Sándor Szabó

Performing artist, Composer, Music researcher

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Sandor Szabo:
Master of the 16 String Guitar and Baritone Guitar

SANDOR SZABO is a pioneer and master of the unique 16 String Acoustic Guitar. A guitar that sounds like no other guitar you have ever heard. The instrument has a resonance and harmonic depth to it that allows the guitar player to cover unchartered guitar territory. Here Sandor explains the theory and the art of 16 String guitar and his other love the rich sounding Acoustic Baritone Guitar.

Art Of The 16 String Guitar - Sandor Szabo
25 years ago I started to discover the 12 string guitar but it seemed to me too limited. So I had an idea to have a guitar with two extra pairs of contra bass strings. The 16 string guitar was born. Later on I tried to explore the possibilities of the 16 strings. I had a 16 string guitar with a normal 12 string register and 4 extra strings which were suspended as the strings on a sitar with the help of a special bridge. After this a new period started. I wanted to occupy this empire of the deepness. So I went into deeper tunings.

15 years later I saw that there were even more possibilities in this instrument. It was the interval tuning. I created dozens of tunings which contained deep contra bass strings and also almost all the intervals we can have in an octave. I composed many pieces with these tunings and I also made a lot of recordings. After a while I decided to make a collection of the composítions I made for 16 string guitars. This is the Art Of The 16 String Guitar I and II.

Musically I have a theory that there are unplayed and undiscovered harmonies which should be discovered and played on a guitar. These monstrous 16 string guitars are very suitable to do that. I have a very deep study of the harmony concept of Béla Bartók. I extended that theory and I adapted it to guitar. So the compositions can be heard on my albums on the last few years using this special harmony concept.

Baritone Acoustic Guitar
I am very much involved in the baritone guitar as a possibility to go even further. The 16 string guitar has a lot of limits. To step ahead the baritone guitar seemed to be the ideal device. The baritone guitar also has a limit. On the lower positions the chords sound muddy. That is why the baritone guitar can be used in a very limited way. When I experimented with the 16 string guitar once I tried the Nashville tuning which sounded very interesting, I strung up the guitar without the octave strings and I got a completely new tuning. I adopted that to a more playable 6 string guitar and I started to recompose my repertoare to this new tuning. I started that in 1998, so one year later the new tuning was ready to record with.

A couple years later I heard a record by Pat Metheny who discovered this tuning in another way. That was the point when I thought that this cannot be accidental. Different explorations led to the same result. So now I am working very hard with this tuning.
Acoustic Poetry was recorded on a normal 650 mm scale guitar but the tuning was in the baritone range: A D g c' e a. Now I am working on my second bartitone album and I have a real baritone guitar with 700 mm long scale, so I could go down to contra G. The tuning is G C f bflat d g. I have a Lakewood Custom Baritone which sounds phenomenal with all the baritone tunings. I think that the baritone guitar has endless possibilities but from my side I see its possibilities with the modified Nashville tuning where the two middle strings are tuned and strung one octav higher. With this tuning I can avoid the muddiness of the chords in the lower positions. And as an additional advantage the chord voicings are very different to my normal stringing. I managed to adopt a lot of new chords from my harmony system to this guitar and I can really say that it is possible to play music that was never heard before on guitar.

And I think this is only the begining because I want to have a 12 string baritone and also a nylon string baritone. So I have a lot to do in the next years. Probably there are many guitar fans who are interested and want to try these tunings and stringings. For them all these tunings will be available soon in a chart on my web site where also the tension and the gauges can be seen.

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