Saturday, 12 March 2011

My February

Ah, February, the longest, shortest, dreariest, happiest month.  How did you spend your February?  Were you on a beach in some sunny place, trying your best to forget the frozen misery back home?  Or did you bar the door, curl up by the fire and pluck your lute by the flickering light?

I must admit I did some of the latter in my February (though there was no actual fireplace involved--only the warmth and light of my lovely bride Julia).  In the lute shop, I carved.  I also planed, and sawed, and scraped, and drilled (and occasionally swept the floor); but mostly, I carved.

I selected three of my best soundboards, planed and scraped them to an appropriate thickness, and then in each of them I carved a rose.  Have a look.

This is the rose I carved for the 8 course lute.  Like all of the lute rose patterns I use, it's an historical pattern, and it's from an archlute of 1639 by Matteo Sellas.  (This version of the pattern was drawn by Ray Nurse).   I hadn't carved this pattern before, but I was eager to do it--I really like the balance of space and substance, and the combination of geometric and organic elements.

This is the rose for the 13 course Schelle lute.  It is not the pattern that appears on the original Paris Schelle (that rose is actually carved from a separate piece of pear wood, and then inset into the belly of the lute).  Instead, this rose is a version of the "knot of leonardo" pattern that appears--in different sizes, and with and without the decorative chip-carved border--on many surviving old instruments.

And here is the rose for the 11 course Warwick Frei.  This is the pattern from the original Frei lute, and it is one of a kind--the only surviving historical lute on which this rose pattern appears.  No wonder!  The small lace-or web-like elements are quite painstaking to cut.  Indeed, there's such a combination of different things going on in this pattern--large and small bits, vines, webs, fleurs-de-lis, geometric elements--that it's kind of amazing that the pattern 'works' at all.  And yet it does... To me, there's something in this rose that feels very old, very fundamental, even archetypal.  It brings a shiver.

Perhaps you can tell that I really, really enjoy carving a lute rose.  It's true.  However, like practically all the thousand-and-one jobs involved in making a lute, I am happy while I am doing it, but I am happy when it's done.  I can set the work aside, clear the bench, sharpen my tools, and go on to the next job.

The next job, as it turns out, is to make bridges.  The bridges for these lutes are all made of plum (my preferred wood for this piece of equipment), but each bridge is made in a separate style with its own distinct features.

The 8 course bridge is a design after Tieffenbrucher, dyed black with incised lines and branded with six-petalled flowers.
The 11 course design is from a lute by Vendelinus Tieffenbrucher, dyed black with incised lines and branded with eight-petalled flowers.  It will also have ebony tips added once it's glued to the soundboard.
And finally, the 13 course bridge is based on the bridge from the Paris Schelle--this one isn't dyed black, but has an ebony cap (and it will also have ebony tips).
So there, that's most of my February.  I also did plenty of other stuff (But Travis, I hear you exclaim, how much more can a single human being do in one month?), but that's the most spectacular.  Much work in building a lute is done behind the scenes and does not reveal itself until later.  All will be revealed in the fullness of time....

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Three Amigos

"The Three Amigos" refers to the batch of three lutes that I'm working on right now, though I can't say for sure that they are actual amigos.  I'm just assuming so, because I haven't heard any squabbling; during the day, at least, when I'm around, they appear to be on friendly enough terms... hanging around, one behind the other, patiently waiting for me to give them their shape...

The one nearest is (or will eventually become) a 13 course lute after Sebastian Schelle (in the Paris Conservatoire);

The one in the middle is an 11 course lute after Hans Frei (in the Warwick County Museum);

And the one farthest away, closest to the wall, is an 8 course lute after Magno Tieffenbrucher (C45, in the Vienna KHM).

I began putting these lutes together in the beginning of November, 2010.  The backs were finished before Christmas; the necks were fitted, shaped, veneered with ebony, then glued up to the body, in January.  (If you want to find out what I was up to in February, tune in for the next installment.)

Here's the Schelle.  It has 9 ribs of Indonesian rosewood, with holly spacers.  As you can see, this wood has a pretty spectacular streaking, which makes a nice match with the holly.  The neck is mahogany, with an ebony veneer; this makes the neck very strong, stable and lightweight.  (The light-coloured strip you see along the edge of the neck is just a piece of masking tape to protect the veneer edge from damage--and to protect my hands from the razor-sharp ebony when I'm handling the lute.)

Here is the 11 course Frei--the back has 11 ribs
of eastern hard curly maple.  This wood has a very lovely blond colour and an interesting curl, and I'm quite looking forward to bringing that out during the varnishing stage.

And here is the 8 course Tieffenbrucher.  This has 17 heartwood yew ribs, with holly spacers, and again, an ebony veneered neck.  I'm quite interested in this lute, because it's a new model I've wanted to develop for a long time.  It's a bit scaled-down from the original C45--I had originally made the mold for a 10 course lute that could be tuned in low-pitch g'.  This 8 course version will have a string length of 62.5 cm, so it can be tuned in modern-pitch g', and it will have 9 tied frets.

Here are three more views.   (Please disregard the bits of masking tape at the ends of the capping strips--they are merely part of the system used to check the angle of the neck, and eventually to set the action/ stringheight of the finished lute.)

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Welcome to the lute shop

Hello everyone, and welcome to my lute making workshop in Vancouver.  I'm not exactly sure where to begin, so maybe I'll show you around the workshop a little--then we can have a look at the work in progress.
First, the building at 8696 Barnard Street.  Kind of an unassuming place, but there's a lot going on here.  At least three lute makers have work spaces in the building, and I would think that such a concentration of lute making energy hasn't occurred too many times, and in too many places, since Magno Tieffenbrucher and company were churning them out way back when.  There are also many other craftspeople and artists in the building, as well as carpenters, cabinetmakers, and a masonry company.  In all, it's a good mix of people and occupations, there's a good vibe in the place, and I could not be happier going to make lutes there every day.

I'm in 207, a rather...compact space on the south side.  Come on in!

Here's my main work bench (at the moment I'm preparing sets of soundboard bars for the lutes under construction)....

Sharpening station....

And the drafting table--along with the current crop of lutes.  I'll introduce you to each of them next time.

As you can see, it's a sunny little place, a nice spot to get some work done.  Most of the time I have no problem motivating myself, but should I ever linger a bit too long over lunch, or leafing through the latest Lute Society Quarterly, I have a gentle reminder to keep me in line: