1785 Giovanni Battista Fabricatore

Naples, Italy

During the latter half of the eighteenth century many players began abandoning double courses in favor of single strings familiar to the modern instrument. To judge by contemporary reports, this was principally done for practical reasons, including the relative ease with which an instrument of single strings could be tuned and the strings engaged by the fingertips or nails. The addition of a sixth string in the bass was another major innovation.

Date 1785
Location Naples, Italy
Length of Guitar 890mm
String Length 630mm
Upper Bout Width 215mm
Waist Width 140mm
Lower Bout Width 258mm
Side Depth at Waist 52mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Pinewood | Sides: Pinewood | Details: Neck and heel inlaid with parallel bone strips.

Maker Biography

Performance Video

The journey to six single strings was often circuitous. Spain witnessed the evolutionary passage to the six-string guitar via the six-course guitar equipped with twelve strings. The Italians engaged in a short-lived flirtation with five single strings while the French path may have been influenced by the different stringing configurations of their lyre guitar.

There are many candidates for the earliest surviving six single-string guitar originating from various parts of Europe.  However, guitars consistently bear labels placing the city and country of origin as Naples, Italy. There is an interesting quote from 1836 by Filippo Isnardi of Naples: “He (Mauro Giuliani) demonstrated the invention of the sixth string, due to Maestro Fabbricatorello in Naples.” Isnardi could not have been referring to anyone else other than the renowned luthier and Giuliani’s fellow Neapolitan, Giovanni Battista Fabricatore (c. 1750–1812). Fabricatore was also a reputable violin and mandolin maker but is now more famous for his guitars; the majority of surviving eighteenth-century six-string guitars are by this maker.

The 1785 Fabricatore in the Austin-Marie Collection is a candidate for the earliest extant six single-string guitar. Its simple construction lacks back linings; instead – similar to a mandolin – paper is used to help keep the back secured to the sides. It is embellished with bone strips to the back of the neck and fitted with a simple tie bridge without a saddle. The back and sides are made of modest pinewood which has been stained to imitate rosewood. Its simplicity and plainness are in stark contrast to the elaborate Baroque-style guitars that were still being produced at that time.

Despite its relatively austere appearance, this guitar is recognized as one of the most historically significant guitars.