Thursday, November 12, 2009

Giannini Craviola 12 String

This is my 1970 model Giannini CraViola 12 string guitar. Well it's not exactly a guitar. It is a CraViola. I purchased this new from Ray Lammar's Music in Cincinnati, Ohio. I must have been 16 or 17 years old at the time.


Giannini Guitars or Tranquillo Giannini Guitars are the largest manufacturer of guitars in Brazil, South America. They still manufacture guitars as well as other plectrum instruments in their San Paulo factory.

In 1890 a gifted woodworker named Tranquillo Giannini traveled from his native Italy to Brazil to explore its treasure of exotic woods. He was so impressed by the remarkable abundance, variety, and quality of timbers, some of which are unique to the region that he never left. Settling in downtown Sao Paulo, he established a workshop primarily for making furniture, but as a hobby he built guitars for his friends in his spare time.

Giannini guitars were (and are) made by the Tranquilo Giannini S.A. factory, Carlos Weber 124, Sao Paolo, Brazil. They are generally known for being well-made instruments featuring very fancy Brazilian hardwood veneers, as well as for the strange-shaped asymmetrical CraViola models.

Three versions of CraViolas were offered. Each had a strange asymmetrical shape with a pear shape, no waist on the bass side and sharp waist (and almost cutaway taper) on the treble. Soundholes were D-shaped with fancy rosettes, with a pointed tortoise guard on the steel-stringed versions.

These had slotheads with a Woody Woodpecker-like peak pointed upward. The bridges were similar to the mustache version on the Country Western. The CRA6N Classic ($150) had a yellow spruce top and full-grained Brazilian rosewood body, no inlays or pickguard. The CRA6S Steel String ($160) was a similar steel-string with pin bridge and diamond inlays. The CRA12S 12 String ($175) was the 12-string version.

The CraViola's model was designed for Paulinho Nogueira, the Toquinho's teacher, who played and composed with Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes. These instruments were created in the late 1960's and 1970's during a time when the harpsichord was prevalent in popular music.

Its designer sought to build an instrument that would produce a sound that was a cross between a harpsichord and the viola caipira which is a 10-string folk guitar that is used in Spanish American music.

The viola caipira has 5 courses of strings tuned in unison. Whereas the Craviola has 12 strings. The top two courses are tuned in unison and the bottom four courses are tuned in octaves.

With this instrument, the builder felt that the player could add the harpsichord sound to popular Spanish music.

To distinguish from the American 12 string guitar, he called it a CraViola. The Portuguese word "cravo" means harpsichord. It is derived from the Italian "clavaciembela" or English "clavichord" which was a smaller version of the harpsichord. The viola comes from the aforementioned South American instrument.

By today's standards, this guitar would not be considered worthy since it is made of laminated wood. Giannini now offers several contemporary models of CraViola including a handmade 6 string. The shapes of the new models are slightly updated. The sound holes no longer sport the D shape. The headstocks no longer have the pointed beak and are no longer the slothead design of classical guitars, but now have solid headstocks. Gone too is the mustache bridge. This was replaced with a more contemporary design. The new models have been updated to solid wood and all come with built in electronics.

My Craviola 12 string has a very bright but subdued sound. Its neck is wide, but comfortable. The strings sit low enough to be a pleasure to play.

Since it's inception, the CraViola has been marketed in the USA under the Giannini brand, the Westbury brand (Univox) and the Jay Turser brand.

There were only two players from back in the 70's era that favored the CraViola. They were as diverse on the music spectrum as can be. One was Jimmy Page and the other was Neil Levang of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.



Jimbo said...

hey, this was very useful info. Thanks for posting it. I ran across some guy playing one of these in 6-str configuration on YouTube (doing a Thick as a Brick cover), and had not run across them before. I check out the story on Giannini's website, but they didn't have the same info. Also didn't know that Page played one. I'm looking around for another 12-str (have a 35 yr old Takamine but want something with a different sound).

Anonymous said...

My name is Tom Giannini (no relation).I am an intermediate 6 string steel player (Beatles, Dylan,etc). I don't gig professionally) Could someone give me an idea of the Giannini guitar might match my needs. Thanks very much. TG

PikeRover said...

I finally found a 1972 Giannini 12 string Julio Iglesias model (what ever that means) A buddy had one in the 70's I've always wanted one. I bought a Terser,what a POS, but now I have the real thing and could not be happier. I knew that some could be iffy but the one i bought is in great shape.

Gordon said...

Still playing my Craviola 12-string which I purchased new in 1970. I've had jazz guitarists play lead runs on the Craviola and be so impressed with the light action they wanted to buy it! I wouldn't part with it, though. Too many memories of playing coffee houses in and around Detroit in the early 70's.

Cameraman said...

I have a Craviola 12 70's model. Similar comment to Gordon, not only do people always ask what it is, but when they try it, they are amazed at how easy the action feels and how the intonation allows chord inversions at any fret.
I've been offered lots for it, but selling members of the family isn't an option.
Acoustic loudness is an issue, but electrically it's fine (I put some pickups into it)
I also have a Craviola 6 Nylon, but over time, the neck has gone. It WAS a very nice guitar.

wood said...

I have a Tranguillo Giannini made in brazil No 2. 10/44. Any info would be appreciated

chas1133 said...

I have a 12 string I have not played for more years than I can remember. The pick guard has gone crunchy on me. I would love to replace it...any help?

HowDoesThisWork said...

This was a very helpful article. I have an early 70's Giannini Craviola 12 that was given to me by my best friend before he died (so it has sentimental value). The action was high because of the soundboard and bridge rising up, so it had such bad action that I only played slide on it. Eventually the headstock broke off and I thought it was a goner. Then a friend turned out to be a great luthier and said he could restore it. He did a great job of reattaching the headstock, put in a Bridge Doctor to bring the soundboard flat and the action back down, and electrified it. Now it plays and sounds great! It's gonna be fun to pull this baby out on stage... Oh and chas1133: My pickguard went south too, so my friend got a new piece of stock turtle-shell material and cut and glued on a new one. It's awesome! As long as you have the old pickguard a luthier can use it as a form.

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