Time goes by rapidly. So much to do and so little time. But at least I am busy enough to keep me off the streets.
This saturday my 2018 re-enactment season starts with two weekends at the “Batavia Shipyard” in Lelystad. I was invited by Jaap of Springlevend Verleden, together with our friends of The Paper Unicorn.
Over the last couple of days I have been working overtime to complete it. Or at least far enough to bring along and finish it over there.
I first encountered this instrument while in lutherie school. One of our teachers showed it as an example of a “folly instrument”; a lyre shaped archlute or theorbo, with metal strings, shaped like a festooned lyre. It was described as a theatre prop, probably made for the opera Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi.
The teacher was quite clear; it was an odd footnote in lute history, totally useless and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Let alone being considered for reconstruction, preferably ignore it all together. So my curiosity was sparked.
I later learned that beside the Vienna instrument, there was a second one in Bologna. Probably by the same maker, perhaps they were even intended as a set.
Building the beast
The work started with making a drawing. Since there are no drawings available, and visiting the museums to take measurements was out of the question, I had to work with photos. Luckily the Bologna example was restored and the report was scanned and put online.
Then the moment came to start gathering materials. A friend of mine sometimes gives me beech wooden pallets (yes it is a pallet project, so snob-woodworkers will now probably have to click away and hide in their “real wood”-refuge).
I normally don’t use wood like this for instruments for my customers, but in this case it is for my own collection (nobody will want to purchase an oddity like this) and in that case I am on a tight budget. And hey; whenever the wood suits your purpose: use it.
I have used this for a number of projects, from tools for re-enactment to the infamous Minion Press…
Because the instrument basically is one long stick (yes, it is one of the first neck-through instruments), the core is made from a long beech plank, about 170 cm long.
The sculpted “wings” are made from pieces of pine, also reclaimed pallets. During the drawing process I found out that the originals are very asymmetrical.
After carving the parts, they could be glued together. This is basically the essence of lutherie; chop some trees into blocks, cut away everything that doesn’t look like an instrument part, glue the bunch together —> another guitar, lute, lyre or violin completed… It isn’t as hard as it seems…
When the wings are in place, the bottom rib (maple) can be attached.
Then the quite heavy back 4,5 mm maple, a left-over from another project is glued to the sides and spine. There are some linings installed to the top of the ribs, only on the soundboard side. The joint with the back is reinforced with strips of 18th century paper.
The soundboard is made from spruce (also a left-over). Two little 30 mm soundholes are on the far ends. The barring is fairly simple: one 6 mm wide bar between the soundholes. . The bridge is in two pieces: a tie-block to hold the strings in place, and the actual bridge. I intend to keep this bridge in place under string tension, rather than glue it to the soundboard, The reason?. The instrument has fixed frets, so it is convenient to be able to adjust the intonation,
Speaking of frets… No, I wasn’t drunk during this fretjob, the weird intervals are intentional. Instead of the now common equal temperament, historically a wide variety of temperaments was used and experimented with. Like this 1/6 comma meantone…
The frets you see are 0.8 mm flat brass stock. Mushroom shaped frets were introduced during the 19th century.
After fretting the finishing could begin: there is a lot to paint. After a session of sanding the wings were covered with gesso, a mixture of animal glue and gypsum. As a ground-layer for the paint. The design for the soundboard decoration is also drawn on using a secret process, involving laser cut templates…
The blue is a color I mixed a couple of years ago to match the dashboard of the old Opel Blitz Fire Engine… While the back and sides of the instrument are ebonized.
Then the gilding can commence… Well gilding… At the last moment I have chosen to use gold paint, because there simply was no time left to apply real gold leaf.
Ready enough to take along to Lelystad… I will probably be there, painting and stringing this weekend. So if you want to see the completed instrument, visit next week. For the work-in-progress come by today or tomorrow. But it is certainly better to visit both weekends…