This is Viktor van Niekerk, author of http://www.tenstringguitar.INFO
With that site you have definitely reached the right place for answers to your questions regarding Narciso Yepes's 10-string guitar. (A related and also informative page is: http://www.youtube.com/user/tenstringguitarINFO
A few words about http://www.tenstringguitar.INFO
It is endorsed by the official Narciso Yepes website and heirs of the maestro as currently being the definitive resource for all things related to the modern 10-string guitar designed by Yepes. The contents of the site are based on various primary sources. As the author, I have a direct link to Narciso Yepes through his long-time student, my teacher of 12 years and fellow 10-string guitarist Fritz Buss (http://www.tenstringguitar.info/index.php?p=2_1
). (Aside from Godelieve Monden, it is arguable whether anyone had a longer apprenticeship with Yepes than Buss who, moreover, was present as Yepes's disciple before, during, and after the construction of the first modern 10-string guitar according to Yepes's design.)
In addition, the material on http://www.tenstringguitar.INFO
has been supplemented by pieces of information from Ana Yepes, Godelieve Monden, Ismael Barambio and other former students of Yepes. Moreover, I have investigated through academic channels practically every available and obscure video, recording, publication, thesis, interview, review and article related to this topic (many of which, unfortunately, are tainted more by well-intentioned misinformation than by uninformed criticism; so it has been necessary to separate the kernels of truth from the chaff).
In addition, numerous unpublished autograph manuscripts (transcriptions and editions in Yepes's handwriting, or of composers' original works) are in my possession and pertinent information gleaned from them has also contributed to the site. (Credit for supplying these rare documents goes mainly to Godelieve Monden and Fritz Buss.)
Of course, the site has also been informed by my own experience and original research over the past 16 years, since I first dedicated myself as a specialist on the modern 10-string guitar at the age of 14. Through my research, many unknown original compositions have been added to our repertoire database (as well as new commissions). Moreover, having previously studied baroque music with a musicologist, a harpsichordist, a conductor and a pianist, and having made numerous transcriptions of baroque lute music from the tablature Urtexts, I am presently compiling an extensive anthology of baroque lute music for 10-string guitar as part of a Masters in Music performance thesis. I aim to have this published by 2013. Recently, under the guidance of Fritz Buss (now aged 81, still teaching, and a living treasure), I have written a method book for the 10-string guitar, with about 300 exercises and about 45 minutes of repertoire of all periods from the Renaissance to the present day, with particular emphasis on baroque lute and 19th century multi-string guitar music. Graded appropriate for those new to the 10-string guitar up to an intermediate level, these transcriptions of lute music have nonetheless been done in accordance with baroque style and aesthetics, without taking liberties that denature either the music or the modern 10-string guitar. The method book with exercises and repertoire should be available from http://www.tenstringguitar.INFO
and/or Amazon from early/mid 2012.
For any particular questions or help, I am always available if time permits, through the contact page of http://www.tenstringguitar.INFO
(though probably not here, as I seldom frequent these forums - a friend informed me that someone asked for advice here).
One point that the site does not presently address is the invention of the modern 10-string guitar. I have the following chronology from the witness of Fritz Buss and members of the Yepes family who were present at the time, as well as from interviews with Narciso Yepes and composer Maurice Ohana:
The concept of the modern 10-string guitar as designed by Yepes is unrelated to 10-stringed harp guitars of the 19th century. Yepes had a totally different rationale for his instrument. In the 1950's and early 60's, Yepes had already expressed unhappiness at two things: 1) having to cut out notes and alter many bass lines to play Bach and other baroque composers' lute music on the 6-string guitar, and 2) the fact that the guitar does not offer the interpreter the same level of control over the envelopes of all 12 chromatic notes as does the piano with its pedals. (Envelope = the way in which a sound's characteristics of timbre, volume and sustain/decay change over time.)
Some notes on the guitar have a natural sustain/reverb. Play any E, A, B, or D on a treble string, stop it or shift position in the left hand, and the exact same, unison note will be heard continuing to sustain as a harmonic on one of the bass strings. Because there are two harmonics (and their octaves) on each bass string that are in tune with Equal temperament (ET) - fretted notes being in ET - a bass string acts as a sympathetic string or tuned resonator for any treble note that corresponds to one of those two ET harmonics and their octaves. Both high E's and B's sound rich and sustain on the 6-string guitar because their harmonics on the 6th string (its octaves and fifths) vibrate in sympathy when E or B is played. Play B-flat or E-flat in the same way and by comparison they are relatively dry and clipped.
