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Author: Subject: A Baroque Lute - new project
jdowning
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[*] posted on 3-15-2018 at 02:26 PM


As work continues on the sound board the neck block has been fitted to the mold by filing the facets for the ribs with a rasp and checking the profile with the test rib.
The ribs of the bowl will be figured sycamore (maple) that I have had in stock since the 1970's so should be well air dried by now. These are currently rough sawn blanks so will be hand planed/scraped to a final thickness of about 1.5 mm prior to bending and fitting to the mold.

Work on other components of the lute such as the neck, bridge, peg box, pegs, strings etc will also be fabricated in parallel and reported separately as motivation and time permits!



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[*] posted on 3-17-2018 at 04:17 PM


As it is currently too cold to work for long periods in my workshops and as sound board thicknessing is close to complete work has started on cutting the rosette (in the warmth of the kitchen).
The sound board thickness in the area of the rosette has been reduced in thickness to about 1.4 mm and both the paper pattern and area on the front of the sound board have been coated with shellac to harden the surfaces prior to cutting.



The rosette pattern is cut straight through the sound board from the pattern side using a knife starting from the centre of the pattern and working outwards - to minimise chance of breakages. A Masonite/hardwood cutting board is used to support the rosette. This results in a sharp clean pattern on the front face of the sound board. Later the pattern will be chip carved to accentuate the rosette design.


The knife that I use for this design of rosette has been made from a piece of broken metal cutting hacksaw blade about 2 mm wide and shaped to a long slender taper with a diamond file. The slender taper is to minimise any wedging action of the blade that might cause breakages of the wood. The cutting edge is curved and honed to a razor sharp edge. The knife is mainly used with a vertical stabbing cut straight through the sound board thickness.

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[*] posted on 3-18-2018 at 02:09 PM


The piercing of the rosette pattern is complete without breakages so time to move on to carving the front.



I was having problems embossing the rosette by carving so decided to use pyrography to burn the rosette pattern as first tried here on the forum.

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

I am not very happy with the results this time around. I will go over it again to clean it up as best I can then it will have to do.



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[*] posted on 3-18-2018 at 03:48 PM


Collecting material for the rest of the project. I need 20 pegs for this lute and fortunately I made a batch of lute pegs a few years ago that will serve. These have been rough turned from Castelo boxwood - old seasoned stock - and will require final shaping and finishing. This is a job that I can progress alongside others on this project.



The more sophisticated Baroque lute peg boxes were made as light in weight as possible in order to maintain a balanced instrument and so had peg heads that were graduated in size becoming smaller towards the rear of the peg box. Also weight was sometimes saved by cutting the back of the peg box in an open fretwork design. This project lute, however, will have equal sized peg heads and a plain back to the peg box.
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[*] posted on 3-23-2018 at 02:35 PM


The neck block shaping is complete and the neck joint cut on a band saw to an angle of about 45. This has been done prior to fitting the ribs for convenience.
The angled joint is required due to the width of the fingerboard at the neck joint (11 courses) and to maintain a maximum neck thickness at the joint of around 30 mm. The neck block has also been made about 7 mm longer than the original to provide an adequate glue surface for the outer ribs. When the old lutes were being converted from 6 to 11 course instruments an extra piece of wood was sometimes glued to the inside face of the neck block to provide this additional glue surface. The central area of the added piece was then scooped out to restore some of the original bowl air volume and vibrating sound board area.
An example of a scooped out neck block can be seen here in the GNM MI 54 Maler lute.

http://objektkatalog.gnm.de/objekt/MI54

The neck block has been 'sized' with thin hide glue to seal the wood pores necessary to make a stronger joint with the ribs. The block has also been pre-drilled so that the neck can later be glued and screwed in position.

The scrap piece cut from the block has been temporarily screwed to the neck block on the mold - for extra support.

Now to start making the bowl.

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[*] posted on 3-26-2018 at 02:01 PM


The conditions in my wood stove heated kitchen are currently ideal for gluing the sound board bracing (22C room temperature at 32% RH - hot hide glue) but with warmer Spring conditions approaching this situation may not prevail for much longer. Therefore, as a priority the plan is to finish bracing the sound board.

