Moving on

I do realize that I have been neglecting the blog for some time. Over the last months life has been a rollercoaster. Not just because of the world wide Covid pandemic, but for other reasons.

Since September I have been caught up in the process of moving our home and workshop. We have been living in a small, cosy appartment in Doorn, a small town in the middle of the Netherlands. Forty square meters of living space, filled with two people, two cats, a small library and multitude of materials for our many hobbies. It was small, but we loved the neighbourhood and had many contacts there.

Working in the old shop in 2017. (photo Niek Stam)

My workshop was at a walking distance, at a friend’s home on the edge of the woods next to the local castle. For a long time we wanted to move to something larger. A place to combine working and living. Initially we wanted to stay in our old neighbourhood. We have been involved with a lot of local volunteer work, not in the least the Little Free Library I made on the square in front of our home as a social art project. And was close to family and friends. We kept searching in our neighbourhood but it proved impossible to get a suitable home there.

So we broadened our search and found a lovely house in the next village of Driebergen-Rijsenburg. It’s at ground level of a 1950’s apartment block, with four rooms, a shed and a large back garden. Close to the highway and train station. Just next to one of the Carolingian main roads of the early middle ages. We got the keys in September and have been involved in an almost military operation called moving ever since.

With the help of our families we made the house ready for living in just a couple of weeks. Friends helped us to move all our stuff from Doorn to Driebergen. We cleaned up the old house and then the larger project started: packing up the workshop and building the new one. It took a couple of months, but finally I can start in a new workshop.

A panoramic view of the new workshop.

As you can probably imagine, my  hands are itching to start building and restoring again. There is a whole range of different projects and ideas from different cultures and times waiting for attention, so there will be more than enough to write about.

I love it when a plan comes together….

Over the last months I haven’t been able to answer all my mail and messages. I am very sorry for that inconvenience and am working on getting back at them. Even though the physical shop has been out of order, the online plan store has been up and running 24/7.

As for now: on with the journey!!!


Posted in Events, Projects, Workshop | 3 Comments

New plans! A 19th C. Stauffer-style guitar by Ries

One of the perks of my job is that people bring in unusual and interesting instruments to work on. Some of them are so interesting that I document them to share with others in the form of building plans.

A while ago this very beautiful guitar was brought to the shop. Lovers of 19thcentury guitars will immediately recognize the shape as a Viennese “Legnani”-model. The Italian guitar virtuoso and composer Luigi Legnani (1890-1877) collaborated with guitar makers to develop his own guitar model. The most famous examples were made by Johann Georg and Anton Stauffer. But also other makers like Scherzer, Ries and even Christian Friederich Martin would start to make this model.

Before moving to America Martin worked as a foreman in the Stauffer workshop. His first guitars also show a strong connection to his Austrian roots.

The guitar on my workbench was made by another Viennese maker, named Nikolaus Georg Ries. His style and workmanship are strongly related to that of Stauffer. The label is even similar to that found in some Stauffer guitars.

We don’t know very much about Ries life, but it is thought he started around 1820 and left the guitar making stage in 1843.

The back of the guitar is a large single piece of highly figured maple, of a quality that is nearly impossible to find these days, Along with the flamed sides they form a stunning couple.

One of the characteristic features of the Legnani model guitar is the adjustable neck joint. The neck hinges on a brass plate in the upper block. A square clock-screw goes through the heel into a brass nut in the upper block of the body. This can be used to adjust the playing action of the guitar.

I have made a complete set of plans for this guitar. It contains full size drawings of the instrument and the neck adjustment system. Besides that there is also a document with detailed photos included. Everything you need to make a faithfull copy.

The set of plans for this guitar can be purchased through my plan site:

Click here to go to the Ries guitar plans.

Also have a look at my other plans, for example the
Stradivari, Voboam and Panormo guitars, lutes after Frei and Gerle, Cytharas, or the Trossingen and Sutton Hoo lyres and many more!

Posted in Guitar, Guitar Plans, History, Projects, Research, Restorations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Renaissance and Baroque Lutes

Frei - Swan neckIt might seem that I am on a plan drawing frenzy at the moment. That’s true, but I am also finishing up a lot of things I made in the past. Two years ago a couple of my students at the instrument making course where I teach, asked me whether I could learn them to make a baroque lute.



Normally it is recommended to start with a simple basic alto lute, and work your way up to the more advanced baroque lute. But the students wanted to make a baroque model specifically. For years I had the whish to make a basic baroque lute for the shop. So I started to design this set of plans, based on the Bolognese models by Hans Frei or Laux Male. These early 16th century lutes form the blueprint of what the lute would become in the next three centuries. Larger, elongated models to replace the smaller medieval lute, they would become known as the “pear” or “pearl” moulds.

Originally made as six or seven course renaissance lutes, in later ages the models by Frei and Maler were highly sought after. Lute players in the 17th and 18th century would pay high prizes for the “pittifull Old, Batter’d, Crack’d things” as Thomas Mace described them. To accommodate changes in music and fashion, players brought them to their local lute makers to have the necks and bridges replaced for wider, baroque style models. Lutes by Frei and Maler were copied by later makers and even falsified.

Man drawing a lute

I’m in good company: in 1525 Albrecht Dürer also drew a Bolognese lute…

I have made two sets of plans.

TenorThe first set is a reconstruction of the lutes as they were made by Frei.
Two different models:

  • 6-course Tenor Lute
  • 7-course Tenor Lute


The second set includes three different baroque models:Baroque

  • 11-course Baroque Lute
  • 13-course Baroque Lute
  • 13 Course Swan Neck Baroque Lute
    (sometimes called a Swan Neck Theorbo)

All these models can be made on the same bowl. So you can practically make the whole lute history with one single mould.

