Wednesday, May 18, 2016

DREAMY MADE: Keyed Cittern

Keyed cittern | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 

Two-piece back and ribs of maple. Belly of fine-grain spruce with painted purfling encircling soundhole. Back and belly edged with binding of dark brown wood.

 Longman & Broderick London 1790 | Musee des Instruments de Musique Brussels

Stamped rose of brass with figures playing flute and hurdy gurdy, and retaining ring of ivory. Neck and sickle-shaped head of maple terminating in square finial veneered with wood and ivory.


Watch-key tuning mechanism of brass. Fingerboard of ebony with three holes for capo and twelve frets of brass. Nut, saddle, and end button of ivory. Bridge of ebonized wood. Ten pins of brass at lower end of body for fastening strings.

Ten strings: two singles and four pairs. “Smith’s patent box” screwed to body, with six keys of ivory and hammer mechanism for striking strings. Amber varnish. Internal construction: Six lateral braces on back and X-bracing on belly.

Late 18th century
Length 72.5 cm, width 30.5 cm (Length 28 9/16 in., width 12 in.)
Maple, spruce, ebony, brass
Keyed cittern | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 

Pear-shaped body with flat back. Back, ribs, and neck of slab-cut maple. Belly of spruce with slightly-domed ivory rose, carved and pierced with six-pointed stars, urn with swags, and monogram “A R L.”

A Cittern with watch key tuners with an added Ivory "keyboard" which strikes down on two strings.

 Black single-line stringing and painted green leaves encircling rose and perimeter of back and belly. Back and belly edged with barber-pole binding.

Fingerboard of ivory with thirteen brass frets and four holes for capo tasto bar of ivory with brass wing-nut. Sickle-shaped head with square finial faced with tortoiseshell. Watch-key-type tuning mechanism of brass engraved with foliate designs. Nut and bridge of ivory.

Christian Claus | Keyed Cittern (English Guitar) | The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

 Amber-colored varnish. Six courses of strings in two singles, two pairs and two triples, hitched to ivory buttons at bottom. Integral, piano-hammer action with six leather-covered hammers (removable through end of body) striking strings through holes in rose. Mother-of-pearl piano keys covered by silver housing engraved with monogram and foliate border. Two knobs of ivory at end of body for neck strap and action removal. Includes leather-bound wood case stamped with various patterns.

Stamped on back of neck: LONGMAN & BRODERIP / No. 26 CHEAPSIDE & / No. 13 HAY-MARKET / LONDON; handwritten in ink on hammer mechanism: T. B / July / 1798 [and] D. P. x

Length 69.5 cm, width 30.5 cm (Length 27 3/8 in., width 12 in.)
Maple, spruce, ivory

Museum für Musikinstrumente der Universität Leipzig

The Keyed Guitar (English for: key guitar, Italian: chitarra a pianoforte) is a constructed instrument, probably Christian Clauss, that is equipped in addition to all the usual components of a guitar with a hammer structure below the strings. On the body itself also there are keys to control the hammers.

Tastenguitarre | Leipzig, Museum für Musikinstrumente der Universität, Inv.-Nr. 605 (Kriegsverlust)
Lit.: Kinsky 1912, 172f., 170 (Abb.)
There is an associated hammer and a key each string. Normally, that is, six hammers and keys are present. There are various constructions developed to transmit the key motion on the hammers.

The simple straightforward method that abut strings is achieved by a tilting movement, which is triggered by the depression of the key, leading to an upward movement of the parallel juxtaposed hammers. This mechanism is characterized by its simple design and the unproblematic replacement associated the individual components. Moreover, such a key guitar is playable in any position and it's not affected by different attitudes of the instrumentalists.

In a very complicated variant there are more bars associated with every string, offset by the key operation in rotation. Here, a cable is used and the hammer parts are floating. So, the guitar can not be recorded in any position.

There are both electric and acoustic guitars with hammer constructions. 

In the 1780s some instrument makers introduced so-called "keyed guittars": the strings were "struck by pia5. Piano Forte Guitar with internal keyboard deviceno-like hammers operated by a small keyboard mechanism" (Tyler 2009, p. 11).

There were both internal and external devices. I must admit that I can not see the advantages of such an innovation except that it saved the player's fingernails from damage. Nonetheless these keyed guittars became immensely popular for some time, two music sellers got entangled in an more or less absurd legal dispute and no less than three patents were filed for different variants of this mechanism.

On July 3, 1783 a guittar maker named Christian Clauss first announced his new "Forte Piano Guitar" (see Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Nr. 240-1881 for an instrument by Clauss) with an advert in the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (GDN Z2000913751, BBCN, regularly repeated until October).

James N. Preston London 1970 | Museum of London

His name suggests that he was a immigrant from Germany but it is not known to me when or why he came to London:

    "Christian Clauss, the sole Inventor of that celebrated and admired Instrument, takes the liberty to acquaint the Nobility and Gentry, that after twenty years close application and practice, he has at length constructed the said instrument, in so happy a manner as to render it deserving and worthy the notice of the Public."

Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Nr. 240-1881
London, England ca. 1785
Claus, Christian (designer and maker)
Carved and planed pine body with brass frets

Electric Key Guitars 

Keyed guitar | Deutsches Museum, Munich

The german innovation is a key guitar whereby the striking and picking or plucking of the strings is not done by fingers or by the help of a single plectrum, but by keys.

The keys are mounted in the body of the guitar beside the bridge.


The keys mechanically operate removable hammers which either strike the strings or perform a picking or plucking movement. In a second version of the keys are operated electronically.

With this invention it is possible to learn even the most complicated techniques very quickly and to invent combinations which are not possible with a traditional guitar. It is therefor possible to play new rythmus and produce new sound effects.

Steiner & Schmitz are looking for partners who are taking care for the production of the mechanical or electronic part.