Friday 21 December 2018

Designing and Building the Lesser French Theorbo / théorbe de pièces

If you read my last post, you saw me introduce, briefly, the four lutes that I finished up throughout the summer of 2018. Today, I'd like to focus on one of those lutes: the so-called Lesser French Theorbo, or 'théorbe de pièces.'

It's another in a fairly long list of instruments that I have been asked to build that, at the outset, I didn't know too much about: I was more or less a stranger to the repertoire, and had never encountered this specific type of lute either in performance, or in the catalogues of other makers whose work I knew well.

But I figured that ignorance has never stopped me building a lute before, so why should it now? Every instrument I make is, in one way or another, an opportunity for learning; the difference here is only one of degree. So with the help of a number of people, I set about learning the essentials of the instrument, and then slowly, and carefully, put together a concept, and then a plan, and bit by bit began to build the lute.

Antoine Watteau, Les Charmes de la Vie, ca. 1718 (detail), 
My first and most essential informant was my client, Bruce Burchmore, of Los Angeles, CA. Bruce had originally discussed the concept of the instrument with Ray Nurse--my neighbour here in Vancouver, and one of the great modern lute makers--but at a certain point, Ray asked me if I was interested in taking on the project. Thanks, Ray! A lesser French what, you say? Théorbe de huh?

A 'Lesser French Theorbo for Lessons,' as James Talbot called it in his late-17th century treatise; or in the words of the French commentators of the era, 'théorbe pour les pièces' or 'théorbe de pièces.' A small theorbo for playing solo repertoire, distinct from the larger continuo theorbo or 'théorbe d'accompagnement' that had been imported to France from Italy earlier in the 17th  century. Both large and small théorbes had 14 single strings, with the two top strings down an octave, but while the larger instrument was tuned in A, the smaller was tuned a fourth higher, in D. The string length was (obviously) much shorter for the D instrument, and the body was also much smaller than that of the full-sized théorbe.

What was its repertoire? As Robert Spencer noted in his seminal article 'Chitarrone, Theorbo and Archlute' (Early Music Vol. 4 No. 4, October 1976, available online at David Van Edwards' website), the surviving solo repertoire consists of a half-dozen manuscripts, as well as a few prints, with original music by, or adapted from, musicians connected with the court of Louis XIV, chief among them Robert de Visée, 'guitar player to the king.' Perhaps the most important of these sources is the so-called Saizenay manuscript, containing pieces for lute and théorbe by de Visée and others, collected by de Visée's student Jean-Etienne Vaudry de Saizenay, a provincial nobleman. It was this musical source in particular that my client, Bruce, told me he was most eager to explore with this new lute.

Selecting a model
With my basic education on théorbe taken care of, Bruce and I began to talk about a suitable model on which to base an instrument. There are a number of short-string-length theorbo-type instruments in museums around the world, but two in particular seem most to resemble the kind of iconographical examples of the 'théorbe de pièces' that we see in pictures such as the one above. One is in the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, and the other is in Paris, at the Cité de la Musique. Have a look at them side-by-side:
Photo courtesy Yale University
Photo courtesy Cité de la Musique

Photo courtesy Yale University
Photo courtesy Cité de la Musique
They have a few essential characteristics in common: a back with a low number of ribs (the Yale has 13 of dark yew with ivory spacers, the Paris 9 of maple, with no spacers); a single rose; a neck that's long enough to tie at least 9 frets; a lower peg box with a decorative fretsawn back panel; and a short-ish extension for the bass strings, which is dyed black, rather than veneered.

[A brief aside: the keen-eyed among you may have noticed that both of these instruments have 16 single strings, which technically makes them angeliques, rather than théorbes. (For a discussion of the angelique and its repertoire, see Mathias Rösel's articles in the Lute Society of America Quarterly, Vol 52, No.4, Winter 2017.) As a matter of fact, as far as I know, there are no extant examples of a 'théorbe de pièces' in any museum. Indeed, some modern commentators have taken this lack of a surviving exemplar as partial evidence for a contention that the instrument never existed at all, that it was a figment of 17th century theorists' imaginations, and that the solo repertoire is best played on the larger 'théorbe d'accompagnement' anyway. To me, as a lute maker, the argument is academically interesting, but a bit beside the point; I've been asked to design and build an instrument that fulfills a very strong musical impetus in my client, and (in this case at least) that is my utmost, indeed my only, concern.]

