Exploring the Unique Cassasse Guitar


The cassasse is a lesser-known but intriguing guitar with a fascinating history. Its distinctive sound and construction make it stand out from more mainstream guitars. Let’s take a closer look at this unique instrument.

Origins in Southern France

The cassasse originates from Provence, a region in southern France. It emerged in the late 18th century among local musicians. They adapted elements from existing guitar and mandolin designs to create an instrument suited to their traditional styles. Early carcasses had a tiny body made from pieces of wood joined together. Nylon or gut strings ran over a short fretless neck. This allowed for an unusually bright and percussive tone.

  • Cassasse means “broken” or “damaged” in Provençal dialect, referring to its pieced construction.
  • First mentioned in writings from 1785 in the Aix-en-Provence area of southern France
  • Developed as a less expensive alternative to classical and flamenco guitars
  • Perfect for fast rhythmic accompaniment in boules, farandoles, and other regional dances

Unique Features and Design

While resembling a guitar, the cassasse has characteristics that make it quite distinct:

  • Body: Rectangular shape made of several pieces of wood joined together without sides or back
  • Neck: Short fretless neck tuned in unique intervals instead of standard tuning
  • Strings: 4-8 nylon or gut strings running over the neck but without fret markers
  • Soundhole: A large circular hole on the front contributes to its bright ringing sound
  • Lightweight: Weighs only 1-2 pounds due to lack of back and sides, easy to hold
  • Playability: Suited for fast strumming, chording and single-note runs

Historically, the lightweight build allowed cassasse players to dance vigorously while performing energetic folk music. Its unusual intervals also produced a sound entirely its own.

Preserving a Tradition

Through the 1800s and 1900s, the cassasse remained integral to traditional Provençal music yet relatively unknown elsewhere. Starting in the 1970s, a revival began as some musicians sought to preserve fading regional styles. Luthiers and players collaborated to research original construction techniques and revive the instrument.

  • In 1971, L’Association du Félibrige helped document early cassasses and spur renewed interest
  • Modern luthier Philippe Vidal has crafted innovative new models, expanding playability
  • Players like Jacme de Cassasse champion its use in authentic folk ensembles
  • Festivals like Cassis’ help introduce its unique sound to wider audiences
  • Recordings by groups like La Bartas and Tramontane spread cassasse music globally

Now the tradition continues evolving while honoring historical forms. New interpretations expose more people to its distinctive character. Various luthiers also experiment with hybrid designs blending old world cassasse qualities with modern playability. This ensures its fascinating sound and role in Provençal culture survives into the future.

Building Your Own Cassasse

For those wanting to experience this unique guitar firsthand, building a basic cassasse model is quite feasible. Here are the basic steps:

Materials Needed:

  • Assorted pieces of wood (pine, poplar work well) for body
  • Thin wood for neck
  • Nylon or gut strings
  • Wood glue
  • Sandpaper
  • Finishing materials (oil, varnish)
  • Tuning pegs


  1. Cut wood pieces for body to desired rectangular shape and join together
  2. Attach neck at 90° angle to extended fretless fingerboard
  3. Drill sound hole and cut string holes on neck
  4. Sand entire piece smooth
  5. Add finish and tuning machines
  6. Attach strings and tune to open intervals (FGDA for example)
  7. Experiment playing traditional rhythms and melodies

With some woodworking skills and patience, you can create your own functional cassasse to better appreciate its distinctive character through playing. Be sure to research original designs and tuning for an authentic experience.

Learning Cassasse Music

Once you have a cassasse built, the next step is diving into its traditional repertoire. Much Provençal folk music was passed down orally, so finding instruction can require extra searching. Here are some tips:

  • Check recordings by artists mentioned for song ideas and listening guides
  • Search websites like CassisMusicFestival.com for tutorial videos
  • Contact local French music schools teaching regional styles
  • See if folk music camps or workshops visit your area
  • Enlist help from cassasse craftsmen to demonstrate techniques
  • Transcribe melodies and rhythms by ear from authentic recordings
  • Experiment improvising your compositions in its unique tuning

With dedication, you can start incorporating cassasse into performances of Provençal dance music. Be sure to preserve its ethnic character while putting your creative spin. Keep the living tradition thriving by sharing its beauty with new listeners.

Preserving a Unique Cultural Heritage

While lesser known than many global instruments, the cassasse is invaluable in keeping vibrant folk traditions alive. Through ongoing revivals, more people now appreciate its captivating sound. Continued research also ensures we understand its historical context.

As styles cross-pollinate, the future of cassasse remains an open question. Some advocate fusing it with other influences to attract new fans. Others wish to preserve authentic forms passed for centuries. Both have merits worth considering.

Overall, the cassasse stands as an inspiring example of cultural stewardship. Rich heritages find new life when a community rallies to sustain forgotten arts. This fascinating guitar is undoubtedly here to stay with contemporary champions, keeping their energy and joie de vivre alive.

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