Around this time Jose Ramirez III had just built a 12-stringed "guitarra de amor" after the concept of the viola d'amore. It was presented both to Segovia and to Yepes for their opinions; neither of whom liked the fact that the resonance could not be controlled. The problem with this instrument, as with the viola d'amore was this: the playing strings and the sympathetic strings (which were inside a hollow neck) were tuned to the same pitches. So the guitar's inclination for over-ringing E's, A's, B's and D's was augmented by adding more strings that sympathize with the same already over-ringing notes, but none that enrich the other relatively poorer sounds. For an extensively trained musician (which Yepes was, but not Ramirez III) this concept was untenable, leading to muddy, confused harmony and notes ringing over others arbitrarily and not according to real, musical interpretative requirements. One needs control, the choice of whether the sustain or stop any sound, just as on the piano.
Yepes continued to give the resonance problem as well as the lute repertoire problem considerable thought. One day in 1963 while he was touring Japan and his thoughts were perhaps clearer, Yepes realized some important points:
1) Four notes (whatever their octave) have relatively longer sustain envelopes and richer timbres on the guitar: E, A, B, and D.
2) The other eight notes of the chromatic scale (whatever their octave and including their enharmonic equivalents) are relatively more inclined to sound clipped/dry and cannot be sustained by sympathetic resonance. (It is like a piano where the pedal can sustain all E, A, B and D notes, some G's but not all, but for the most part when the pedal is used on the other notes it either doesn't work at all or yields some indistinct sound.)
3) A bass string's ET harmonics sympathize with fretted notes, which are also ET. (Fretted ET notes are not in tune enough to make the other harmonics in natural tuning vibrate much in sympathy.) Thus a bass string acts as a tuned resonator for two notes and their octaves. These two notes are the fundamental and the compound perfect 5th.
4) If EIGHT notes (C, C#, D#, F, F#, G, G#, A#, and their octaves and enharmonic equivalents) are lacking the same, unison sympathies, only FOUR strings TUNED A PARTICULAR WAY needed to be added to the guitar to have consistent and controllable envelopes for all the chromatic notes. (More elements of the interpretation are then under the control and choice of the performer rather than the arbitrary nature of the instrument. The guitar has entered the stage of refinement that the piano did when it received its pedals.)
5) To achieve this, the four strings would as a fact of acoustic science have to be tuned:
C - for harmonics sympathizing with its octaves and 5ths: C and G
A#/Bb - for harmonics sympathizing with its octaves and 5ths: A#/Bb and F
G#/Ab - for harmonics sympathizing with its octaves and 5ths: G#/Ab and D#/Eb
F#/Gb - for harmonics sympathizing with its octaves and 5ths: F#/Gb and C#/Db
Once Narciso Yepes had come to this realization, he set his mind to solving the question of baroque lute music by deciding on the particular octaves of his additional strings as well as their configuration, their placement on the fingerboard for the most practical purposes.
Of course he knew very well that guitarists have traditionally transposed baroque lute music up a whole tone from the version for lute, and with good reason. Firstly, historical precedents show that transposition was a common practice in the baroque, not only in writing but even at sight. There are many examples of Bach and other baroque composers changing the keys of their own and other composers' works when arranging them for different media. As for guitarists, we have commonly done so not only to have access to more of the bass notes of the original and not only to make the pieces easier on the guitar. What my research into the performance and transcription of baroque lute music has shown is that the most important reason for transposition is to have the same open trebles and the same intervals between the trebles on the guitar as on the lute, allowing us as guitarists to execute most of the lute's characteristic campanella effects, slurs, open and stopped fingerings on the treble strings of the guitar. When we transpose a lute piece in D minor to E minor for the guitar, or from G major to A major, the lute tablature for courses 2-4 can be played exactly as it is written on the guitar's strings 1-3, with the same open strings, same slurs, same cross-string effects. In the "original" key this is not possible at all. ("Original" key becomes a moot point anyway when we consider that nominal pitch in baroque music could mean a large variety of actual pitches, unlike our present day standardised pitch.)
So, Yepes realized that for 11-course lute music with basses tuned (in scientific pitch notation) A2-G(#)2-F(#)2-E2-D2-C2, when we transpose the key of the music up a whole tone, we need the following open basses (because they are often used together with stopped notes in high positions): B2-A(#)2-G(#)2-F(#)2-E2-D2. Of these, B2 can always be fretted in any low or high position (string 5 fret II; string 6 fret VII) so to assign it to an open string would be unnecessary. A2 and A#2 are available as open strings 5 and 8. G(#)2 is available for baroque lute music as (resonator) string 9. F(#)2 is available for baroque lute music as resonator string 10. E2, of course, is string 6. And finally, for the D2 bass needed for 11-course baroque lute music, the lowest resonator string, C2, can be sharpened up to D2. As most baroque lute music was written for 10- and 11-course instruments, this already solves most of the problems.
