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While looking for baroque music on Spotify (mainly Bach), I noticed that all of the pieces originally written for lute are arranged for guitar when played by contemporary artists. NOTE: This wasn't a scientific survey, just an observation.

Why is this being done?

Are there advantages of guitar or is it just reflecting changing fashions?

  • 4
    Probably because they're very similar instruments. (Do you know what they call a person who makes guitars?) – Mason Wheeler Feb 10 '17 at 18:20
  • I'll just add that there are also contemporary artists who play the lute, and that lots of lute music, although transcribable for guitar, really does sound better on the lute. – Scott Wallace Feb 10 '17 at 19:31
  • Forgive me if I'm over-simplifying here, but why not? – user18706 Feb 10 '17 at 22:03
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    1. Shortage of lutes. 2. Shortage of pieces for the guitar, especially from the lute-composition period. – user207421 Feb 10 '17 at 22:26
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    This doesn't qualify for an answer but from a recovering lutenist (I'm on a 12-fret program): If you're going to play lute music on the guitar, you will find it MUCH easier if you tune your G down to F# and learn to read the tab. Most lute music is in Italian tab which is identical to modern guitar tab but uses letters instead of numbers (a=0, b=1, etc). A very short learning curve and well worth it. What looks horribly complex in "arranged" modern notation becomes beautifully simple in its original form. And there's a huge amount of it available. – Jim Garrison Feb 11 '17 at 6:37
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Availability.

Guitars are far more available than lutes. You can go down to any music store and buy a guitar for a very reasonable price. Even non-musicians will sometimes keep a guitar on hand. Just from personal experience, but I know someone who only occasionally plays the guitar, but he has 3 on hand. Why? He found them for a couple hundred dollars.

Even just a quick search on Google in your state shows at least three stores that specialize in guitar sales: guitars are all over the place.

Contrast that with the lute: It's more expensive, you'll probably have to travel farther to get one, and you'll have a much narrower selection.

Basically, it's the same reason that a lot of pieces that were originally written for the clavichord or the harpsichord are now played on piano: most people have access to a piano, whereas very few have access to a harpsichord and even fewer to a clavichord.

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    The analogy to keyboard music is excellent. Welcome to Music.SE! – Todd Wilcox Feb 10 '17 at 17:40
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    My guitar teacher went half way across the world to the US to buy his lute. – Neil Meyer Feb 10 '17 at 19:25
  • I'm not sure about the keyboard analogy: now as many people have access to digital keyboards as to acoustic pianos, still they'll more commonly opt for a piano sound when playing Bach even if a harpsichord sound is available. – leftaroundabout Feb 11 '17 at 13:44
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The lute has a very pleasant part of the audio spectrum in the classical repertoire. It is much easier to get a lute working with a string ensemble than it is a guitar.

It just seems to fit the spectrum better. Unfortunately, that is often overshadowed by the sheer impractical nature of the lute. It has a number of strings more than a guitar. You have violin style pegs instead of machine heads and until relatively recently the lute used old fashioned gut strings as well.

Restringing it is a nightmare, tuning it takes forever. It takes a really dedicated player to master, you cannot play the lute with nails so if you come from a guitar background you have to totally remaster your picking technique

It is even notated in an archaic form of tablature, so you even have to learn a completely new form of notation if you want to play the music written for the instrument.

And lastly, it is nowhere near as versatile an instrument. Where with a guitar you are only limited by your adaptation skills with a lute you really are only ever going to play renaissance and baroque music.

It is not a bad instrument it just takes an amount of dedication to master it that 90 percent of the people in the world don't have.

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The lute is a very difficult instrument to maintain. Has lots of issues with stability in various temperatures and humidities. And the sharp angle in the neck makes it easy to mistreat physically. Also, it's difficult to build, and a lot of people who used to make them have switched to violin-family, only partly because there's more demand for those. So, since it's a fretted instrument, and since it's range is very similar to that of the guitar, a lot of guitarists, especially those who specialize in classical, have made arrangements of classic lute pieces for their guitars and then published those. So while, yes, it's partly a matter of changing fashions, it's much more because the guitar is easier to take good care of.

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    This is a great support answer in combination with anonymous2's answer. Why are lute songs so often rearranged for guitar? Because guitars are more available. Why are guitars more available? Because lutes are much more difficult to build and maintain. – Timbo Feb 10 '17 at 22:52
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Well, in many cases "arranging" for the guitar involves looking at the notes on the G string (third highest) and see whether they could still be fingered when the lute "G sharp" string (actually D sharp) was tuned one half note down to its nominal guitar G.

Of course, apart from this one-string change, a common lute is tuned a whole fourth higher on the melody strings, and it often has a number of additional bass strings, often to be played without fretting.

But once you transpose the basic tuning, the remaining core change is a semitone in the third highest string.

Which is reasonably easy to "arrange" for. And the guitar is played a lot more than the lute these days...

  • User 36792-- Yes, your last sentence is in fact what the OP was asking about! He wondered why. – L3B Feb 10 '17 at 21:05

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