Ten-string guitar

Ten-string guitar
A classical ten-string guitar

There are many varieties of ten-string guitar, including:

  • Both electric and acoustic guitars.
  • Instruments used principally for classical, folk and popular music.
  • Both coursed and uncoursed instruments.


Uncoursed ten-stringed guitars

Ten-stringed harp guitars

The oldest ten-string guitars are harp guitars, guitars to which extra strings have been added which are never fretted but may be plucked or strummed. These strings are therefore played in a manner somewhat similar to those of the harp, while those of the principal neck are played as a guitar, hence the name.[1]

Often but not always, a second neck, parallel to the fretboard, carries these extra strings. There have been many designs of harp guitar, but in the nineteenth century ten-string versions were particularly popular.

Information on nineteenth-century harp guitars comes from three main primary sources:

  • Surviving instruments (and in some cases, copies of instruments) in museums and private collections.
  • Surviving music, tablature and in at least one case a complete student method for the instrument.
  • Paintings and drawings in which the instrument is visible. These must of course be treated with some suspicion, as the artist may not have considered the details of the instrument important, and in the case of portraits may have completed these details from memory rather than at sittings.


In the early 19th century Ferdinando Carulli and René Lacôte developed a harp guitar they called the Décacorde (French for ten-string).[2]

Carulli played this type of guitar and wrote a method for it titled Méthode Complète pour le Décacorde.[3] In it he describes the tuning as C-D-E-F-G-A-d-g-b-e' (strings 10 to 1), with the upper five strings A-d-g-b-e' fretted and the lower basses C-D-E-F-G not fretted.

Carulli also wrote divertissements for this instrument.

Two Décacordes by Lacôte are housed in the Music Museum of the Cité de la Musique in Paris:

  • One circa 1826, with five fretted and five unfretted strings.[4]
  • One circa 1830, with six fretted and four unfretted strings.[5]

There is also a Décacorde (attributed to Lacôte), that was in the workshop of Françoise Sinier de Ridder, which has 7 strings on the neck (fretted) and 3 sub-basses (unfretted strings).[6]

Sinier and de Ridder have pointed out that the décacorde was made in three different string configurations. Those instruments that adhere to the Carulli patent have 5 strings on the fingerboard and 5 floating basses [...]. Other specimens that do not bear the patent stamp are known with 6 strings on the fingerboard and 4 floating, and 7 strings on the fingerboard and 3 floating.[6] I now speculate that these latter may have been configured, not as true Carulli Patent Décacordes, but as similar-appearing Lacôte ten-strings tuned more traditionally, and perhaps, played "professionally."

Other romantic harp guitars

Period harp guitars built by Johann Gottfried Scherzer survive. A copy of one of these, based on an original circa 1862, has six fretted and four unfretted strings.[7]

Johann Kaspar Mertz is known to have played ten-string harp guitars. Based on surviving instruments and urtexts of music written for it, the tuning was AI-BI-C-D-E-A-d-g-b-e'.

Yepes' ten-string guitar

The extended-range classical guitar is a classical guitar with additional strings, normally extra bass strings past the bass E string, that are available on the fingerboard.

Many configurations have been produced, but the ten-string classical guitar received a particular boost [8] in 1964, when Narciso Yepes performed the Concierto de Aranjuez with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, using a ten-string guitar invented by Yepes in collaboration with José Ramírez III, with a specific tuning designed to supply sympathetic string resonance to all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, in unison with any note played on the treble strings. This was significant for two reasons:

  • The endorsement of an artist of Yepes' calibre drew attention to the instrument, and demonstrated its capabilities. Starting in 1963, and for the rest of his life, Yepes used only the ten-string guitar in recording and performance.
  • The availability of high-quality ten-string classical guitars from the Ramírez Company allowed and encouraged other performers to investigate the instrument.

The use of the ten-string classical guitar is similar to that of the harp guitar:

  • Six-string guitar music can be played on the first six strings, but with added resonance from the extra strings. This was Yepes' original intention and the reason for the design.
  • Music specifically arranged for the instrument can make use of the extra strings directly, thus:
    • Music originally written for instruments with more than six strings can be more faithfully transcribed. Music written by Bach and his contemporaries for lute is of particular interest in this regard. The bass strings can be appropriately tuned.
    • New music specifically written for the ten-string guitar can make use of the extra strings however the composer might wish.

Unlike the harp guitar, the extended-range classical guitar has a single neck and allows all strings to be fretted.

