The Guitar Family Project
In 1979, I became a full-time luthier (stringed instrument maker) after an intensive year in Europe studying and researching guitar and violin history, physics, design and tonality, and the response of the ear-brain system to musical sound. I had made experimental violins, violas and cellos in 1977 and was beginning to understand why the traditional violin was probably optimal in its vibrating and sound-generating behaviour as a bowed instrument.
I envisaged how larger and smaller guitars would respond to the strings and appeal to the human mind. In 1980, I made a low-pitched folk guitar which was not successful, but a subsequent baritone classical guitar, tuned a fifth below the standard, had a genuine classical voice, even with an unconvincing upper range.
In 1982, I travelled to the United States on a Churchill Fellowship to deliver a paper to the Catgut Acoustical Society entitled "The Guitar Family – Prospectus". In that year, I also showed the baritone to Tim Kain, head of the guitar faculty at Canberra School of Music, and himself a renowned performer. When he established the Canberra Guitar Ensemble in 1984, they incorporated the baritone along with the standard guitar, and when John Williams visited the Canberra School of Music that year, he encouraged them to work towards realising the potential of the guitar family.
In 1986, the Canberra Guitar ensemble submitted an application to the Australia Council under the "Innovative Projects" category, seeking a grant for me to make a classical bass guitar and a treble (requinto) tuned a fourth above the standard, so to extend the classical guitar into a full tonally integrated family : bass, baritone, standard and treble.
These Classical Guitar Family prototypes were finished in 1986, and after intensive rehearsals by the Canberra Guitar Ensemble at the Canberra School of Music, the first Guitar Family concert was presented in 1987. It was so popular that a repeat performance was given later in the day, and from the Canberra Guitar Ensemble grew Guitar Trek, now internationally acclaimed as the Guitar Family Ensemble.
The prototype treble was soon replaced with two ‘new generation’ lattice trebles made by Eugene Philp, and I made a lattice baritone in 1996 and a lattice bass in 2001, both now played by Guitar Trek. A baritone guitar was also purchased by Slava Grigoryan in 2003, with the purpose of enriching the tonality of the popular guitar ensemble, Saffire.
Guitar orchestras have been gaining momentum in Australia since the year 2000. Christopher Keane, Tommy Anderson and Richard Charlton have all introduced guitar family members into their school ensembles. Joanne McClusky coordinates the Townsville Guitar Orchestra and Anthony Field (a previous Guitar Trek member) is now recording new arrangements and compositions for guitar ensembles with a Caldersmith bass, baritone and two trebles.
Further afield in the Netherlands, another ex Guitar Trek member, Peter Constant and his partner Marian Schaap, have consolidated and expanded guitar orchestra performance, incorporating bass and two octaves into their ensembles as well as their Zoo Duo repertoire.
In 2009, ZOO Duo expanded their repertoire with the purchase of a Caldersmith Terz, as seen in their performance on YouTube..