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Author: Subject: A Baroque Lute - new project
jdowning
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[*] posted on 1-23-2019 at 05:15 PM


I have no experience in playing the 11 course Baroque lute so am not sure about the optimum string spacing at the nut for my size of hand. I have on file six full size drawings of nuts of surviving 11 and 13 course lutes dating from 1644 to 1730 detailing actual string spacing. Not surprisingly there is some variation from quite narrow, measuring 70 mm over 11 courses, to 85 mm - no doubt due to variation in the hand sizes of the original players of these instruments.

A lute by J.C. Hoffman, Leipzig, 1730 (No 3188 in the Brussels M.I.M.) has a string spacing for the first 6 courses that is a close match to that of my 6 course Renaissance lute (based on a 16th C Laux Maler lute) that should also be a good fit for the neck width of this project lute - the 11th course lying just outside the fingerboard edge on the bass side - so I will use this spacing here (80 mm overall).
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[*] posted on 2-1-2019 at 05:10 PM


Due to relatively extreme cold weather conditions over the past month the relative humidity in the heated kitchen area where I am obliged to work on the lute has been very dry in the low 20% RH region. This has caused the repaired joint in the sound board below the bridge to open up again during the dyeing/varnishing operation.

Another repair attempt has been made this time using the glued paper strip method employed on the bowl construction. The glued strips are heated in place with a hot iron after glue has been run along the joint hopefully forcing the hot hide glue to penetrate into the joint. After the glue has cured for 24 hours or so the paper strips have been removed by softening with water and wiping them away with a wet cloth. The sound board in this area will again require finishing with dilute shellac.



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[*] posted on 2-8-2019 at 03:44 PM


Time to calculate stringing for the lute.

The 11 course lute will be tuned in so called D minor tuning i.e. the first six courses when played open sound a chord of D minor A d f a d' f'. String length is 67.5 cm.

The standard pitch for the string calculations is defined by the air resonance frequency of the lute that has been determined on page 1 of this topic as 114 Hz ±10Hz or somewhere between 124 Hz and 104 Hz.This will the frequency of the 5th to 6th course so strings will be calculated for standard pitch A415 and A392 (a semitone and whole tone below A440) - A415, 5th course is 139 Hz and 6th 104 Hz and A392, 5th course is 131 Hz and 6th course 98 Hz.

The lute will be strung in plain nylon or pvf and the basses (octave tuned Cc, Dd, Ee, Ff, Gg) Pyramid wound or lead cored braided Dacron with plain nylon or pvf octaves. Tension will be relatively low to start with ranging from 35 Newtons for the first course to 26 Newtons for the basses (a force of 1Kg is equivalent to 9.8 Newtons). For convenience the handy Pyramid slide rule - available from Pyramid or suppliers of their strings - has been used for the calculations. Of course data for the braided strings must be determined separately using a string test rig.

A discussion on lead cored braided Dacron strings made at low cost from troll fishing lines can be found here - now missing the images unfortunately.

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=10010&p...

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[*] posted on 2-12-2019 at 11:39 AM


Structural assembly of the lute is now complete awaiting fretting and stringing. The nut has been shaped ready for making the string grooves and is currently soaking in purified gasoline (Coleman's camping stove gas) to ensure complete de-greasing. I still have to sort out what I have in the way of strings and gut fret.

I like how the dyeing of the bowl and peg-box has brought out the flame figuring of the sycamore (maple) wood and the natural fluting of the ribs of the bowl.

Total weight unstrung is 935 grams.



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[*] posted on 2-18-2019 at 04:33 PM


The string calculations are now complete and I have sufficient Pyramid PVF and wound lute strings in stock for D minor tuning at A415 standard pitch for a string length of 67.5 cm.
First and second courses are single, third to fifth courses unison doubles and sixth to eleventh course octave doubles. Relatively low tensions range from 37 Newtons (3.8 Kg) for the first course to 26 Newtons (2.7 Kg) for the basses and 23 Newtons (2.4 Kg) for their octaves.