While the six-string classical guitar remains the standard and most common instrument, since 1963 ten-string guitars in similar configuration to the original Ramírez have been adopted by many classical guitarists and produced by several first-class luthiers, using both Yepes' original tuning and others.

Halo Custom Guitars: XSI

The Halo Guitars XSI is a solid body ten-string guitar with ten individual steel strings, two EMG ten-string pickups, and a Kahler ten-string tremolo bridge.[9] XSI is an acronym for Extended Scale Instrument. Halo Guitars tunes the XSI from low to high as follows: A+D+G+C+F-Bb-Eb-Ab-C-F.

Gadotti Guitars 10 String Nylon King Electric

In January, 2009, Gadotti Guitars announced the 10 String Nylon King Electric, a solid body, nylon-stringed ten-string guitar, suitable for both Yepes and other tunings such as the Baroque.[10]

Ten-string jazz guitar

A ten-string jazz guitar by Mike Shishkov, based on the ten-string extended-range classical guitar, was demonstrated at the 3rd International Ten String Guitar Festival in October, 2008.[11]

Hawaiian guitar

Hawaiian guitars are electric lap steel and table steel guitars with six, eight or ten strings per neck, and one or two necks. The ten-string single-neck instrument is one of the standard configurations, not one of the most common but not unusual either.

Pedal steel guitar

Most pedal steel guitars have either one or two ten-string necks. Some but by no means all advanced players use necks with more than ten strings, but ten strings is the normal minimum.

  • The most common single-neck configuration is a ten-string neck with an E9 tuning. An instrument of this configuration is known as an S-10.
  • The most common twin-neck configuration consists of two ten-string necks, the nearer tuned to a C6 tuning and the other tuned to an E9 tuning. An instrument of this configuration is known as a D-10.

The standard student pedal steel guitar is a single-neck ten-string instrument with three pedals and from one to five knee levers, tuned to E9 tuning.[12]

The first step up from this is a professional S-10 with three or more pedals and four or five knee levers, and the most common next step up is to a D-10 with eight pedals and five knee levers. The D-10 is the most common configuration for professional players.

Some advanced players prefer to remain on an S-10 configuration, perhaps adding more pedals and/or knee levers. Other advanced players progress from the S-10 to a single neck instrument with twelve strings, either a U-12 which uses a universal tuning, or an S-12 which uses an extended E-9 tuning. Single neck instruments with more than twelve strings also exist, such as the fifteen-string universal tuning U-15, and double-neck with more than ten strings per neck, notably the D-12 with two twelve-string necks and various tunings most commonly based on extended E9 and extended C6 tunings.

Professional instruments are normally custom-made to order. Even in the case of an S-10, while the first three pedals and five knee levers are fairly standard in function, there are variations to the order of these and many players add others. Advanced players of all configurations tend to design their own individual setups, known as copedents, specifying the exact string tunings and gauges and the actions of the pedals and levers.

Five- and six-coursed guitars with ten strings

Baroque guitar

The baroque guitar is one of the earliest instruments considered a guitar, and the first to have significant surviving repertoire.

Surviving baroque guitars have (or originally had) nine or ten strings, in five courses.[13][14] Stradivarius guitars (of which two, the Hill (1688) and Rawlins (1700) survive complete, plus a neck and several other fragments) all had ten strings in five courses.[15]

Viola guitar

Viola guitar

The viola guitar is a guitar with ten light steel strings in five courses, played with the fingers rather than with a plectrum. It is particularly prevalent in the folk music of Brazil, whre it's called "viola caipira" (hillbilly guitar), or simply "viola". The viola braguesa and viola amarantina are other types of ten-string Portuguese folk guitars,[16] which are possibly predecessors of the Brazilian instrument.

Bich 10

B.C.Rich produce three models of solid body ten-string guitar, all of them strung and tuned in the same way.

These are six-course instruments, unlike most ten-string guitars which either have ten individual strings or five two-string courses. The B.C.Rich ten-string is tuned and played similarly to a six-string, but with two-string courses in place of four of the single strings of the six-string.[17]

This instrument was introduced as a custom order model with a new body shape known as the Rich Bich at the 1978 NAMM Show. There were two innovative features:

  • The stringing. The top E and B strings were strung as unison pairs, and the G and D strings as pairs with a principal and octave string, all in the same way as the twelve-string guitar. However the A and lower E strings were single. This was claimed to give the brightness of the twelve, while allowing higher levels of distortion before the sound became muddy.
  • The positioning of the machine heads. The Bich had a conventional six-string head for tuning the principal strings, with the four extra strings tuned by machine heads positioned in the body, past the tailpiece. This helped determine the radical shape of the body, and countered the tendency of coursed electric guitars to be head-heavy owing to the weight of the extra machine heads.

