CASTELO DE VIDE, Portugal – The owner of a rare Portuguese guitar known as the guitolão, of which there are only three in existence, told EFE that the unique string instrument was originally tailor made to interpret the country’s traditional fado music.
The rare chordophone played by only a select few was the creation of Gilberto Gracio who in the 1970s was approached by Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes to design a guitar that would offer the required range in order to drop the viola when playing fados, a tradition that merges poetry and song.
“There are only three guitolãos in the world, and all three are in Portugal, one in the Algarve, another in Coimbra and the third is mine and is in the locality of Castelo de Vide,” Antonio Eustaquio told EFE in an interview.
“It is a bit larger than a Portuguese guitar, because the neck is longer, which means there is a particular way of tuning it and a very specific way of playing it,” the composer and guitar player continued.
The instrument, which is a rich mahogany color and features an exquisite star-shaped rosetta carving around the sound hole, has 12 strings, the first three of which are in the same tone.
“The rest are in octaves in order to reach higher base tones,” the guitarist continued.
For his inspiration in his fado compositions, Eustaquio looks to his surroundings Castelo de Vide, a municipality in central east Portugal near the Spanish border that was heavily influenced by Jewish culture.
Fado is thought to have originated in 1820.
The content of fado songs is deeply melancholic, with lyrics often referencing feelings of longing and loss, for which the Portuguese have coined a term: “saudade.”
The composer is of the opinion that the unusual instrument allows for the creation of more erudite and cerebral music.
“Guitolão,” his most well-known track is entitled, “is inspired by the southern region of the Alentejo, Extremadura and also has an Arab influence,” Eustaquio added.
The composition “Poem to a dry leaf,” based on a work by Portuguese existentialist writer Ruy de Moura Belo (1933-1978), is another Eustaquio fan favorite.
The poem, the composer said, was for loved ones who were no longer around.
Eustaquio’s guitolão was made by Gracio and was launched to a public audience for its debut gig on June 18, 2005.
“I recall Gracio had to go and source the wood from the Spanish region of Valencia because he needed a very special type of timber that is found in Canada, India and some areas in Africa,” the musician said.
These days, the melodic tones of Eustaquio’s string instrument have been appreciated by audiences in Germany, Moldova, Italy and Brazil. In Portugal, his fame continues to grow as the artist offers more and more gigs across his home country.
The remarkable guitar has put the medieval town of Castelo de Vide firmly on the map as fans and lovers of this instrument flock to the town to learn more about the guitolão.
The town’s mayor Antonio Pita told EFE that, for Castelo de Vide, “it is a great pride to be a reference for this instrument and to be the home of Antonio Eustaquio which allows us to relate to the world through music.”