Both sets include 4 different rosette designs. They are suitable for both beginning and advanced makers.

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When you get the combined set there is a 5,- discount.

You can find these and other plans on

Posted in Guitar Plans, History, Lute, Projects, Research, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A beautiful Baritone Ukulele

1952 Sears catalog - Detail

Click to enlarge

Gift of music

“The Gift of Music Lasts a Lifetime” that’s how the musical instrument page of the 1952 “Christmas Catalog” of Sears & Roebuck opens. On the page there is the crème de la crème of 1952 teenage dreams: accordeons, three guitars, two soprano ukuleles and (drumroll please) a baritone ukulele.

One of the perks of my job is that people bring by the most interesting and outrageous vintage instruments. From 18th century archlutes and 19th century romantic guitars to the archtops that started rock & roll in the Netherlands. Last week a friend brought in something different: a 1950’s Silvertone baritone ukulele.

Silvertone Ukulele 1

At first glance it is made in a simple and plain fashion. Made of mahogany, with a rosewood bridge and fingerboard and some tortoise celluloid trim around the top. No frills, but quite elegant.

But when I played on it the whole thing came alive. A beautiful articulated tone, not too loud, but very sweet and open. When I took a better look at it the rosewood of the bridge and fingerboard proved to be Rio Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra) and the rest of the instrument appeared to be Cuban Mahogany, both of these are really endangered by now and protected by CITES.

His question was whether I could put some machine heads on it to make it more reliable during concerts, as the old friction pegs had become a bit temperamental. No problem, but I had a question as well: could I draw a plan of this?


Well, I have a sweet spot for post-order instruments. The Sears & Roebuck catalog provided lots of people with their first guitars and other instruments. The company ordered instruments and amplifiers by various factories like Danelectro in New Jersey and Valco (maker of Airline, Harmony, Kay) in Chicago, and sold them under their own “Silvertone” brand.


While being budget instruments at the time, they are now highly regarded amongst a small group of players. I already drew a couple of Silvertone branded instruments by Danelectro (1444 Dolphin Nose Bass, 1448 Amp-in-Case guitar). But also the famous Harmony Stratotones which were also sold under the Silvertone name. Instruments that formed the foundation of modern music.

Baritone ukulele cut

But I also wanted this one for the instrument making courses. It is simple to make, but has all design and construction elements of a full size guitar. And its DGBE tuning (low to high) is very accessible for guitar players. An ideal travel companion.

You can find the plans here at my plan page

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At the roots of the guitar; The Carolingian CYTHARA.

Abbey RoadPerhaps you have already caught a glimpse of my research project of last year. It slipped in on some photos and social media postings. But I haven’t had the possibility to write too much about it earlier.

The reason?
Like most of my research projects – it completely exploded. And it lead to this “Year of the Psalter

boek luit

How the whole thing started

It all began during the research for the book about the Trossingen lyre. We consulted Annemies Tamboer, an expert on musical archaeology. During the meeting she noted: “You should have a look at the instruments from the Stuttgart Psalter. Those lyres are fun and have been studied at length, but nobody took a serious look at these.”

221 (3)I knew the pictures she meant, you sometimes see them in popular guitar history books and on websites as “medieval guitar”. Just two or three manuscript illuminations of small cartoonish figures with big eyes and some long necked lute like instruments. There were also some small scribbles in the 171Utrecht Psalter…
But at that moment we were completely immersed in the Trossingen Lyre project, so embarking on a new journey would have to wait. The subject moved to the long ‘potential projects’-list in the back of my mind. A long list containing all kinds of interesting, creative (and generally extremely unprofitable) subjects to research and/or make.


But there is a Dutch saying that ‘Blood will creep where it can’t flow’, meaning that you will find a way, even against all odds. Exactly that went on with this subject. All kinds of who?-what?-where?-questions popped into my head.

– Who made the psalter and where?
– What are these instruments?
– Are they only depicted in the Stuttgart Psalter?
– When did the depictions of these instruments start?
– How many are there in the original manuscript?
– Are there other instruments involved?
– Who plays them?
– How are they played?
– Do they look the same?
– Do we have archaeological remains of these instruments?
– How do they relate to other instruments from the time and place the psalter was -made?
– Is there remaining music from this era?
– Was it invented here or did it come in from some other place?
– What materials, strings, tunings, did they use?
– Is it really unchartered territory?

In short: this fool asked more questions than a thousand wise men can answer. To find answers it would be nice to know whether someone had done any research into these instruments. So I contacted Christopher Page, the chairman of the Cambridge Guitar Consortium, who also has a lot of knowledge about (early) medieval culture, instruments and music. He told me that to his knowledge there were no in-depth studies done after these instruments. But that theBritish Lute Society was doing a symposium on them in may this 2020. He gave me their contact information.


An event at Whitsun

63538659_808953489498233_1824321783138877440_nThis all happened in may 2019 while I was working towards the Whitsun Viking Festival in Eindhoven. The book on the Trossingen lyre would be presented there, and I was also making the first modern reconstruction of the Prittlewell lyre. So mailing them about the project got postponed to after the festival.

But it wasn’t at a standstill. In one of my scarce free moments browsing around the internet, I stumbled upon a pdf-version of the Stuttgart Psalter. Leafing through the pages of these ancient works always fills me with delight, the beauty of the text and pictures. The way in which the artists interpreted the texts they illustrated, the small visual jokes hidden in the background, etc. It always starts an array of bells and whistles going off in my brain. Connecting dots and loose ends.


