. He then went on to joke that perhaps if it was considered a guitar he could get bookings to play at guitar festivals as well!

    I have seen Joseph Sobol's cittern playing videos on youtube, and the newer ones do seem to feature him playing a 6-course Sobell cittern. I wouldn't know where to begin with 6-courses to be honest. I guess he came from a classical guitar background though.

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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Hey, who cares what you call it? An electric GUITAR is so completely different than an acoustic GUITAR. Compare Segovia with Hendrix. Both guitarists. An organ is so completely different than a piano. The shape of the cittern defines the tone, just as the shape of a guitar does. The tuning has an effect as well. All this is useful for those who are interested and want to know which is which. In the end, play music.

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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    I forgot to add that Stefan Sobell makes 6 course 12 string citterns, with the lute shaped body. I think the body shape helps produce the mando family tone.

  11. #9

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Well I now have a 12 string guitar unison strung like a bouzouki plus a high g and low D, DGDAdg.

    The GDAd sound good, like a guitar bouzouki unsurprisingly. The high g is a little weak in tone (8s), might try 9s but I suspect the scale length is just too long. The low D course sounds huge, too huge I'll try octave stringing it or dropping it to a single string.

    It is quite a handful however I'll persist with it but I think 5 course is enough and DGDad will be best at that scale and GDAdg needs to be on 24 inches or less.

    You could of course (pardon the pun) go for more than 6

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    5 Blessings Sweetpea44's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Yikes!
    Be true to your teeth, or they'll be false to you!

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    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by paganskins View Post
    The high g is a little weak in tone (8s), might try 9s but I suspect the scale length is just too long.
    The high g string in many standard 12 string sets is a .010. That should work for your 25.5 inch scale.

  14. #12

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    The high g string in many standard 12 string sets is a .010. That should work for your 25.5 inch scale.
    I've got some 9s and 10s in readiness for a bit of experimenting

  15. #13

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by vernob View Post
    Hey, who cares what you call it? An electric GUITAR is so completely different than an acoustic GUITAR. Compare Segovia with Hendrix. Both guitarists. An organ is so completely different than a piano. The shape of the cittern defines the tone, just as the shape of a guitar does. The tuning has an effect as well. All this is useful for those who are interested and want to know which is which. In the end, play music.
    Just came across this thread, and yes, I have two Sobell 12-string citterns tuned CFCFCF bottom-to-top. Also have a couple of Goodall 12-string guitars, one tuned like the citterns and the other tuned CGCGCD. At various times i've tuned the citterns CGCGCD as well, and for awhile I had one of them in standard guitar tuning, EADGBE.

    Generally one can call them according to the tradition of building and the musics played on them that help define that tradition. Sobell calls the instruments citterns whether they're 5 or 6 courses--he used to call his 8-strings citterns too, unless they had 26" a scale, in which case he called them bouzoukis. Instruments with double bouts and a narrow waist he calls guitars, and so do I.

    The citterns have a sharper attack and brighter tone, with more high-end and upper mids, while the guitars are warmer, deeper sounding with fatter bass and lower mids. Materials make some difference--the guitars are rosewood and cocobolo, dark woods, while the citterns are mahogany and koa. But the main sonic signatures i think come from the tops--carved arches vs. flat plate--and the body shapes--teardrop vs. waisted.

  16. #14

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Very interesting points everyone!
    I think Joseph made a good point regarding the carved top vs flat-plate top; I recently got ahold of a run-of-the-mill Washburn 12-string guitar and compared it tonally to my Sobell (a 5-course, however). The bass certainly is much, much flatter with lower mids on the guitar. The Sobell is definately much brighter.

    I also like the comparison made between the organ and piano, or perhaps maybe even harpsichord. There are obviously more prominant differences between those instruments than there exists between 6-course citterns and 12-string guitars, however I think everyone gets the idea.

    The comment about tradition is also very important; is an onion shaped mandolin a bandolim? Well, perhaps only if the player associates with that tradition of music.

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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Let's see: two Sobers and two Goodalls. Yikes. Well, I had three children. That's why my cittern is home made!

  18. #16

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by vernob View Post
    Let's see: two Sobers and two Goodalls. Yikes. Well, I had three children. That's why my cittern is home made!
    That about sums it up.

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    Oscar Stern s11141827's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Boatswain View Post
    So everyone here I'm sure knows the ambiguity surrounding what constitutes a cittern, bouzouki, OM, etc. It seems like the general consensus is 5-course is a cittern, 4-course long scale is a bouzouki, and a shorter scale 4-course is an octave mandolin.