Of course the original 11 course lutes of the 17th C were strung in gut (or silk?) so it is interesting to review what Mary Burwell (1660 - 1672) had to write in her lute book about the stringing of 11 course lutes of her time.
She says that the strings were made from the intestines of sheep (gut) and a material known as 'cat's gut' - twisted with 'great art'. (Although strings of the early oud were also made from sheep's intestines and those of young lions (i.e. the feline or cat family) cat gut lute strings of the 17th C - according to contemporary accounts - were not made from the intestines of feral or domestic cats. As no lute strings survive from the 17th C the material or structure of the 'cat gut' strings must remain uncertain). The best strings were made in Rome, Italy except for the bass strings and their octaves that were made in Lyons, France. (Note that Lyons was then the centre of the silk industry in France).
She says that string tension should only be moderate in order to facilitate playing of the lute (strings plucked with finger tips). Too high a tension being a strain on the hands and making embellishments difficult to perform well.
Burwell explains that the second course was made single, like the first course and not a unison double due to the difficulty in finding matching strings made from gut. She also states that good masters of the lute had abandoned the 11 course bass string (retaining just the octave string) as it was too loud and smothered the sound of the other strings. This also helped reduce the weight and length of the peg box and provided a convenient alternative for stopping of the sixth course at the third fret when necessary.

There were 9 tied gut frets on the neck gradually reducing in diameter from nut to neck joint.

She also states that tuning of the 11 course lute starts with the 5th course (not the first course as was the case in earlier times - the first course then being taken to close to breaking pitch to allow the lower gut strings to be at a higher tension/pitch to sound brighter). This suggests bass strings of superior performance to those of earlier times? The 5th to 6th course pitch should coincide with the natural air resonance frequency of the lute.

The elimination of the 11th bass string is interesting as it implies that these basses were not made from plain (even well twisted) gut but were likely of 'weighted' or 'loaded' construction by incorporating metal powders or salts or metal wires within the string filaments so providing the needed extra mass required for sustained vibration? My experimental loaded basses are cheaply made from commercially available lead cored braided fishing line as a substitute for historically what might have been metal cored braided silk strings. (Was 'cat gut' originally a term for a type of loaded braided bass string?). After first trials with the Pyramid strings, loaded braided basses will be tried out. The lute will be tested initially with the 11th course bass installed.

Some detailed discussion about loaded braided silk strings can be found here

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=10010&p...

The air resonance frequency of the lute will be later measured with the lute fully strung and up to tension.
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[*] posted on 2-24-2019 at 03:13 PM


All of the strings have now been fitted - a boring task so spread over three days. String selection is not optimum as only strings in stock ready to hand have been used but it will allow assessments/adjustments to be made when the strings are brought up to full tension. The tied on frets will be fitted once the string action at full tension has been determined.

The nut is curved to match the transverse curve of the fingerboard surface. String clearance at the nut is about 1.3 mm for the first course increasing to about 2 mm for the bass courses. The nut, of course, is not glued in place but is well fitted and held in place by string tension. This will allow adjustment for string height by shimming if necessary. By design, the 11th course octave tuned pair of strings is run outside of the fingerboard surface over an extension to the nut and is tied to pegs outside of the peg box side walls - a feature sometimes found on surviving lutes of this type. The 11th course is always played open so is not stopped.

Use of modern wound basses means that their octaves are not strictly necessary to provide brightness as they would be for gut strings. However they do still preserve the characteristic lute timbre and so will avoid the instrument sounding more like a guitar!

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[*] posted on 2-27-2019 at 05:32 PM


The strings have now been approximately tuned and brought up to full tension. Tuning has been accomplished 'by ear' referencing the pitch frequencies of an on line tone generator. It will take a few days of further adjustment for the strings to stabilise. Calculated total string tension is about 538 Newtons (or 55Kg.f or 120 lb.f)

Playing safe, the lute is tuned below A440 pitch standard to nominal f' Helmholtz pitch notation (or F4 scientific notation) at A415 pitch standard - so the first course is at 329Hz pitch and the 11th course at 62 Hz. Although modern plastic strings can go to a higher tension than gut this represents the pitch that would apply if gut strings were used (with an additional small safety factor against breakage). The maximum safe working load for a plain gut string is determined by dividing a breaking frequency factor of 240 (Segerman) or 260 (Peruffo) by the vibrating string length in metres. So for a string length of 0.675 m a gut string would break above a pitch of around 356 Hz or 385 Hz (or not last long in service before breaking).

So far so good. The tuning pegs are working smoothly. A couple of strings are slightly false but will do for now as this is just a preliminary set up. Next to add tied on frets to check action. These will be nylon as a temporary trial set up in case some adjustments are required to the finger board. Nylon is cheap but is not a good material for frets as it causes premature string wear. I may also test frets made from varnished braided lead cored strings.