But what about 13- and 14-course lute works such as Bach, and Weiss's mature pieces? Applying the same transposition required to make playing over the trebles more idiomatic, the 13-course lute music now only goes down to a low B1 (a half step below C2). Only the very rare 14-course baroque lute works with a low G1 thus ever require a low A1. Yepes thus decided to make 7=C2 his lowest bass string, with 8=Bb/A# re-entering a minor 7th higher up. The brilliant decision to make 7=C the lowest string meant that Yepes would be able to raise the pitch of C2 to D2 for 11-course lute music (transposed) and for 7-string guitar music by Coste. It also meant that he could lower the 7=C2 to a B1 for 13-course lute music (transposed) and FRET other low basses such as C#2 and D#2 on the 7th string, without having dedicated strings for each low bass note. Rarely, for 14-course lute music (transposed) the 7=C2 is lowered to A1, e.g. BWV 995 in A minor.
This meant being able to perform baroque lute music without having to denature the solution he found for the resonance. Whenever the strings are not actively played or retuned, they can be left in their standard tuning, serving their primary musical purpose, as untouched, tuned resonators.
Having solved these problems in 1963, while in Japan, Yepes sent a letter/fax to Ramirez III explaining exactly the logic behind his design. But Ramirez refused to build it. Later Yepes responded that if Ramirez considered it impossible or was not interested, he would take his business to Fleta and stop using Ramirez guitars. So Ramirez said, yes, it's possible! In fact, the job was largely given to Paulino Bernabe Snr, then a guitar builder working for Ramirez at the Ramirez shop. According to Yepes's widow, Marysia, and other sources, it was Bernabe who built the first "Ramirez" 10-string guitar according to Yepes's design. (Though Ramirez III also probably deserves some credit for aspects of the construction that he oversaw.)The rest is history, because Bernabe opened his own shop and Yepes played Bernabe guitars for the rest of his life.
I offer this story because I anticipate attacks from detractors who will want to claim that Yepes did not invent the modern 10-string guitar. Of course, guitars with the same number of strings existed in the 19th century. The similarities are quite arbitrary. Carulli's "decacorde", as he says in the preface to his method book for that instrument, was designed mainly for amateurs, to make playing of "difficult" bass notes simpler. (This has nothing to do with the acoustic and aesthetic refinements sought by Yepes.) Then there was the Scherzer/Mertz harp guitar. The purpose of this was to extend the bass range of the guitar. Appropriately, those instruments had theorboed or "free floating" basses of a longer scale length than the 6th string: they were, after all, intended to be tuned to very low pitches. Yepes's modern 10-string guitar was primarily designed for the resonance rationale, secondarily for one low string (7), which is seldom tuned below B1, hence the fact that the strings are NOT theorboed, but all of a slightly longer, 665mm scale length, between one nut and one saddle.
Unfortunately, before the advent of the internet and the possibility of finding out information from people like myself or Fritz Buss or Godelieve Monden or Ismael Barambio who have direct insights into maestro Yepes's work, 20-30 years ago a lot of people all over the world heard Yepes in concert and on recordings and were attracted to the sound of his guitar (they might even have had the odd master class with him), but they lacked any reliable information on his 10-string guitar and he did not always explain it very clearly either. What has consequently happened is that two entirely unrelated concepts have been messed together like a confusion of eyebrows for moustaches. On the one hand, the 19th century or Romantic harp guitar as built by Scherzer and played by Mertz, whose theorboed basses were tuned D2, C2, B1, A1. On the other hand, Yepes's "modern" 10-string guitar with its tuned string resonators: C2, Bb2, G#2, F#2. Some string manufacturers, misinformed by the demand of guitarists who did not have access to information, compounded the confusion by bringing out tuning sets that for their purposes they distinguished as "Modern" tuning and "Baroque" tuning (the so-called "baroque" tuning being not at all the tuning of the 10- or 11-course baroque lute, but in fact the tuning of the 19th century Scherzer/Mertz harp guitar). Through this false advertising, dearth of information, and hearing low basses in Yepes's recordings but not knowing his technical approach or that he used a special 7th string, the misinformation has developed its own mythology, a system of belief with many devotees. It is not uncommon to find videos of people talking about the rationale of playing a 10-string guitar, tacitly quoting Yepes on resonance or on stylistically more appropriate bass lines, but in fact having wrong tuning systems on the guitars that do not sympathize in the same way, or taking liberties with baroque bass lines that are far less stylistically appropriate than the changes 6-string guitarists have to make. (Then I'd rather listen to a good 6-string guitarist like David Russell.)
