c.1900 Viola Da Terra

A Portuguese-derived instrument, this type of "viola" it associated with the Azores Islands. This particular one probably dates c.1890s to c.1920s, and originally had wooden tuner pegs. There are a whole variety of different "violas" of these types -- ie, steel-strung, octave-tuned, guitar-shaped instruments coming out of Portugal -- and you can take a look at some others by clicking here. They're essentially related in sound and playing style to the Portuguese guitar (a cittern-like 12-string instrument with a mandolin-ish body shape), but feature a more guitar-oriented tuning (typically ADGBD like a guitar's "top five" with the E tuned down) and also a baroque guitar body shape.

The bridges on Portuguese instruments like these are terribly cool -- being in two parts with the larger part acting as string anchor and also a top-mounted brace, and the second part being the actual bridge where the strings transfer their energy into the top. This gives a tone somewhere between that of a tailpiece-load instrument and a guitar-load (ie, glued bridge) instrument -- warm and sweet but also punchy and strident.

My work on this fella included regluing the bridge, crafting of a new bone saddle, new nut, installation of 12 new friction tuners (uke style), and also regluing of some bracing and the center seam of the top.

It's come out really nice and plays fantastically, despite a slightly peculiarly back-bowed neck, though I do have to cut a new saddle that's --slightly -- taller on the lowest course.

Scale length is 21.5" and the strings are arranged 3-3-2-2-2 from bass to treble.

Rosewood fretboard, original frets.

Fun bridge(s) and inlaid marquetry on the lower bout. Top is bound with wood (maple?) binding and also purfled with b/w/b wood.

Cool twin-heart soundholes with inlaid rosette.

These instruments are both folky-looking and stately-looking at the same time. Very fun stuff.

I'm not sure what the back, side, and neck woods are, but there's a chance that they're cypress or something similar under that dark red stain.

These tuners look like a hassle but they're not all that bad. They're simple Grover uke tuners but get the job done without alteration to the instrument.

Simple eye-hook end pin. I may actually drill out a hole and put a wood one in at some point. My wifey's leaning towards my holding onto this instrument... and I can't complain! I've passed up a few Portuguese guitars that I loved and this thing has the best of both worlds --- a guitar-like body and neck with the sound of the guitarra -- and retunes easily from ADGBD to "guitar" ADGBE or "banjo" (or Keith Richards g-tuning) GDGBD quite easily.


Anonymous said...

did you sale this instrument yet, if so what was it going for? I'm a Azorean American instrument builder. Looking for a instrument as example for future builds of Azorean type instruments. Please email me. SeteMarsGuitars@Gmail.com

Atropa said...

hey man,
this one is really great.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Atropa: I agree. :D

Sete Mares Guitars, Azorean-Portuguese said...

Hay Jake I have been following the viola da terra's on ebay, one for $890 new, $700 used, $500 used and one still low in the biding at $117, And I'm already at my limit. If you could help with string spacing at the nut and saddle that would be great. I'm looking for information on the ladder bracing on the top but I asked Jose Luico in Lisbon Portugal.