With the sound board at full string tension a measurement of the air resonance frequency can now be made to verify the design calculated value.
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[*] posted on 3-2-2019 at 03:42 PM


With the strings at full tension tuned to D minor tuning A415 standard pitch the air resonance frequency has been measured using an H2 Zoom digital recorder positioned over the sound hole and tapping the sound board next to the bridge with the strings fully damped. The sound file has been analysed using free Audacity software to provide the following spectrum analysis. The most prominent frequency peak at 139 Hz is the air resonance frequency of the lute.



This is a little higher than the calculated frequency of 120 Hz ±10 Hz - based upon the approximate measured volume of the bowl reported earlier in this thread. The measured volume does not include the volume of the braces that would further reduce the measured air volume and so increase the calculated air resonance frequency a bit more, say 121 Hz ±10 Hz or within the range 111 Hz to 131 Hz.

Nevertheless at 139 Hz measured air resonance frequency this happens (by fortunate chance!) to be exactly the pitch of the 5th course in D minor tuning at A415 so nothing to complain about there!

Although the strings still require some time to settle down the lute has some promising resonances with the strings played open. I have a sound clip of this but have not yet figured out how to post it here. I suppose that a hosting site for audio files must be used as for the image files? Any suggestions?

Next to instal the tied on frets
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[*] posted on 3-2-2019 at 04:21 PM


I notice that some members have been using SoundCloud to share audio files so lets see if this works!

This is the audio file for the lute tuned in D minor, A415 strings sounded open with finger tip in descending order. Some slight out of tune but the strings are still settling down.

https://soundcloud.com/user-669554678/baroque-lute
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[*] posted on 3-4-2019 at 06:12 PM


Another downside of nylon frets is that the nylon is slippery and hard to tie firmly without using a special knot so the proposed trial fretting has been abandoned and fretting will proceed using gut frets.

There is sufficient space on the neck to accommodate 10 frets. Mary Burwell refers to 9 frets on her French Baroque lute but Robert Dowland (son of the renowned English lutenist and composer) in his lute tutor 'Varietie of Lute Lessons' published in 1610 notes that (recently) 'by the French nation, the necks of the lutes were lengthened and thereby increased two frets more , so as all those lutes which are most received and desired, are of ten frets'. So ten frets it is.

Dowland provides instructions on how to set the fret spacings, measured from the nut, using dividers and marking the fret positions on 'a thin flat ruler of whitish wood'. He also notes that the frets are graduated - reducing in diameter from the nut end of the fingerboard - the first two frets being the same diameter as the gut 4th course of the lute, the next two the same diameter as the 3rd course, the fifth and sixth frets the same diameter as the second course and the remaining frets the same diameter as the first course.

Dowland's instructions have not been followed for fret spacing - instead frets will be spaced calculated to modern 12 tone equal temperament spacing. As the frets can be adjusted final fret positions will then be fine tuned 'by ear'. Tying frets is hard on the fingers and tedious so only four frets have so far been positioned on the neck - hopefully the remaining six will be fitted later in the week.


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[*] posted on 3-5-2019 at 04:43 PM


Fretting is now complete so the lute is finished and ready for playing - apart from some fine adjustments as necessary. Only about a year behind schedule but better late than never!

Pyramid gut has been used for the tied on frets in the following measured diameters from fret #1 at the nut downwards - 0.92 mm, 0.86 mm, 0.83 mm, 0.78 mm, 0.72 mm, 0.69 mm, 0.65 mm, and 0.64 mm for frets 8, 9 and 10. These are finer graduations than recommended by Dowland because this was the gut available in stock. Also diameters are greater by an estimated factor of about 1.3 than those recommended by Dowland due to use of modern Nylon and wound strings having greater stretch and amplitude of vibration than gut strings.

Each fret is tied tightly to the neck in a position one or two frets higher so that the taper of the neck increases tension on the fret as it is pulled into position. The fret knot is as shown in the attached image pulled as tightly as possible - using two pairs of pliers - the loose ends are then cut to about 2 mm from the knot with nail clippers and the ends melted with a soldering iron up to the knot.

I have not been playing lute for several months now so it will likely take a while to get accustomed to this instrument.