I use a strong word, yes, "wrong" tunings. Because a modern 10-string guitar has not been designed for low basses, otherwise they would be theorboed. Wrong, yes, because, having studied the science of acoustics and Yepes's primary rationale for designing the modern 10-string guitar, the mathematics and the empirical proof show that only this one tuning, the so-called modern/Yepes/standard/normal tuning of C-Bb-G#-F#, supplies the needed equal tempered harmonics that give the guitar sympathetic string resonances in unison with the 12 notes of the chromatic scale - in fact, with every one of the fretted treble string notes from the open G3 (3rd string) up to the highest fret of the 1st string. Contrary to this, a tuning like D-C-B-A, while fine for the purposes of period performers specializing in 19th century instruments, does the exact opposite on a modern 10-string guitar than the reasons for which Yepes designed the instrument. The D-string adds more resonance for D and A notes. The B ads more resonance for B's. The A adds more resonance for A and E notes. So you end up with lots of A's, E's, B's and D's constantly over-ringing across multiple strings, having to be damped. And the disparity between E and D#, B and A# grows even bigger, not at all more refined and more controllable according to the needs of the music. This is what Yepes said was the "exact opposite" of his design of the modern 10-string guitar, when he denied any similarity between his invention and the viola d'amore. The final word is, Narciso Yepes did not use a "baroque"/Romantic/DCBA tuning; no way, no how!
So, when judging a 10-string guitar or a 10-string guitarist, it should be born in mind that a book cannot be judged by its cover, because not everything that looks like a Yepes/Modern 10-string guitar (and not everything that is touted as one) is in fact a Yepes/Modern 10-string guitar. It depends on the tuning and the configuration of the strings.
It is also worth knowing that to find a good 10-string guitar is very rare and very expensive. Now there are cheap Chinese made instruments. But having tried some of these and other more expensive Western ones, there are a lot of problems that still need to be addressed. The typical mistakes made by luthiers who don't really know enough about the 10-string guitar are:
1) The neck is too heavy. In good 10-string guitars like Bernabe or original/real Ramirez 10-strings, the neck is very light and not at all imbalanced. (I say "real" Ramirez guitars because I am aware of some people who, if not illegally then certainly unethically have turned Ramirez 6-string guitars into bad 10-string guitars, mistakenly believing there is no difference between the tops and bracing of the two. The 10-string tops/soundboards, in fact, are thicker, and the bracing, in fact has some differences like the transverse bar.)
2) The scale length is too short, affecting the quality of the low 7th string's sound and resulting in buzzing strings. 10-string guitars should be of a 665mm scale length, 5mm more than the bigger 660mm 6-string scale lengths. Yes, it's more difficult! This is not an amateur instrument. Attempts to simplify it are putting bad 10-string guitars out there that serve as justification for detractors who say, look, the 10-string guitar, it sounds awful, what a joke. But it is not that the 10-string guitar is by definition bad. It's that people who don't know what they're doing are building bad 10-string guitars. (If they read this, instead of being angry at me, the wise thing to do would be to go away and use my sincere, expert opinion offered here and simply MAKE BETTER INSTRUMENTS in future that cannot be ridiculed either by an expert 10-string guitarist or by enemies of the 10-string guitar.)
3) Another typical problem on poorly built 10-string guitars is that the trebles (especially the 1st) sound thin and unbalanced with over-booming basses. Again, this can probably be explained by misconceptions about the thickness of the top and bracing. I am convinced that a luthier who is informed about the standard tuning of a modern 10-string guitar and the function it serves for sympathetic resonance would change the bracing ever so slightly for best balance of sound, as opposed to a luthier who builds it thinking it's meant for low basses, or one who doesn't think about these things at all.
Now, I am sure there will be critics of what I've written here who don't like what I have to say. I'm not going to respond to their grumbles here because I have books to write and recordings to make and no time. I think we are all adults here and people can make up their own minds about who is informed about the Yepes 10-string guitar, or acoustics, or baroque performance practise, etc. After all, as someone surprisingly but (I'll admit) a little bit flatteringly pointed out the other day, consider the timeline from teacher to student:
Francisco Tarrega - Estanislao Marco - Narciso Yepes - Fritz Buss - ...
Viktor van Niekerk
PS. I'm honestly happy to answer further questions from anyone who reads this, and happy to share any resources that I have (unless copyrighted), but please through the contact application on http://www.tenstringguitar.INFO