Well, it's been a very tense month waiting for this to arrive - I found out after the fact that the seller was shipping this 120 year-old classical guitar without a case of any kind
, and despite leaving Germany two days before my lute left Turkey, it was lost in tracking limbo for 4 weeks longer. It just said "Departed Germany August 26" and "Awaiting arrival in Canada" all the way through the end of September.
I was starting to envision the many fates that might have befallen it, when all of a sudden, it popped up in Canada - and was delivered within a day of doing so. The NGD is finally upon us!
Miraculously, no shipping damage. And it is basically everything I could have hoped for - it sounds and plays great, but completely unlike a modern classical guitar. Not only is it shortscale (620mm/24.4") with a narrower nut (4.5cm/1.77") and narrower body - it's also shallower at 3" total depth. The average modern classical guitar has a 650mm/25.6" scale, 5.2cm/2.05" nut, and 3.75 or 4" depth.
That small size, plus the woods drying out for 120 years, makes it an absolute featherweight, and it feels both compact and intimate to play. It just hugs against the body in a way a modern guitar doesn't, mostly because of that shallower depth.
Despite all that, it projects surprisingly well. It has no shortage of volume on tap. It came strung with Aquila Ambra 800 strings, which are a synthetic recreation of 19th century gut and silk guitar strings. They have a pleasing texture compared to smooth nylon or fluorocarbon strings, and the bass strings are much less overtone-rich. Between the guitar itself and the strings, it is absolutely a tone out of another century. It sounds out of place on modern pieces, but adds a dimension to Romantic and earlier repertoire that I never realized was missing.
Its playability is quite shocking for its age. The only issue I've discovered so far is that someone appears to have aggressively leveled the 8th fret under the 1st and 2nd strings, possibly to try to remedy a buzz from a high fret, and didn't crown it. If you try to play a high C mf or louder, you get a buzz. The frets look original to me, and unfortunately I'm not sure that fret can be saved. Some day, likely post-pandemic, I'll take it to a skilled classical luthier for assessment to figure out if the fret has to be replaced. All in all, I can live for now with one or two notes that buzz a bit under specific circumstances.
My next frontier in classical guitar technique is learning to play without nails - lute technique more or less demands it, and I want to take a proper go at that, plus my favourite Romantic composer, Fernando Sor, had this to say about nails:
Never in my life have I heard a guitarist whose playing was supportable, if he played with the nails. The nails can produce but very few gradations in the quality of the sound: the piano passage can never be singing, nor the fortes sufficiently full.
I can already tell that this guitar has a tone better suited to playing without nails. Modern classical guitars have so much bass to their tone that the treble strings are really in a war for volume. This guitar has a much more balanced tone, and while the bass notes are full enough, it skews heavily toward the midrange frequencies. Plus, if it was good enough for Fernando Sor, I wouldn't be shocked if it can be good enough for me, especially on this guitar.
Overall, I'm quite thrilled with it and had trouble putting it down today.