Don't be fooled by the apparent relative sizes of the lutes in these photos. The Yale instrument is the larger of the two, having both a wider and longer body than the Paris, and a longer string length both to the first nut and to the extension. The current string lengths of the lutes are: Yale, 74.0 cm to the main nut, 126.8 to the extension; Paris, 68.3 to the main nut, 114.1 to the extension.

The Yale instrument seems to be the one that most modern makers have based their versions on, and I wonder why that is. Perhaps it is because the belly and back are, apparently, from a genuine old 16th century Italian lute. The printed label inside reads 'IN PADOVA Vendelio Venere', with the date '1592' handwritten above it. Such old Italian lutes were much prized in France in the 17th century: Piccinini (1623) tells of French 'luthistes' scouring the Italian countryside to find old lutes, which they bought sometimes for enormous sums, and then brought back home to have converted to lutes in the most up-to-date style. The new neck and double pegbox extension on the Yale lute would have been added in France, probably in the middle-to-late 17th century; the belly, at least, shows clear signs of the conversion. (I know this last fact from reading Ray Nurse's notes on the lute, which he made during a research visit in the late 1970s. Thanks again, Ray.)

The body of the Paris instrument, by contrast, though it resembles old Italian lutes, is pretty clearly not an 'old' lute (that is, not a 16th century Italian lute.) The label inside, which reads 'Jean d'Arion/ In Bollonia 1574' is called 'apocryphal' by the Cité de la Musique. I don't know why, though I can take a couple of guesses: perhaps there is no historical evidence for a maker by that name having worked in Bologna in that year, or at all; perhaps the odd spelling of 'Bollonia' is another tip-off. In any case, there are no apparent signs on the lute of any conversion such as re-necking having taken place, which suggests to me that the lute was built from scratch as a small théorbe/ angelique, with a body made in imitation of early 16th century Italian lutes, in France in the latter part of the 17th century.

Though there are many points of similarity between the Yale and Paris instruments, the photos show how different their body shapes are. The Yale's Venere body from late-16th century Padua has a full, rounded shape, especially in the shoulders and behind the rose; the Paris, by contrast, is much narrower in the shoulders and more elongated, clearly reminiscent of lutes by early-to-mid-16th century Bolognese makers such as Laux Maler and Hans Frei. The maker's 'apocryphal' label was an effort, I suppose, to make that connection explicit, and thus to 'steal a little shine' and presumably make the lute more enticing to a prospective buyer.

However, I think this lute shouldn't be seen as any kind of 'forgery' in the modern, post-Franciolini sense of the word. If any deception was intended, it was mild (perhaps along the lines of the 'Stradivarius' label that's inside my grandad's old fiddle.) I think it's fairer to see it as a sincere homage or imitation of the earlier makers' work--and in that sense, it's not too far removed from what we modern makers do when we design and build our 'early' instruments.

So for me, far from disqualifying this lute as a model for our new 'théorbe de pièces,' these circumstances make it even more enticing. I think of the Paris lute as an expression of what, at the time, would have been an ideal example of this type of instrument. (The pegbox and extension are, as we shall see, especially beautiful.) For this reason, and for a couple of  other practical reasons that I will talk about below, Bruce and I both agreed that the Paris lute would be our model.

Making a plan
Normally, the next step in making a lute would be to obtain a copy of the museum's technical drawing, but unfortunately, no drawing of this instrument exists. However, the Cité de la Musique was able to offer a set of high-resolution digital photos, which they kindly sent to me through the ether. (I think they were the same resolution as the photos available for download from the museum's website, but still, it's the thought that counts.)

My next step was to bring the downloaded files to my favourite print shop and have them enlarged to poster-size, to approximately the dimensions of the actual instrument. Once printed, I took these long paper rolls back to my workshop, and made tracings of the outline of the body and the extension. I then took these line drawings back to the print shop, and had them reduced or enlarged slightly to try to get them close to the actual dimensions of the lute.

