1839 Etienne Laprevotte

Paris, France

Etienne Laprevotte (c. 1790–1856) occupies a special place in the history of guitar making for the violin-like qualities of his instruments. A successful Parisian builder of fine violins and guitars during the mid-nineteenth century, he was luthier by appointment to the Duke of Bordeaux. Today he is considered a “rare” builder, for few of his instruments have survived.

Date 1839
Location Paris, France
Length of Guitar 965mm
String Length 650mm
Upper Bout Width 220mm
Waist Width 176mm
Lower Bout Width 310mm
Side Depth at Waist 80mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Maple | Sides: Maple | Details: Arched back with internal longitutudinal braces giving rise to an oval-shaped soundhole.

Maker Biography

Performance Video

Laprevotte was primarily a violin maker who built his guitars following certain principles of violin design. His maple backs, for example, are carved into an arch and lacked bindings. His most radical departure from traditional design was to abandon fan or ladder bracing in favor of two (sometimes four) longitudinal braces running the entire length of the soundboard somewhat similar to a violin’s bass bar. This arrangement gave rise to a distinctive oval sound hole – a visual trademark of his instruments.

Laprevotte’s designs were also influenced by his close association with the Paris-based Spanish guitar virtuoso Dionisio Aguado, who persuaded Laprevotte to build a larger instrument. This came to be known as the “Aguado” model. The example from 1839 in the Austin-Marie Collection is much longer than the average guitar from this period and was made one year after Aguado’s own 1838 Laprevotte guitar. It is very similar in appearance to the one depicted in Aguado’s Nuevo Método from 1843 showing his guitar supported by a “tripodison,” a device he invented to hold the guitar while playing.

Unlike his famous compatriot Fernando Sor, Aguado played with nails and advocated for an applied fretboard and a stylized bridge with separate saddle. This raised the strings from the soundboard and created additional clearance for nail playing. The extra projection produced by nails was welcomed by some, but it was damaging to gut strings. Consequently, despite the advantages, broad acceptance of nail playing would have to wait until the first durable strings made of nylon were introduced over a century later.

The 647mm string length of the 1839 Laprevotte is much longer than the average guitar of this period. The earlier c. 1836 Laprevotte in this collection is slightly shorter at 643mm, with Panormo’s typically running 630mm and many Stauffer guitars just 590mm.