c. 1822 Thomas Preston

(attributed to T. Poole)

London, England

Thomas Preston was the son of the famous eighteenth-century London-based “guittar” maker John Preston (1727–1798).  The guittar (sometimes referred to as the “English” guittar) was a plucked string instrument, similar in shape to a sixteenth-century cittern. Strung with wire, its six courses were tuned to an open-C chord and used extensively for accompanying the voice. The English guittar was widely popular throughout Britain and Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Date c. 1822
Location London, England
Length of Guitar 925mm
String Length 641mm
Upper Bout Width 228mm
Waist Width 163mm
Lower Bout Width 298mm
Side Depth at Waist 80mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Maple | Sides: Maple | Details: Hand-cut ebony appliqué moustache applied to the soundboard.

The elder Preston made improvements to the cittern, including his patented watchkey tuning mechanism that replaced less effective wooden tuning pegs. His watchkey tuners were so popular they became known as “Preston tuners” and were marketed and sold separately to other English guittar makers. When John Preston died in 1798, his son Thomas took over the family business, selling instruments and publishing music.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the six single-string guitar became increasingly popular throughout Britain and the continent. The English referred to the newer six single-string design as the “Spanish” guitar to differentiate it from the older cittern-shaped English guittar.

By 1821, Thomas had moved the business from the Strand to Soho Square where he increasingly focused on the publishing side of the business until his death in 1834. This may explain why there are only two extant six single-string guitars from Thomas Preston’s shop. Preston wasn’t a luthier but the two surviving guitars bearing his label were clearly made by the same maker. A signature, “T. Poole Maker/London,” can be found on the underside of the soundboard of both guitars.

The Thomas Preston guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection, with its primitive mechanical tuners and simple design, was likely built around 1822. (Preston quit advertising as a musical instrument dealer in 1824.) The back and sides are made of maple and the applied fingerboard has been fitted with ivory frets, meeting the body at the octave, or twelfth fret. The head stock is similarly shaped to that of the 1822 Panormo in this collection. The baroque-style bridge mustachios and single piece back suggest this guitar is the earlier-dated of the two extant Preston guitars.