This was not as easy as I had hoped. I learned very quickly that a photograph, especially one of the full-size instrument, distorts the subject to the point where the results are almost unusable. If the folks at the print shop enlarged the photo so that the length of the extension was correct, then the dimensions of the belly were far too small; if the belly was printed to the correct dimensions, then the extension was far too long. Separating the tracing into two parts, body and extension, helped a little, but even making an enlargement of the belly so that the length and width matched up proved very difficult to do.

(By the way, in this process I relied on measurements of the Paris instrument provided to me by Grant Tomlinson. This lute was one of the many that Grant was able to examine during his lute research trips to European museums in the late 1970s and 80s. Although he didn't make any tracings or take any sections of the body, he did take essential measurements of things like length and width of the body, string lengths to the lower nut and the extension, etc., and these were a lot of help. For instance, his notes confirmed for me an anomaly I discovered in working with my tracings: that the museum's data for this lute misstated the string length to the extension--by 30 cm. That length is, in fact, 114.1 cm, not 144.1, as stated in the museum's literature--quite a discrepancy! Thanks, Grant.)

So what did I end up with after this exercise? The bare essentials, I would say. Some useful though not-very-clear views of the extension; some views of what the body kind of looks like in long section, cross section, and outline, but nothing near precise enough to allow me to make a close copy.

But that was all right--I already knew that even if I could make a copy of the body, I wouldn't want to. Why not? Well, making a drawing and a new mold is a pretty substantial amount of work, and at the end of it I would have a mold that I could use for one instrument only, a 'théorbe de pièces' based on the Paris angelique. While not a complete waste of time, it wouldn't be the most efficient use of my time, either. Usually, if I am going to go through the trouble of making a mold, I do it with the hope that I can use that mold for other projects in the future, projects that may not have much direct connection with a small théorbe. I'd like my molds to be as versatile as possible. Allow me to explain.

When I looked at the photos of the body of the Paris instrument, I saw something that looked very close to surviving examples of the work of Laux Maler. In fact, the delicate remains of an authentic Maler lute reside in the very same museum in Paris, so it is easy for us to make a direct comparison. Again, side by side, Maler on the left, angelique on the right (all photos courtesy the Cité de la Musique) :

Not a bad match! My hope (for a while, at least) was that I could make a drawing and a mold based on a suitable Maler body, because then not only I could use it for the théorbe, but also for other types of instruments as well: a 6 course or 7 course lute, such as Maler would have made originally in the early 16th century; or a 10 or 11 course French baroque lute, such as would have been made from one of Maler's lutes in the early 17th century. This is what I mean by a versatile model.

Alas, it was not to be. The most promising Maler candidate, the Paris instrument, has no drawing available. The other two Maler lutes whose shapes I experimented with, hoping for a match (one in Prague, and one in Nürnberg) turned out to be just a bit too small for my purposes. I could have taken my drawing of a slightly-too-small Maler lute to my print shop, and had them size it up to fit, but at a certain point I realized that making a new mold just wasn't practical. There was already a suitable model for me to use, more or less staring me right in the face: the Warwick Frei. Here are some photos of my 11c version, made in 2013:

The Warwick Frei made the most sense, for a number of reasons. First, the body shape was a good match with that of the original Paris angelique, although it actually has a bit more fullness through the shoulders and depth in the cross section than the original--and I figured that extra resonant capacity would benefit a théorbe. The size of the Warwick Frei worked well too: my client, Bruce, had asked for a stopped string length of 72 cm, which gave a neck long enough for 9 tied frets, and space for a 10th, not tied--which fits very well with the descriptions of contemporary commentators such as Talbot.

Just as importantly, as we've already seen, it was the work of both Frei and Maler that the luthistes treasured, so using a Frei body in this case is completely justified, from an historical point of view (my guess is that if the maker of the Paris angelique had had available to him a Frei lute like this to use for his instrument, he would have given his right arm for it.)