I am following the bracing geometry of the surviving Maler lute MI 54 in the G.N. museum. The main braces are more or less equal in height and thickness (15mm x 4mm). I am using high strength granular hide glue that has a short working time so each brace can be held in place for a minute or so to allow the glue to gel after which clamping pressure can be applied until the glue has fully cured (24 hours).

Clamping pressure is applied using 3 'go-bars' per brace inside a portable frame. The go-bars have been cut from flexible straight grained ash wood. I expect to complete all of the bracing this week.

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[*] posted on 3-29-2018 at 01:58 PM


The sound board bracing is now complete apart from the shaping and carving of the braces that will follow later.



I have followed the fan bracing (under the bridge) found on two surviving Maler lutes. The components of this arrangement converge to a small area above the front brace ahead of the bridge extending from the bottom edge of the bowl. The ends of the fan braces all terminate underneath the bridge so help to conduct bridge vibrations into this area of the sound board.

The Maler lutes with the original low bridge location did not require additional stiffness in the below bridge area but lutes (and ouds as well as other instruments such as guitars) of a later period with higher bridge positions have some form of additional stiffening. This may be in the form of an additional brace between bridge and bottom of the bowl (often found on ouds) or a 'J' brace and partial fan bracing found on lutes. A brief discussion of the alternatives can be found here.

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=7089#pid437...

In passing it may be of interest to mention the method used in handling and manipulating the small braces that reinforce the rosette when gluing with hot hide glue. These braces are only about 1mm deep so I impaled each one on a needle to avoid an otherwise sticky mess when applying the glue and when placing each brace quickly and exactly in position. Each brace is then pressed in place with the fingers for a minute or two until the glue gels - a convenient advantage of using hot hide glue.
The tool is a lancette - a very fine tipped needle mounted in a plastic holder - as manfactured for use with home blood glucose meters for drawing a tiny drop of blood for testing. Very cheap - costing about $10 for a box of 100. Useful for any gluing operation involving small parts such as inlays etc.



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[*] posted on 4-1-2018 at 04:02 PM


The main braces have been shaped to taper to around 7mm deep at the ends. This is preliminary to a final shaping prior to fitting the sound board to bowl.

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[*] posted on 4-2-2018 at 04:31 PM


Attention is now turned to making the bowl. I am using hot hide glue for assembling the ribs - so called 'pearl' glue that is not quite as strong as the glue used for the sound board but has a little more open time before it gels so is more convenient for bowl construction.

The method I am using dates from at least the 15th C (described by Arnault de Zwolle) and is still used by some of the 'old school' oud makers. In short the glue is kept fluid, bit by bit, with a hot iron as each joint is made and the joint reinforced with glued paper strips applied over the joint as gluing proceeds. The paper remains as a temporarily exterior reinforcement until the bowl is complete, removed from the mold and the permanent paper strip interior joint reinforcement is glued in place. The method is described in step by step detail here starting at post dated 6-2-2009:

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

Slow going but 3 ribs now fitted to the mold - only six more to go!


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[*] posted on 4-3-2018 at 01:28 AM


Congratulations for the informative and instructive dialoque dedicated to the baroque lute!
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[*] posted on 4-6-2018 at 04:43 PM


Thank you AGAPANTHOS - glad that the thread is of interest.

Work is progressing slowly on the bowl as time permits. Rib #6 was shaped, fitted and glued this afternoon and am hoping to complete the basic shell on the mold by next week some time. My work on the mold/rib pattern was not as precise as I would have liked so I am paying the price in more rib to rib fitting work compounded by the fact that I am very much out of practice! I imagine that Laux Maler (or his assistants), working full time, would have easily completed a bowl like this in one day. The glued paper strip assembly method means that they did not have to wait for glue to dry, joint by joint, so could continue working alternately on each side of the mold until complete. The assembled bowl would then be left for the hide glue to fully cure overnight.