The BC Rich "Bich" 10 string guitar was the brain-child of Neal Moser. During the late 1960s, Neal was a go-to tech for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, and Steven Stills of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Neal worked as a sub-contractor for Bernie Rico (BC Rich) from 1974 to 1985. During his time with BC Rich, he conceived, designed, and built the first Bich 10 string prototype guitar. Contrary to popular belief, the Bich guitar was never owned by BC Rich. The design was licensed to BC Rich under contract with Neal Moser. A lawsuit between Neal Moser, and HHI Holdings Inc./BC Rich was recently settled. This settlement gives Neal's company Moser Custom Guitars and HHI/BC Rich the right to produce their own version of the Bich 10 string and 6 string guitars. In 2003 BC Rich contacted Neal Moser, Sal Gonzales, and Mal Stitch to produce 25 reissue models of the original prototype Bich 10 string guitar. Due to the filing of the lawsuit, only 15 BC Rich/PMS 25th Anniversary Prototype Bich 10 string guitars would ever be crafted. The original prototype Bich 10 string is currently owned by Dan Lawrence.

The design was successful enough to be still in production as a ten-string, but many players also bought it for the body shape rather than the ten-string feature, and simply removed the extra strings. B.C.Rich recognised this by releasing six-string models of the Bich body shape.

All Bich variants are hard tail guitars with through body necks and two humbucking pickups. The ten-string models differ from each other in finish and control details[18]

The most notable user of the "Rich Bich" 10 string guitar is Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

[19] .[20]

Godin Glissentar (A11)

Godin produces a special guitar - the semi-acoustic, fretless, eleven-string guitar, called Glissentar.

On Godin's site, it is stated that the guitar was specially designed for performing Turkish traditional music.

  • Unlike the other coursed multi-string guitars, the Glissentar is strung with nylon strings. The eleven strings are in six courses. The first five strings are double, tuned in unison and the 11th string is just one, tuned in E.

Guitar-like instruments with ten strings

Vihuela de mano
Ten-string Chapman Stick

Close relatives of the guitar with ten strings include:

  • The vihuela de mano, an ancestor of the guitar, which had several variations including a five-course version.
  • The Puerto Rican bordonua, a bass instrument most commonly having ten strings in five courses, although eight and twelve string versions also exist.
  • The Puerto Rican Cuatro, of which there are three main types - four string, four-course and five-course.
  • The North Mexican bajo quinto, which is a five-course baritone instrument used in tejano and norteño music.
  • The five-course charango, a South American folk instrument which appears from the front to be a small guitar, and its larger relative the charangon. The charango's body was traditionally made from an armadillo shell and is these days often a wooden bowl. Both instruments are from the lute family, rather than the guitar family.
  • The electric Chapman Stick, which may have eight, ten or twelve strings.
  • The name cittern is given to a wide range of plucked instruments, including some modern guitar derivatives with ten strings.

See also


  1. ^ What is a Harp Guitar? gives both layman's and highly technical definitions
  2. ^ The Lacôte Décacorde and Heptacorde by Gregg Miner
  3. ^ Méthode Complète pour le Décacorde by Ferdinando Carulli is published by SPES (Studio per Edizioni Scelte); ISBN 9788872427231
  4. ^ Lacôte Décacorde of 1826
  5. ^ Lacôte Décacorde of 1830
  6. ^ a b A Unique Lacôte Décacorde
  7. ^ Scherzer harp guitar of 1862
  8. ^ Ramirez III, Jose (1994), "The Ten-String Guitar" in Things About the Guitar, pp. 137-141.[ISBN 8487969402], Bold Strummer 
  9. ^ Halo XSI description at the Halo Guitars website
  10. ^ Review of the Gadotti 10 String Nylon King Electric
  11. ^ See here for a photo of a ten-string jazz guitar by Mike Shishkov
  12. ^ The StartUp Steel, describes some models for beginner pedal steel guitarists
  13. ^ Guitar, late 17th century at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
  14. ^ Guitar, 1697 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  15. ^ Stradivarius#Guitars
  16. ^ See Lark in the Morning
  17. ^ Hows a 10-string work? at the B.C.Rich website
  18. ^ Classic Bich 10 at the B.C.Rich website
  19. ^ Exotic Classic Bich 10 at the B.C.Rich website
  20. ^ Perfect Bich 10 at the B.C.Rich website

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