In addition, from a purely musical point of view, I've used the Warwick Frei body for a lot of different types of instruments--a 6 course, numerous 11 courses, a 13 course with Jauch-style triple extension--and all have turned out exceptionally well. The Warwick Frei seems to be one of those models of lute that just works, no matter what I ask it to do.

I had one more good reason to use the Warwick Frei: the mold was already made, and hanging in the rafters of Grant Tomlinson's workshop next door to mine. When I asked him if I could borrow it to use for the théorbe, Grant generously said yes. Thanks again, Grant!

Building the instrument
Courtesy Cité de la Musique
So, let's recap: where was I now? Did I have enough information to get started building? Well, I had a mold that I could work with, and a body outline that I could draw. I also had some important technical information: the string length to the first nut, and the spacings of the strings at the nut and the bridge. I had enough information, in short, that I could work out a design of the body and the neck (its width, length, and orientation in relation to the body's centreline.) There were some details that I didn't quite have, as yet, like much of the design of the extension. I had some hi-res photos, but I couldn't really see much beyond the basic size and shape. However, crucially, what I had was enough to make a basic drawing of the outline of the whole lute that I could send off to the case makers, which I needed to do early in the building process so the case would be finished by the time the instrument was done. I could then begin building the body and the neck, and put off for the time being having to design the details of the extension.

Actually, a remarkable amount of work can be done on a lute--I'd estimate 80 to 90% of it--without knowing what the final pegbox or extension is going to look like. Build the back; shape and veneer the neck; attach the neck to the body; select and thickness a belly; carve the rose; design the harmonic barring pattern under the belly, and glue and shape the bars; design, carve and glue the bridge; fit the belly to the body and glue it in; add the fingerboard, points and ebony belly edge binding; finish out the lute to its final shape, action and look; and then apply varnish. Lots of work to keep a fellow busy. A couple of highlights:

The rose design. The pattern, drawn by Ray Nurse, is taken from a late-17th century engraving by Gérard Edelinck of the painting of Charles Mouton by François de Troy. Here's a copy of the engraving, in the British Museum:
Nice Frei-shaped lute you've got there, mon vieux! And here's my stab at the pattern:

Another example: the bridge. The one on the Paris angelique appears to be a rather clunky replacement for a lost original, so I designed what I hoped would be an appropriate replacement, using dimensions taken from the Yale angelique and some decorative elements (the separate ebony bridge points, and the 8-petalled flower brand) from surviving 11 course baroque lute bridges.
Making the extension
By late spring, the lute had been finished out and sent to the varnish booth. It was now starting to be time for me to figure out what, exactly, I was going to do with the extension.

As I said above, I had some rather fuzzy photos. Here's what I was looking at:

I had front, back and side views of the upper pegbox, which would be, if I was pressed, enough for me to  do a final draft of a design, and then make the thing. There were some details that I wasn't too sure about--like the shape of the nut, or the contours of the slipper-shaped foot of the pegbox--but I was confident enough that I could make a reasonable facsimile of the original that would both look good and work well.

But I still had a problem that continued to bother me, one small but crucial feature of the design that I felt if I didn't get it right, could really compromise the overall look of the entire lute: the fret-sawn back panel of the lower pegbox. (I've had this feeling before...) I knew what the basic design was--I could see it there in the enlargement of the photo I had--but there were a lot of details that escaped me. Was that little curl there the end of an element, or did it blend with the tail of another vine? Was I seeing a bit of the pattern, or was that merely a shadow of one of the tuning pegs? And what about that apparent small hole in the lower left, where a bit of the pattern seemed to have broken away? What on earth was I going to do about these things?
Faced with these momentous questions, I did what I always do when having to make life-and-death decisions: I decided to waste some time on Facebook. And once there, what did I see but my friend (and client) Nelson Amos and his wife Korin's pictures of their wonderful holiday in Paris! And where was that picture taken? What museum did they visit that day? The Cité de la Musique?

Nelson! I cried out on the Facebook messenger, If you happen to go back to that museum--please--take some pictures of the angelique for me!

