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jdowning
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[*] posted on 2-5-2018 at 03:31 PM
A Baroque Lute - new project


As it is now over 2 years since personal circumstances have put my interests in making and playing instruments on a 'back burner' I am attempting a 'come back' by building a Baroque lute so that I can explore the vast surviving repertoire for lute of that period dating from the mid 17th to mid 18th C. I plan to have the lute built and playable in time for a talk/recital at a local museum in July this summer. I thought that posting progress with the built might help me keep on track with this tight schedule as well as being of interest to forum members.

There is little difference between the traditional construction of an oud and its related European lute so the fine step by step construction detail is already covered on the forum (with images intact!) in this thread for reference:

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=8488

Therefore, I will not need to go into the same detail in reporting progress for this project. I assume that I will be able to learn how to post images recording progress?!

The Baroque lute started life in France with a lute of 11 courses - the top seven courses being stopped on the fingerboard the other courses (diapasons) being played open like the strings of a harp. A further development at the beginning of the 18th C in Germany was to add a further two diapasons bring the total number of courses to 13.
It was the practice to convert 6 course lutes from an earlier period to Baroque lutes by adding new necks and bridges. Lutes by German makers operating in Italy during the first part of the 16th C (Laux Maler and Hans Frei) were renowned for their superior acoustics and were in demand for conversion fetching very high prices a century or more later.

As I made a six course lute modelled upon a surviving lute by Laux Maler way back in 1979 and as I still have the mould on which the lute bowl was constructed I decided to follow the procedures of the old makers and build a Baroque lute using this mold as a basis. See here:

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=11852#pid80...

The early 18th C Maler lute conversion that I will be referencing in this project is described here cat# 1408E (pages 74 to 78) as I have a full size drawing of the instrument

https://lutesocietyofamerica.wildapricot.org/resources/Documents/Lut...

More to follow
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[*] posted on 2-5-2018 at 03:57 PM


Today there are many fine professional players of the baroque lute. Just to give an appreciation of the wonderful sonorities of a Baroque lute here is an example by Robert Barto performing some of the works of prolific 18th C German composer/lutenist S.L. Weiss - a contemporary of J.S Bach - on a 13 course lute.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDGcpMl8Ox8&list=RDMDGcpMl8Ox8&a...

Weiss was the last of the great lutenist composers before the lute went out of fashion around the middle of the 18th C.
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[*] posted on 2-7-2018 at 02:57 PM


As part of this project I will also reference a manuscript on the French 11 course lute dated circa 1670 written by amateur lutenist Mary Burwell. Professional lutenists of the time (they were always men) were employed by the wealthy to provide high art music to family and friends. Part of their duties often was also to tutor family members in the art of playing the lute particularly females who were eligible for marriage - the ability to play a musical instrument, to sing, dance, write poetry etc. were all positive attributes in attracting potential suitors.
A facsimile of the manuscript is published as 'The Burwell Lute Tutor' Boethius Press, 1974. It makes fascinating reading and covers lute history, descriptions of the 11 course French lute and how to play it, errors to avoid etc. However, as deciphering the hand writing in 17th C English may present difficulties for the reader, a transcription of the manuscript into every day modern English is available as 'Miss Mary Burwell's Instruction Book for the Lute' by Thurston Dart published in the Galpin Society Journal Vol 11 (May 1958) pages 3 to 62. This article is available to read free online by registering on JSTOR here:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/842103?Search=yes&resultItemClick=t...
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[*] posted on 2-7-2018 at 05:29 PM


Thank you for sharing John. Looking forward to follow along and perhaps pay long overdue visit.



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[*] posted on 2-8-2018 at 09:10 AM


Any time Samir - it has been a while! Just let me know when you plan to pass this way. You know where to find me.
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[*] posted on 2-8-2018 at 03:28 PM


The two lutes from the Lobkowicz collection by Maler - cat#1408E and 1931E - described in the Lute Society of America article previously posted are interesting to compare. Both have been modified to a 13 course configuration 1408E having a stopped string length of 671/673 mm and that of 1931E 714/720 mm. The latter lute is missing the treble and bass riders but retains a bridge for 13 courses.