While browsing the psalter, I started to mark the pages with instruments. To my surprise there were no less than ten (!) pictures of these long necked instruments, along with a variety of other noise makers: horns, cymbal clappers (crotalum), the 10-stringed psalterium (lyre) and even two organs with their bellows. It also noted the name of the instrument: “CYTHARA” not to be confused with the earlier Greek/Roman Kythara, which is a very technically sophisticated lyre.

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Coptic lute

A small Coptic Lute after the Antinoë example

This was a lot more than I expected. And while lining them up it already became apparent that they could possibly be put in two categories; the large ‘Royal’ model, and the smaller ‘Peasant’ model. Using my now quite familiar process I started making sketches and plan drawings for a reconstruction. Comparing them to other instruments of their time which I already built before (lyres, a Coptic lute from Egypt/Byzantium).


Towards a prototype

A crazy idea came up: what if there were a couple of prototypes ready for the Whitsun Festival? One of the focusses was on the Trossingen lyre, with the book presentation, lectures and a multitude of Dutch players present. People around me expected that I would bring everything around lyres. But I always like to do something unexpected. So in my already full schedule ahead of the festival I also tried to squeeze in some prototypes of the Stuttgart cytharas.


The unfinished prototypes hanging on the wall of my little shop in Eindhoven.

That was a bit too much to say the least. Making 6 lyres, 3 cytharas and a scale model of the Trossingen grave in a stretch of a week. Working round the clock to finish everything. Although they were present, I didn’t manage to complete the cytharas. Only one of them got strung up during the event itself. Add up 150+ hours of work, and three days of Viking festival in the mix and you can probably image that I overworked myself a bit. But it was totally worth it.


Spike and Ilja of Moro playing the Trossingen lyre during the  presentation of the book.

After recuperating a bit, I send an e-mail about the project to Christopher Goodwin, secretary of the Lute Society . He reacted asking me whether our mails had crossed each other. It became clear that Christopher Page also contacted him and told him about my interest in the cytharas. Strange enough his mail had erroneously landed in my ‘unwanted’ folder. When I looked it up, there was a surprise inside: an invitation to attend the symposium in May 2020 to give a lecture on the Stuttgart cytharas. At the moment it had been send I hadn’t even start on the prototypes…

Off course I reacted positive and decided to work further on the prototypes. And also to do some experiments with tunings and stringing. After the Trossingen project was finished, I needed an excuse to dive further into the world of the cythara.

Stuttgart cytharas

Two of the first prototypes: the “Royal” (left) and “Peasant” (right) model.


The first tests

img_0089Early September we had the Early Medieval Market at Schothorst, the farm that is my Living History home. This is where I managed to finish the prototypes, and where they got their first test run. Living history events are fantastic when the visitors are there along the day, but in the evening the reenactors crawl together around the fire to share good medieval fun: mead, stories, more mead, jokes, food, beer and (…) music!


A cross-over in time…

I took along the cythara to the evening feast, and while I have sworn secrecy about the whole ordeal, let me suffice to say it was a great success. The instrument was adopted by a couple of musician friends and played al night in a jam session along with drums, lyres, flutes etc. Around 6.30 in the morning it was brought to a close. The same scene unfolded at other festivals and in December at the Jule fest.


Bart trying out the first prototype

And there is even some footage of those first moments. Please be advised that this was shot on a simple telephone, in some of the worst of circumstances.

The Cytharas are tuned to an open D tuning (DAd) but can also be tuned EAd like the lowest strings of a guitar. Either way they are easily picked up by players even at their first try.

Lectures and more than expected

I started working on two lectures: one about the Lyre, the other about the Cythara. The first was planned in March, and given for our local historical society. The second was planned for May at Dutch Church in London… But then the pestilence of COVID-19 hit the world and all plans came to a stop. The symposium was postponed, but they asked me to write an essay on the Stuttgart Cythara De Zeeuwfor Lute News, the magazine of the British Lute Society.

While researching for the essay, more sources popped up. I found some recent articles and a treatise that touched on the subject. Along with a recently published book by Hans de Zeeuw on the eastern TANBUR.

In other Carolingian manuscripts I found pictures of instruments that could be identified as Cytharas. The earlier mentioned Utrecht Psalter, but also less famous or even quite obscure works of a period we call the Carolingian Renaissance.


The whole lockdown gave me time to work on the data found. And make reconstruction drawings for all of them. A total of 15 different models some even in two varieties, plus a Byzantine Pandura, the ancestor of the Cythara.

Last weekend we had the first real Viking event in a very long time. Time to check two of the new Cytharas I made for the Schothorst farm. They already had one of my reconstructions of the Oberflacht lyre and now the range is expanded by an Utrecht and Stuttgart Cythara.


But even better: there were people to play them!!!


Get your own…

If you want to try them for yourself some patience will be required, the events at Schothorst will be without public for a while. But you can come over to my workshop and commission one for yourself.

Stuttgart Peasant PlansStuttgart Royal Plans












Or you can make one for yourself using the plans I published for them.  Besides the Stuttgart Psalter models I have also made plans for the other examples: the Utrecht, Lothar and Charles the Bald Psalter, as well as the Constantinople Pandura, Prudetius Psychomachia, Bamberg Boethius, Vivian and S. Paolo Fuori le Mura bibles. By publishing these plans I hope that other instrument makers and re-enactors will also start to experiment with these almost forgotten instruments.

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These plans are all available in a couple through my Payhip store at

Stuttgart cythara at Schothorst

The essay on the Stuttgart Psalter will be published in the fall or winter edition of Lute News. Perhaps the symposium may be next year.



