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The Imperator

The Imperator

Revisiting the Lyra Guitar

by Alain Bieber

previously published in American Lutherie #88, 2006

The year 1806 is very special for my personal guitar addiction. As reported in a previous contribution (AL#80), 1806 is when Giovanni Battista Fabricatore of Naples produced the first guitar I know of with a fully adjustable neck. This lyra guitar (or lyre guitar), now in the Paris museum, might have inspired Stauffer and the whole Viennese School. I have no proof of that, but I remember that Stauffer started his career by replicating the Neapolitan master’s models. Legnani also played a role, as everyone knows.

I have become a complete fan of adjustable necks. After a dozen guitars inspired by the Stauffer model, I am more and more attracted by this basic option. I no longer see the superiority of the fixed neck. To me it is less convenient and less stable across time, due to the difficulty of adjusting the action. To summarize, I admire G.B. Fabricatore as well as the Viennese luthiers who enhanced his pioneering efforts. For these reasons I decided I should celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the 1806 Fabricatore by building a lyra guitar, with an adjustable neck, of course. I would also find out through this exercise if such instruments were really as bad as commonly said.

The so-called neoclassical infatuation flooded the world at that time and produced the lyra guitar. This instrument is a reflection of the Greco-Roman craze which influenced all aspects of arts and crafts, including the lutherie world, as early as 1750. Without that context, the lyra guitar would have been either nonexistent or very different.

The neoclassical movement emerged during the Enlightenment as a facet of the profound desire for change of the whole society. Among its foundations are the concomitant archeological findings of the Naples area. A real cult for the artistic accomplishments of the ancients resulted. From this basis, a new, more austere style of furniture with multiple links to the archeological images available appeared and seduced a society which was a bit fed up with the royal styles that preceded it. All artists and craftsmen where ready for a profound change. In a rather short time the Louis XVI style was born. This moment is still considered by many as the apex of European cabinet making.

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