1827 Gaetano Guadagnini II

Turin, Italy

The Guadagninis of Turin were most famous for their violins. The most notable among them, Giovanni Batista Guadagnini, is considered to be one of the greatest violin makers of all time.

Date 1827
Location Turin, Italy
Length of Guitar 928mm
String Length 640mm
Upper Bout Width 274mm
Waist Width 205mm
Lower Bout Width 343mm
Side Depth at Waist 66mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Applewood | Sides: Applewood | Details: Wider body than typical of the period.

When Giovanni died in 1786, he was succeeded by his two sons, Gaetano I (1750–1817) and Carlo (1768–1816), who carried on the family tradition of violin making while also crafting guitars. Carlo died suddenly in 1816, and Gaetano (having no heirs of his own) turned to his nephew Gaetano II (1796–1852) to succeed him. Gaetano I passed away the following year and his nephew inherited the family business at the youthful age of 21. The young Gaetano was primarily a guitar maker, but continued to build violins as seen in a steady stream of business from his royal patronage with the Vuillaume family of Paris. His work was showcased at expositions held in Paris in 1827 and later in Turin in 1829.

Gaetano cultivated a design that included a large hourglass plantilla with a raised fingerboard – innovations that differentiated his work from the Neapolitans in the south. The dimensions of his guitars were quite large compared to the work of his contemporaries, presumably to achieve greater volume and address contemporary criticism that the guitar was barely audible in most concert settings.  This was, after all, the era of the larger romantic-period orchestra and the newly introduced concert grand piano; the guitar was often dismissed as best suited for small chamber ensembles or the home.

The 1827 Guadagnini in this collection has back and sides made of applewood varnished in reddish brown. The sides are relatively shallow, but the wide body caught the eye of the great nineteenth-century Italian guitar virtuoso Luigi Legnani, who is credited with introducing the larger-sized instrument to the Viennese.

Legnani launched his career with a debut concert in Milan in 1819 – the same year Guadagnini first developed his wide-bodied model. His 1822 concerts in Vienna left a lasting impression and he was hailed as a star when he returned to Vienna in 1833, and again in 1839. The legendary Viennese luthiers Johann Stauffer and Nicolaus Reis both made and marketed “Legnani” model guitars likely inspired by Guadagnini’s design. These models were also designed with more pronounced upper bouts and, like some of Guadagnini’s guitars, lack soundboard bracing below the lower harmonic bar. The dominance of the Northern Italian influence, undoubtedly introduced by Legnani via Guadagnini’s design, is exemplified by the extant examples of Viennese guitars from the middle of the nineteenth century which tend to be more rounded.

The sound of Guadagnini guitars is quite astonishing considering their shallow bodies, basic materials, and rather rough construction. Guitarist John Williams chose an 1814 Gaetano Guadagnini guitar (the same model as the 1827 in the Austin-Marie Collection) for his famous 1999 recording of Giuliani’s Concerto Op. 30. The recording notes read: “After auditioning eight different period guitars, he decided on an 1814 Guadagnini, the kind of instrument Giuliani would have played, the type of sound he knew; not as clean as a modern instrument, more intimate, more vocal, a smaller sound, but warmer, more mellow, and less instrumental, more conversational. What you end up with is a kind of fantasy of changing moods and dramatic statements, rather like an opera. I don’t want to make it sound disjointed, but the presumption you have to keep the meter steady, do your rubato within your square time signature, is totally irrelevant. You have tutti, aria-like passages, recitative-like passages, guitar virtuoso passages, you have almost semi-improvised passages.”