It is not possible to determine how many modifications each of the instruments has been subject to from their original early 16th C configuration of 6 courses and neck length of either 7 or 8 frets. Throughout the 16th C - although 7 courses was pretty standard - additional courses were added to bring the number by the end of the 16th C to 10 and neck length increased to carry 9 or 10 frets. So the renowned Bologna lutes by Maler and Frei may have been modified a number of times before becoming 10 course instruments or might have been converted directly from 6 to 10 courses. The focus on lutenist composers switched to France by the mid 17th C their compositions requiring an 11 course lute and transitional tunings differing from the traditional Renaissance tuning. A 10 course lute could be converted to an 11 course configuration by making the top 2 courses single and adding a treble rider for the first course to the peg box so avoiding replacement of the peg box. Around 1720 lutenist composers like S.L.Weiss were composing for 13 course lutes. Again the additional 2 bass courses were provided by adding a bass rider to the existing peg box so avoiding need for a new (and longer) peg box.

The French 11 course lutes had stopped string lengths of 670 mm or so but the newly designed and built 13 course lutes of the mid 18th C had larger bowls and longer stopped string lengths of 700 mm or more in order to further enhance the bass response. Although the old Bologna lutes were also later converted to a 13 course configuration - lutes 1408E and 1931E are examples - there is some suggestion that these lutes were not large enough to perform satisfactorily acoustically as 13 course lutes. This may be the reason that lute 1931E is missing the treble and bass riders so converting it back to a more satisfactory 10 course configuration?

Lute 1408E has a stopped string length of 671/673 mm so would appear to have been modified from a French 11 course lute configuration? I am particularly interested in lutes with 675mm stopped string length as I believe that there may be a historical connection between early ouds with this string length and the lute. I attempt to make a case for this connection in the attached FoMRHI articles. Hence my particular interest in lute 1408E as the reference for this project. Also as there may be some risk that the project lute may not be large enough to perform well acoustically it will be designed with 11 courses as a French Baroque lute suitable for both French and early German compositions of the 1650 to 1720 period.
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[*] posted on 2-8-2018 at 03:51 PM


There is some discussion here on the forum about ancient metrology and the 67.5 cm string length.

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=6913


The FoMRHI articles Comm 1935 and 1936 'Ancient Metrology, Ibn al-Tahhan and the Maler and Frei Lutes parts 1 and 2' summarise and develop the content of the above discussion - available for free down load from the FoMRHI web site here:

http://www.fomrhi.org/pages/communications

Type Comm 1935 and Comm 1936 in the search box to download the articles.
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[*] posted on 2-10-2018 at 04:12 PM


Although the objective of this project is to create an 11 course lute to investigate the French and early German baroque repertoire, construction of the instrument will also allow investigation of:
1) The air resonance frequency for the given bowl geometry/ rosette diameter.
2) Testing of lead cored braided diapason strings for the octave tuned paired courses.
3) Evaluation of a 4 piece sound board construction.
The above will be covered in detail as the project advances.

Time to build a lute!
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[*] posted on 2-11-2018 at 12:36 PM


The first step is to build a mold for constructing the bowl. In this case because there are only 9 ribs and the cross section of the bowl is semicircular, an open or 'toast rack' mold can be used rather than a solid mold required to build a multi ribbed flattened section bowl. An example of a solid mold is shown in the image for comparison.
The mold has been mounted on a pivoted bracket to facilitate fitting of the ribs.
The mold currently is partially completed. The pine bulkheads of the mold have been faceted to accept the wide ribs and may require further fine trimming once a trial rib has been made and the neck block cut to shape and fitted. Once completed the mold will be shellacked and waxed.

Next to make the rib jig.

