The Lacôte Décacorde and Heptacorde:
Multi-string Guitars, Extended Range Guitars, Bass Guitars or Harp Guitars?

by Gregg Miner

Fully revised November, 2008
Updated April, 2013


Historians, Collectors, Luthiers and Players of "classical" and "early romantic" guitar will undoubtedly be nonplussed by my above title. Lacôte (1785-?), the renowned Parisian guitarmaker certainly never made "harp guitars," did he?  

Well, it's all a matter of semantics and perspective (actually, the answer to the title is "All of the Above"1).  Those familiar with my Harp Guitar Organology will recall that the "harp-guitar" term wasn't applied to instruments with floating sub-bass strings until the 1890s in America.  In Lacôte's time, multi-course (multi-string) or extended range guitars were most often simply called "X-string guitars" ("X" being either 7, 8, 9 or 10).  In contrast, Lacôte's instruments were specifically named the Heptacorde and Décacorde.2   Regardless, none of these multi-string guitars were ever "classified" for purposes of organization as we are doing today.  While Early Romantic Guitar historians may refer to the Lacôte floating dropped-D string instruments below as "7-string guitars" (when not using the specific historical French name "heptacorde"), the term allows for no distinction between this simplest of recently-classified harp guitars and other standard, fully-fretted-across-the-neck 7-string guitars - ergo my choice (and insistence) on also referring to these instruments today as 7-string or 10-string harp guitars (particularly of course in the context of this web site).3

While the majority of Lacôte instruments are 6-string guitars, a significant number of these extended range versions were made.  Unfortunately for researchers, there are many instruments that were later modified into 7-strings or more.  Other "original" instruments shown below may be seen as suspect or at least unproven by one researcher or another (based on the responses I have received from various experts). Therefore it may be best to treat this page as a permanent "work-in-progress" with plenty of discussion and speculation (one in which I rely on input from many different sources, all better informed and experienced than I).


René Lacôte

Widely considered one of the finest French luthiers, if not the 19th Century's most important French guitar maker, there is little biographical material about Pierre René Lacôte.4  He was the apprentice to Joseph Pons.  While credited for many innovations to the guitar, most of these can be considered "improvements" to previous inventions, such as new bracing, second soundboards, enharmonic frets and improved friction tuners.  His one true innovation was his sophisticated encapsulated machine tuners.  He worked closely with the best guitarists, including Sor, Carulli, Aguado and Coste, to create optimum instruments to meet their requests.  He received awards for his guitars in 1839 and 1844 in the Great National Exhibitions.

Lacôte's birthplace and date of death have not yet been resolved.  Some believe he was born (in 1785) in the instrument-building center of Mirecourt and later moved to Paris .  However, Alain Bieber points out that "In Paris the few 'experts' I met doubt very much that Lacôte was from Mirecourt.  A very old mistake by a German dictionary was reproduced over 100 years.  The best bet is that he was born in Paris or the Paris area, where he spent almost all his years. He might have been with Pons when Pons was still in Grenoble during his apprenticeship." (source: earlyromanticguitar.com)

Final Years?

The date of Lacôte's death is also still in dispute.

1855 is the date quoted by most researchers and museum catalogs.  However, James Westbrook points out, "One person (probably Bone, or some violin dictionary) wrote the date of 1855 and everyone took it as gospel.  I know this in incorrect for a fact, but I do not know the date!  I actually guess c.1870." (source: earlyromanticguitar.com)

Alex Timmerman lists "1785-after 1855" (open, so accurate).

Daniel Sinier and Françoise de Ridder state in La Guitare that Lacôte lived at least until he was 83 with "his last known guitar...dated 1868."


The Décacorde

Though "ten-string" could be considered the literal English translation, Lacôte's first extended range guitar - developed and patented in 1826 in collaboration with famed guitarist Fernando Carulli - was not a standard "ten-string" floating-bass guitar, as would soon become popular in Vienna.  In fact, the inventors sought to distance their creation from the “guitar” itself.5  Besides the unique headstock, neck design and sharping levers, this fascinating, though short-lived, instrument had a unique and distinctive tuning.  Only the top five guitar strings were tuned to standard and fretted.  From there the floating basses descended (from the A rather than an E) diatonically down to C.  I find this a rather interesting early "harp guitar concept" – and have long wondered what it was used for, and why no one has ever duplicated or resurrected it to this day.6  While I assumed that it was intended as some new harp guitar variant to enable Carulli to reach new heights of virtuosity, I came to discover that almost the exact opposite was the intention.  It became clear that it was aimed more at the amateur or non-professional guitar player as something “easier to play than the guitar.”7  More on this in a moment, after we take a look at the instrument(s).

