partch's guitars



































Partch with his first Adapted Guitar 1 in Carmel, California, 1941. 
Courtesy of the Harry Partch Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.



































Partch playing his first Adapted Guitar 1 in Ithaca, New York, 1943. 
Courtesy of the Harry Partch Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Partch's first Adapted Guitar 1 was a 1928 Martin O-18K parlor guitar that he purchased in New York in August of 1934. Shortly afterwards – with the aid of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation – Partch departed the United States for London to study the history of intonation at the British Museum. Up until 1942 or 1943 he gradually developed the fingerboard layout on this guitar, adding frets as new pieces were composed and new pitches were required - replacing the usual low, wire-style frets on the original instrument with high stainless-steel ones fitted into slots in a brass plate, which was then screwed onto the neck. The six strings of this guitar were tuned in three pairs of octaves, separated by the interval of a just major third around Partch's fundamental tone 1/1 [G], producing a justly tuned augmented chord (from low to high): 8/5 [Eb] – 1/1 [G] – 5/4 [B]. Like many of his later instruments, this first Adapted Guitar 1 did not contain all of the forty-three tones that constituted Partch's later established scale.

Partch wrote: “the instrument is played more like a mandolin than a guitar, but its low range of pitch and 2/1 [octave] pairs contribute to a result that is unlike either." He used this guitar to perform the first three versions of Barstow [1941/42/43], the first two versions of U.S. Highball [1943], December, 1942 [1942] and Letter from Hobo Pablo [1943].














































Adapted Guitar 2 (left) and the second, electric Adapted Guitar 1 (right), circa 1945. 
Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Archives.


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In 1945, whilst at the University of Madison in Wisconsin, he replaced the abovementioned instrument with a fretless electrified version [with two pickups no less!] - most likely a late 1930's National 'Electric Spanish' archtop model - with pinheads and brass rivets inserted into the fingerboard to delineate an even greater number of microtonal pitches. This three-stringed instrument was also given the title Adapted Guitar 1, and tuned exactly like its acoustic predecessor. Used up until at least 1954 in a handful of pieces - 
the 1946 recording of U.S. Highball, Vanity from his Eleven Intrusions [1950], the second version of The Letter [1950], and the draft of the 1954 version of Barstow - it was temporarily left with friends in Sausalito in 1956 and regrettably lost.

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In 1945 or 1946 Partch developed Adapted Guitar 2, a ten-string acoustic lap steel guitar played Hawaiian-style, with a brass [later Pyrex] rod to make gliding pitches possible. Originally a Regal Oahu model [produced between 1935 and 1939], this guitar was first used in his Eleven Intrusions [1950], Sonata Dementia [1950] and the drama King Oedipus [1951], but also in many of the composer's later large-scale ensemble works such as Delusion Of The Fury [1969]. It was tuned in various configurations as the works required, and also modified with its own pickup in 1950.

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Partch’s final adapted guitar was actually a reworking of his very first one. At some point in 1950 he removed the frets of his original Adapted Guitar 1, painted the fingerboard in bold colours, and converted it into a lap steel guitar as well, renaming it Adapted Guitar 3. All of this instrument’s strings were tuned to unisons or octaves of G [his fundamental tone, 1/1]. The instrument was first used in the pieces Lover, Soldiers/War/Another War, Vanity and Cloud Chamber Music [all composed in 1950] - as well as the 1954 version of Barstow - but is also part of the instrumentation of his final work The Dreamer That Remains, which Partch composed in 1972 for the film of the same name.

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My replica of Adapted Guitar 1 [2013] differs from the original in that the body is of the larger 'dreadnought' type, which increases bass resonance and projection [in its former life, it was a 1977 Japanese-made Takamine F-340, a Martin D-28 clone]. In addition to the frets required to perform the pieces originally composed for the instrument, it also has a number of additional frets, which allow me to perform works originally conceived for other Partch instruments [such as the Adapted Viola and Harmonic Canon II], as well as assist me with microtonal vocal pitching. These were added on three seperate occasions between 2014 and 2017.

Apart from its narrower string spacing, and a slightly different visual approach to mapping out the multitude of pitches required on its fretboard, my replica of Adapted Guitar 2 is as faithful a replica as was practically possible at the time it was adapted [2017]. Partch's original instrument was a 6-stringed instrument, to which he added four extra strings. I decided to approach the process from the opposite direction, removing two strings from a 12-string acoustic guitar [originally a 1976 Japanese Takamine F-400].


My copy of Adapted Guitar 3 [2017] again has a 'dreadnought' Martin D-28 body type [in this case a 1981 Takamine F-340 model], unlike the smaller parlor guitar size of the original. I also took a slightly different approach to the layout of the microtonal pitches for this instrument, echoing the aesthetic approach to the fretboard taken with my replica of Adapted Guitar 2


Fret layout, string configurations, open string tunings and the microtonal pitches required for particular Partch compositions were calculated through a long process of historical research, consultations with Partch scholars around the world, and reverse engineering the relevant original scores. The fretwork and various structural modifications of the original instruments were done by James Mumford of Mumford Guitars in Warrnambool, Australia. The microtonal fingerboard indications on Adapted Guitar 2 and Adapted Guitar 3 were painstakingly measured, affixed and annotated by Tess E. McKenzie. Financial support for the additional fretwork on Adapted Guitar 1 and the replica of Adapted Guitar 2 and its pickup was generously provided by Scordatura Ensemble as part of their 'Rose Petal Jam' project during 2016-17. All of my Adapted Guitar replica are fitted with K&K pickups. My Adapted Guitar 2 is played with a replica Pyrex and oak tone bar made by David Lavis in Bath, United Kingdom. Adapted Guitar 3 is played with either this aforementioned bar, a Shubb Long Dawg stainless steel bar, or a solid brass bar made by Woodshed Capos in Essex in the United Kingdom. All strings are Elixir Nanoweb.

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Below: My replicas of Adapted Guitar 2 (left) and the first Adapted Guitar 1 (right), Paris, October 2017. 
Photograph by Emmanuel Ferand.














































Below: My replica of Partch's first Adapted Guitar 1, Amsterdam, October 2018







































Above: Partch playing Adapted Guitar 2, circa 1957. 
Courtesy of the Harry Partch Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

































Above: Partch playing Adapted Guitar 3, circa 1957. 
Courtesy of the Bob Gilmore Archives/Elisabeth Smalt.



Above: Performing with my replica of Adapted Guitar 3The Hague, April 2018. 
Photograph by Alex Schroder.