1763 Jean Nicolas Lambert

Paris, France

The guitar in the seventeenth century was commonly employed in the accompaniment of song and dance using the rasgueado technique associated today with strumming in flamenco music. Although the term “flamenco guitar” is fairly new, elements of this emerging genre are evident in the eighteenth century particularly in the works of Santiago de Murcia (1673–1739). In addition to including popular regional dances and recognizable flamenco form, he exploited the golpe technique where the player uses the fingers to tap on the soundboard of the guitar.

Date 1763
Location Paris, France
Length of Guitar 944mm
String Length 634mm
Upper Bout Width 212mm
Waist Width 167mm
Lower Bout Width 268mm
Side Depth at Waist 90mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Maple | Sides: Maple | Details: Sunken finial rose is missing.


Five-course instruments strung with gut were tuned in various ways. Some players employed a re-entrant tuning (a-d’-g-b-e’) in which the fourth and fifth courses were both an octave higher than a modern guitarist would expect; others combined this with a lower octave on both courses or only on the fourth producing the so-called “French” tuning. The top string might be either single or double.

Many guitar composers used their tunings to achieve a ringing-on effect in scale passages called campanellas (little bells), an effect difficult to reproduce on a modern classical guitar. Gaspar Sanz utilized this quality in his Pavanas por la D from his Libro Segundo, de Cifras Sobre la Guitarra Española (Zaragoza, 1675). In the late 1630s, guitarists such as Giovanni Paolo Foscarini (active, 1600–1647) developed a mixed style where the player could sweep some or all of the strings with the nails of the right hand or upwards with the flesh while the fingertips could be used for plucking lute-like contrapuntal textures between the chords (hence the term “mixed-style”). This idiom was taken to its highest level by Francesco Corbetta (c. 1615–1681) of Pavia, especially in his two collections entitled La Guitarre Royalle (Paris, 1671 and 1674) published during his service in the English court at Whitehall.

By the 1720s there were signs throughout Europe that the guitar – played in any manner – had begun to lose its attraction at a time when plucked and fretted instruments in general were passing out of favor. Although the history of the guitar in the eighteenth century is not yet fully understood, it is clear that the instrument did not vanish altogether and that the second half of the century witnessed changes that paved the way for a remarkable trans-European revival between approximately 1795 and 1845.

By the second half of the eighteenth century, re-entrant tunings were abandoned in favor of bourdons (bass strings) on both the fourth and fifth courses. Overspun strings with a silk or gut core were now preferred, and although they had been available since the 1650s, they were not systematically used until late in the eighteenth century. By the 1770s, the arrangement with double courses was losing favor; after a brief period in which a five single-string guitar was fashionable, the common form known today was settled upon: the six-string guitar.

Until the late eighteenth century frets were not fixed but tied round the neck as gut ligatures. The player could therefore move the frets to make subtle changes according to key, temperament, or intonation; the position of the frets was ultimately a personal and pragmatic choice greatly influenced by the angle of the neck and the string action. The positioning of these frets was largely done by ear, although mathematical formulas were offered. Some instruments would have had frets fitted the entire length of the neck, while others used for strumming may have had as few as four.

The French violin maker Nicolas Lambert worked in Paris from around 1731 until his death in 1759 and made a variety of stringed instruments including guitars. However, instruments carrying his labels (such as the one in this collection from 1763) were still being produced in his workshop under his widow’s watchful eye. Lambert five-course guitars continued being produced until 1790 during the time the first six single-string instruments were being built and marketed in France.

The 1763 Lambert guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection has alternating striped back panels of maple and pear, a common design feature of his work. The head outline became the distinctive Paris-style head shape, one which the famed twentieth-century luthier Robert Bouchet would use some 200 years later. There are traces of a sunken finial rose still attached to the soundboard, an indication that the guitar was once fitted with a Baroque rose. Additional Baroque attributes include the moveable gut frets and five double courses, although the guitar’s top string may have been played as either a single or double.

William Henley said of Lambert, he was “the man who employs the mind as well as the hand.” Henley was referring to Lambert’s violins, but Lambert made many types of stringed instruments, and his inventiveness is apparent in his guitars too, evidenced by his double-top, five-course models. Today Lambert is considered one of the most important French guitar makers of the eighteenth century.