Posted in Cythara, Events, Guitar Plans, Lectures, Living history, Lute, Music, Projects, Re-enactment, Research, Uncategorized, Woodworking, Year of the Psalter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The year of the Psalter

My focus of research has lately been drawn to instruments in early medieval psalters. With the main focus on the Utrecht and Stuttgart examples. So much that I themed this year the “Year of the Psalter”

83r beneden

Both are masterpieces of the ‘Carolingian Renaissance’ where the Carolingian rulers tended to legitimize themselves as being the true heirs of the Roman empire. Don’t be confused by the names. Early medieval manuscripts are generally named after the places where they are kept, not where they were made. These psalters were made in France, Paris (Stuttgart Psalter) and Reims (Utrecht Psalter).

In the next months I plan on posting more about the various projects involving the psalters. For now just a short introduction to the Utrecht Psalter.

So stay tuned for more Psalter fun…


Posted in Documentary, History, Living history, lyre, Projects, Re-enactment, Research, Uncategorized, Year of the Psalter | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To hang our Lyres up to the Willows…

By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.”

Psalm 137:1-2 (ESV)

Albani Psalter
o you probably have heard these verses? They are fairly well known.
The people of Israel are in exile in Babylon, and their captors ask them to sing songs about Israel. But they hang their lyres on the willows and sit down staring at the river and crying. Not capable of any creative or jolly endeavour. It paints an intense image of sorrow and sadness.
A feeling of longing,  remembering better times in the past, not knowing what the future will bring, dark and unsure. After the last months of Corona lockdown, I am sure we can all relate.

During the lockdown I have been working on some research about instruments in early medieval psalters (more on that in future blogs). Illustrations by the psalms can be a rich source of information for a variety of subjects. I have become a great admirer of the Utrecht and Stuttgart Psalters, both masterpieces in their own right.

The scene of Psalm 137 (136 in the Vulgate and Septuaginta) is interesting because of the instruments, , but also because of its slightly comedic, almost cartoonish depiction.

Stuttgart Psalter

311 Rivers of babylon

Stuttgart Psalter  –  Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. bibl. fol.23 f.152r (detail)

In the Stuttgart Psalter (Paris, 9th C.) we see two old men, sitting next to the stream while their lyres are hanging in the back.

These instruments might look a bit strange to us, knowing how an early medieval lyre should look, but it seems that the artist tried to keep in line with the description of a Psalterium in Ps 33:2 Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre and 144:9 “[…] on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you”. Or perhaps even make a depiction of a small organ?

The psalter was probably made after earlier Italian (8th C.) and Byzantine (6-7th C.) manuscripts.

Utrecht Psalter

Utrechts-Psalter_PSALM-136 detail

Utrecht psalter – Utrecht University 32, f. 161 (detail)

The picture in the Utrecht psalter (Reims, 9th C.) has faded over time and is almost unreadable, because the ink of the next page shines through.

Utrechts-Psalter_PSALM-136 detail filter 3

Utrecht psalter – Utrecht University 32, f. 161 (detail)

Some adjustment in the contrast gives us a vague image of a couple of harps or lyres in the trees on the right. The river flows like a serpent below.

Eadwine Psalter

Luckily we have a backup for the Utrecht psalter images. In the 12th century the Utrecht Psalter resided in England, were its images stood model for two other, more colourful psalters; the Eadwine and Harley psalters.

Eadwine 2

Eadwine Psalter – Cambridge Trinity College R.17.1, f. 243v (detail)

In the Eadwine Psalter we see what the illustration in the Utrecht Psalter might have been.

Eadwine 3

Eadwine Psalter – Cambridge Trinity College R.17.1, f. 243v (detail)

So what to do with these pictures? Not much, just enjoy them as a soure of inspiration…

Last weekend I was at the medieval farm at Schothorst along with a couple of friends. And we simply couldn’t resist…


From left to right: Jan van Cappelle (The Dutch Luthier), Roel Zwetsloot (Primal Craft Instruments), Ilja Zendman (Moro) and Spike Bakker (Moro). Hanging about a variety of early medieval instruments made by Roel and me.  –  Photo: Marjan Grinwis.

Despite the picture we are certainly not hanging our lyres to the willows. Early medieval lyres have seen quite a renaissance in the Netherlands over the last five years. Thanks to the hard work of these four people and their friends and fans.

Off course this psalm has also been an inspiration for other works of art. You probably know “The Rivers of Babylon” by the Melodians


Which is probably more famous in the version of Boney M…


During the search for these pictures I found a lot of other examples. There are even examples where they throw complete organs in the tree branches. So there will definitely be a sequel to this post…

If you want to know more about the bibe verse and pictures, read this blog post Super flumina Babylonis: silenced organs?by Cristina Alís Raurich. She goes further into the different translations and forthcoming interpretations of the text. Highly recommended!

Super flumina Babylonis


Upon posting this blog my friends of MORO made a fitting tribute to this blog…

Thank you very much you wonderful fools!

Posted in History, Living history, lyre, Music, Projects, Re-enactment, Research, Think different, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A new, updated Sutton Hoo lyre

Sutton_Hoo_helmet_2016Let’s go back in history…
To long forgotten times, when life was simple.
Times of dreams, of joy and laughter
with large gatherings of people.
When social distancing was something you only did with weird relatives.
The times of free hugs,
and music festivals where ‘Corona’ was only a funky Mexican beer brand…

Let’s go back to march 2020…

Because it was early march 2020 when Spike of the band Moro contacted me to tell they had some great news:

They were invited by the National Trust to play at the opening of “Swords of Kingdoms: the Staffordshire Hoard at Sutton Hoo” in May of this year.


