In 1963, Narciso Yepes revolutionized the classical guitar by 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. Moreover, Yepes's innovation corrected the disparity between sonorous notes and "muffled" notes that had long displeased Segovia as an inherent flaw of the (6-string) guitar. This innovation has also restored to the guitar its rich, lost heritage of music written for vihuelas, lutes and guitars with more than six strings.
"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 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.)
NB: The concept of adding four thick strings descending stepwise below the 6th string (in other words, D, C, B, A) has no connection with the 10-string guitar as designed by Narciso Yepes. It has evidently been introduced due to a dearth of first-hand information, lack of published resources, and the resultant confusion of Yepes's concept with that of the 10-stringed
harp-guitar of the 19th century. (This misinformation may stem from Segovia's influence, as he denounced the 10-string guitar falsely for its "four thick tongues" before seeing, hearing or arriving at an understanding of the instrument.) The harp-guitar stringing - which is variously called "Romantic" or "Baroque" tuning - has exactly the opposite resonance properties as those intended by the design of the Yepes ten-string guitar. As Yepes said, his idea is "to provide sympathetic vibration for the notes that do not have this kind of reinforcement on a normal 6-string guitar" (for interpretive and sonorous enhancement) and not to add strings that are sympathetic to A, E, B or D. In addition, the Romantic/"Baroque" stringing does not provide equal advantages for the performance of Baroque lute music as it does not have the G and F basses (either natural or sharp, depending on scordatura) that are required for both 11- and 13-course Baroque lute music. In fact, the Romantic/"Baroque" stringing results in an instrument half oriented to D minor, and half oriented to E minor, which is wholly impractical for the performance of Baroque lute music. Yepes's authentic concept, however, supplies all the open basses required for 11-course Baroque lute music, treating the lute as being tuned in E minor. (This "transposition" is historically informed, being based on historical precedents of transposition, the reality of non-standardized pitch levels in Early Music, and non-simplification of the historical data on tuning.) Yepes's authentic concept also enables the performance of 13-course Baroque lute music (in E minor tuning), since the 7th string can be lowered to B and allows fretting of most other bass notes below the 6th string's E.
NB: The 10-string guitar of Yepes is not a harp-guitar as is falsely claimed elsewhere. 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 never played by the left hand. The fact is that Yepes fretted all 10 strings, not constantly, but where it served a musical purpose. This fact is proven in Yepes's filmed performances as well as his autograph manuscripts, and by the witness of his alumnus Fritz Buss. Fretting of strings 7 to 10 is also called for in various works originally written for the instrument, including the first works written for it by Maurice Ohana, Leonardo Balada and Leon Schidlowsky. Today there are still professionals who use the 10-string guitar not as a harp-guitar, but in all the ways Yepes intended: for its balance and refinement of tone qualities, for its enlarged interpretive possibilities, for the performance of Baroque lute music, and for extended technical 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.
This site is a not-for-profit resource for verified information about Narciso Yepes's ten-string guitar.
Information here is gleaned from Yepes's interviews, publications, videos, recordings and autograph manuscripts. It is also based on the extensive combined experience of Yepes's longtime alumnus, Fritz Buss, and Buss's longtime alumnus, Viktor van Niekerk.
This site stands as a counter voice to the vast amount of disinformation about the Yepes ten-string guitar that is published elsewhere.
Copyright 2009-2014 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