And amazingly enough, that's exactly what Nelson and Korin did. They went back to the museum, and took a ton of really excellent pictures of the angelique, and sent them to me. Of course, they had to take their pictures through the glass display case, and they were only able to take shots from the front of the instrument--but still, it was enough to clear up all of the questions I had, not only about details of the upper peg box, but that lower back panel as well. Thanks a lot, Nelson and Korin!

Turns out Facebook isn't a complete waste of time after all!

I'll show you two of their pictures that were among the most helpful. This one gives a nice, clear view of the upper peg box's slipper foot:
And this one gives an excellent view of the lower peg box, and its back panel. I was able to enlarge the photo, and use it to make a pattern of the panel:

Which I then transferred to a pear wood plate, and cut out with a fret saw:
I then fitted the plate into a recess I had made in the back of my peg box opening (the extension is a plank of English sycamore):
I then moved on to shaping the upper peg box, which is made from a separate block of sycamore. In this shot you can see how I've laid out the side profile, then drilled some holes of various diameters in the block, to facilitate carving the block's curved surfaces. I've then run the block through the band saw to cut out the rough profile, but left little 'bridges' of material that serve to hold the pieces of the block together.
I could then lay out the plan view on the top of the block, and cut this in the band saw; then I could use a fret saw to cut through the various 'bridges,' and so reveal the rough shape of the peg box.

(By the way, this procedure is much the same as the one I use to cut out baroque lute extensions, such as the Jauch or the Widhalm. I describe the procedure with the Widhalm extension here.)

The upper peg box is located on the extension by means of a small dowel.
If you have a close look the museum photo (above) of the back side of the upper part of the extension, you'll see that the upper peg box is located and held with a dowel, which is inserted in a hole drilled through the back of the extension. I saw no need to drill it through, and leave the end of the dowel exposed, so I simply sunk holes partway through the extension and the underside of the second peg box. The dowel still does its job locating the extension, and provides extra strength to the glued joint.
Once the second peg box was glued on, I could carve the surfaces in place so that curves and transitions are smooth.
In this shot, and the one above, you can see how I've pressed the edges with a blunt scribe to give the piece (like the original) a finished look.
After all the carving and gluing and insetting was done, I made my rebate joint in the neck, located the extension carefully, and glued in.
Certain details--such as the chanterelle tuner in the side of the peg box--could only be finished once the extension was glued in place.
With all of the in-carving finished, I dyed the extension black, and then finished it with a drying oil.

In the meantime, the case had arrived, from Kingham MTM in the UK. A beautiful case it was too; and the lute fit! It's always a thrilling moment to try it out for the first time.

And that is all I have to say, for now, about the Lesser French Theorbo, or théorbe de pièces. Perhaps it is enough. (Of the sound, I can say little: I'll leave it to Bruce to make a comment, if he likes.) This feels like the longest blog post I've ever written--and it may be the most lavishly illustrated, as well. (If you would like to see more pictures of this lute, please visit my flickr page, here.) My thanks to all the people who made this work of mine possible--there are many, only a few of whom I've named and tried to thank in this post. I'll thank you as well, dear reader, for having the patience to stick this one out with me. As Louis XIV used to say to his friend de Visée, after a long day in the salt mines: à bientôt!
AntoineWatteau, Les Charmes de la Vie  (ca. 1718, in the Wallace Collection)(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Recent Work, Summer 2018

Hi everyone--I have four new lutes to present to you today.

You may have already seen pics of these that I posted a month or two ago on Facebook. If that's the case, and I've dragged you here under false pretences by calling this post "Recent Work," well, I'm sorry--you're free to go. However, if you're not in too big a hurry, by all means stick around and I'll try to add a few comments, to make the visit worth your while.

I started this group of four in late 2017, hoping to have them finished before the summer of 2018, which I knew was going to be a busy one. I didn't quite get them all done before summer, but instead finished them one at a time, in June, July, and August. I'll present them here in the chronological order of their completion.

I always work in groups, usually two or three. I think that there are some efficiencies to be gained by doing the same or similar jobs across a number of instruments (carving roses, making necks, putting backs together, etc.) Once you've taken the time to set up your tools to do a job once, you might as well do it two or three three times and make it worth your while.