I have not yet obtained a copy of the patent; all my information comes from a recent (1985) analysis of the patent in an article by Danielle Ribouillault, translated from the French for me by Benoît Meulle-Stef.  Ribouillault cites Carulli as presenting the décacorde as an improvement of the standard guitar of the time, much louder because of its tuning.   Specifically, that the sympathetic, oscillating effect of the instrument had the effect of changing the sound and raising the general volume (this, of course, is the same boast – and usually a legitimate argument – used by most inventors and builders of harp guitars).  She cites the patent as stating that “The seven open notes enter in resonance when one of the fretted strings are plucked and that with the fundamental, third, fifth and octave that’s very pleasant to the ear and makes the instrument sound much louder. The sound of the instrument is fuller and nicer than the one of the regular guitar.”

What Carulli (and Lacote) must be referring to as “the seven open notes” are the seven lowest strings which are wound strings, five of which are unfretted, two which are fretted (see tuning diagram).


Carulli's Décacorde tuning

In most specimens, as described in the patent, three levers were provided that could be turned to raise the pitch of certain bass strings a half step.  Additionally, in his method, Carulli allows that the tenth (C) string can be tuned down to B on occasion (-Ophee), and other notes can be tuned to play in the flat keys (-Verrett).  I have not examined any in person, but it is clear from the patent drawing and recent images from guitar experts Daniel Sinier and Françoise de Ridder that the levers pull the string down to "fret" against the lower second nut.  While the patent drawing shows strings C, F & G in sharp position (and specifically mentions only these notes) Benoit Meulle-Stef examined a specimen in a Paris music shop and found that the levers rotated in both directions so that all basses could ostensibly be raised.

Sinier and de Ridder have pointed out that the décacorde was made in three different stringing configurations.  Those instruments that adhere to the Carulli patent have 5 strings on the fingerboard and 5 floating basses (1st row below).  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.  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."

By contrast, the Carulli Patent form of the décacorde was clearly created for the non-professional (or at least non-virtuoso) guitarist.  In fact, it really doesn’t seem to have been intended for guitar players at all, but for new students, as something easier to play than a normal guitar.  Enthusiast Len Verrett writes on his site earlyromanticguitar.com that in Carulli's time, the guitar had very recently changed from a five-course instrument to a six-course instrument, and so having the top five strings the same may have seemed natural to many guitarists of the day.  I disagree.  From my (admittedly less) experience, I would say that by the mid-1820’s the guitar – both amateur and professional – had fully transitioned to 6 single strings, having at least five decades to slowly, then increasingly rapidly, make this segue.  In my analysis, Carulli was not so much adding to the five-course guitar, but “inventing” a new instrument that removed the added sixth fretted string (a seeming throwback to the older tuning) in order to “dumb down” (my words) the “extremely-difficult-to-play guitar” (Carulli’s words).  With only five remaining fretted strings, and adding new additional open basses, he was essentially revisiting the "easy-to-play" concept of the (English) guittar and the later harp-lute family, i.e.: a stringing/tuning configuration that required less effort and training to utilize than the “difficult” six-string guitar utilized by the virtuosos.

While it might seem to many six-string guitar players that ten strings would be harder to play than six, Carulli’s premise was much the same as that of modern 20-string concert harp guitarist John Doan – that it actually required reduced effort, with comparatively less left hand work.  In fact, this was the key point of the patent, further demonstrated in the Méthode.  Carulli wrote that, while “the guitar is extremely difficult to play and requires a very long time of study and work,” in the décacorde the use of the left hand is simpler; with “the need to use just one or two fingers of the left hand, rarely three, never four” – due to many notes being instead played on the open strings and not fretted, thus making chords and arpeggios “extremely easy.”  Carulli is pointing out that his instrument offers voicings impossible on the guitar, including full chords using only a finger or two on the neck.

Carulli's 1826 Méthode is surprisingly skimpy on additional details of the instrument.  I have included the pertinent introduction in a PDF linked at left.  The gist of it is similar to that already discussed.  “Easier to play” arpeggios and accompaniments being the selling point.  It begins with extremely rudimentary scales, chords and exercises, and progresses to more and more advanced pieces.  Included are a couple that require flipping the C and F levers during the piece.  To date, I don't know anyone who has actually attempted these pieces on an actual décacorde.  There doesn’t seem to be much time within the musical phrases to change some of these accidentals from natural to sharp and back “on the fly.”  Regarding the sharping levers, Ribouillault points out this caveat from Carulli:  If in a piece, there are some tonal changes which require a sharping of any of the basses, you have to use silence, or the end of a phrase, to move the sharping lever.  If you can’t find the time to do so, you have to play the note on the fretted strings."  Meaning, one may have to arbitrarily switch octaves, a somewhat amateurish musical undesirability, that limits the quality of the music and keys used in Carulli’s Méthode.

