The history of the lute can be traced back to 2000BC and in its development, it became one of the most important instruments of the Renaissance.
It has a pear shaped body, movable frets and strings tuned in unisons or octaves, referred to as courses. The number of courses can vary according to the key of the instrument.
It was popular in the 16th and early 17th centuries for song accompaniment and solo playing. Great composers of this Golden Age of lute music include John Dowland and John Johnson.
The Chitarrone was popular in Italy at the end of the 16th century. Claimed to have been invented by Alessandro Piccinini for the purpose of accompanying the Nuove Musiche of the Florentine Camerata, specifically a basso continuo line.
It can also be referred to as a tiorba or theorbo. It is single strung with long bass strings called diapasons. This lower register provides a sonorous texture to the accompaniment part. Most of the solo repertoire for the Chitarrone comes from Italy.
Originally brought to Spain by the Moors in the middle ages, the baroque guitar become very popular in the 17th century, surpassing the lute.
Similar to the lute, it has moveable frets and five courses of strings. There is an abundance of solo repertoire for the Baroque guitar and it was commonly used for accompaniment from which the Alfabeto system of notation was developed.
The English theorbo was developed specifically to accompany the works of John Blow and Henry Purcell during the 17th century. Unlike the Italian theorbo, it is double strung with the diapasons in octaves thus accounting for the stepped nuts on the extended neck. The sound world is very different to that of the single strung instruments but it is equally rich and full of texture.
The first bandora was probably built by John Rose in England in 1560. The strings are a combination of iron and brass, tuned in unisons and octave giving the instrument a very unusual ethereal sound and sustain. The bandora remained popular for over a century and was most commonly used as one of the bass instruments in a broken consort setting. Solo repertoire exists for the bandora, William Barley and Anthony Holborne being the most well known.
As with the lute, the cittern has a long history. Played with the quill or plectrum as well as with the fingers, this instrument is thought to have evolved form the medieval citole. The popularity of the cittern reigned from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Like the bandora, its formal use was as part of the broken consort setting alongside other instruments such as the lute, viol, violin and recorder. The cittern also tended to be used for more secular music. The most common context for this would be the availability of the instrument in busy barber shops in order to allow customers to entertain themselves while waiting.