At least that's the theory.... After working this way a number of times I still think it's true, but there is a limit to how many instruments a person can work on without something like boredom setting in. Four lutes might be the limit for me. Progress in the shop can seem slow at the best of times, but working on a large group means progress often seems to come in very tiny increments. You need to be okay with going into the shop each day and being greeted by a bunch of lutes that don't look like they've moved along very much in quite a while. (I keep expecting the Lute Elves to show up overnight or over the weekend and, say, finish carving the bridges I left half-done for them, but alas they never do....)

Luckily, I'm a patient person--I think that's probably very high on the list of qualifications for being a lute maker. And, thankfully, I have clients who are very patient people too.

The first lute of the group, finished in late June, was a new model for me: a 6 course with a string length of 54cm, in modern pitch a', for George Moss of Kansas City, MO. It's from a design by Grant Tomlinson, which he based on early-16th century Italian models. I actually built this lute using Grant's mold, which he lent to me; he also sold me the lovely set of German maple ribs for the back, which, according to his notes, he'd sawn in 1982. (I asked him if he'd care to come over to my shop and build the lute for me too, but sadly he declined.)

It made a lovely little lute with a very sweet, rich, balanced sound. In my experience, lutes in a' don't generally have a problem making their treble register heard--indeed, they can be a bit overbearing. Not this one, though. I was a little surprised--and pleased--at the presence and warmth of the basses, and in general the balance of sound throughout the register.  To me, it sounded not so much like an a' lute, but instead like a really good 6 course lute that just happened to be tuned in a' (if you get what I mean.)

Mug shots front and back: the neck, fingerboard and peg box are pear, and the bridge and tuning pegs are plum. The back, as I said, is of German maple, and the belly is one of my finest pieces of alpine spruce. The fingerboard edging is snakewood.

As usual, I supplied a number of possible rose designs to my client, and George decided to go with a pattern from a baroque lute--an 11 course, I believe--by Martinus Kaiser (I don't have the date of that lute to hand just now.) As with so many old lute rose patterns, this one works a variation of the Star of David, with twisting vines and leaves contrasting with the geometric basis.

This lute was finished in time for me to hand-deliver it to George at the Lute Society of America LuteFest in Cleveland at the end of June. He liked it! I was pleased. Then after the week of lute festivities I returned to Canada to do a little repair work, which you can read about here; then met up with my darling wife Julia for a holiday trip that included stops in Montreal, eastern Ontario, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Lakes, rivers and oceans were swum in, rare liquors tasted, fine cuisines sampled, and old friends, and new friends, were met. By late July, we were back in Vancouver--and I was back in the workshop, rested, and eager to finish up the next lute.

This one was another new model for me: a 'théorbe de pièces,' or 'Lesser French Theorbo,' for Bruce Burchmore of Los Angeles, CA.

This project was a lot of fun, and a real challenge.  There are so many interesting features to this instrument, and much of its design had to be done pretty much from scratch. I had no museum drawing to work from, and really not much expertise to go on to get me started. I didn't know the instrument, and I didn't know the repertoire. I did a lot of learning along the way, from a whole bunch of teachers and advisers, starting with the very patient Bruce Burchmore, and including Grant Tomlinson, Ray Nurse, and my old friend Nelson Amos. I think there's a tale here, and I'll tell it in my next blog post.

Some data: the top string is in d (A=392), and the top two strings are re-entrant (i.e., an octave low.) The string length to the first nut is 72cm, and to the extension 114. There are 14 strings, 8 to the first peg box, and 6 to the extension. The fingerboard, belly edge binding and neck veneer are ebony; and the extension is made of two pieces of English sycamore, dyed black. The belly, as always, is one of my finest sets of European alpine spruce; and the back of the lute is 11 ribs of curly maple.