All in all, the décacorde may have quickly come and gone because it was somewhat of a “marketing gimmick.”  As Ribouillault wrote, “the inventors were monetarily dependant on the amateur customers of the time, who wanted something undemanding to provide some pleasant effects without any great effort.”  For all its hoopla, it may never have even been used in concert by Carulli.  How could he personally promote it? – surely he did not intend performing for the rest of his career using only his first two left hand fingers!  Yet he went all out on this invention, enlisting the services of Lacôte, the finest luthier in Paris.  Clearly, he was not creating another Edward Light-style instrument intended for parlor novices, but a high class instrument capable of professional use.  And despite his patent and Méthode verbiage about easy-to-play arpeggios and accompaniments, Carulli did write some professional pieces for the instrument.  Narcisco Yepes recorded the final Méthode pieces, the Diversisments largo and poco allegro, which Ribouillault describes as “music made to be played in the rich Parisian parlors of the era. The compositions are very similar to those for guitar of the same period - very classic, but already delicate with an awakening sensibility of the romantic period.”8

So the décacorde did skirt with legitimacy.  Still, there are almost no historical music players who have an interest in exploring this instrument and its repertoire.  Len Verrett and Michael Patilla (who went so far as to have a reproduction décacorde built by Jack Sanders) have long been looking for additional pieces that Carulli or others may have written for the instrument, but to no avail. 

Originality of the specimens below: That question has come up several times.  Some experts maintain that the headstock must have the Lacôte stamp on the headstock (see image above).  I have no idea, but can think of several reasons why a stamp could be "missing."  Frankly, I'm more interested in why there are so many variations of the head (and bridge).

Patent Configuration

Décacorde
182-
(5+5)

Collection: Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, Stearns Collection (Baines)

Décacorde
c.1828

(5+5)

Collection: Edinburgh

Décacorde
1830
(5+5)

Collection: Cité de la Musique
# E.986.5.1

Décacorde
c.1828
Head
(5+5)

Collection: Brussels MIM

Décacorde
1828
(5+5)

From La Guitare (Sinier de Ridder)

Décacorde
c.
1835
(5+5)

Collection: R. Broux (Belgium)

Décacorde
1826
(5+5)
Head     Label
(image not proportional)
Collection: Sabine L. (Germany)

Non-Patent Configuration

 

I think everyone agrees that the bissex headstock was the inspiration for the Carulli/Lacote Décacorde.  It even had similar sharping levers.

Naderman, a harp maker, created this unique instrument that some consider the first dated harp guitar.  With its lute-shape and staved back, I consider it a hybrid harp guitar-like invention.  See also Mixed Family Hybrids & Other Related Forms.

 

Décacorde
c.1826
(4+6)
Collection: Cité de la Musique
# E.1040
Décacorde
c.1830
(3+7)

From La Guitare (Sinier de Ridder)

See Featured Harp Guitar 11/08

 Naderman Bissex 1773

Collection: Cité de la Musique


This interesting instrument is now in the Bostom Museum of Fine Arts collection.  As stated on their site, it was: "Purchased from Tony Bingham of London. Bingham purchased the instrument from a dealer in Paris, who had purchased it at auction at the Hotel Drouot. It had formerly belonged to Eugène Peletin of Paris, a student of the French guitar virtuoso Napoleon Coste."  This instrument was part of Coste's collection (or inventory) at the time of his widow's death, and most assume Coste installed the bridge/taipliece system and finger rest on all these instruments.  This is one of the four Hotel Drouot 1995 auction instruments discussed (three pictured) in Sinier de Ridder's La Guitare, p55-56, where it is mistakenly identified as a décacorde.

While an original custom 9-string Lacôte instrument does not sound outside the realm of possibility, such does not seem to be the case in this instance.  Scholar Alex Timmernan (in the Guitar Summit forum) wrote this about the unusual 9-string:

"A case of ... modifications that are not that well executed (or) precise as one would expect Lacôte himself (to) have done is a 9-string Lacôte example currently in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (USA). Years before it was sold to the MFA, I had the chance to measure, describe and photograph it.  It shows alterations at the headstock, fingerboard and (to the) side of the fingerboard on the (soundboard).  In fact, the ... model of this instrument looks (more like one that originally had) less bass strings.  Therefore it is likely that the bridge/tailpiece device is also a later addition to the instrument (Coste?)."

Interestingly, an 8-string Lacôte is specifically mentioned (with appraisal for the 1900 "vintage guitar" market!) by one Robert Fissore in Les maîtres Luthiers of 1900. (source: Westbrook: The Century That Shaped the Guitar)

9-course (modified), 1827

Collection; Boston Museum of Fine Arts


Napoléon Coste and the Heptacorde

Soon after the relatively brief décacorde experiments, Lacôte began building heptacordes, which, unlike the décacordes, were essentially "normal" guitars with an extra floating string tuned to D (occasionally C).

