Friday, April 8, 2011

The Terz Guitar

Does anyone remember Marty Robbins? Was there anything Marty Robbins couldn’t do? Robbins was a Country and Pop singer-songwriter. He had an beautiful and distinct voice. He had a bunch of hit records, White Sports Coat, El Paso, The Streets of Laredo, Devil Woman and My Woman, My Wife. Robbins also played the guitar. 

He was a movie star and he was a professional NASCAR driver with ten Top 10 finishes. What I remember most about Robbins is his little Martin 5-18 guitar that was his trademark. It was never mic'd. He didn't even use a strap.

But he consistently was strumming away at that little instrument like it was a ukulele. The guitar that Marty Robbins played is also known by the proper name of the Terz guitar.

A Terz guitar is a small guitar tuned up a minor third higher than normal tuning so the open strings are G-C-F-A#-D-G, however it can be played in normal tuning. The neck is shorter, in the case of the Martin 5-18 the neck has a 21.4” scale. The body is also smaller than a full size instrument. The word Terz is German for third. It seems guitarists have always been stretching the boundaries of coming up with new sounds for the guitar. During the early 19th century the Terz guitar was an excellent way of augmenting a guitar duet.

There were even orchestral concertos written using a Terz guitar. The smaller body and higher pitch resulted in a brighter sound that cut through the orchestra. Though it was not any louder, we seem to more readily hear high frequencies.

The Italian version of the Terz guitar was a tiny instrument, while the Viennese version was much like the Martin. In fact we know that Charles Freidrich Martin was affiliated with the Viennese company, Stauffer. Stauffer offered a Terz model. Strings for these instruments were a lighter guage than for a normal 650mm scale neck. This was of course prior to metal or even nylon strings.

The Stauffer Terz instrument was made with a spruce top, and maple back and sides with rosewood binding. Though Terz guitars are probably not practical in today’s music, they are interesting and an alternative to parlor guitars.

Neil Young's Martin 5-18
Marty Robbins was not the only guy that owned one. According to his family, Johnny Cash regularly played a Martin 5-18 at his home and on the road as a songwriting instrument. Michael Hedges played a 5-18.

Sting was also fond of his Terz model. Martin has made two models of the Terz guitar and has his own model.

The Martin 5-18, which is currently available as the Marty Robbins Model and the Martin Claire Guitar, which was a tribute to Chris Martin's daughter. It is no longer in production.

From a historical prospective, Martin built the first 5-18 in 1918.

From 1918 to 1922 the 5-18's were braced for gut strings.

Beginning in 1923 to the present the Martin 5-18's are braced for steel strings.

Martin built three versions of the Terz instrument; the 5-18, the 5-28 and the 5-15. The Martin Claire guitar was commissioned by Chris Martin in honor of his daughter

Based on the fact the Terz is a small guitar, what is the difference between a Terz and a Requinto? The requinto is a Spanish style small bodied instrument that was built to essentially do the same thing a Terz guitar does, only in a Mariachi band.

The Requinto provides a soprano voice.

When compared to 19th century classic Terz instruments (actually it was not the classic era, but the romantic era), the only differences are the tunings and the Requinto tends to have the same body depth as a full size guitar.

The Requinto is normally tuned A-D-G-C-E-A. The modern Requinto is strung with nylon strings and readily available at most large music stores for a price under $500.

Viennese Quint
To make matters more confusing, during the Romantic Music Era, Viennese luthiers also made a Quint guitar, designed to be tuned a fourth higher than a regular guitar.

Modern classical guitar luthiers can build instruments to any size that is specified.

The little Martin Terz instrument is somewhat expensive, $3300 to $4000. Martin currently does not produce size 5 guitars.

Another alternative would be Martins LX line of Little Martins. The scale is slightly longer at 23", the neck joins at the 14th fret and most versions of this guitar are made of wood laminate, although some have solid tops.

 The Little Martins sell for around $329 to $439.


3 comments: said...

I cannot believe no one has posted a comment for the greatest country singing of all time. Also and amazing guitarist

Marty Robbins, King of the Trail Song! RIP Marty. God bless you and thanks

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