The chitarra battente is a folk guitar from Southern Italy which derived from the Baroque guitar. Chitarra battente translates to "beating guitar" as it is played in a very rhythmic way, with the player often beating on the top of the guitar and playing the strings in a percussive way. In the old days there were many regional variations of chitarra battentes, but now a 10 string variety has become the standard. They were made in the US, by some independent builders in the early 20th Century and also by the Oscar Schmidt Company. They have been enjoying a renaissance in Italy, but haven't been made in the US in many years. I had a request to make one for an Italian musician who was traveling to the US and was unable to bring one as he had many other instruments. I was happy to oblige. My first one was based on photos and on a very vague notion of what the chitarra battente was, which was very appropriate for the instrument as there was no standard in the old days. Since then I've built a few more, each time a little more informed from friends and builders in Italy. My battentes have 8 strings, in four courses, and a drone string which is in the middle of the neck. The strings are very close to the top, the fingerboard is flush to the top, and the top is bent, like a bowl back mandolin, to put downward pressure on the bridge. Often there is a paper or parchment rosette inside the soundhole, obscuring the interior of the guitar, adding to the aesthetic and sound. There are different grades of battente, some are very finely made, like a Baroque guitar, others are made by farmers and are extremely crude. Some are in between the two extremes. I shoot for the middle, but am always tempted to go the farmer route.
Here's my friend Gianlucca Zamarelli playing a song on the first chitarra I built. Gianlucca is a fantastic Italian traditional musician. He plays several instruments including organetto (button box accordion) and zampogna (Italian bagpipes). He also makes zampognas and ciaramellas. He lives outside of Rome.
Here's one of my favorite chitarra players and singers, the Calabrian maestro Salvatore Megna. I did not make the battente, it was made by the maestro Constantino DeBonis The film was made by my friend David Marker. If you're interested, check out David's youtube channel. There are all sorts of gems there. youtube.com/user/dmarker21
Here's a beautiful battente clip of Domenico Graziano, made in Calabria by my friend David Marker. I didn't make this guitar, it was made by the maestro Constantino DeBonis. I love Domenico's playing, and the whole scene.
One last clip. Here's Bruno Chitino playing a standard guitar, retrofitted to be a chitarra battente. Here Bruno beautifully demonstrates some of the right hand technique. He's like a boxer working a bag. Lovely stuff.