Today, I think all agree that Napoléon Coste (1805-1883), shown here with two different 7-string specimens, was responsible for this instrument.  Bruno Marlat provides evidence that Coste himself dubbed the instrument the "heptacorde," and gives 1835 as the first confirmed date of Coste's use of the instrument (though suspects it was in use earlier). 

Elsewhere (Phillip Bone: The Guitar and Mandolin), Fernando Sor is said to have requested the 7th string, though scholar Len Verrett (earlyromanticguitar.com) has thoroughly investigated the matter and has found no evidence of Sor playing a 7-string at any time in his career, and scholars seem to agree that there is much suspect information in Bone's book.9  It is said that Sor, along with famed fellow Spaniard Aguado, apparently did work with Lacôte on certain other details regarding the guitar's sound, however.

Coste, born in France in 1805, moved to Paris in 1830, where he quickly established himself as the leading French virtuoso guitarist.

A good introduction to Coste and his music is the complete preface by Brian Jeffery (1982) in La Source du Lyson, op. 47
for solo guitar
published by Tecla Editions.  Unfortunately, there is no mention of the heptacorde, nor the floating string, other than one reference to a single low D that "can easily be put up an octave." (Indeed, Coste's "meets-minimum-requirements harp guitar" is all too often viewed today as an unnecessary option).  Tecla also sells a new small French/English book on Coste.

According to expert Bruno Marlat (in the liner notes to Brigitte Zaczek's 2005 CD Romantic Guitar Vol. II, as translated by Steven Edminster), as early as 1835 "the use of a seventh string puts in an appearance" in Coste's opus 5, "Souvenirs de Flandres" (published with the support of Lacôte).  Marlat astutely notes that "even though this may simply have involved the exploitation of an older idea, people referred to it as an 'invention'."

Marlat cites additional provenance, including that Lacôte "received a prize in 1839 for a seven-string guitar which was described as 'perfectly crafted, having in addition a very beautiful tone quality.'  At the next fair, in 1844, he presented 'several heptacorde guitars which are perfectly crafted and have a beautiful quality of tone, instruments which were awarded top ranking positions in the contest'."  Marlat concludes (as would I) that the specific name "heptacorde" came from Coste since "we read in the appendix on the seventh string which he added to his 'N. Coste’s New and Enlarged edition of Sor’s Guitar Method' the following statement: 'Some years ago I arranged to have built in the workshop of Mr. Lacôte, a maker of stringed instruments in Paris, a guitar designed to yield a larger volume of tone and, above all, a more beautiful quality of tone. [….] I called this new type of guitar a Heptacorde'."  This then, is our proof on the origin of the heptacorde, if we take Coste at his word.  Unfortunately, Coste also claimed (in the introduction to his "25 Etudes de genre pour la guitare, opus 38" per Marlat) that "This improvement was immediately adopted and taken further in Vienna, Austria."  This claim seems rather boastful, as numerous players and builders in Vienna and elsewhere had been experimenting with 7, 8, and 9-string guitars from as early as 1809.

Early Heptacordes

I have yet to discover proof (or consensus) that any original early (pre-1850) heptacordes survive.  Marlat writes: "The first seven-string guitars of Lacôte differ little from his six-string models.  The additional string is fitted in the theorbo manner as described by Coste: 'The seventh string, much longer than the others, is fitted at a certain distance outside the neck of the instrument and requires no change in playing technique'.  In two of the three instruments we are familiar with, the fingerboard has five additional frets – 22 instead of the usual 17 – and reaches over the edge of the sound hole, extending the range to D5.  An instrument of this kind, held gracefully by an elegant young woman, provides the frontispiece for the Sor/Coste method.  A photograph of Coste...shows him posing with exactly the same model."

Shown below are the illustrated model and Coste's early specimen that Marlat describes.  The next instrument is one that some believe is the earliest surviving original (not altered later) heptacorde.  In the recent book Ivan Padovec, Alex Timmerman states that it is "one of the earliest known examples (of a Lacôte 'Heptacorde')."  However, the owner, early guitar expert James Westbrook is not so sure (and the fact that a collector/dealer would suggest something that might lower the value of his instrument certainly makes me want to take note!).  Westbrook writes: "This guitar is a bit of a mystery, rather like my other Lacôte (with the adjustable neck, in my first book).  It was always assumed that this instrument is the only Lacôte that was not converted later - it appears in many books, like this 1980's Chanterelle edition of Coste's music.  (I believe that,) like the one in the Paris museum with two Lacôte labels (image below), the extra tuning peg was added - either to a six string neck Lacôte had ready in his workshop (makers usually make necks in batches of ten or so, while they only make guitars in pairs), or it was done later.  The reason why some have thought that it was originally made by Lacôte with seven strings, I think, is because of the strange body shape, larger in the upper bout (perhaps to improve the 7-string bass resonance?).  This guitar has additional mysteries, which I will hopefully solve with time."

