A Pioneering Guitar Design by Francesco Molino

Panagiotis Poulopoulos is researching the development of a pioneering guitar design by Francesco Molino and its significance in guitar history.

Francesco Molino (1768-1847) is known in the musicological literature as one of the most prolific and influential guitar players, teachers and composers of the early nineteenth century. What has not so far been thoroughly examined is his role in the invention around 1823 of a new type of guitar, described and depicted in some of his methods and evidenced by a number of surviving examples.

This guitar model had strong similarities with instruments of the violin family, especially those introduced in 1817 by François Chanot of Mirecourt. Moreover, it appeared almost simultaneously, if not before, with a kind of bowed guitar, now usually referred to as the ‘Arpeggione’, developed in the early 1820s in parallel by Johann Georg Stauffer in Vienna and Peter Teufelsdorfer in Budapest, as well as with the ‘Streichzither’, a bowed fretted zither conceived by Johann Petzmayer in Munich. Molino’s pioneering design may be of great importance in guitar history not only because it is one of the earliest attempts to introduce a guitar with violin features, and possibly predating the arpeggione, but also because it may have paved the way for the development of the archtop guitar in Europe and America in the beginning of the twentieth century.

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An illustration in Francesco Molino’s Grande Méthode Complète pour Guitare ou Lyre, op. 33 (Paris 1833) showing his pioneering guitar design. Image courtesy of Erik Stenstadvold.

This research project will examine Molino’s biography, focusing on his association to the guitar and the methods he published for the instrument. It will also present a historical and technical account of Molino’s guitar design, discussing in detail its main features as recorded in written sources, and as observed in iconography and extant specimens. Moreover, it will study how the instrument reflects Molino’s understanding of the guitar and his performance philosophy by extensively analysing the texts and illustrations in his methods. Furthermore, it will investigate the background behind the development of this experimental guitar, connecting it to the advances in science and technology, particularly in acoustics and engineering, which influenced the manufacture of musical instruments during the early nineteenth century. Finally, it will relate this innovative instrument to the social and intellectual environment as well as the musical context in which it appeared, illuminating the reasons why such an original instrument design did not become widely established in guitar circles.

The preliminary results of this research project were presented at the 2014 meeting of the Consortium for Guitar Research at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge. Panagiotis Poulopoulos is currently collecting material and planning to publish a comprehensive article on the subject. Those wishing to share information on Molino and his experimental guitar design are welcome to contact him at: p.poulopoulos@deutsches-museum.de.

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