c. 1828 Johann Georg Stauffer

c. 1828 Johann Georg Stauffer

Vienna, Austria

Johann Georg Stauffer (1778–1853) of Vienna, stands alongside his contemporaries, Pierre René Lacote of Paris and Louis Panormo of London, as one of the greatest luthiers of the first half of the nineteenth century. He built violins, violas, cellos, invented the arpeggione (immortalized by Schubert), and produced some of the finest guitars of his time. His experiments in design and innovation influenced a generation of instrument builders. The early Viennese luthiers often modeled their guitars after Italian made instruments until Stauffer’s pivotal work helped create the signature Viennese-style guitar.

Date c. 1828
Location Vienna, Austria
Length of Guitar 910mm
String Length 588mm
Upper Bout Width 235mm
Waist Width 168mm
Lower Bout Width 292mm
Side Depth at Waist 75mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Shattered-glass maple | Sides: Shattered-glass maple | Details: Fitted with a scroll-shaped headstock with encased inline tuners and adjustable neck mechanism.

Maker Biography

Performance Video

Stauffer and his colleague, Johann Ertl, received an imperial commission in 1822 with the privilege to make improvements to the guitar. This “privilege” was likely a patent filed through the strict guilds, which at that time in Vienna controlled not only the right to make instruments, but determined who could be trained and even the prices that could be charged. The commission lasted until 1828, and during this period Stauffer’s inventions included a raised fingerboard, a screw mechanism to adjust the angle of the neck, and more durable metal frets. His most memorable innovation, however, was the patented Stauffer headstock: a scroll-shaped assembly that included enclosed, in-line mechanical tuners encased by an engraved metal plate in the back of the head. So unique and novel was Stauffer’s headstock design that the Italian luthier Gennaro Fabricatore II adopted the scroll head shape for some of his own instruments.

Stauffer worked with his son Johann Anton Stauffer (1805–1871) in Vienna during the 1820s marketing instruments and music. They had a small team working for them that may have included Christian Friederich Martin, who later immigrated to the United States and established an American guitar-making dynasty. (Martin’s first American guitars from 1834 are patterned after Stauffer’s design and his labels advertise, “Pupil of the celebrated STAUFFER”. Martin’s association with Stauffer, however, is subject to debate.)

The c. 1828 Stauffer in the Austin-Marie Collection is an example of Stauffer’s “Legnani” model: a rounded figure-eight design inspired by the renowned Italian guitar virtuoso, Luigi Legnani. In what was to become one of the most famous player-maker collaborations, Legnani worked with Stauffer in the design and development of his instruments.

Another feature is the adjustable neck, enabling the player to change the angle of the fretboard via a clock key mechanism embedded in the heel. The neck is also narrow (similar to Fabricatore’s design) allowing the player to fret the lowest string with the thumb. Stauffer used a two-piece book matched spruce soundboard. The back is made of “shattered-glass” maple on spruce with solid sides. The body is bound in repeating ebony-maple-rosewood stringing with a similar rosette. Stamped on the label is Stauffer’s signature red wax seal featuring the Hapsburgian double-headed eagle.