Artist's Interpretation of an early Heptacorde

From the frontispiece for the Sor/Coste method, depicting an artist's rendering of an early Heptacorde

Heptacorde
1830s

Collection: Jean Michel Renard (France)

Heptacorde
c.1836-1839

Head

Label

Collection: Len Verrett (United States)

Owner's additional photos and information

Early Heptacorde
(original or modified?)

 Owned by Napoléon Coste.  Note the oval finger rest, which Alex Timmerman speculates could be inlaid pearl.

Heptacorde, 1841
(original or modified?)

Owner James Westbrook writes: "This is the very well known 1841 Lacôte 7-string guitar that was owned by the late Robert Spencer.  It is pictured in some Chanterelle editions of Coste’s music.  It is in excellent condition.  For me it is impossible to know whether Lacôte built this guitar as a 7-string or if he changed it at a later date."

Collection: The Guitar Museum

6-string, modified

This well known c.1820 instrument is an original 6-string later modified to 7.

Collection: Cité de la Musique
# E.1044

6-string, modified

2 labels inside this original 1828 6-string list 1879 and 1881 modifications to the fretboard, seven strings and a "Coste" bridge system.  Clearly, Coste's influence and inspiration lasted many decades.

From La Guitare (Sinier de Ridder)

Later Heptacordes

By 1850, Lacôte, perhaps with the input of Coste, modified the heptacorde's design.  As described by Marlat: "The shape of the body is broader with a less narrow waist than the usual Lacôte designs; the fingerboard has 24 frets covering four octaves and the lower part rests on (standoffs) and is not in direct contact with the soundboard; the strings pass over the bridge and are fastened to a tailpiece at the end of the body; a bar of maple is glued on at two contact points parallel to the first string, perhaps as a kind of support for the little finger. The whole instrument seems to be designed with a view to allowing its soundboard to vibrate as freely as possible."

Marlat continues, "This description could well apply also to a Lacôte heptacorde kept in the Paris Museum of Music (shown below) where a handwritten note tells us that this is 'the favorite guitar of Mr. Napoléon Coste.  The bridge has been applied by the remarkable composer and professor himself'.  It would thus seem that Coste was not only the inventor and designer of this bridge/tailpiece system but actually built it himself."

This "smoking gun" bit of provenance (that the unique bridge was built by Coste) stirs up a secondary topic and ongoing discussion/study involving Lacôte instruments.  Specifically:

  • Have we identified / can we even identify all the modifications?

  • Are any "Coste-style" bridge systems original?  Or were all built "after the fact"?  Why?

  • Who did the modifications: Lacôte, Coste, or other?

  • How can there be so many of these modified instruments?

  • What other modifications did Coste or others make?

Earlier, I questioned whether any fully original early heptacordes survive.  Now I ask the question again regarding the later heptacordes.  Are they original"?  Can any be considered original, unless shown that Lacôte himself installed the specialized Coste-style bridge system when new?  How do we resolve this?  As I discuss next, perhaps we can't.

Mr. Eugène Petetin

Before we examine the instruments, I want to briefly mention this man, who figures prominently in the provenance of so many of the surviving Coste instruments.  Petetin was a naval officer and amateur guitarist who is believed to have been a close friend of Coste and his wife, and presumably one of Coste's guitar students.  Several instruments were apparently given to him by Coste's widow, and perhaps he received others after her death.  Petetin appears to have made handwritten notations (sometimes fairly cryptic) on paper and glued these over the original labels (if present) on the instruments once in his possession.  Debatable is whether the information provided by Petetin is worth losing the label information!   The converted 1828 6-string above is one of these.  Another four of Petetin's instruments surfaced in 1995 at a Paris auction, and have dispersed.  Of these, one (missing from photo at right) ended up in the Cite de la Musique museum.- the original "smoking gun" instrument mentioned by Marlat above.  The 9-string made its way to the Boston MFA, and the other two are shown below and described by Sinier and de Ridder in La Guitare.  

Three of the four 1995 Auction instruments.  I am confused by the fact that all three appear to have the same rosette, though the left instrument is by Olry (see below) and the others by Lacôte - perhaps they are just similar?  All are believed to have bridge/tailpiece modifications by Coste, with all but the modified 9-string (discussed above, following the Décacordes) having the finger rest.  Are the fingerboards also Coste replacements?

 

Heptacorde, 1842

Surprisingly, this heptacorde, built in 1842, appears to have the more "modern" 1850's shape - much different than the 1841 instrument above!