Ilja and Spike of the band Moro

A concert at “holy ground” right next to the actual burial mount were the most famous and iconic Anglo-Saxon Lyres was found. (A wish of mine is to do a sort of pilgrimage some time, playing reconstructions of the lyres at the actual site where they were found; Prittlewell, Sutton Hoo, Trossingen, Oberflacht, Cologne, etc. But this is just a side-tracking thought so let’s go back to the subject at hand.)

Moro is a duo of Anglo Saxon musicians. A couple of years ago we met at the last living history event of the Dorestad Museum, when they bought one of my very first lyres.
We were both starting out in early medieval living history at that moment. It was the start of a friendship and many great (and crazy) projects together.


Artist impression of the Sutton Hoo lyre as recreated in the 1970’s by the Dolmetsch workshops.. Notice that it is entirely square.

Even though they already have a Sutton Hoo style lyre, made out of a kit, this occasion asked for something special. A more detailed, even closer reconstruction, with gilded mounts and little hand cut nails around the edges. Because they already own a couple of lyres from my workshop (Trossingen, Oberflacht 37, Cologne and one of my first models) they wanted to commission this one as well.

SH british museumTheir demands were quite clear: make one after the information given by Myrtle and Rupert Bruce-Mitford in their 1983 book “The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial – Vol. 3”.
The chapter on the lyre is very thoroughly and well sourced. One of the first serious studies into the subject of early medieval lyres. Their re-establishing of the instrument’s total length based on the scattered fragments and two bronze bowls is a real tour de force. The working drawings by Ian McIntire have been the basis for most contemporary reconstructions.

Those stubborn instrument makers…

Even though there already are a lot of Sutton Hoo lyre reconstructions out there, the model somehow never resonated with me. There was always something that didn’t add up in my mind. It’s hard to quantify, but something felt wrong in the proposed proportions. Add the fact that I am never without question copying an instrument plan or somebody else’s interpretation of an archaeological find (in this case the work of McIntire and the Dolmetsch Workshop). It’s just my own natural stubbornness and curiosity as a builder and general craftsman. A trait common (almost a prerequisite) to instrument builders, as well as people in living history and experimental archaeology.


Erroneous but cute: the first attempt at a re-construction

Another argument for a revision is that since book’s publication, a lot of new discoveries have been done and studies providing new insights have become available. And the lyre in the 1983 book already was a second interpretation, after the earlier misguided reconstruction of the lyre as a very cute little harp. This was made in the fourties, and inspired by depictions on some Irish stone crosses.

side 2I took the articles and went over all the given data, in order to make a new working drawing. When looking at pictures of fragment 300, where the top of the arm on the bass side of the instrument I noticed something interesting. The angles between the rebates of the soundboard, sound box and underside of the escutcheon don’t make a straight angle with the side of the instrument. When measured they show an 88-89 degree angle.

This must be a distortion in the photo, right? Or the angle in which the picture was made, or the camera lens? But when looking at other photos of this fragment the same angle came up. Perhaps this was due to warping of the instrument in the ground? But wood doesn’t naturally warp in a parallel direction  in the direction of the grain. And then the slots of the escutcheons would have warped as well, but they were still the same shape (the escutcheon still fits in its place).  This led me to the hypothesis that the sides of the lyre had never been parallel in the first place. Perhaps it had a slight trapezium shape instead of being a rounded square in the earlier reconstruction.


My 2019 Prittlewell reconstruction

Utrecht Psalter lyre

One of the lyre players in the Utrecht Psalter

While a bit weary a first, I also took a good look at other lyres and iconography of the age. Page 83R of the Utrecht psalter shows a woman playing an Anglo Saxon/Germanic Lyre quite close to the Sutton Hoo model. But it has a very clear trapezoid shape.  The relatively recently discovered and reconstructed Prittlewell lyre shows a clear tapering in its form. Germanic models like the Trossingen, Oberflacht 81 and Cologne are all wider at the yoke than at the bottom. This seems to follow the direction the strings make over the instrument.

  To hang it on a wall…

SH Plan mini

The new reconstruction design of the Sutton Hoo

With these findings I went to Spike and Ilja. At first Spike didn’t see the need, he just wanted a lyre like the one they already had. But with a separate yoke and the little nails around the perimeter of the soundboard.

We agreed to make a couple of designs drawings. One like the proposed model in the article, the other my new interpretation. We would both print them out and hang them on the wall of our living rooms and ‘chew’ on them for about a week. Then Spike and Ilja would pick the design they wanted.

One evening I send them the drawings. About 30 minutes later I got a message from Spike: “We have agreed on the one we want. Make that new trapezoid design, it looks very sexy…”

And then: disaster…

This all went down in the first weeks of March. We were all joyfully making plans and projects for the upcoming living history season. When COVID-19 threw its shadow over the world. At Tuesday I gave a lecture about the lyre for a large audience, At Thursday I went to Arnhem to get woods and tools for the lyre, and two days later everything got shut down. Events were postponed and later cancelled. A lot of changes and uncertainties set in.

It always takes me a while to adjust to external changes. I can switch and anticipate in an instant, but that is on a rush of adrenaline, which later gives a backlash, draining my energy and heightening frustration. Having dealt with depression for years, I know that it is a passing thing. I found out that keeping a low profile and doing rough work like carving and chopping wood does the trick. Trying to force things only makes matters worse. But it threw a spanner in the gears of the Sutton Hoo project.

Making the lyre


The escutcheons made by Danegeld

Over the last three weeks I calmly set to work on the lyre. Carving the body, making the yoke and its very distinctive joints.