The drawing of the 65-1408E lute (subject of this project) that I have shows the bowl section at maximum width and at the sound hole centre line. The rib widths, measured from the drawing from bass side are as follows:
At max width, rib #1= 4.3cm, #2 = 5.1cm, #3= 4.9cm, #4= 5.1cm, #5= 4.8cm, #6= 5.1cm, #7= 4.6cm, #8= 4.8cm and #9= 4.8cm.
At sound hole C/L, rib #1= 4.1cm, #2= 3.8cm, #3=4.1cm, #4= 4.3cm, #5= 4.3cm, #6= 3.9cm, #7= 4.3cm, #8= 3.8cm and #9= 4.2cm.
So it can be seen that there is some variation due to the original rib to rib hand fitting procedure (quickly done) in order to ensure close fitting rib joints. The measurements tend to confirm that the outer ribs were planed back towards the bottom of the bowl to produce a slight flattening of the bowl section in that area. Whether this was intentionally done by the original maker or later as a modification during conversion to an 11 course instrument is impossible to say.
As mentioned previously I intend to plane back the bowl to replicate the lute bowl in its current state - although a bit of extra air volume would help in slightly lowering the air resonance frequency of the bowl.
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[*] posted on 4-10-2018 at 03:32 PM


The ribs have all been fitted and glued and the basic shell of the bowl removed from the mold.

To get a rough idea of about how much will require trimming from the side ribs the shell has been put back on the mold and the neck block end of the mold baseplate packed up 8mm on a flat surface. A pencil taped to a block of wood with the point at 8mm above the reference surface then traces the outline of the bowl upper surface when trimmed.

Checking the bowl maximum depth when trimmed is about 140 mm to which would be added the sound board thickness - say roughly 142mm. This compares with a maximum depth of 138 mm on the original lute so at this stage is close enough as the bowl geometry may change a little when the bowl end clasp and interior counter clasp are fitted and glued as well as the interior joint reinforcing strips. Also for comparison the side ribs at this stage will measure #1 = 4.3mm max width and #9 = 4.5mm max. width when trimmed.


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[*] posted on 4-14-2018 at 04:35 PM


The counter clasp has been hot bent, fitted and glued to the bowl interior. Made from two strips of quarter sawn spruce sound board material, 25mm wide X 4mm thick (for ease of fitting). Spruce of this dimension hot bends quite easily.

The joint liners (reinforcement) have been cut from fine woven Indian cotton cloth, strips measuring about 240mm X 15mm again for ease of handling. They have been glued in place with full strength hot hide glue - a bit trickier to handle than paper strips but conforming better to any slight joint discrepancies so making stronger joints on which the overall bowl strength and stability depends. When working with fast gelling hot hide glue it is best to keep a wet cloth at hand to regularly remove glue from the fingers as work proceeds.
Temporary braces were employed to maintain bowl dimensions while the glue dries and shrinks.

The bowl now conforms closely to the dimensions of the original lute and still fits the mold with the two front bulkheads removed so will be conveniently supported for fitting and gluing of the exterior bowl end clasp.

For information here is a brief history, by lutenist Lynda Sayce, of the Laux Maler family business that continued after the death of Maler into the 17th C.

http://www2.ouk.edu.tw/yen/grove/Entries/S17537.htm

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[*] posted on 4-18-2018 at 03:25 PM


I underestimated the bowl distortion due to the shrinkage of the hide glue used to reinforce the interior rib joints. The glue shrinkage has caused significant 'cupping' or 'fluting' of the relatively wide ribs that in turn has shrunk the bowl width to 27.5 cm from the required 28.9cm, increased the bowl length by 5mm and caused some asymmetry in the bowl profile. I am not concerned about some asymmetry (found in most if not all of the surviving lutes) but the loss in width of the bowl requires correction.

First step is to remove the temporary external glued paper strips and clean up the bowl exterior. The bowl was placed back on the mold and held down with a bungee cord. The paper strips and glue residues were then removed - bit by bit - using a damp cloth heated with a hot iron. Hopefully the moisture and heat will at least partially reduce the stresses induced by the internal joint reinforcement for the bowl to regain its intended geometry. The bowl will be removed from the mold after 24 hours in a heated, low RH room to further assess the situation.

On the positive side the significant rib fluting is an attractive feature of the bowl. The sharp features of the fluting will be retained by sanding/finishing each rib with a profiled sanding block. There is not much material thickness to play with so the sanding process must be done carefully. Finished rib thickness will be around 1mm or slightly less.



