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The cittern (pronounced 'sit-urn') is a flat-backed instrument, developed in Italy around 1500 and was the first to be made with steel wire strings and solid brass frets set into the fingerboard. Because it was relatively easy to play and kept its tuning well, it became very popular across Europe and was often hung on the wall in barbers' shops, to be played by customers waiting for a haircut! Citterns were variously tuned and usually had 8 or 9 strings. The example shown is a copy of a 17th Century cittern, with guitar-style tuning heads, made by Barry Ayres of King's Lynn, Norfolk, England.

Photo of Cittern - first instrument to be made with steel strings

Cittern Sound Clips


play clip size: 146 kb


play clip size: 123kb

Large printable image of the cittern


Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000