Louis Panormo was from a Sicilian violin making family that left Italy and eventually settled in London. His guitar lutherie career began ca 1816 and lasted until ca 1850. His nephew, George Louis (Lewis) Panormo assumed production at some time during the mid 1800's and instruments built from 1855 to 1872 were labeled as built by him. Louis Panormo's earliest guitars were French style instruments, generally featuring maple backs and sides and black painted necks and headstocks. These instruments were ladder braced and were labeled "Panormo Fecit" (built by Panormo). Early instruments had tuning pegs but he increasingly made use of geared tuning machines as this then new technology became available. Probably as the result of a vogue for the Spanish guitar, a later line of instruments which bore the label inscription "In The Spanish Style" was introduced. The two lines were produced in parallel until the Panormo Fecit line was eventually dropped. Panormo's "Spanish Style" guitars generally had bodies made of rosewood and were fan braced. The necks of these were made of Spanish cedar with maple headstocks and were finished with a transparent varnish. The instrument shown here is a replica not of a particular instrument but of the style that he would have built during the late 1840's. Original Panormo guitars are highly prized. They have excellent tone and power, which often surprises musicians that are unfamiliar with 19th century instruments.
Initially appeared: July 26, 2015
Last updated: September 11, 2018
19th century / Romantic Period guitars are the common ancestors to both modern classical and steel string instruments. The bodies of these gut string instruments are small, a size that today we often refer to as parlor size. It is interesting to see features in these guitars that are found in modern instruments. Panormo settled on two levels of decoration. The more highly decorated instruments, although more subdued than many of their baroque period predecessors, would still be considered ornate by today's standards. The replica pictured here is of Panormo's more basic level of decoration and is more in line with our current sensibilities.
The headstock of this replica is made of a solid block of maple. The top of the headstock of Panormo's instruments had a recognizable half moon shape. The walls of the slots in the headstock are quite thin and the slots themselves are tapered, narrower on the bottom end than on the top. The instrument pictured has modern tuning machines built in the style of the machines that originally graced these instruments and were built by Rance and then Baker.
The headstock is attached to the Spanish cedar neck shaft using a v-joint typical of many instruments of this time. This is a somewhat complex dovetail joint. The neck shaft has large ebony dot markers on one side. On the body end it is joined to the heel and internal block assembly by a long scarf joint. Panormo's instruments featured rosewood fretboards that are quite thin, into which are set thin bar frets. His original instruments had frets made of ivory. This material was replaced by brass, and later by nickel silver. The replica shown has nickel silver frets. The fretboard extends over the body in the now conventional fashion, and its end is shaped to match the curve of the soundhole as is the case with modern classical guitars.
The neck attaches to the body using Spanish heel construction. The rib ends fit into slots cut into the sides of the heel. Inside the body the heel is shaped into a foot on the back and a shelf on the top.
The body of the guitar is made of rosewood as are the bindings. The back is in two pieces with a simple maple back strip between the two. There is a wedge shaped end graft on this replica. Panormo used either straight or wedge shaped end grafts.
The guitar pictured features a one piece top, typical of Panormo's guitars of this period. The narrow grain is on the treble side. The soundhole is decorated with a rosette made of rings of wood veneer, in a fashion currently associated with steel string guitars. Internal bracing is typical of Spanish style guitars today. The backs originally had two transverse braces, but by the period of this replica had three. The tops had upper and lower transverse braces and fan bracing on the lower part.
Some of the features that we would consider to be unusual today involve the fittings. The bridge is carved ebony and the shape is more fancy than typical bridges are today. It has teardrop shaped wings with MOP inlaid eyes at the ends. The central portion is carved in a shallow channel and the rear portion is carved into a mustache shape. This latter feature is typical of Panormo's later instruments. The strings are anchored with bridge pins, another feature more typical of steel string instruments today. The saddle is not removable, but is formed by a raised lip at the front of the bridge.
Panormo's instruments featured large end pin buttons and also two small buttons on the back. These are all made of bone. The large end pin button screws on and off and is used to anchor a strap. The back buttons were used to tie the guitar to the player's clothing.
This instrument is not a copy of a particular instrument but is a composite of features appearing on a number of period instruments I examined and measured for this project. Unfortunately I do not have plans available. If you are looking for plans for a Panormo guitar I can highly recommend the plan drawn by Italian luthier Davide Serracini. It is of a beautiful 1844 "Spanish Style" instrument featuring the high level of decoration. It is accurate, well drawn, and contains all necessary detail.
If you intend to build historically accurate Panormo guitars I can highly recommend the PhD thesis by guitar historian James Westbrook, entitled Guitar making in Nineteenth-Century London: Louis Panormo and his Contemporaries. It is unfortunately currently only available for reading on site in the library of Cambridge University. The good news is that it will soon be published as a book. This one will be well worth having by anyone interested in the guitars of Panormo and his contemporaries. Some construction details of Panormo guitars can be gleaned from my American Lutherie article "The ‘‘Mysteries’’ of Panormo" (American Lutherie #132, 2017, p. 50). See the Guild of American Luthiers website to obtain the back issue containing that article.