It has been quite a while since I posted an update on the Schelle theorbo. Let’s just say that the focus has been on building instead of writing. Long days and many events.
Integral part of the theorbo is its large neck. Without this you wouldn’t have a theorbo, but a big bass lute. In fact, some theorbo’s we now have in museums started their lives as bass lutes and were later rebuilt.
In an earlier post I mentioned the Mondrian inlays. They have been placed at the back of the neck.
Another feature that had to be made is the upper pegbox (having the possibility to tune your basses can be convenient). Compared to upper pegboxes of other theorbos, the Schelle example is quite narrow.
It has been suggested that this upper part of the neck doesn’t originally belong to this theorbo, and that it can be a later addition. Hence the unusual hinge in the neck (also a later addition, possibly after a neck fracture) and appearance of two different wood species for the neck.
Despite being narrow, the pegbox is shaped rather elegantly. Suggestions have been made that it looks like the neck of a swan or the scroll of a violin. No matter what it reminds you of, it is like a little wooden sculpture: an exciting piece to carve.
It all starts with a solid block of maple, this gets cut, carved, glued, carved, filed, scraped, sanded, carved, scraped, etc. until it has the right shape. A lot of time is involved with looking, visualizing, touching and feeling the object.
Making the neck extension and pegbox is one of those moments when you as a woodworker are in a constant conversation with the material. Again, simply cut away everything that doesn’t belong to the theorbo. In various stages and a well-thought order. You carve away as much material as possible, without compromising the strength, but to get the end of the neck as light as possible. Like a diet; every gram lost is (ac)counted and celebrated for.
The front of the upper pegbox is a place where some decoration can be placed. Historical examples show everything, from geometrical patterns to texts, to nothing at all. I like it when an instrument ‘speaks’, has a motto of some sorts, or at least a name. It is a long tradition, we find for example at church bells and harpsichords (like the Ruckers from Antwerp). Or for example texts musicians themselves write on their instruments. Woodie Guthrie’s guitar read “This Machine Kills Facists” and Pete Seeger’s banjo tops paid homage to this with “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender”.
Early on in the process Punto and I concluded that the latter should be included in this instrument as well. For a couple of reasons:
- We like to pay homage to Pete Seeger and his philosophy. Bringing people of all ranks, faith, walks of life and nationalities together through the power of music. It’s a universal language, that goes beyond borders and walls.
- The message is still viable, maybe now even more than when Seeger was still alive. Look at the current political climate in the world. Hate and violence are everywhere and even cultivated by presidents and other world leaders.
- We refuse to give up hope and believe that small things – like art – can make a difference in the world. It starts with normal people, like you and me, making a choice not to be violent, but choose for peace. To add something positive to the world instead of breaking it down.
- Music, arts and culture only exist through sharing with others. Nobody has the monopoly on a culture. “Chauvinism” and feelings of cultural superiority might seem a the way to preserve it, but in the end it is only counterproductive. Not sharing or communicating, is the easiest way choke a culture to death.
- It’s a message we like to spread to other people and generations.
So the text was engraved on a little bone plate, and glued to the face of the upper pegbox.
Folding the neck
After this was completed, the hinge system could be installed.
I’ve put a lot of research into this, but decided to make it just like the Schelle example. I have seen elaborate systems by other contemporary makers, hinging both to the front and back. But decided to put Occams Razor to work. It is great to design and make double locking hinge systems, but for what purpose? With the hinge on the back of the neck, the string tension will keep the neck in place. No need for locks, or extra pegs. All these parts can get lost or break. Besides, when the neck folds forwards it still needs a strange custom designed case with a bump in the middle.
I know this hinge looks quite modern. Because it is. It’s polished steel, made for yachts. I found it at a local hardware store, while all other things were either to small or not strong enough. It is very different from the original fleur-de-lis design, but fits rather nice with the Mondrian inlays.
The lower pegbox is decorated with a little carving at the top and point on the right side of the neck.
Paint it black
Veneering the neck would make the instrument more expensive. And the German Dm-theorbos we found all have painted, rather than veneered necks. We suspect that they were made as “player-instruments” with few decorations (unlike the very rich swan neck lutes from the same era). Only the necessary was done. One of them (by Rudolph Höss, not to be confused with prominent Nazi and war criminal Rudolf Hess) has an upper pegbox carved in the form of a lion (like Stainer violins) but this only seems to have been done to give the appearance of a more expensive instrument (when played in an orchestra and viewed from a distance).
I have chosen to keep the inside of the pegboxes clean, just for the looks. Maybe the edges of the neck extension will be scraped clean, to reveal its chamfer and highlight the outline.
The first part of the neck was glued to the body on wednesday. In folded state the instrument measures 135 cm. Still quite long, but easier to move than the full two metres. Especially when your main mode of transportation is public transport…
Yes, my shop needs a good cleaning up, it more and more looks like a hamster cage. I will when the theorbo is finished…