Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Portuguese Guitarra

I'm getting towards the end of all of those old prints I found a week or two ago. I guess my ex wife Stephanie Brundage still has the negatives for the photos she took of me, just as my files have the negatives of the photos that l took of her. She took this one during the winter of '65/'66 when we were living at 195 Cottage Street in New Bedford, Massachusettes, probably with her black dial Leica III-f.

The instrument is a Portuguese guitarra. It's flat backed and a little larger than a mandolin, with six courses of double strings. The tuning head seems unique to the instrument. Every other stringed instrument seems to use pegs, some gear driven and others not, and the string wraps around the peg as it's tuned. Here there are 12 screws with knurled knobs, which make nuts with little hooks ride up and down slots in the face of the head, tightening and loosening the strings as they move. The strings need a loop on both ends. The thinest strings aren't pre-made. The wire comes on a spool, and you make up your own strings with it.

New Bedford had a large Portuguese population, harking back to the days of the great whaling ships that once filled the harbor, and they've had a big influence on both the city and the city's cuisine. I bought this instrument at a pawn shop but never became very adept at playing it. I did have fun though.


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