    Anyways, I have seen several pictures such as this Sobell: Click image for larger version. 

Name:	head.jpg 
Views:	1665 
Size:	137.4 KB 
ID:	130150

    Every time I see these 6-course citterns, I always ask myself "how this is different from a twelve string guitar?" and "how is a twelve string guitar not a cittern?"

    Shape? Tuning? Style of playing? Whether the player wants to be referred to as a cittern player or not?
    It's a cross between a 12 String Guitar & Cittern. Same Tuning, Strings, & Scale Length as a 12 String Guitar (I use AC210 Strings for a Slick Jazz Feel & Mellower sound) but the body is tapered to make the higher notes easier to reach on the fretboard.

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    Oscar Stern s11141827's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Boatswain View Post
    So everyone here I'm sure knows the ambiguity surrounding what constitutes a cittern, bouzouki, OM, etc. It seems like the general consensus is 5-course is a cittern, 4-course long scale is a bouzouki, and a shorter scale 4-course is an octave mandolin.

    Anyways, I have seen several pictures such as this Sobell: Click image for larger version. 

Name:	head.jpg 
Views:	1665 
Size:	137.4 KB 
ID:	130150

    Every time I see these 6-course citterns, I always ask myself "how this is different from a twelve string guitar?" and "how is a twelve string guitar not a cittern?"

    Shape? Tuning? Style of playing? Whether the player wants to be referred to as a cittern player or not?
    Well it's a Hybrid. According to this bookClick image for larger version. 

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ID:	205400 you could tune the instrument (w/ a set of Thomastik Infeld AC210 Strings for that Slick Jazz feel) down a whole step to C, F, C, G, C, F (it takes advantage of the Longer Scale Length) & if you put a capo on the 2nd Fret you now have D, G, D, A, D, G. The capo also opens up the possibility of transposing to a key that's easy to sing.

  21. #19
    Oscar Stern s11141827's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    The high g string in many standard 12 string sets is a .010. That should work for your 25.5 inch scale.
    Actually they nowadays usually use an 8 to keep the tension down so it doesn't break, it's a whole step below the High A on a Tenor Guitar.Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	205401 & interestingly enough, the Treble Strings are Brass Plated to produce a Special Sound.

  22. #20
    Oscar Stern s11141827's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    I know what this is Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	205408 this is a Sobell Guitars 12 String Guitar Cittern (aka Large Bodied Bouzouki).

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    Registered User zoukboy's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Nope. No guitar to it. It's Stefan's 10 string "cittern" expanded to 6 pairs of strings. Has nothing to do with 12 string guitar. Trust me, I saw the first one SS built in 1984 for Brian McNeil.

  24. #22
    Oscar Stern s11141827's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by zoukboy View Post
    Nope. No guitar to it. It's Stefan's 10 string "cittern" expanded to 6 pairs of strings. Has nothing to do with 12 string guitar. Trust me, I saw the first one SS built in 1984 for Brian McNeil.
    There's actually the Folkfriends 12 string Guitar Cittern which is the same thing but bigger.

  25. #23
    Registered User PT66's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%BAd Or maybe a long neck laud?
    Dave Schneider

  26. #24

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    Quote Originally Posted by s11141827 View Post
    I know what this is Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	205408 this is a Sobell Guitars 12 String Guitar Cittern (aka Large Bodied Bouzouki).
    That's Pumpkin (1997)!

  27. #25

    Default Re: 6-course Cittern or funny shaped 12-string guitar...?

    I know of 7 Sobell 12-string citterns in the world at the moment:

    Brian McNeill's short-scale (22") 12-string from 1984,
    Ian Hartland's guitar-length cittern from the later 80s,
    the 17" jumbo cittern that was made for me in 1992 (I called it Big Ed) and later was owned by Henry Kaiser,
    another from around the same time that Andy Marshall had
    a cedar/mahogany 24" scale made for me in 1997, pictured above, with Sobell's regular large-cittern body (15" wide)
    a port orford cedar/koa instrument (Goldie), also 24" scale, made for me in 2011
    Bearclaw sitka/African blackwood ("Vincent") finished in 2019.

    Stefan doesn't keep detailed records, so had nothing to add to this list. But he has made several 12-string guitars as well. His favorites are archtop instruments like his 1931 carved-top Martin C-1 that he modeled the carving on his original citterns on--12-fret to the body with a 25.5" scale. The takeaway from this is that he likes to explore the frontiers between these different classes and lineages of fretted instruments, to find out what works.

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