In 1963, Narciso Yepes revolutionized the classical guitar by the idea of adding four resonators in the form of uniquely tuned sympathetic strings. This innovation represents for the guitar the same evolution undergone by the piano when it acquired the interpretive possibilities opened by its sustaining and enriching pedals:
"I have not added four strings to the guitar out of a whim, but out of necessity. The strings that I have added incorporate all the natural [sympathetic] resonance that the instrument lacked in eight of the twelve notes of the equal tempered scale."
Ser instrumento. Speech of Ingression into the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, delivered on 30 April 1989.)
"In the first place, the four supplementary strings [C2, Bb2, G#2, F#2] give it a balanced sound which the six-string guitar is far from having. In fact, at the moment of playing a note on one string, another begins to vibrate by sympathetic resonance. On the six-string guitar this phenomenon is produced only on four notes [E, B, A and D], while on mine the twelve notes of the scale each have their sympathetic resonance. Thus the lopsided sonority of the six-string guitar is transformed into a wider and equal sonority on a ten-string guitar. Secondly, I do not content myself with letting the extra strings vibrate passively in sympathy; I use them, I play them according to the demands of the music to be interpreted. I can control the volume of the resonances, or I can suppress them. I can damp one if it is inconvenient in a given passage, but if I can do this it is precisely because I have these resonances available."
The Ten-String Guitar. Trans. Lionel Salter. July 1973.)
"Many people have said to me that this is the same principle as that used for the viola d'amore ... with seven strings that were mounted underneath the normal ones and vibrated in sympathy. But there was a problem with that instrument: The tuning - of both the bowed strings above and the sympathetic strings below - was D, A, F, D, A, F, D ...
Thus when you played a
you had not only the sound of that one string, but also the sound of all the other
D's on the instrument, so you had a very big
! But, when you played
, for example, you had absolutely nothing in the way of resonance. My idea of the 10-string guitar is exactly the contrary - to provide sympathetic vibration for the notes that do
have this kind of reinforcement on a normal 6-string guitar."
(Narciso Yepes. 1978. "The Ten-String Guitar: Overcoming the Limitations of Six Strings". Interviewed by L. Snitzler. Guitar Player 12, p. 46.)
'Another reason for the 10-string is that guitarists are always playing music written for the Renaissance or the Baroque lute. We can say that the lute is to the guitar as the harpsichord is to the piano. And if this is true, how can we take the music written for these eight, nine, or 10-course instruments - even [eleven,] thirteen and fourteen courses, in the case of the baroque lute - and transcribe it for a guitar, which has only six strings? [...] I want to be able to make "legitimate" transcriptions in which the music loses nothing, but rather improves in quality.'
(Narciso Yepes. 1978. "The Ten-String Guitar: Overcoming the Limitations of Six Strings". Interviewed by L. Snitzler. Guitar Player 12, p. 26.)
Narciso Yepes used scordatura ("mistuning") sparingly, according to the requirements of the music at hand. However, the configuration of the strings that he added already consciously solves the problem of lute music. He did not replace the resonator strings with ones of thicker diameter in a so-called "Baroque" tuning for lute music. As he said: "With the ten-string guitar I have many possibilities, and I do not need the baroque [lute] tuning exactly."
(Narciso Yepes. 1983. "Conversation with Narciso Yepes". Interviewed by J. Schneider. Soundboard, Spring: p. 66.)