The original bridge is missing. Westbrook believes that Coste did have something to do with this guitar, as it looks like his signature is on the back of the head.  Perhaps he raised and extended the fingerboard?

Label

Collection: Dave Evans, Brussels


Lacôte Heptacorde, modified by Coste, c.1850

Coste's second known Lacôte Heptacorde

Lacôte Heptacorde, modified by Coste, c.1850
(pre- and post-restoration?)

This is the instrument with the handwritten note stating the bridge system is Coste's own invention and work.

″Guitare favorite de Monsieur Napoléon / Coste. le chevalet a été inventé & / posé par ce remarquable composi- / teur - professeur. Après la mort de celui-ci, cet instrument a été / cédé à M. Petetin par un des / amis de M. Coste en 1883″ * * Etui en bois peint en noir garni de textile rouge * Etiquettes de l'étui : ″Fragile / M. C.″ (manuscrit) ; ″Eugène Petetin″

Collection: Cité de la Musique
E.995.26.1

Lacôte Heptacorde, modified by Coste

Coste's wife's Lacôte Heptacorde (modified by Coste)

Current owner?


1855, modified by Coste

Collection: Bernhard Kresse

See Featured Harp Guitar 11/08

1855, modified by Coste
(pre- and post-restoration)

James Westbrook has pointed out the unusual rosette, atypical of Lacôte.

From La Guitare (Sinier de Ridder)

Lacôte, modified by Coste
(Coste's signature is on the back of the headstock, label gives Olry's name ("Eulry"))

See La Guitare
(Sinier de Ridder)
p.55

Collection: Jun Sugawara (Japan)


Coste Modified Bridge and Tailpiece System

I am, frankly, out of my element here, and rely on the research and expertise of others, where I do not always find consensus.  One thing seems certain.  If Coste owned all the instruments that we find with "his" bridges, then he was quite the guitar collector!  More likely, Coste installed his modifications on instruments destined for his pupils or other patrons, and perhaps the "Coste modification" was duplicated by others.  The question of whether Lacôte himself installed such systems for Coste may never be answered.   Did he build and retro-fit the first prototype?  Did he build others?  Did he include it directly in any "new builds"?  Did he, in fact, approve of it? 

Alex Timmerman speculates that Lacôte did perhaps construct some of these bridges and was "among the first" to do so, explaining that "the original Lacôte guitars I have seen with this bridge/tailpiece type show good craftsmanship."

Sinier and de Ridder do not believe that Lacôte made these modified bridges himself as none of these features are in "Lacôte's manner, style, techniques, acoustic principles, choice of wood, varnish, etc."  While acknowledging the possibility that Lacôte may have constructed the first one or more custom bridges suggested by Coste, they believe that Coste otherwise made all these bridges and tailpieces himself.  They are convinced that both the concept and craftsmanship on the examples pictured in Coste's photograph and surviving specimens is Coste's own.  Besides the finer details, they point out an obvious clue - that they have never heard of any Lacôte guitar with an "original 'Coste' bridge" that has no holes in the top - i.e.: the holes from Lacôte's original pin bridge are always present.  However, an exception can be plainly seen in Kresse's specimen, seen here.  They suggest that Coste modified such guitars for his own use and for the many students, friends, and customers that he had throughout his long career.  And indeed, there are far too many such instruments for Coste to have owned them all!

Bruno Marlat: "While it may seem unlikely that all these modified instruments actually belonged to Coste, one might well imagine that the teacher had a hand in modifying guitars intended for the use of his pupils."

James Westbrook: "No doubt Coste had a large amount of instruments, but also a massive following of disciples that needed to acquire 7 string instruments one way or another."

Bernhard Kresse (regarding his 1855 specimen): "There remains the possibility that Lacôte did 80% of the work and left for Coste the making and installation of the bridge, tailpiece and finger rest. Possible but unlikely. These additional parts of the guitar are made with the same accuracy as the rest of the instrument. Further, the varnish doesn’t show any difference in color under fluorescent light. By the way, the construction of the neck and fingerboard, its final calculation of thickness, respecting the right angle and the difference of treble/bass side requires an early presence of the bridge during the construction process."

Clearly, we can see from the above discussion (and more below) that there is little consensus on this question - partly because of differing conclusions from the analysis of the same instruments but also largely due to the fact that there are so many different and inconsistent specimens that are being referred to.  The only way I can see to resolve it would be to get all of these instruments and experts into the same room and start comparing instruments and notes.

Sinier and de Ridder believe that Coste also sometimes  modified the fingerboards and the heads of certain instruments.


Collection:
Cité de la Musique

Napoléon Coste seems to have modified nearly every instrument he acquired.  Here are a few additional non-Lacote instruments known or suspected to have had the "Coste touch."

At left is the wonderful "baritone" guitar Coste is pictured with in the famous photo, now in the Cite de la Musique museum.  Note his same bridge and tailpiece system and the elevated maple finger rest -elongated as needed!  It is not labeled, and no one has conjectured as to the builder.  Sinier and de Ridder are convinced that it was built by Coste himself

At lower left is an instrument from Coste's estate that he also modified.  The maker's name, Olry, is handwritten on an affixed label.10  According to Françoise de Ridder, this Olry is the same maker as the heptacorde above that has a handwritten note applied that reads “Eulry.”  After their book was published, they received confirmation from Matanya Ophee that the Russian pronunciation of both “Eulry” and “Olry” are the same (and similar in French), and that it is therefore a  transcription error from oral to written language.
See La Guitare (Sinier de Ridder), p.55-56

At right is a Schenk bogengitarre (in the Brussels Museum), one of the well known hollow arm harp guitars that inspired Mozzani.  It has a replaced Coste-style bridge as well.  The conclusion some jump to is that Coste owned and played it as well, but as stated by the many experts on this page, there is usually no way to know - and we doubt Coste could have owned all of these!

About the Schenk, Françoise de Ridder (in the Guitar Summit forum) wrote: "Without any doubt, Coste made this bridge, and you can see the two little pins (that) supported the missing piece of wood for the finger (rest)."

Alex Timmerman replied (also in the forum): "The Brussels Schenk guitar now shows a bridge made out of two saddles on either side of (what used to be) a tie-block through which the strings are lead towards a tail-piece where they are fastened.  The finest examples of this bridge design, are of course seen on the guitars made by Lacôte himself.  The idea of replacing the old pin-bridge could be for reasons of spreading the tension that is caused by the extra added strings on Bass guitars.  Lacôte might have been among the first to install this kind of maple 'bridge/tailpiece' model on his bass guitars.  What I can add to this is that among other things the bridge (à la Coste) on the Friedrich Schenk guitar at the MIM in Brussels is again not made to the high quality like those of the same type seen on the Lacote guitars."

Yet another instrument surfaced in 2008 - a 6-string Lacôte-style instrument by Valance, modified later - again, possibly by Coste.  According to owners Sinier and de Ridder, "the luthier Valance, after a brief period in the workshop of Lacote, built pretty guitars in the style of Mirecourt." Additional images

 

I would love to see a complete monograph on Lacôte's guitars.  Besides my obvious fascination with the harp guitars, there are a host of other Lacôte innovations - including his custom, enclosed tuners, a double soundboard, and adjustable micro-frets for each string (true!...on a specimen in the Cité de la Musique museum).


Olry, 1850
From La Guitare (Sinier de Ridder)

Schenk, modified
Collection: Brussels MIM

Valance, Mirecourt, c.1850, 6-string, modified
Collection: Sinier de Ridder

 


See also: Harp Guitar of the Month Double Feature, November, 2008

A Unique Lacôte Décacorde

Lacôte / Coste Heptacorde

Sources / Thanks / Expertise (pers. comm.. or indirectly): Dave Evans, Bernhard Kresse, Bruno Marlat (indirectly), Benoit Meulle-Stef, Paul Pleijsier, Daniel Sinier and Françoise de Ridder, Alex Timmerman, Len Verrett, James Westbrook, Cité de la Musique, Brussels MIM, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, European and American Musical Instruments (Anthony Baines), Fernando Carulli: Méthode Complète pour le décacorde, nouvelle guitare, op. 293 (reprinted by Studio Per Edizioni Scelte)


Footnotes

1. Multi-string (or my preference, Multi-course) Guitar is a commonly used term for guitars with more than six strings - yes, it is technically illogical, as all guitars have "multiple" strings. Extended Range Guitar may be a little more logical than the previous, though is also unspecific.  Bass Guitar is scholar Alex Timmerman's preferred vernacular for guitars with extra bass strings - much like my own Harp Guitar, which today most consider both vernacular and a newly defined and classified organological term.  Please note that none of these four terms were used historically, and all have one detractor or another.

2. Yes, the literal English translations would be "seven-string" and "ten-string" respectively, but in this case I believe that the guitar community  agrees (by mutual, if unspoken, consensus) that the French word for each of these newly-invented instruments acquired a new meaning as a "multi-language specific name."  Personally, I find this another fascinating semantic topic that has yet to be addressed or discussed.

3. As most serious readers know, I prefer using "course" in place of "string." (seven-course, ten-course)

4. It seems that the guitar world has been referring to Lacôte all this time as François René Lacôte (or René François).  I'm putting my money on Pierre René, which is what Lacôte /Coste expert Bruno Marlat states in his published liner notes to Brigitte Zaczek's 2005 CD Romantic Guitar Vol. II, as translated by Steven Edminster.  He and wife Catherine appear to be universally acknowledged as the experts on the subject.

5. The more I’ve looked into this instrument, the more I’ve gotten the impression that Carulli was the “inventor,” with Lacôte executing the design.

6. In fact, I am continually surprised to find that virtually every guitar researcher and writer lumps the décacorde in with other "10-string guitars," when it is such a distinctly different, specific instrument.  It is casually lumped in with the original Viennese 10-string harp (bass) guitars, and even more disconcertingly, with today’s’ fully-fretted 10-string guitars (in all tuning configurations, Yepes or other) – as if the simple coincidence that it has ten strings is proof of some sort of ancestry or commonality.  I find this as laughable as all the Wikipedia entries that try to “define” various guitar "types" simply by number of strings - but was encouraged by the author of the Yepes section of the Wikipedia "10-string guitar" entry, who succinctly states, "One cannot consider as synonymous (just because they have the same number of strings) different instruments that do not have a commonly accessible original repertoire, that approach music through different performance practices (different techniques, especially with respect to the use of the 7th string, open and stopped strings), different instruments that are not only tuned differently but strung differently.  The true modern 10-string guitar is as little defined by its number of strings for their own sake, divorced from their singular tuning, as a piano is defined by its number of keys."

7. I further noted that the inventors seem to have rarely said “than the regular or six-string guitar – just “guitar,” to further demonstrate that their décacorde was a different instrument than the guitar. 

8. It is a coincidence that Carulli’s and Yepes’ instruments were both ten-string guitars.  Yepes’ was founded on a much different (and obviously more acceptable) concept, with a completely different tuning configuration, which just happened to have the exact range (down to C) required for the Carulli pieces.  However, the pieces would have a somewhat different sonority when played on the two instruments, due to the different open strings.

9. In fact, other than (rather ironically) his famed use of the harpolyre, Sor appears to have been a critic of extra strings, writing in his Method:

“à employer toutes les facultés de la main gauche pour la mélodie (…) fait éprouver aux guitarists de grandes difficultés lorsqu’il s’agit d’y ajouter une basse correcte, si elle ne se trouve dans les cordes à vide (…). On a cru remédier à cet inconvenient en ajoutant à la guitare un nombre de cordes filées, mais ne serait-il pas plus simple d’apprendre à se server des six? Ajoutez des ressources à un instrument lorsque vous aurez tiré autant de parti que possible de celles qu’il vous offer; mais ne lui attribuez pas ce que vous devriez vous attributer à vous-même.”

(“By employing all the possibilities of the left hand for the melody (…) makes the guitar player feel a great difficulty when he has to add a correct bass when it is not on the open strings (…) it has been tried to correct that by adding to the guitar several bass strings - but wouldn’t it be easier just to learn how to use the six? Add resources to an instrument when you have used all the ones it  has to offer. But don’t project on it what you should expect from yourself.”)

10. It is interesting to compare the interpretation of  the label text by two different inspectors.  Sinier and de Ridder believe that the label was written by Olry himself and reads "Olry luthier, rue des 3 cailloux, n° 42 (3 pebbles street) à Amiens année 1850."  Alex Timmerman examined the instrument at one time as well and presumed also that the label was by Olry himself.  However, he read the label as "fait par Olry, Samier / rue des trois Castro no. 42 / a Amiens anneé 1850" (Samier being Olry's first name).  What does the reader think?  

Updates:

4/10/13: Added newly discovered 1826 Décacorde, 1836-1839 Heptacorde and 1830's Heptacorde. Added Carulli's Décacorde Méthode.
11/1/08: Added several specimens (all that are known to me as of this date) and completely rewrote and revamped this page. Thanks to Bruno Marlat (indirectly), Benoit Meulle-Stef, Paul Pleijsier, Daniel Sinier and Françoise de Ridder, Alex Timmerman, Len Verrett, James Westbrook.
8/1/08: Added Brussels' décacorde specimen.  Clarified the 7-string rumors of Sor.
5/07: Began major new rewrite - not complete, as I have found discrepancies and much that needs clarification.  Consider this page a suspect work-in-progress.


If you enjoyed this article, or found it useful for research, please consider making a donation to The Harp Guitar Foundation, which supports Harpguitars.net so that this information will be available for others like you and to future generations. Thank you for your support!


Harpguitars.net
Home

The Harp Guitar Foundation            The Harp Guitar Gathering®

History          Players         Music         Luthiers         Iconography         Articles 

 Forum                 About                Links                Site Map                Search               Contact

All Site Contents Copyright © Gregg Miner, 2004,2005,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright and Fair Use of material and use of images: See Copyright and Fair Use policy.