Sunday 1 March 2015

New Lutes, February 2015

I have two new lutes to tell you about today, and honestly, I couldn't be more proud of them.  Both in their ways are new models for me, which is always a challenge, and to have them turn out as well as they have done is simply thrilling.

First up is a 12 course lute, for Lucas Harris, of Toronto.  In addition to being a conductor and very busy accompanist and teacher, Lucas is the plucked-string player for Tafelmusik, the well-known Toronto baroque ensemble.  Lucas got in touch after seeing the 12 course lute I made for Evan Plommer in 2012 (you can look at pics and a description of that lute here).  He was looking for a new lute that he could use in the many different musical situations he works in: accompanying singers, in ensemble, and as a soloist.  A real workhorse, as he said, a lute with a beautiful and powerful voice.

Well, I hope I've been able to make that for him.  I completed the lute three weeks ago and shipped it to him in Toronto; a week later, he took it with him on tour with Tafelmusik to Australia and New Zealand.  I haven't heard from him since he left (and here's hoping that no news is good news), but I'll expect a full report when he returns.

Built to Lucas's specifications, this lute has a string length of 65cm, and tunes at A=415.  There are eight tied frets, with the ninth a wooden fret glued just on the neck.  We debated a bit over which historical model would make the best body for this lute, and after considering things like overall size and shape, number of frets on the neck, and string length, we found that the C45 Tieffenbrucher archlute body fit the bill best.  Now, I've made a number of 10 course and 8 course lutes on a smaller C45 shape, but this body would have to be somewhat larger, and to make it, I needed to build a new mold.  I based it upon Grant Tomlinson's design for a slightly enlarged version of the C45 that he has used in his shop for many years.  Like the original C45, Grant's lute is made with 31 yew ribs; I designed mine to have 21 ribs, in homage to a couple of ancient lutes: the Hans Burkholzer (SAM 44 in the Vienna KHM) and the 13 course lute by Thomas Edlinger in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD (NMM 10214).

Here's how it looks:


The 21 ribs are, in this case, of Honduras rosewood, and the spacers are of holly.

I don't know about you, but I get a real kick out of the 12c extension.  It seems like such a slight little thing, and with four bass courses strung to it, there is a fair amount of tension on it.  All of this, and it's attached only to the tiniest corner of the bass side of the peg box.  This is the second of these extensions that I've done, and I've become quite confident of my design and construction of the thing. It's well-built and solidly attached, and even under tension, it hardly bows or moves at all.  Have a look:
Okay, a couple more photos of the whole lute--just a couple.

The second lute I recently completed is a 7 course for Doug Asherman of Oakland, CA.  Based on the smaller C45 mold that I've used for numerous 10 and 8 course lutes in recent years (you'll see many examples if you leaf through some of the older posts on this blog), this lute is a new model to me because I've never done a 7 course version of it before.   I was pretty sure it would turn out well, but I wasn't sure how well it would turn out... and I must say, I like it very well indeed.

The back is of yew wood, with sycamore spacers; the neck and peg box are veneered in ebony.
The string length is 62.5cm, and there are 9 tied frets on the neck.  So far, so much the same as I've done before; but this lute's a little different.  Besides being only 7 courses, this lute is the first I've built in a very long time to be completely strung in gut, and I think the results are absolutely spectacular. 

The trebles and octaves are gut from Boston Catlines; the basses are, on the 5th course, a copper-gimped, and on the 6th and 7th courses, silver-gimped, all from Gamut Strings.

I don't know if it's the gut, or the lute--it's a bit of both, I'm sure--but this lute has a warmth and clarity that I don't think I've quite heard before in one of my instruments.   The yew back adds a shimmer and quickness to the sound that just isn't there with other woods.  All of that, and at the same time the lute has a very big voice, very well balanced and free.  I think that sometimes yew, as a wood for the back of a lute like this, is the victim of a certain kind of prejudice: players tend to think of it as having a nice, rich sound, but one that's perhaps not quite as strong as a harder wood like rosewood or maple.  On the basis of this lute, and some others I've built, I think that prejudice is wholly undeserved.   Yew wood can have quite as strong a voice as either of those, and at the same time a richer and more complex one too.

For anyone who would like a look at some more pics of these instruments--and all the others I've built over the last few years--I would direct you to my flickr feed, here.  For now, I'll just add a couple more detail shots of this lute's back.  The yew wood that I used for this lute was just spectacular.  I'm constantly awed by its beauty.

What's up next?  More fun, and more adventures: a 10 course lute on this smaller C45 mold, and a 12 course bass lute.  I can't wait to get back to the shop.

Take care, and I'll talk to you again soon.