The rose pattern I used is known as the 'Mouton,' since it is taken from the famous painting of the lutenist Charles Mouton by François de Troy. This version of the pattern was drawn by Ray Nurse.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this type of lute is its extension, which basically consists of a plank of wood with a cutout for a carved panel at the back of the lower peg box, and a second peg box carved from a separate block of wood, attached to the far end of the plank. I've made lutes with extended necks before, but nothing quite like this. I think it's a really cool design, and aesthetically it seems totally of a piece with the refinement of the music that's played on the lute.

I found this lute compulsively photographable. (If you'd like to see further evidence of the compulsion, please go to my flickr page.) Most lutes are like a little world unto themselves, and some of them, like this one, seem incredibly vast. They will not be captured by a single photo, or even a hundred. But I try!

OK--next lute. We're now into mid-August: Julia and I are back from a short trip to the interior of BC,  where we holidayed with my mom and sister, who had driven out from Saskatchewan. The lakes and rivers of the BC interior are beautiful, and we swam in them daily. The air, however, was thick with smoke from wildfires; a new reality, a constant companion in the summers. Back to the coast, where the air is (relatively) clear.

This lute is not a new model--it is a 10 course lute based on the body of the Tieffenbrucher archlute, C45 in the Vienna KHM, which I've scaled down to 95% of the original. (The back is 17 ribs of dark, heartwood pacific yew.) I have built a number of 10 course lutes on this model, along with a few 7 and 8 course as well, and all of them have been very successful.  Reducing slightly the original size of the body allows a string length of 64 cm (while retaining 9 tied frets) which is a convenient length for stringing in g', either in modern or low pitch.

For this lute, my client, Mark Bagley, of Madison, MS, asked me to try to come up with a design that reduced the string length as much as possible, while still tying 9 frets easily. A little squeezing here and there--shortening the neck a little, raising the bridge position just a few millimeters (and correspondingly adjusting the location of soundboard bars and, in consequence, the position of the rose)--gave a string length of 62 cm. A very manageable length for a 10 course lute!

One thing that was different about this lute was the suite of veneers that I made for the neck and peg box. Mark had asked for a special look for this lute, so I suggested a design based on the 1609 Magno Dieffopruchar lute, 144 in the Museo Bardini in Florence. Here's what the original looks like (photos by Stephen Gottlieb, courtesy of Grant Tomlinson):

And here are some shots of my version. The veneers on the Dieffopruchar are made up of strips of ebony and ivory; my version is made of ebony and english boxwood.

Once again, if you'd like to see more photos of this lute, head to my flickr page.

I'm kicking myself a bit because I didn't take any (or not many) photos of my process of making these veneers. It is a fairly involved, and time-consuming, procedure to make them, and I would have liked to write a blog post detailing the steps.... Oh, well, I'll save it for next time: I'll be doing another set of veneers like this within the next couple of years, so I'll try to remember to take lots of pics and talk about it then.

The rose on this lute is based on the 'knot of Leonardo' design, with a chip-carved border.

And now, onto the last lute of the bunch. By this time we're at the end of August (the holidays are done, though we're still taking some last-minute swims in the ocean in Vancouver), and I am finishing this, a 7 course lute based on the 1592 Venere. The string length is 58.5 cm, and the back is of 13 ribs of dark heartwood yew, with sycamore spacers. I had originally begun this lute as a demonstration model for the lute making class at the 2017 LSA Workshop West, in Victoria BC; it wasn't made to order for anyone, but I decided to complete it as part of this batch, and see if someone might be interested. Someone was: a fellow who works in the video game industry here in Vancouver got in touch, and I completed it for him at the end of the month.

The neck and peg box are made of some nicely figured cherry I picked up a few years ago. For an unveneered instrument like this, I might ordinarily use pear for the neck and peg box, but I was very happy with the look, feel and weight of the cherry. (It's nice to have a 'spec' instrument once in a while to try out some different woods). The lute itself sounds great, full and rich, with a nice singing treble and lovely bass sound. I really need to make myself one of these lutes one of these years.

The rose is based on that of the original 1592 Venere lute.

And that is all for recent work. Next post, I will talk about the process of designing and building the 'théorbe de pièces.' I'm onto new projects now: two lutes only this time. Hopefully they'll go reasonably quickly. I'll tell you about them soon!