1820 Joseph Rieger

Mittenwald, Germany

Joseph Rieger (1776–1830) was the son of the violin maker Anton Rieger of Mittenwald. During the nineteenth century, Mittenwald was Germany’s second largest violin making center after Markneukirchen. Originally a Bavarian outpost that was quite literally mitten im Wald, “in the middle of the woods,” the town was located along the trading routes from Augsburg to Bolzano and Venice. The altitudes of the Karwendel Mountains yielded excellent tone wood as well, providing the backdrop for a thriving luthier trade.

Date 1820
Location Mittenwald, Germany
Length of Guitar 917mm
String Length 626mm
Upper Bout Width 236mm
Waist Width 168mm
Lower Bout Width 292mm
Side Depth at Waist 88mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Maple | Sides: Maple | Details: Ornate, hand-cut ebony appliqu  applied to the soundboard.


Most auspicious for the luthier craft was Mittenvald’s proximity to northern Italy. It is no coincidence that early in the nineteenth century many of Mittenwald’s most successful makers, as well as many Viennese luthiers, built their instruments based on Italian design. The 1820 Joseph Rieger in the Austin-Marie Collection confirms this influence with its single-piece maple back and elaborate bridge mustachios, clearly inspired by the work of the Fabricatores of Naples.

Handwritten labels are often suspect, but the handwritten label and design of the 1820 guitar in this collection are a match to the Joseph Rieger guitar in the Geigenbaum Museum in Mittenwald. It also shares many characteristics with one held in the Musikinstrumenten-Museum, Berlin (Kat. Nr. 5796), especially the unusual head shape, making for a positive attribution.

The presentation and craftsmanship of the Rieger guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection is tasteful and refined. Without the label and provenance, it could easily be mistaken for a Viennese guitar. Rieger was ahead of his time by placing his 12th frets (the octave) where the neck meets the body – as on a modern guitar. (Most Viennese and Italian guitars from this period see the neck join the body at the 11th, or sometimes the 11½ fret, making the reach for the octave note more difficult.)