The Renaissance guitar had only 4 courses; the first was usually single and the other three double. Although no historical four-course instruments have survived, it is clear that their dimensions were fairly small. The string length of the instrument pictured is 50 cm. It is based on the engraving on the title pages of the guitar books of Guillaume Morlaye and Simon Gorlier (1551 to 1553, Paris). Click on the photograph to view a larger version.
During the Renaissance, the guitar may well have been used as it frequently is today, to provide a simple strummed accompaniment for a singer or a small musical group. However, there were also several significant music collections published during the sixteenth century containing contrapuntal compositions for guitar approaching the complexity, sophistication and breadth of repertory of those appearing in some publications for lute from the same time period.