The 5-course guitar designed by Zachary Taylor is based on instruments made by Giorgio Sellas. One in particular, which may be seen in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, was made in 1627. It was examined and measured for the purpose of producing a representation of this exquisite instrument. Another example in the same museum was chosen as the basis for another Baroque guitar; it was made by René Voboam.
An important feature of the Sellas design is the arched back which, similar to the lute, constructed of strips tapered at each end to produce the coopered effect. Alternating woods with ebony fillets separating them creates a distinctive appearance characteristic of this maker's work.
Some modifications were made to the original design including the reduction of inlaid decoration, the inclusion of which, in the designer's opinion, made no contribution to the function of the guitar and it might even have been detrimental to the tone and volume it produced. Attention was paid to the basic construction and materials to bring about a faithful representation of this beautiful guitar.
The term 'Baroque' is one of convenience that musicologists and historians use to place the chronological development of the guitar in a particular period, taken to be from early 17th to late 18th century.
The word 'course', when used in the guitaristic sense, refers usually to more than one single string. A course is usually two strings, but may be three on certain instruments. Typical string arrangements for the Baroque guitar were 5 double-string courses; in some cases the pairs were tuned in unison and others in octaves, similar to its ancestors the lute and vihuela. It is not uncommon to use just a single string for the highest course, like the Renaissance lute. This may well have been a tradition imposed due to the difficulty in producing a matched pair in the small diameter string material. The high single string is often called the 'chanterelle'.
Pairs in a course may be tuned in unison or in octaves. Where octaves are used for the lower strings, it is most usual to have one of the pair tuned an octave higher than the normal, fundamental, string. This arrangement produces a bright and lively sound.
Each end of the Baroque guitar era was overlapped by its relatives, the 4-course Renaissance guitar at the beginning and the early Romantic guitar at its close. The latter used single strings rather than double and a 6th (bass) string was added at this time, transcending to the, now conventional, classical guitar. Several varieties of tuning was used for the guitar during this period, but probably the easiest way to understand it is to compare it with the modern guitar. If the lowest bass string were to be removed, leaving the five highest strings, this would correspond to the tuning of the Baroque guitar. Individual players may use octave pairs to suit the period or type of music they prefer.
Compared with the modern guitar, the body of the Baroque version was narrower and lighter, although the scale length was often longer. Strings were of gut, as were the frets, which were tied around the neck. Tapered tuning pegs were shaped similarly to those used by the lute or the violin and are installed in the flat peg head.
Characteristically, the soundhole is decorated with a rose made from multiple layers of thin materials that may include wood, parchment or combinations of both.
Music for the 5-course guitar was written in various forms of tablature, an early graphic style of writing, using lines and symbols. Tablature in the well-established French, Italian and Spanish forms was also used for Baroque guitar, with composers from those respective countries such as, Robert de Visée, Francesco Corbetta and Gaspar Sanz. It is worth noting that a suite of pieces by Sanz was the inspiration for the 'Fantasia para un Gentilhombre', by Joaquín Rodrigo written at the request of Andres Segovia.
The scale length is 660mm. There are 9 nylon and 3 wooden frets. This instrument features an ebony nut and fingerboard, and a spruce soundboard. A hard case is included.