Medieval Gittern

5-course gittern

5-course Gittern

The gittern was a common medieval instrument. It originated some time in the 13th century, and had largely died out by the end of the 15th century. It resembles a small lute, but its body is carved from the solid. My gitterns are based on a surviving example in the Wartburg museum, by Hans Oth of Nuremberg, dated circa 1450. It is one of my most popular instruments. Few other luthiers are crazy enough to make dugout instruments.

Hans Oth Gittern
Hans Oth Gittern

The Oth gittern has a string length of 445mm. It has 5 double-strung courses.

There is some evidence on historical gittern tuning. For an in-depth account, see Ian Pittaway's gittern article.
In short - five course gitterns were tuned like a five-course lute : mainly in fourths, but with a third between the third and fourth courses. The most useful modern-pitch tuning, giving workable string gauges, is
dd gg bb e'e' a'a'
But I can calculate string gauges for your preferred tuning.

I also make a 4-course version, which has proved popular. It is more typical of slightly earlier gitterns. The evidence suggests that 4-course gitterns were tuned in fourths.
The most useful historical tuning at modern pitch is aa d'd' g'g' c'' c''
But many people opt for Renaissance guitar tuning : gg c'c' e'e' a'a'

Another option is a smaller version, with a 340mm string length. The Elblag Koboz is about this size, so it has some historical validity. It's mainly of interest to people who play modern mandolin, and don't want to learn a new tuning. It can be tuned gg d'd' a'a' e''e''

Gittern Back
Gittern back
Gittern Head with pegs
Gittern head - 5-course
gittern rose
Gittern rose

Sound Clips

Played by Ian Pittaway


Played by Ian Pittaway


Medieval Gittern, 5-course
Medieval Gittern, 4-course
Carved head (replaces acorn) From £160, depending on complexity.

To order or enquire, pleasecontact me


Cases - Excellent cases can be ordered from specialist manufacturers such as Kingham MTM, but they're pricy. I can supply an attractive, custom-built plywood case, black with chrome fittings, for £220 when ordered with an instrument.

Delivery - the price depends on where you live. Please enquire.

I hate it when websites say "Phone for a quote", so to give you some idea - getting a baroque guitar in its case to America, including insurance, is currently about £170. Getting one to Kent is about half that.

Waiting time, from placing an order to clutching your new baby, is currently about 16 months. It's very approximate, because the schedule often contains items that are somewhat experimental, and they may take more or less time to complete than anticipated. Usually more.

Deposit- I usually ask for £150 (non-returnable unless I'm dead, insane, incapacitated or incarcerated) to secure an order and cover materials. Once that's paid, your order is entered into my Magic Book. Nothing happens for several months, then you receive an email to tell you I've started construction. A few weeks later, a big parcel arrives, and you squeal with delight.

Anote on HUMIDITY - delicate wooden instruments are remarkably resilient, but they can have major problems with both high and low atmospheric humidity levels. I keep my workshop at the recommended humidity level, between 45% and 50%, and I strongly recommend that instruments are kept as close to that range as possible. Electronic humidity meters are available cheaply on the Internet. They're small enough to keep in your instrument's case.
Low humidity can shrink wood, resulting in cracks and distortion. Case humidifiers, again available quite cheaply, should prevent this.
High humidity can swell the wood enough to cause cracking and warping, but the main risk is the formation of water droplets, either from condensation or perspiration while playing. These can damage varnish and slowly dissolve glue joints. A silica gel sachet can be kept in the case, but use a humidity meter as well. Take care it doesn't reduce the case humidity too far.