Spike and Ilja ordered a set of escutcheons by George Easton from Danegeld Historic Jewelery.

flamed mapleFor the corpus I had found a lovely piece of figured maple. The top was made from a piece of 40-year old quarter sawn maple I got from a friend. The same wood was used for the back and sides of the Spyker guitar and the top of the Prittlewell lyre.


The yoke of the lyre is made separate from the rest of the corpus and attached with two v-shaped pegs in two equally shaped holes. It looks very simple, but even for an experienced luthier it proved to be quite a challenge to make them fit. All the more reason to say that these instruments were made by the top craftsmen of their time. People who knew what they were doing and used their materials as efficient and strong as possible.


The yoke on an ebonized oak version I am making in tandem with the maple reconstruction

T7ab357d3-6d7f-4228-ab3c-f9d8601ab3bdhe escutcheons are sunk into small slots in both arms. Their primary function is to hold the v-joint in place. Both have two staves and rivets that go trough the arms and yoke to secure them together. Also they are the heads of two birds. Some people suggest they are Huggin and Munnin, the ravens of Odin who fly around the world to bring news to their master. One telling the facts, the other making up a bold story. The same shape of bird heads are found on the lid of a leather bag found in the Sutton Hoo grave.


We don’t know if and where the Sutton lyre had sound holes (that area of the top hasn’t survived), but I have very good experiences with the tiny holes found on the Trossingen lyre.

Because they are so small, the body of the instrument starts to act like a reflex speaker. Resulting in a more “compact” tone, while a large sound hole gives free range to the harsh upper register, and the lower and middle register become very weak.

Larger sound holes may give the impression that the lyre has more volume in a short range, but its carying power declines when further away. Having no sound holes (as often on Sutton Hoo reconstructions) dampens the sound. I also gave the top a graduated thickness, like found on the Trossingen lyre.

Nailed it!

The soundboard is glued down with hide glue, but also nailed around the edge with small copper alloy (bronze/brass?) nails. These are cut from a strip of stock. Where the article by Bruce-Mitford suggests to cut them off with a chisel from a plate of bronze or brass stock, I found out that using tin snips makes a much easier and cleaner cut. Tin snips are known from multiple roman early medieval finds.

img_3592Pegs were made out of willow (like the original), and I also made a willow bridge. In the grave no bridge was found, but we chose to use the Trossingen model, which is also made of willow.

We did an experiment with these parts, to make it more durable. The bridge and pegs were boiled in linseed oil. This was a suggestion of an archaeologist/musicologist who also studied the lyres in depth. But where earlier we had very good results in this process with the wood of weeping willow (Salix Sepulcralis), the white willow (Salix Alba) proved to be too become very brittle. That’s why in the first setup I put in unfried willow pegs, andimg_3612 will make another set of the weeping willow.

No tailpiece

Despite the fact that almost every modern maker puts a tailpiece on their lyres, only two of them have been found: On he Cologne and Prittlewell lyres. And there is a very late iconographic example of Gunnar in the snake pit, where the lyre has a tailpiece. For the rest we have no evidence whatsoever about the use of tailpieces on lyres. For this reason I have stopped to put tailpieces on lyres we have no evidence for having one. Instead the strings are simply tied to the endpin.  The extra length of the strings behind the bridge gives more resonance, harmonics, and even acts as a sort of reverb/echo.

Having the guts to tune

Since the Trossingen lyre project, I have started to make my own gut strings, unsplit and unpolished. Spike and Ilja use them on many of their recordings. But because it is a dirty business, I don’t make them on order. With the small batches I twist, they would become far too expensive. So I learned Spike and Ilja to make their own strings as well.

trossingen strings


We agreed that I would deliver the lyre at our mutual home away from home: the Dorestad farm at Park Schothorst in Amersfoort. This weekend we initially had planned a celebration of the Summer Solstice here, but it still isn’t wise to gather in large groups, so that was cancelled. Work and maintenance however still goes on at the farm, so over the weeks we have come together with a very small group of volunteers. Keeping within the COVID measures of social distancing and hygiene, etc.


Ilja on the Cologne lyre and Spike on the Sutton Hoo

So here it is, the newly revised reconstruction of the Sutton lyre.

Sharing is caring

As you probably know I do like to share my projects and research with other builders.
So like the earlier Trossingen edition I also drew a set of plans for this newly reconstructed model, to share with other builders.

SH Plan mini

It is available through my plan store.

If you want both the Trossingen and Sutton Hoo plans,
click HERE to get a discount deal!

Paint it black

img_3606Beside the Maple reconstruction I also made a model in Oak. I blackened it with acids and made a sort of photonegative version of the lyre. The escutcheons are made in holly. Off course the materials and color are not like the original, but sometimes it is just fun to make something different. Form and setup are exactly like the other newly revised model. It is still looking for an owner…

Posted in Guitar Plans, Living history, lyre, Projects, Research, Think different, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Early Medieval Iron Making

This movie is the first thing I ever saw about early iron production. And it fascinated me completely. Literally combining the four elements in the process to make something.

Earth + water make cobb

Air dries the oven

Fire breaks down the earth and removes moisture from the iron ore, while fed by air.

Little did I know that a couple of years later I would meet the people in the movie, and even work with some of them, learning the process. The location of the second part of the movie is the Dorestad farm in Amersfoort, almost a second home to me.

Today Thijs van de Manakker released the following on Facebook;

Schothorst shears. / De schaar van Schothorst.

In 2014, at the request of Natuurmonumenten, we carried out an iron smelting furnace on the edge of the historic iron pits in the Bergherbos in Montferland.

Part of the wolf iron that came out of the furnace was forged on the yard of the Bergkamp Sibbe to a plow shears.