[img]https://i.imgur.com/KTzwaZ6.jpg?1[/img]








1408E mold.jpg - 104kB
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[*] posted on 2-11-2018 at 06:12 PM


Mary Burwell copied her instructions for the lute in the second half of the 17th C from a manuscript lent to her by her lute master. It is interesting to note the comments made concerning lute bowl geometry and acoustics:

1) The lutes of Bologna and other good lutes have seven, nine or eleven ribs. The reason that lutes with fewer ribs are best (compared to those with many more ribs) is that many ribs need a lot of glue to be joined - which make a lute dull.
2) Lutes with a roundish shaped bowl (like those made by Desmoulins of Paris) are capable of more sound because this shape directs the sound through the rose with greater force.
3) Bologna lutes are pear shaped and those are the best lutes but their goodness is not attributed to their shape but to their antiquity, to the skill of luthiers (like Maler and Frei), to the quality of the wood and the seasoning of it and to the varnish.
4) The lutes of Padua, Italy are somewhat roundish, like those of Desmoulins, and so their sound is greater than those of Bologna which are very sweet.

These observations (or opinions) appear to be somewhat conflicting. The lutes of Padua and other centres in Italy of the period were often of multi ribbed (36 or so) construction yet were successful acoustically. The lutes of Bologna were considered to be the best yet do not have the rounded bowl shape needed to fit the thought that the rounded bowl acts something like a mirror in focussing sound through the sound hole with some force - so Bologna lutes are deemed successful for other reasons.

Burwell or her tutor were unaware of the air resonance phenomenon (Helmholtz effect) as it applies to musical instruments that accounts for the reinforcement of sound (increased loudness) at air resonance frequency due to the presence of a sound hole. A sound hole does not 'let sound out' although it does vent the interior cavity of the bowl to help free sound board vibration and thus exterior sound emission. See here:

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=14874#pid10...

On a six course lute (or modern acoustic guitar) the body air volume/sound hole diameter is generally designed so that the the air resonance reinforces the pitch of the fifth course or string. Interestingly Burwell notes in Chapter IV section 6 that tuning of a lute should start at the fifth course at a pitch proportional to the lute (presumably the pitch of the fifth course is adjusted so that the lute sounds at its most resonant?) This instruction differs from the earlier 16th C practice of tuning a lute top string as high as it will go without breaking in order to allow the thick gut basses to sound brighter.

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[*] posted on 2-13-2018 at 04:12 PM


The 9 ribbed bowl means that the bowl has a slightly 'flattened' cross section from semicircular - in this case about 2.5 mm. The full size drawing by Stephen Murphy of lute 65 1408E shows a longitudinal profile that is 'flattened' by 6.5 mm compared to the sound board profile at the widest part. The cross section just before the neck block is slightly deeper than semicircular by a couple of millimeters. From this I believe the original was built as a semi circular profile and then trimmed down by shaving the side ribs to achieve the depth of flattening recorded. The shaving of the side ribs may have been original or as a result of lost material due to several modifications over the course of 150 years or so to its present state. My mold has a semi circular cross section and so the completed bowl will be trimmed down in the same manner. On the original lute the maximum rib widths are 50mm and the side ribs 47mm on the treble side and 43mm on the bass side.

As the nine ribs will be more or less equal in geometry a simple jig has been made up from two thin boards of the sound board half profile joined with wedge shaped pine spacers cut at 20 angle. The rib profile is then determined by placing a paper strip over the jig and tracing along the edges. I have transferred this traced outline onto thin sheet metal for durability. The rib profile has been made slightly larger to allow extra material for trimming each rib when fitting so is not precise just a guide as each rib still has to be individually fitted to its neighbour.

As a test the rib profile was marked in pencil on a scrap blank of wood 2mm thick and hot bent to the profile of the jig. The test rib was then cut close to the marked pencil outline with a knife before being finally shaped. Bending the rib blank before cutting out the rib shape ensures greater precision of hot bending to the exact profile and minimises any danger of introducing any unwanted longitudinal twist.

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[*] posted on 2-13-2018 at 04:50 PM


The rib is then shaped close to the pencil line at the correct joint angle on an inverted jointer plane. For micro adjustments when fitting each rib I will use a flat sanding board.

The test rib can now be used to check the correct profile of the mold and make adjustments to the bulk heads as required. An accurate mold is required so that no force fitting of the ribs is necessary to achieve the designed geometry of the bowl.

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