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[*] posted on 3-6-2019 at 06:45 AM


Congrats! Looking and sounding great. Good things come to those who wait... :applause:
You can't rush such things and our weather has been impossible to say the least!
You probably have some pieces in mind to work away at, but in case you take requests he hee...this is pretty much
my favourite baroque piece Bourrée from BWV 996(Bach):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyEGKANa990
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ83EBKH598

Really nice work and fun thread to follow.
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[*] posted on 3-6-2019 at 03:33 PM


Thank you MattOud - glad that the project has been of interest. I have learned quite a lot from the project as well.

Yes the weather here in Ontario this winter has been bad - not only with problems caused by extreme dryness of the air for instrument building but the repeated cycles of extreme temperature change and rain on top of heavy snowfall has meant restricted access to and from my rural property on several occasions - and these winter conditions are still with us!

I tried out the fretted lute this morning but was dismayed to find I was having difficulty in negotiating the instrument - no doubt a consequence of not having played lute for several months!! The technique for 11 course Baroque lute is not the same as for 6 course Renaissance lute so I have some re-habilitation as well as learning some basic new technique to work through. I expect that it will be a while before attempting Bach (!) but I am currently more interested in mastering some 'simpler' stuff from the Scottish lute repertoire - so that will come first if my 're-training' efforts succeed.
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[*] posted on 3-6-2019 at 04:25 PM


In case readers may be wondering what relevance an 11 course Baroque lute originally modified from a 16th C lute by Laux Maler might have on a forum dealing with the oud? It is a long story but my reasoning is explained in detail in FoMRHI Bulletin 118, April 2011 in two articles Comms 1935 and 1936 'Ancient Metrology, Ibn al-Tahhan and the Maler and Frei lutes' - a speculative historical link to ouds of the 14th C.

Download files Comm 1935.doc and Comm 1936.com for free here

https://www.fomrhi.org/vanilla/fomrhi/uploads/bulletins/Fomrhi-118/
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[*] posted on 3-6-2019 at 04:46 PM


Now that the project lute is complete it may be of interest to compare - side by side - a Maler lute in its original 6 course 16th C form with its later modified form as a Baroque lute. My copy of the 16th C Maler lute, made in 1979, is based upon a surviving sound board in the GermanischesNationalMuseum with a relatively low bridge position. I later modified the lute to a string length of 67.5 cm with a shortened neck with seven frets. The modification project was posted on this forum here:

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

Note that both lutes have the same string length of 67.5 cm.




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[*] posted on 3-10-2019 at 03:28 PM






In moving from a six course Renaissance lute to 11 course Baroque lute the immediate problem is that the latter with its heavier neck and peg box is relatively 'top heavy' causing the instrument to roll and slide around on the lap. The traditional method used to stabilise Baroque lutes - particularly those with extended secondary peg boxes - is to use a strap to hold the instrument firmly in position when being played. I will need to experiment with the possibilities - including a non historical modern guitar strap - to find an arrangement that works best for me before moving on to modifying my playing technique.

Here is a description of some of the historical alternatives seen in the iconography:

http://www.vanedwards.co.uk/straps.htm
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[*] posted on 3-14-2019 at 04:01 PM


Apart from the need to find a comfortable holding arrangement for the new lute I am finding difficulty in orienting both right and left hands to navigate the instrument. For years I have been playing my six course 'Maler' lute with a 'thumb out' right hand technique rather than the more usual historical 'thumb under' method. I thought that this might facilitate the transition to the 11 course instrument but it is not the case due to the differences in the comparative geometries of the two lutes.
Although the string lengths at 67.5 cm (and hence fret spacing's) as well as string spacing's at nut and bridge are the same for both lutes, the bridge position on the six course lute is relatively lower so auto locating the frets with the left hand fingers 'in the air' differs with the 11 course instrument. (for example at present I tend to automatically hit the third fret on the Baroque lute instead of the second fret - check the image of the two lutes side by side previously posted). Furthermore both bass and treble strings are placed further from the geometric centre line of the Baroque lute than on the six course lute so compounding the difficulty for both left and right hand in finding the correct fret and string locations. Also plucking of the melody strings on the six course lute is mainly achieved with thumb and forefinger alternating whereas on the Baroque lute the first and second finger are primarily used with the thumb reserved, extended, for the basses when required. So the only way to resolve these difficulties now is with deliberate and very slow practice to retrain memory, finger and arm muscles. At least the problem areas have been identified.
It will then be interesting to find out if switching between the two instruments will work in future.

A sound file will be posted once some further ability has been achieved.

Otherwise the acoustic performance of the lute is quite promising at this early stage.
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