Tag Archives: ancient instrument

Ancient Instruments

From an archaeological point of view, the problem with ancient stringed instruments is that they are made from wood and tend not to survive through the millennia leaving us with only written references.

However, a dig on the Isle of Skye a few years ago found a fragment of a bridge thought to be from a lyre. The deposits date it was found in date to between 550 and 450 B.C., which makes the bridge a fragment of the oldest stringed instrument found in Europe.


11 - Isle of Skye lyre

Ancient Mandolin

As the Mandolin was the focus of our #TuesdayTrivia post we thought we’d also make it our #ThrowbackThursday one.

Although the instrument dates from around the 15th Century we thought this one, dating from 1781, was worth sharing for its sheer ornanteness.

19 - mandolin 1This is a Neapolitan mandolin, one of a number of regional variations that arose during the mid-eighteenth century, and was probably designed by a member of the Vinaccia family. It has a cant (bend) below the bridge that gives the instrument greater strength.

As we mentioned on Tuesday, the four pairs of strings are tuned to the pitches of a violin and the instrument is played with a plectrum.

19 - mandolin 2The reason we selected this particular early Neapolitan mandolin is because it is amongst the most decorated examples of its kind. Currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this mandolin has a back made from twenty-three individual narrow fluted strips of tortoiseshell with ebony and ivory spacers. Its sides are elaborately decorated with tortoiseshell molding and floral paintings on a gilt ground and the soundboard is decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, and gold alloy.


We were talking last week about the Theorbo so thought we’d make it this week’s #ThrowbackThursday instrument.

The instrument was originally developed in Italy during the late sixteenth century. It is thought to have come about due to the demand for instruments with an extended bass range; mostly in operatic works.

Musicians traditionally used large bass lutes with string lengths of >31 inches (that’s 80+ in modern parlance) . However, even this wasn’t enough and neck extensions with secondary peg boxes (to accommodate extra open longer bass strings) were then created.

Although chitarrone and tiorba were both used to describe the instrument at the time these names have different organological and etymological origins. Chitarrone means an augmentation of a chitarra – Italian for guitar; literally meaning a large chitarra The etymology of tiorba (the original Italian name for the theorbo) is still not truly knows. One hypothesis is that it may be derived from the Slavic or Turkish torba, meaning ‘bag’ or ‘turban’. Alternatively, it could have been a nickname derived from a Neapolitan pefumers’ grinding board, known as a tiorba.

21 - theorbo