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[*] posted on 4-24-2018 at 03:12 PM


The clasp has now been fitted and glued to the bowl and the side ribs trimmed level for fitting the soundboard. The clasp has been drilled with a pilot hole for eventually fitting an ebony pin for attaching a shoulder strap to support the lute when being played.

High spots in the rib fluting have been removed with a curved scraper blade and then sanded smooth with a profiled sanding block. This work is still ongoing - slow, requiring good lighting, a steady hand and good eyesight!

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[*] posted on 4-25-2018 at 11:18 PM


Amazing work John. I wouldn't even know where to start with any of this much less have the skills do to it, but it's very interesting following your work. Thank you for taking the time to post it!
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[*] posted on 4-26-2018 at 02:32 PM


Thank you DavidJE.
You are fortunate in having the benefit of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien at your disposal. The museum historical musical instrument collection includes two lutes by Hans Frei - a contemporary of Laux Maler - both working in Bologna, Italy during the first part of the 16th C and making similar styled lutes that have survived. One of the lutes - Cat#C34 - is an 11 course conversion very similar in size and geometry to the lute I am building subject of this forum topic.
I do not know if these lutes are usually on display at the museum but the historical musical instrument collection is currently closed for re-organisation until late summer this year.
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[*] posted on 4-28-2018 at 03:38 PM


The bowl is now trimmed level so work has started on preliminary preparation of the neck. I have a piece of Sycamore for the neck - cut from the same tree that the ribs were sawn from with a nice 'flamed' grain figuring - about 50 years air dried.

Baroque lute necks were often made from a softwood such as spruce veneered on the back with ebony (the fingerboard was also typically made from ebony). However, Mary Burwell in her manuscript of 1670 comments that the back of a neck should not be veneered with ebony because it makes a lute too heavy upon the left hand, the neck cold and slippery so the frets will slip. Instead the neck should be made from a light (in weight) wood with a fine varnish to match the colour of the rest of the lute. So Burwell is suggesting that the neck should be solid and not veneered. Indeed there are some surviving examples of Baroque lutes with solid necks of, for example Walnut.
I do have a quantity of 100 year old American Walnut (salvaged from old reed organ cabinets) but decided that the Sycamore would be a more attractive choice. Calculated density of the Sycamore neck blank is 34 lb/cu ft compared to 38 lb/cu ft for Walnut. A spruce blank with the addition of a 1mm thick ebony veneer I calculate would equate to a density of about 31 lb/cu ft - so not much in it - and a solid neck is much less work than a veneered neck.

The depth of the neck at the neck joint will be about 27mm (tapering to about 20mm at the nut). To accommodate the required width of the fingerboard at the bowl the neck joint, therefore, must slope - in this case about 45 from the fingerboard surface. With the neck blank cut oversize the neck joint surfaces have been fitted.

To verify and define the geometry of the neck, the neck blank has been temporarily taped to the bowl and a 'false' sound board - made from card - taped to the bowl with the bridge drawn full size in the correct position. As the Maler 65-1408E lute survives as a 13 course instrument and this copy is to have only 11 courses the original neck geometry cannot be followed as the shorter 11 course bridge will be centrally located on the soundboard so requiring a greater offset of the bass side of the neck.



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[*] posted on 4-29-2018 at 02:21 PM


Having established that the neck blank is sufficiently large enough and the neck joint in correct alignment, the neck has been drilled to accept a clamping screw. The screw is to provide a clamping force when the neck is later glued to the bowl. Originally a nail would have been used in place of a screw - the clamping force quickly applied, essential when working with hot hide glue. I have a suitable hand forged nail somewhere - if I can find it - so might use that in place of a screw when the time comes.

Due to the slope of the neck joint two temporary wooden stops have been screwed to the neck block to prevent the neck blank sliding upwards and out of alignment when the clamping force is applied. The neck block has already been pre-drilled with a pilot hole so with the neck blank temporarily taped in position a hole was drilled into the neck block using the pilot hole as a guide. With the clamping screw in place everything is in good alignment. I will likely make some further fine adjustments to the neck joint surfaces to ensure a 'perfect' joint. The neck blank may then be trimmed and the neck shaped to the required cross section.

