Digital Guitar and Lute Plans

You probably know my guitar and lute drawings. They’re quite (in)famous in the lutherie community. I’ve made them for a couple of years now, and literally hundreds of instruments have been constructed after them.

Anything from Stradivari reconstructions to Danelectro and Harmony electrics.

About a year ago I changed the way you could order my guitar and lute plans. After it became too much work, I went with a third party to handle printing and distribution. The hope was this would take less time for me, and would give you an easier way to order.

But instead of lightening the burden, it has been a constant source of frustration. Despite their promises, the distributor only added a couple of countries to the list. Later additions didn’t come. Often plans didn’t arrive at their destination. The assurance that the order forms would be translated into English was given often, but never fulfilled. And despite that I paid them to take over customer service, I had to deal with problems and complains constantly, even more than before.

About a month ago I had enough, took down the website and decided to look for another way to distribute the plans. This proved to be difficult, as most dropshippers wouldn’t take in A0 sized posters. Also I got more and more questions for digital versions of the plans. A thing I didn’t do before, because of piracy.

After some deliberation I decided to make digital versions of the available through Payhip. Here you can order and download the plans in an easy and convenient way.

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CLICK HERE
to go to the webshop

If you want a paper version (often people use them as posters in the living room or workshop), just download it and get it printed at your local copy shop.

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Forgotten instruments: the “Chitarra Pomposa” or “Bach-Ukulele”

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dr. Martin Schuft

A couple of years ago two German musicologists, dr. Martin Schuft and Professor Hermann Lügner, did a remarkable discovery. On a flea market in Leipzig they found two boxes of old sheet music. Initially they didn’t think much of it, as markets like these are loaded with old junk paper like this. But when dr Schuft strolled through the box some pieces of tablature stood out. Clearly 18th century, but for an instrument he didn’t recognize; “Gitare Pomposa”

The seller couldn’t tell more about it than that he found them in

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Professor Hermann Lügner

the attic of his grandfather’s fishmongers store. And the price: 12 euros per box. office-overflow-smallWhile dr. Martin thought that was a fair price, prof, Hermann deemed it a bit steep for a box of old paper and he managed to talk the man down to 5 euros for the two boxes. They took them home and put them on the pile of “stuff to research”.

 

A year ago I got a call from dr. Hermann. Whether I would be interested to make a reconstruction of a forgotten instrument; the Gitarre Pomposa, an instrument from the late 17th, early 18th century. It was described as a small guitar-shaped instrument, with four courses in a re-entrant tuning. But there were also notions of players who would set it up with single strings. Tuned gg-cc-ee-aa

Never shy for a challenge and historical research, I said yes. We started to search for this enigmatic instrument. It proved to be hard to find examples in museums. But I remembered the little guitar-form in Paris. It was of a small guitar, even smaller than a ukulele, made by one of the great masters of his age: Antonio Stradivari.

I had made a reconstruction of this little instrument in 2014, as a part of my Stradivari research project. A small 5-course guitar, known as “Il Canino”. Could this be what we were looking for? But this was clearly a guitar, or wasn’t it? Recently the researchers who found Stradivari’s last will, also published an article about a couple of letters of the old man. Two were to his son Omobono, the good for nothing son who only was interested in wine and woman.

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Chitarra Pomposa from the Katzen Museum in Ost-freierbach.

The other was to a mr Giovanni Bacco in Leipzig. In this letter he apologized that the delivery of the two “Chitarri Pomposa” was delayed because his son Omobono didn’t take them directly to Leipzig, but took a detour trough Milan where he pawned them at a local brothel. Antonio had gone to Milan himself, and six months later, his son still had the imprint of the violin makers boot on his backside…

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Mr. Bacco playing the Chitarra Pomposa

Mr Bacco had expressed his disappointment in another letter, because the  main partis in his ‘passione di matteo” now had to be played on ordinary lutes and violins. When we looked further in the archives of Leipzig to look for this Bacco figure, nothing was found, exept for a portrait on which he plays his beloved instrument.

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Modern editions of original Chitarra Pomposa music…

I am currently working on a reconstruction of this very special instrument. It will be especially suited for ukulele players, as the tuning and size are very similar. In the meantime we are looking for music that was written for this instrument.

