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ⓘ Russian guitar




Russian guitar
                                     

ⓘ Russian guitar

The Russian guitar is an acoustic seven-string guitar that was developed in Russia toward the end of the 18th century: it shares most of its organological features with the Spanish guitar, although some historians insist on English guitar ascendancy. It is known in Russian as the semistrunnaya gitara, or affectionately as the semistrunka, which translates to "seven-stringer". These guitars are most commonly tuned to an open G chord as follows: D 2 G 2 B 2 D 3 G 3 B 3 D 4. In classical literature, the lowest string occasionally is tuned down to the C.

                                     

1. History

Although in a number of sources the invention of the Russian guitar is attributed to Andrei Sychra 1773–1850, there are strong reasons to believe that the instrument was already in use when Sychra began his career. It is true that Sychra was very influential in creating the school of Russian guitar playing. He left over a thousand compositions, seventy-five of which were republished in the 1840s by Stellovsky, and then again in the 1880s by Gutheil. Some of these were published yet again in the Soviet Union in 1926.

The Russian version of the seven-string guitar has been used by professionals because of its great flexibility, but has also been popular with amateurs for accompaniment especially Russian bards due to the relative simplicity of some basic chords and the ease of playing alternating bass lines.

                                     

2. Construction

Construction of the Russian is very similar to that of the western 6-string guitar except for the additional string. The same basic components are present: headstock; nut; tuners; neck; fingerboard; frets; inlays; truss rod in modern instruments; heel; body; bridge & bridge saddle; soundboard top; sound hole and rosette; back; sides; strings. Woods used and internal bracing layouts are also similar.

                                     

2.1. Construction Types

There are two basic types of Russian guitar: the "classical" model and the "gypsy" model. The classical model closely resembles the western 6-string classical guitar, and has nylon or gut strings. The gypsy model is steel strung, and resembles the western 6-string steel-string acoustic guitar, although more size and shape variations are found among gypsy guitars.

A two-necked version of the Russian guitar was also once popular; these guitars usually had 11 or 12 strings - one neck with seven fretted strings, and another with four or five unfretted strings. There are also some rare specimens that were built with an oval body.

                                     

2.2. Construction Neck

Headstock, fingerboard fretboard, and truss rod if present, all attached to a long wooden extension which collectively constitutes the neck. The wood used to make the fretboard usually differs from the wood in the rest of the neck. The neck joint or heel is the point at which the neck is attached to the body of the guitar.

                                     

2.3. Construction Fingerboard

The fingerboard is made of hardwood ebony or rosewood are common, fitted with metal frets of brass or steel. Fret spacing almost always follows the western twelve tone equal temperament 12-tet system. The surface of the fingerboard may be flat or curved slightly "radiused", although the curve on the Russian guitar is usually somewhat less than that of an equivalent western 6-string guitar. Inlayed position markers are common, and appear in the same locations as 6-string guitars.

                                     

2.4. Construction Body

The sound board is usually made of spruce or cedar, and sized and shaped much like that of the 6-string guitar. Overall proportions of classical seven string instruments nylon string) are similar to those of 6-string guitars. "Gypsy" instruments steel string may be proportioned similarly, but also may often feature a narrower upper bout, and an enlarged sound hole. Both traditionally shaped instruments and instruments with cut-away bodies are available.

The bridge is made of a hardwood similar to that used for the fingerboard, and the bridge saddle is usually bone or sometimes plastic; on old instruments, ivory was sometimes used.

A pickguard, or "scratchplate" - usually a piece of laminated plastic - is frequently found on steel-string "gypsy" instruments; on nylon-string classical instruments it is usually lacking.

                                     

2.5. Construction Strings

As noted above, Russian guitars may have either nylon or equivalent non-metal strings, or steel or equivalent metal strings, depending on whether the instrument is a classical or gypsy guitar. On classical instruments the four lower pitched strings are generally wound, and the three higher strings are of plain material. On gypsy instruments five strings are wound, and the top two are plain.

                                     

2.6. Construction Measurements

Proportions of Russian guitars typically do not differ greatly from those of western 6-string instruments. Since the range of both types of instrument are comparable, this makes acoustical sense. One notable physical difference, however, concerns string spacing: since Russian guitars have essentially the same neck width as 6-string guitars, the 7 strings on the Russian instruments are necessarily closer together.

+Coomparison of dimensions
                                     

2.7. Construction Handedness

Left-handed Russian guitars exist, but are extremely rare.

                                     

3. Tuning

Traditionally, Russian and Spanish guitars are tuned differently. On the Spanish guitar the open-string chord is an Em11, while on the Russian guitar it is a G-major. While the Spanish guitar is tuned in fourths with one major third G 3 –B 3, the Russian guitar is tuned in thirds with two fourths D 2 –G 2, and D 3 –G 3:

D 2 G 2 B 2 D 3 G 3 B 3 D 4

Derivation

This tuning is thought to have been derived either from the baroque cittern of the English guitar type, or might be from that of the torban, a Ukrainian variety of theorbo, as one of its tunings was also based on major triads. Nevertheless, major guitar historians insist that the Russian 7-string tuning was invented in 1793 by Sychra, acknowledged harpist of the 18th century, in order to adapt a harp tuning for guitar, and facilitate the playing of harp-like arpeggios.

                                     

4. Performance practice

The Russian guitar is traditionally played without a pick, using fingers for either strumming or picking.