While string manufacturers produce such strings, the concept of adding four thick strings descending stepwise below the 6th string has no connection with the 10-string guitar as designed by Narciso Yepes. It has evidently been introduced in recent decades, initially, due to a dearth of first-hand information and lack of published resources and the consequent misunderstanding of the modern 10-string guitar concept, or conflation of this concept with that of the 10-stringed
harp-guitar of the 19th century. (This misinformation may stem from Segovia's influence, as he publicly denounced the 10-string guitar for its "four thick tongues" before ever seeing, hearing or arriving at an understanding of the instrument.) Both the science of acoustics and empirical observations show that this harp-guitar stringing - which is known as "Romantic" or "Baroque" "tuning" - has exactly the opposite resonance properties as those intended by Yepes in the design of his 10-string guitar. As Yepes said, his innovation is meant "to provide sympathetic vibration for the notes that do not have this kind of reinforcement on a normal 6-string guitar",
not to add yet more strings that resonate when an A, E, B or D is played and that require more extensive dampening (as good 6-string guitarists do) to compensate for the sonorous imbalance. In addition, this contrary concept of stringing/tuning does not provide equal advantages for the performance for Baroque lute music, as at least half of the additional strings' pitches (in that tuning) fall below the range of the 11-course Baroque lute, without adding the G- and F-basses (either natural or sharp, depending on scordatura) that are required for both 11- and 13-course Baroque lute music.
Also NB: The 10-string guitar was conceived by Narciso Yepes and constructed in accordance with Yepes's design by Jose Ramirez III and Paulino Bernabe Snr (then working at the Ramirez shop). Its number of strings stems inextricably from the function and standard tuning of those strings as resonators.
This 10-string guitar designed by Yepes is
not a harp-guitar or variant of the 10-stringed harp-guitars of the 19th century, nor is it (as wikipedia misinforms us) primarily an "extended range" guitar. There is far more depth and informed consideration behind Yepes's instrument than the idea that the additional strings are "harp" or "theorbo" strings or that they merely extend the range. The harp-guitar community defines their instrument as "a guitar with at least one free-floating or theorbo string", i.e. one that is separate from the fingerboard and not played by the left hand. Both Yepes's 10-string guitar and the term 'classical harp-guitar' have been misappropriated by a small number of individuals whose actions rob Narciso Yepes of his important innovation and hinder true understanding of his 10-string guitar concept. Propagandistic reference to mis-strung 10-string guitars of Yepes's design as "classical harp-guitars" has caused offense to both exponents of Yepes's true concept and of true harp-guitars. By those individuals' reasoning that the Yepes 10-string guitar is a harp-guitar, one could as likely refer to the 6-string guitar as a "harp-guitar" if one claims never to fret the 6th string or has not arrived at an understanding of guitar playing.
The claim made in print and online that the additional strings are not intended to be fretted is categorically false.Fretting of all strings and particularly of the 7th string was intended and practiced by Yepes and employed by the first composers who wrote for his instrument in the 1960's. Today there are still informed professionals who use the 10-string guitar not as a harp-guitar, but in all the ways Yepes intended: for its refinement of tone qualities, equilibrium of resonance and sustain envelopes; for Baroque lute music; and for extended technical, interpretive and compositional resources, including the fretting of all ten strings.
More details about the Yepes 10-string guitar, including the history of its origins, can be found in this informative interview (click the page numbers):
Snitzler, L. 1978. "Narciso Yepes: The 10-String Guitar: Overcoming the Limitations of Six Strings".
Guitar Player 12(3): pp.26,42, 46, 48,52.
ABOUT THIS SITE
This site is a not-for-profit resource for the researched and verified facts about Narciso Yepes's innovation of the guitar.
It is authored by professional 10-string guitarist Viktor van Niekerk(long term student of 10-string guitarist Fritz Buss, who was a top disciple of Narciso Yepes from before, during and after the invention of the 10-string guitar). Information here is based on Yepes's interviews and published words, Fritz Buss's first-hand experience, and Viktor van Niekerk's 17 years of extensive research on the instrument, the science of acoustics, and analysis of primary sources such as handwritten transcriptions of Baroque lute music by Yepes.
This site is intended to present the verifiable facts, not the opinions, behind this significant innovation of the classical guitar and as a counter against the vast amount of disinformation surrounding it that appears on many other "10-string guitar" websites and publications.
Copyright 2009-2012 by Viktor van Niekerk (All rights reserved in all countries; no unauthorised duplication of any material on this site permitted.)
Information about the 10-String Classical Guitar designed by Narciso Yepes