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[*] posted on 5-4-2018 at 03:31 PM


The neck joint surfaces have been finished, the neck aligned with the bowl centre line and the neck top surface trimmed close to final dimensions. As the wide fingerboards of Baroque lutes have a curved or cambered cross section, the sides of the neck have been rebated to accept ebony strips measuring 10x5mm in section to provide some additional depth at the edges of the fingerboard if required.
The back of the neck will next be shaped to the required profile at the neck joint ready for gluing the neck to the bowl.

The sound board bracing has been trimmed to fit the bowl. I have found it necessary to offset the sound board to bowl centre line about 3mm towards the treble side of the bowl to compensate for some bowl asymmetry (as evident on the original lute). Perfect symmetry of their lutes did not appear to be a particular concern of the ancient luthiers.

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[*] posted on 5-4-2018 at 11:08 PM


Hey John,

Sorry...I didn't see your response to mine for some reason. Yes, the KHM is terrific, and I LOVE the musical instruments collection (here in case anyone would like to see a bit about it: http://www.khm.at/en/visit/collections/collection-of-historic-music... ). My wife and I get a "year card" each year so we can go to the various KHM museums anytime without having to pay again, and I go admire the musical instruments at least once each year. It's unfortunate that it's closed now, which I am aware of since I tried to take someone there recently. I'm looking forward to it opening back up! Have you been there?

I've taken pictures of all the lutes and ouds there (only one old oud from Egypt), but I can't find them at the moment. I'll look more and see if I can find them, but I do have a better camera now for such things and will bring it with me next time I go. :)

David
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[*] posted on 5-7-2018 at 04:11 PM


No I have never been fortunate enough to visit the KHM DavidJE.

To shape the neck a temporary block of wood has been screwed to the fingerboard surface to allow the blank to be firmly clamped in a vice. The screw holes will eventually be covered by the fingerboard. The profile of the back of the neck has been marked in pencil tracing the bowl contour at the neck joint. For shaping the back of the neck I use several tools starting with a draw knife for fast material removal, then a spokeshave followed by a block plane to get everything straight. Finished then with a scraper to remove any plane marks - working close to the required finished profile say about +0.5 mm. Final finishing will be done after the neck has been glued in place.

To check the air resonance frequency by calculation the volume of the bowl has been determined by filling it with dry pet food (a convenient material ready at hand) and measuring the volume of that. Not a high precision measurement but close enough. The measured bowl volume is less than originally anticipated at 8,945 ml (cc) say 9,000 cc. So with a rosette diameter of 8.6 cm the calculated air resonance frequency should be about 120Hz 10Hz i.e. between 110Hz to 130Hz so correct for a gut strung lute of 67.5cm string length (see previous post on page 1, at 3-6-2018 for details of the calculation). This will later be confirmed by acoustic measurement of the completed lute.

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[*] posted on 5-8-2018 at 09:50 AM


thank you for sharing thus far John, it's been wonderful to follow along.



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[*] posted on 5-13-2018 at 11:27 AM


Not wishing to digress too much, but you mentioned (or implied) at the start of the thread that you consider that Bach's great contemporary Weiss would have played a 13-course lute of similar construction to this project.

Do you have a position on what Bach himself might have used for his 'lute' pieces?

A general hallmark of Bach is that his music fits like a glove the instrument/s he is writing for. So it seems incongruous that one sometimes reads that his lute pieces (albeit many of them transcriptions) don't sit well. I wonder is this sort of complaint down to misinterpretation of Baroque construction and tunings?
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[*] posted on 5-13-2018 at 05:06 PM


I have no previous experience of either building or playing Baroque lute so cannot comment first hand on the works for lute by J.S. Bach. However, I did understand from others that Bach never wrote for the lute but instead wrote for a keyboard instrument that imitated the sound of the lute (the lute-harpsichord), these compositions being attributed by Bach- confusingly - for the lute. There are a number of transcriptions by other lutenists of Bach's works specifically for 13 course Baroque lute - some written in tablature and others in staff notation. I have a few photocopies of original manuscript examples in my library given to me by a friend some years ago - as yet remaining unstudied by me. I will try them out once this project lute is completed - albeit with only 11 courses available.

This article sums up the situation about the Bach lute works quite well:

http://www.cameronoconnor.com/etc/the-lute-works-of-js-bach-the-lau...
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