Jan den Ouden from cultuuramersvoort filmed everything and put the film on YouTube.

Now a few thousand more to go and then this video has been viewed a million times.

I estimate this will happen a week or two, but if you’d all be so kind to share it, maybe it could happen this week?

Let’s make that happen!

Posted in Documentary, History, Living history, Movies, Re-enactment, Research, Think different, Tools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voboam: Guitars fit for a king

It’s probably the most well known name when it comes to baroque guitars: Voboam. Rather than a single maker, there is a whole dynasty of luthiers, spanning almost a century.


1641 Rene Voboam, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

It started with pater familias René Voboam, whose 1641 guitar is one of the prized possessions of the Ashmolean in Oxford (along with Stradivari’s “Hill” guitar and “Messiah” violin). But despite the fact that this is the earliest known guitar by René, it certainly wasn’t his first. It was clearly made by an accomplished builder who had done something like that more than once before. The whole back and sides of the instrument are covered with tortoise shell veneers, inlayed with bands of ivory and wood. The fingerboard has marquetery in ebony and ivory, etc. Even for an experienced builder it is a tour de force.

We don’t know who his teacher was, but it is thought that it could be Jean Desmoulin, another known maker from the time. At least he is mentioned in the inventory made up after Desmoulin’s death for an iou Voboam signed to him.

Besides the name René we also find the names Jean, Jean Baptiste, Alexandre and (Nicolas-)Alexandre Voboam. What to make of this? Thanks to extensive archive work of musicologist and organologist Florence Gétreau we now know René had two sons and three daughters. Both sons, Jean and (Nicolas-)Alexandre would become guitar makers like their dad. The latter became father to the guitar maker Jean-Baptiste who would have a son called Jean-Jacques, the last maker of the clan. Not too much is known about the first mentioned Alexandre “l’Aine” (the Elder), but it is suspected he was a brother of René.

The family probably lived and worked in Paris, in the arch-parish of Saint Mediq (St Merri), not far from the Notre Dame and the Louvre.


One of the reasons the family is so well-known is the amount of surviving guitars. Where you can count the guitars of most other makers on one or two hands, there are at least 29 of them in various museums around the world. The largest collection is in the Paris Music Museum, but you can also find them in New York, London, Vermillion (South Dakota), Washington, Geneva, Boston, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Nice, and some private collections.


And until to a few years ago in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. But unfortunately, the museum is neglecting its musical instrument collection, which made that the family that gave it on loan to the museum asked to have it back. They brought it to auction and it was sold to an unknown private buyer.


Rich and noble patrons

Guillaume Voiriot - Monsieur Aublet

Portrait of Monsieur Aublet Guillaume Voiriot – ca.1782

The Voboam family lived in a time when the guitar gained in popularity. Sun king Louis XIV himself was an avid player. When the Italian virtuoso, composer and professional gambler Francesco Corbetta settled in Paris in 1654, France was in for a guitar-boom.

Courtiers at Versailles were killing time with all kinds of activities, guitar playing was one of them. The other was impressing other courtiers with the newest gadget or fashion whim. Creating a demand for elaborate bling-bling guitars; inlaid and veneered with precious materials and gilded parts in complex patterns. Some courtiers even let themselves be portrayed with their beloved and valued/valuable instrument.

Part of the survival of these guitars is probably their decorative quality. Even after the Ancien Regime fell to the Revolution and their owners were on their way to the guillotine, the guitars were kept. Some were even converted for the use of six strings when playing five courses fell out of fashion in the 19th century.

At school

My personal journey with these guitars started at ILSA Lutherie School in Belgium. During an introduction to the history of our craft, the Voboams passed by. This immediately caught my interest, being flunked out of becoming a history teacher the year before. In my spare time I began browsing the internet and reading up on guitar history. Collecting everything in large binders with information, which fifteen years on still serve me well.


In my second year, another student in the last year decided to make a Voboam model as his final school project. School had some old plans lying around, with which he had to make do. Literally, because there was nothing else available at the time. I followed his process on foot and we often talked about it. But upon looking at the plans we came to the conclusion that there was no consistency in what we saw. A lot of small variations between the recorded instruments. All bordering roughly around the same form, but nothing exactly alike.

Tools from the encyclopedie

Despite that it was also hard to distinguish between original elements and later adjustments by other makers and restorers from the plans. Some of the plans were most likely intended as registrations of the guitars, never with the intention to make the instrument.

But it was even harder that there was no further information available on the subject. Shreds of information, some pictures of the museums that keep the guitars, occasional measurements, but nothing in detail or complete. A year later I found the first article by Florence Gétreau. In it she gave information on the lives and relations of the members of the family. But even better: she included a table with measurements of all surviving Voboams. One problem occurred, because there was no legend with it to show which value belonged to what part of the guitars. Thus started a nice puzzle; with the table and the plans from school I set out to match the table to the instruments. After that was done, I could get a nice overview of the dimensions of the guitars, but still there were inconsistencies.

More puzzle pieces


Because other projects asked for my attention, the Voboams went to the backburner. I occasionally looked at it, but never saw new things. Life went on, until 2010, when an article by Françoise and Daniel Sinier de Ridder brought a revelation. Shortly before the CordeFactum festival in Hingene, Belgium (where I attended the Ken Parker lectures) they published “VOBOAM: inside perspectives” on their website. An article they wrote for their book “The Guitar, Paris 1650-1950” (now sold out). In it were the conclusions of years of restoring Voboam guitars. They described how the guitars came to their workshop: “repaired” and even more ‘corrected’ by well-meaning (or at least we hope so) repairers and “restorers”. Necks shortened, barring altered, bridges replaced, metal frets, glue linings and new bars installed, etc. Everything to “strengthen” and “better” the instrument.



