When I was drawing the outline for the Bruegel guitar, there was one thing that struck me; its shape looked remarkably like the of the Belchior Dias guitar (or vihuela, there is a huge debate going on about that) or the Chambure vihuela. The relatively short lower bout and long waist ending into an almost round upper bout.
So why not to make a vihuela out of it? In Bruegel’s time the Low Countries were owned by the Spanish royal family. Emperor Karel V was even born in Gent, and grew up at the court if his aunt Margaret of Austria in Mechelen. Later Karel held court at Brussels. We haven’t found evidence for the use of vihuelas at either of those courts (there is for the use of lutes, see the Vermeyen lute), but it could have been possible. The vihuela was very popular in Spain at that time.
The Capilla Flamenca
Music played an important role at the Habsburg court. Karels father “Philip the Handsome” employed a ‘Grande Chapelle’ a choir and musicians. This was continued at the court of his sister Margaret, who also made sure her nephew Karel got a full music education. Later the Grance Chapelle was moved to Spain where it became known as the ‘Flemish Chapel’ or ‘Capilla Flamenca’. There have been some suggestions that the name ‘Flamenco’ was derived from this chapel.
The vihuela was very popular on the Iberian peninsula. A guitarshaped instrument, but with a lute tuning. Unfortunately not many original Vihuelas survived. Some of wich were discovered only recently.
Making it into a vihuela…
One historical source tells us that to make a guitar into a vihuela one just has to remove the two outer string pairs. But sometimes you need more than that. To get an instrument tuned in G it had to be larger. I blew up the outline but kept it based on the Antwerp Foot, which consisted of 11 inches).
As an experiment I kept the body very shallow. This was inspired by a couple of historical examples, like the Jacquemart Andrée vihuela (which is very thin when you relate it to its long string length, and anonymous guitar in the collection of the Brussels museum. I just wanted to know what it would do to the sound.
Like the Bruegel guitar it was made in a monoxyle construction, out of oak.
Off-course I couldn’t help carving the head of the figure in the painting on top of the headstock…
The sound of the instrument is quite soft. One player who tried it said he didn’t like it because he deemed it not loud enough. But when somebody else played it at the other end of the room he asked him to “not to play so loud”. Huh? Well, the instrument isn’t loud, but it projects like crazy. The low notes are primarily brought forth by their octave string. This gives a very compact but sweet sound.
I rather like the outline of the vihuela and am thinking of make a deeper version of it one day. This one built with separate (deeper) sides and the back in a different wood.