The open G tuning allows major chords to be played with only one finger of the fretting hand the left hand for right-handed guitars, as barre chords. The A-major chord can be played most easily as a barre on the second fret, the B major as a barre on the fourth, C major on the fifth, D major on the seventh, and so on although other, more involved major shapes are employed as well for a variation in voicing. A fair amount of open-G chord shapes use six or five strings, and so these shapes require the player to mute or not play particular strings.

Perhaps the most audible difference between the Spanish and Russian tunings is in the ability to play chords with a tighter, more piano-like voicing on the latter. For example, an E-minor chord on a Spanish guitar as 022000 is usually played in the order, from low to high, of E root, B fifth, E root, G minor third, B fifth and again E root. On a Russian guitar it is possible to play the E minor 2002002 as E root, G minor third, B fifth, E root, G minor third, B fifth, and E root - or to play it with the same voicing as the six string E minor using 99X9989.

This tighter voicing is particularly audible with seventh chords, including the rootless seventh chord seventh chords without a root note, actually a diminished chord.

It is fairly common for Russian guitar players particularly those accompanying themselves singing, such as bards to bring the tuning up or down several steps as desired, either to accommodate the voice for varying string tension. Vladimir Vysotsky often tuned down a whole step, sometimes even a step and a half to an open E. Also, variations in the open G tuning were fairly common, e.g., Bulat Okudzhava would use the tuning of D 2 G 2 C 3 D 3 G 3 B 3 D 4 to play songs written in C, while bard Sergey Nikitin tuned his guitar to an open G minor: D 2 G 2 C 3 D 3 G 3 B ♭ 3 D 4.

There are more than 1.000 different chords possible for the standard open G tuning and plenty of different schools for left hand vibrato and right hand fingerstyle playing and enormous classical music musical transposition archives and music composed for Russian 7-string guitar for 200 years in Russia. Because much of this music was published during the years of the Soviet Union, little of it left Russia, and printed scores of music for Russian guitar are difficult to come by in Europe or North America.

The first known written instruction for 7-string guitar was published in St. Petersburg, Russia in the year 1798, December, 15th. 15.12.1798, written by Ignaz Held.



                                     

4.1. Performance practice Six string adaptations

A common practice for six string guitar players of Russian romances and bard music is to retune their guitars using variations of the seven string tuning, such as:

  • D 2 B 2 D 3 G 3 B 4 D 4 no low G
  • D 2 G 2 D 3 G 3 B 3 D 4 no low B, the standard six-string open G tuning used by bard Alexander Rozenbaum
  • D 2 G 2 B 2 G 3 B 3 D 4 no middle D, used by Bulat Okudzhava in his latter years when he adopted a six string
  • G 2 B 2 D 3 G 3 B 3 D 4 no bass D string, also known as "dobro open G"

and so on.

                                     

5. Popularity

For many years, the seven-string guitar was far more popular in Russia than the regular six-string Spanish guitar; the latter was a rarity in Russia before the revolution of 1917. The Russian guitar gained significant popularity in the latter half of the 19th century with the increasing popularity of guitar oriented "city romance" songs.

The six-string first came to serious prominence in the Russian classical guitar world when Andres Segovia toured Soviet Russia in 1926. Possibly looking for something new and exciting to give life to their repressed craft, many Russian classical guitarists began making a switch to the six-string and the EADGBE tuning. Classical guitarist Piotr Agafoshin made the switch, and wrote a Russian book on six string technique that remains a standard to this day.

The Russian guitar remained the standard for popular musicians until the 1960s, when a strong interest in underground music such as jazz and Western rock groups such as the Beatles and Elvis Presley developed.

However, the parallel emergence of Russian bard music, which relied heavily on popular Russian guitar technique used in "urban romances," kept the seven-string guitar relevant. Actor Vladimir Vysotsky, arguably Russias most prominent bard, retained his monogamous relationship with the seven string up to his death in 1980. Pioneering bard Bulat Okudjava switched to the six string in the early 1990s, but continued tuning it in open G skipping the middle D.

Thanks to the "bard boom" and cheap factory production, a Russian guitar could be bought new for as little as 12 rubles in the 1970s. Soviet factories continued to manufacture the seven string exclusively for quite a long time before making a gradual switchover to accommodate the demand for six string guitars in the mid to late 1970s. Prior to that, western pop and rock oriented guitarists had a tradition of modifying cheap factory made Soviet seven string guitars to six strings or sometimes to bass guitars and retuning them to the EADGBE tuning.

Conversely, Russian emigre guitarists living in western countries, where only six string guitars were available, have been known to modify six string and sometimes twelve string acoustic guitars to seven string instruments, in order to better play their favorite Russian songs.

Recently, the repertoire for the Russian guitar has been the subject of a new scholarly examination and has seen increased performance due to the work of Oleg Timofeyev, who has unearthed and recorded works by the composer Matvei Pavlov-Azancheev 1888−1963.



                                     

6. Notable Composers for Russian guitar

  • Vassily Sarenko
  • Vladimir Vysotsky
  • Ignaz von Held
  • Mikhail Vysotsky
  • Sergei Orekhov
  • Yevgeny Bachurin
  • Andrei Sychra
  • Matvei Pavlov-Azancheyev
  • Vladimir Vavilov
                                     
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  • Russian Иван Николаевич Смирнов 9 September 1955 in Moscow, USSR 15 November 2018 was regarded as one of the greatest guitar players in Russia

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