The Spanish Vihuela and the Italian Viola da Mano
The vihuela is the instrument of choice for performing the music of the Spanish Golden Age (16th century) vihuelistas such as Luis Milan, Luis de Narvaez, and Alonso Mudarra - to name just the most prominent composers for this wonderful instrument. The vihuela shares its tuning with the 6 course lute, which at the time was favored in the rest of Europe. Therefore, if necessary, both instruments can be interchangeably used for the performance of both repertoires. The vihuela’s main morphological difference is its guitar-like shape. Due to its shallow body and slight difference in stringing (4th, 5th, and 6th courses are tuned in unisons), it has a quite different voice and timbre, somewhat “darker“ compared to the bright and silvery 6 course lute.
The vihuela was enormously popular and iconographic evidence abounds, but we know almost nothing of what the actual playing instruments were like. Only three actual instruments survive, and each provides both suggestions and challenges to the builder. It is left to us, the builders, to determine what works, including proportions, materials and internal structure. I build my instruments very lightly, like a lute, and they are very resonant, with a sweet, bright sound. I have found a shape and proportion that is very pleasing to the eye and ear.
The vihuela is an ideal six course instrument: not only suitable to the music of the vihuela masters, but to all of the earlier six course lute literature. It is very comfortable to hold and to play and its slim case makes it an ideal travel instrument. Evidence suggests that vihuelas often did not use octave strings in the bass, and I find that works well, but some prefer lute style octave stringing, and that works well, too.
While I generally build 6 course vihuelas, we know that 7 course instruments also
I offer these models:
My own design 6 or 7 course 590-630mm Mensur;
"Chambure", with scalloped back and additional ornamentation;
Viola da mano 650mm Mensur, multi piece sides, multi piece bolted back.
All these models have a 10-fret neck.