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Silvestri 7-string guitar from the 1890s


The 7-string guitar has in recent years gained much popularity but I hope that most Guitarz readers will appreciate that the instrument was not a creation of the new metal movement, nor was it invented by Steve Vai or Alex Gregory. The first electric seven-stringer was probably a Gretsch hollowbody made for jazz guitarist George Van Eps in the late 1960s, although he had been playing acoustic 7-string jazz guitar since the late 1930s when he used a custom-made Epiphone.

But 7-string guitars were around long before this. Both Russian and Brazilian music had developed 7-string guitars as part of their culture. The Russian 7-string dates to beginning of the 19th century and utilised an open G tuning (DGBDGbd). It was said to have been invented by Russian guitarist and composer Andrei Sychra who wrote a method for the 7-sting guitar and a whole wealth of compositions for the instrument.

In Brazil the 7-string guitar was introduced in the early 20th century as an accompaniment instrument in choro and samba music. It is traditionally tuned as a standard 6-string with the addition of a low C string, although some guitarists took this down to a (more logical perhaps) low B.

In 18th century Europe, the baroque guitar evolved from an instrument with 5 courses to one with 6 courses - initially the courses were paired strings but later the consensus of popularity favoured single strings as is common today - so it was perfectly natural that someone would take this a stage further and add a 7th course (or string). Those advocating the 7-string guitar included French guitarist Napoleon Coste (1805–1883) who composed specifically for the instrument, and the Italian guitarist Mario Maccaferri (born 1900) who used additional unfretted bass strings (known as diapasons or bourdons) on his guitars.

The above pictured guitar is an Italian 7-string by Ermelinda Silvestri and dates to the mid 1890s. In keeping with most of Silvestri's instruments it bears the butterfly inlay which was a trademark of sorts. The seventh string seems to be very close to the edge of the fingerboard, which suggests that it wasn't intended to be fretted and would have been a diapason (or bourdon if you prefer).

This repaired but still playable antique 7-string guitar is currently listed on eBay with a Buy It Now price of $1,450.

G L Wilson

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