The rope in place.  Photo: Françoise-Daniel Sinier de Ridder

But they also revealed something more important. That the Voboams used a glue-soaked rope as lining to strengthen the joint between the soundboard and sides. No wooden linings, just a couple of little wooden positioning cleats and the rope. The back by contrast, is attached to the sides with wooden linings. Why is this so important?
Because it meant that we have been building Voboam guitars the wrong way.  Let me explain.

Different methods

Italian method

The “Italian method”

Every Voboam copy I had seen up to then was made in what I call the “Italian” fashion. The way we built violins and Italian baroque guitars (like the instruments by Stradivari and bowl backs by Sellas). Two blocks are attached to an inner form, to which the sides are glued. Then the neck is attached to the upper block, often by use of a nail or (more modern) screw. Then it’s time to install linings and the back. After which the inner form is removed and the box is closed by adding the soundboard.

But with the elements Sinier de Ridder describes, it is very hard to do it this way. How do you add a glue-soaked rope to the insides of a closed soundbox? Through the soundhole? Have you ever tried to put your hand through a soundhole to attach something inside a guitar? I have often, and it is like building a ship in a bottle. And how do you manage this with a rosette already glued in place? Trained mice? Mental powers, smoke and mirrors?

The “Spanish Slipper”

Spanish Slipper

Spanish Slipper Photo: Françoise and Daniel Sinier de Ridder

They also provided another clue: something we know as the “Spanish Slipper”, “Spanish Foot” or “Spanish Volute”, an element you find in guitars constructed in the classical Spanish tradition. Like the guitars by Antonio de Torres and Ramirez. In this method you start by making the soundboard. It is put on a base plate, known as a Solera and the barring is attached. The neck and upper block form an integral piece with two slots. This is glued to the upper part of the soundboard, while the lower block is added to the other end. The sides are put into the slots of the neck and glued to the lower block. Thèn you can put the glue-soaked rope between the sides and soundboard. When this is dry and the wooden linings are in place at the other edge of the sides, the back can be glued on.

Spanish method

The “Spanish method”

As you can see, both processes are completely the other way around. You start the process with the step the other method ends with and vice versa. But this difference gave me an explanation for the difference between the various guitars, even by one maker. The Italian method gives very little room for variations, the inner form guides the shape. In the Spanish method you built the guitar up in the air. This gives a larger margin for variations. Especially when you bend the sides by hand it is easy to get asymmetry. I asked mr. Sinier about this at CordeFactum and he confirmed my conclusions.

One of the ironic things that I observe is that many modern makers make their Stradivari guitars with the ‘Spanish” method, and their Voboam models with the “Italian” method. Something got crosslinked here…

Towards an archetype

Another question came up: if the models evolved this way, is it possible to unlock the original, underlying design? Is it perhaps possible to use the law of averages?

Belchior DaVinci

Usage des Nouvelles Mesures

Woodcut dated 1800, illustrating the new decimal units.

I have some experience with the use of historic systems of measurement to ‘crack’ the design of instruments. For the Stradivari project I used the “Braccio da Fabbrica” of 17th century Cremona, for the Schelle theorbo the “Nuremberger Stadtfuβ”, the Roman Braccio for the Buechenberg and for the Jheronimus Bosch lute the “Bossche Voet”. For the Chambure vihuela and Belchior Dias guitar, the 16th century Portuguese Customary Units of Lisbon and so on. So, what was the unit of measurement for the Paris Ancien Regime? In school we always learned that Napoleon introduced the metric system. While that isn’t entirely true, he did demand it for the areas under French rule. Before the revolution France used the “Pied du Roi” the “King’s Foot” (324,8mm) which is divided in 12 Pouce, which in themselves are broken up in 12 Lignes. The smallest unit is the Point (1/12th Ligne or 1/1728th of a pied).


The insides of the 1665 Alexandere Voboam. Photo by Françoise and Daniel Sinier de Ridder

The unit of measurement is usually the formula or ‘key’ to unlock the design of an instrument. But for the Voboams I took a little bit of a different approach. I added up all measurements of the guitars given in the table by Gétreau, to estimate the averages. These averages were tested and corrected with the pied du roi system. From these outcomes I started to re-engineer the Voboam design. When it was finished the design and measurements were compared to the original measurements and outlines. To my surprise they come very close to the first instruments by René Voboam, the Voboam Double Guitar‘godfather’ of the design.

This basic model was used to draw a new set of plans for the Voboam style guitars. A complete system with which it is possible to make the guitars in all their design varieties. From the humbler, less decorated style found in the famous “Double Guitar” in the Vienna museum, to the most intricate designs you can imagine.

It took a while, but now it is ready. A model with which you can choose the different design options, like the Voboams did themselves.

A model suitable for both beginner and veteran builders. Ideal for schools and workshops alike. The large set of plans consists of:

  • 2 basic plans (a ‘simple’ and ‘deluxe’ version)
  • 6 headstocks
  • 5 sets of moustaches
  • 4 paper/parchment rosettes from a simple flat model to multi-level 3D
  • A multitude of inlay options for back, sides, soundhole, lower block, fingerboard and binding
  • An extra “Bonus Plan” of a small Voboam guitar with its rosette…

All in all, well over 250 different possible combinations… Combined with designs for cutting guides and other little tools and templates.

The most insane collection of plans I have made to date…

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These plans are available through my payhip store.

Posted in Guitar, Guitar Plans, History, Research, Think different, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment