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Behind the music: Portuguese guitar - guitarra portuguesa

"I want my coffin

To have a bizarre shape,

The shape of a heart,

Alas ... The shape of a guitarra"


"Fado Hilário"


The Portuguese guitar or guitarra portuguesa has twelve steel strings, And, for all Portuguese it is forever associated with Fado. It dates back to the beginning of Portugal in the 12th century, and lovingly called the "banza" went with Portuguese sailors around the world. Not surprisingly, it  has undergone considerable  modification in the centuries - and makes a sound like no other instrument.

From the beginning it was found in the hands of Portuguese troubadours and minstrels. Later it became popular from use in the theater, in taverns and at sea.


The Portuguese guitarra is used for solo music as well as accompaniment and its wide repertoire is often presented in concert halls and in the context of classical and world music festivals all around the world. But it is the Fado where it is most at home.


Two distinct Portuguese guitar models exist - the Lisboa  and  Coimbra models.

The differences between the two  are the scale length (445 mm of free string length is used in Lisboa guitars and 470 mm in Coimbra guitars), body measurements, and other finer construction details. And, of course, the sound.


Overall, the Coimbra model is of simpler construction than the Lisboa model. Visually and most distinctively, the Lisboa model can easily be differentiated from the Coimbra model for its larger soundboard and the scroll ornament that usually adorns the tuning machine, in place of Coimbra's teardrop shaped motif. Lisboa guitars usually employ a narrower neck profile as well. Both models have a  distinct timbre, the Lisboa model has  more bright and resonant sounds.



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