26 Heptachord Guitar

26 • A Heptachord Guitar by René Lacote

Paris, circa 1830
88 cm long

Soundboard: spruce with ebony and ivory edge
Back: spruce veneered with lemon wood
Ribs: lemon wood
Neck & Head: maple veneered with ebony
With its original label & case

René Lacote (1785–1855) was the greatest guitar maker of the first half of the 19th century, described by René Vannes (1888–1956) as the ‘Stradivarius of the guitar’ in his Dictionnaire Universel des Luthiers (1932). No biography of his life exists and we know nothing of his childhood, education or family life. Nor do we have any testimonies of his workshop, how it was run or who he worked with. We only have his instruments.

Lacote learned his trade in Paris with Joseph Pons – guitar maker to Napoleon’s wife, Empress Marie-Louise – before setting up shop in 1820. His guitars were elegant and meticulously made and success was immediate. This was a golden age for guitar music: not only was it fashionable but also dynamically evolving, and by 1850 Paris was overrun with luthiers, teachers, players, composers and admirers. This success was led by Lacote who – rather like his Paris neighbour Vuillaume (see no. 10) – was a constant innovator, virtuoso and pioneer of instrument making.

A committed researcher, Lacote was always developing new models and investigating ways to improve on his last creation, registering numerous patents for his inventions and modifications. He was also sensitive to the changing needs of guitarists, maintaining a constant dialogue with the great musicians of the time which resulted in no two Lacote instruments ever being the same, a legacy that is testament to his constant pursuit of perfection. It was this perfection that oversaw the rise and pinnacle of French guitar making and soon after Lacote’s death France was de-throned by Spanish guitars, the immediate precursors to modern classical guitars.

Lacote’s instruments are still hugely appreciated by musicians today and their refined elegance has made them desirable objects in themselves. This heptachord guitar has a seventh ‘floating’ string, which was typically tuned to D or C and would resonate sympathetically when the other strings were plucked, offering depth to its sound.