Beside the German pieces by mr Bacco, we also have Italian titles like “Oltre l’Arcobaleno”, “Scala a Cielo” and “Che Mondo Meraviglioso”. All masterpieces in their own right. It is a pity this instrument was forgotten, especially since it was one of the most beloved instruments of composers. In Germany they were surpassed by the Waldzither, while in Italy the Accordion and Mandolin gained popularity. In France they were abandoned after the French Revolution, the instrument was deemed too bourgeois. They shortly tried it with a headless version, but it ultimately ended up on communal bonfires as a symbol of the ancien regime, warming the frigid bones of the revolutionaries.

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As you have probably guessed by now, this whole story is complete and utter nonsense.
Happy April Fools Day!

 

 

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“The Beast unleashed”- the Lion Theorbo leaving the nest.

img_6826As you know I am working on a large theorbo after the Matheus Buechenberg (Rome, 1614) in the V&A museum.

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Nomally I make lutes with anything from 7 to 19 ribs. But making a 41 rib bowl in Yew heartwood with b/w/b spacers has been quite a challenge. As with all my lutes the seams are strengthened by paper linings made of an 18th century book. 

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The barring has been completed and the bridge installed.

The barring is quite simple, basically a large version of the normal lute bracing. I based it on the Buechenberg plans made by Stephen Gottlieb.

As with anything on this theorbo, the bridge is huge; 25 holes spread over a width of 187 mm. As you can see, there are fewer holes in two bluesharps…

sellasWhile top and bowl are being prepared to be joined. Work on the neck extension has been started. Like the large Dm Schelle theorbo I made for Punto, this one also gets a foldable neck.

In order to house 13 bass strings on the extension (instead of the usual 8) we have chosen not to copy the typical ‘swan headstock’ of the original. A Viola da Gamba (or Viola d’Amore)-style pegbox (like on the 18 course Sellas on Paris) will be more practical.

Another plus: it provides me with an excuse to carve another head…

Lukes lionWhen we were working on the Schelle theorbo, Punto and I found another Dm theorbo, pictured in Schlegel & Lüdtke’s “The Lute in Europe 2”, made by Rudolph Höss, lute maker for the court in Munich (not to be confused with Rudolf Höss, stainerthe commander of Auschwitz, or Nazi politician Rudolf Hess), in 1709. This theorbo also features a gamba-style headstock, with a carved lion head. Its style is quite close to the heads of Absam (Tirol) violin maker Jacob Stainer. But with a significant difference: the Höss lion is wearing a blindfold.

When I showed Luke this headstock it was love aviolin_tielke-lion6smt first sight. I suggested some other figures, but he always came back to the lion. One problem… I had never carved a lion before…

So time to research, browse google images, pinterest and… BOOKS! I soon learned that the heads by Joachim Tielke appealed most to me.

But what to think about the blindfold? It’s a detail we find at members of te Viola d’Amore family. Often a cupid figure representing the idea that “Love is Blind”.

We discussed the matter and came to the conclusion that the blindfold is an element we wanted to incorporate. It immediately raises questions when you see it. A lion is just a lion, but when you encounter a blindfolded lion it automatically makes you think why it has that piece of fabric over its eyes. And who put it there in the first place?

Carving itself is an almost magical experience. Like getting a fossil out of a rock. The shape reveals itself while you cut away the material around it. Starting with the basic shape, getting more detail along the way.

And with a little drop of walnut ink it really comes to life…

Label

IMG_0175As an hommage to the old masters, I put a reconstruction label of the original maker in all of my instruments. It’s printed on a piece of 18th century paper. While Buechenberg used hand-written labels, I stamped it with East India Ink, instead of printing it on the Minionpress.

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After closing the box the fingerboard can be put on. (Look at the sheer size of the thing compared to the guitars)

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Then the pegbox and its extension can be placed.

Carving the extension is an exercise in losing weight. Starting out with three blocks of maple, weighing 3,5 kg total. In the end having 760 grams left…

54257042_2215727388666024_318995338562109440_n55560503_2399992780230875_9207974098062278656_nOn the end of the upper neck we decided to put a little puzzle piece. It’s international symbol for Autism and Asperger. Since Luke and I are both on the so-called high-functioning end of the spectrum, we thought it would make a nice symbol to be on the instrument. You often hear that people on the spectrum can’t communicate… Well, you should see the vast stream of messages and brainstorm sessions we had over the instrument… Rather than a disability, we regard it as something positive. We can’t help the majority of the world has fewer neurological connections in their brain…

After this little rant it’s time to put some varnish and paint on the instrument.

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And when the varnish was dry, pegs, strings and frets could be installed.

The instrument is so large (215 cm) that I had to work on two workbenches to install the strings. It required a lot of back and forth walking.
In the middle picture you can see why I waited to the very last moment to install the second neck. The shop ceiling is only 2,25 m high, with the beams being even lower. Handling an instrument of this length is like moving a ladder through a china shop.

They sometimes say a lutenist spends 2/3rd of his life tuning and 1/3rd playing out of tune… Well, instead of the normal 13 strings on a 7-course lute, this model has 25… Twelve on the petit jeu, and 13 large basses.

Delivery

Today Luke and Susan came by the shop to collect the finished theorbo. A trip from Manchester to my secret headquarters in Doorn…

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First impression? It is LOUD, especially with the double stringing and extra long basses. (89/176 cm).

Making this theorbo was a fantastic journey. I love making personal instruments, rather than pushing out large series of one single model. Meeting the most fantastic and diverse people, getting to know them and making something that suits them.

This is the last of a series of three theorbos, all made for young players who are at the beginning of their musical career. And it’s a privilege to have made some of the instruments they use.

 

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Guestblog: The Lyre of Trossingen – pt. 3

Luit van der Tuuk is a Dutch author and independent researcher, specialized in the early middle ages. He is also the curator of Museum Dorestad in Wijk bij Duurstede.

In the early middle ages, musical instruments had a special meaning, with their own social function, symbolism and terminology.This was particularly true for the lyre, the most important stringed instrument for the Germanians. It was the instrument of choice for accompanying songs.

In many cultures, stringed instruments are associated with aristocratic music. We see this image also in the carea, where the elite had a musical tradition, involving lyre playing. So it is not a coincidence that the poet Beowulf named no other instruments than the lyre in his descriptions of joy in the hall.

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Amber bridge found in the port area of Dorestad. The completely flat bottom shows it is an unfinished piece. Possibly the crack in the lower half of the bridge made the craftsman decide not to complete this one.

The king buried in the Sutton Hoo ship must also have been a singer, or at least a patron of the vocal arts. The lyre was a royal instrument, the item of king Hrothgar in Beowulf ànd of the biblical king David. The image of the instrument’s high status is reinforced by early medieval depictions of David playing a lyre.

Due to the context of other luxury grave goods, lyres in sixth and seventh century graves can almost always be associated with the aristocratic elite, particularly armoured warriors. Sometimes the lyre was placed on the deceased, giving the suggestion the person played the instrument himself. In other graves the lyre was not placed against the body. A position that raises the suspicion that these were high status people – often indicated as kings – didn’t play the instrument themselves, but left this to musicians in their service. In these graves the lyre seems to have been more of a status symbol amongst the large amount of goods.

The use to give grave goods declined in the eighth century. From this moment onward we only know loose finds of (mostly) bridges, found in a domestic context, especially associated with centers of trade and crafts. Finds like these are unknown from the earliest period, when there were few trade settlements like that.

Amber bridges were especially found in centers where this material was worked, aside from a few grave finds from te eight and ninth century. Like the burial site of Broa on the Swedish island of Gotland. Semi-finished examples, known from Dorestad and Haitabu (Hedeby), support the idea that lyres, or parts thereof, were made in the trade centers. Apparently we must place the context of these settlements in the production of these instruments, because lyres were not a part of the inhabitants daily life.

A Dutch version of this blog was posted at www.vikinglanghuis.nl on June 16, 2018. English translation by JAVACA – © Luit van der Tuuk – 2018

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Printing at the castle

A week ago I was giving a demonstration with the Minion Press at Wijchen Castle. The local television made a small item about it.

The Minion Press is lent to the museum for the exhibition “Strengels en Letters” about book fabrication in medieval Gelre.

 

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The Ace of Spades

If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man,
You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me,
The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say,
I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is
The Ace Of Spades…
THE ACE OF SPADES !!!

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Sometimes I just need to set the workshop amp on high volume and put on this song. It can be quite cathartic. Especially while cleaning he office…

A while ago Luke asked me whether I could put a different inlay in his Buechenberg theorbo. While it is based on the 1614 V&A model, we also take in some features of instruments by Sellas, like the 18 course E.547 in the Musical Instrument Museum in Paris. Because this is the only example of a theorbo with an extended bass range (Luke’s will have 19! courses).

A feature quite typical on instruments by the Sellas family are inlays of hearts, often upside down on a spike… an ACE OF SPADES…

ace of spades 2 (2)  Like this example in the E.545 theorbo  ace of spades

So I made some hearts in bone, and inlayed them in the soundboard.

Guess what music was on in the shop while doing this job…

and this lovely piece….

I wonder what this would sound like on a theorbo…

 

 

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Guestblog: The Lyre of Trossingen – pt. 2

Luit van der Tuuk is a Dutch author and independent researcher, specialized in the early middle ages. He is also the curator of Museum Dorestad in Wijk bij Duurstede.

In 1857 Matthias Hohner started the manufacture of harmonicas in Trossingen. Soon they would be sold all over the world. In the last decade of the last century, the production was moved to an industrial site south of the town. The buildings on the old location were torn down to make space for new development. During these proceedings in the winter of 2001/2002, an almost intact lyre was found in a Merovingian grave. Would old Matthias have imagined this when he chose this location?

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Reconstruction of the lyre’s engravings.

Reconstructie van de ingesneden decoratie op het bovenblad van de lier.
Thanks to the impenetrable layer of clay in the local ground, organic remains like wood, textiles and leather, were well conserved. Because of the bad winter weather, they raised the wooden burial chamber in which the lyre was found, as one big block of soil, to be examined at the archaeological departement. Dendrochronological research after the boards of the chamber indicated that the deceased was buried around the year 580.

The grave contents belonged unmistakeably to an important man who lived about 40 years. He was buried in expensive clothes, made of fabrics imported from the Mediterranean area. He probably was a warrior who was buried with his armour and lyre. The instrument was found at his left arm, a position we also know from early middle age iconography of lyre players.

Since 2007 are exhibited in the Archäologischen Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg in Konstanz, after eight years of study, conservation and restoration. In the center of the exposition is the lyre, made of a single piece of maple, 81 centimetres in length. The glued on soundboard is also furnished in this wood. Wear and tear shows the instrument was played, and not just given to the deceased as a status symbol.

Peculiar is the placement of the eight sound holes, drilled on both sides of the bridge in the middle of the soundboard. The six tuning pegs, protruding from the yoke indicate the instrument had six strings.

On both sides of the instrument, a large part is decorated with engravings. The main motive of the soundboard shows two groups of six warriors, standing opposite to each other, a lance with banners, standing straight up between them, is held by the two front men. Both arms and the back of the instrument are decorated with ten fields of interwoven snake like animals and animal heads in Germanic style. The incisions are filled with charcoal powder, to contrast the – once – light colored maple.

The scene with twelve warriors fits neatly into the social context of the warrior elite in the early middle ages. But more on that in a later blog.

A Dutch version of this blog was posted at www.vikinglanghuis.nl on May 16, 2018. English translation by JAVACA – © Luit van der Tuuk – 2018

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Tattooing a lyre and chisel

When you think about the Trossingen Lyre, often the first thing that comes to mind are the rich engravings on the instrument. “Are you going to cut those too?” was the first thing people asked me when told about the lyre project. After confirming I would, the general reactions were in the “You ARE crazy”-region. Being used to that assessment, I took to work on two lyres…

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The figures on the lyre consist of a multitude of images and scenes. There are twelve warriors with shields, weapons and sassy shoes, a giant spear, and an abundance of snakes, crawling around in strange, but intricate knot patterns.

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Rather than just making a ‘print’ of the original artwork, I thought it would be more appropriate to re-construct the scene. To make a ‘perfect’ rendering of the engravings in CAD; with straight, sharp lines. To grasp the underlying idea, the intention if you will, of the original maker. Without the imperfections of the human hand. This gave the basic design to work from, while cutting by hand gives it the natural feel the original has.

Tattooing wood

The technique used to decorate the lyre is known as ‘kolrosing’. An old method that’s still practiced in Scandinavia today. Sometimes people compare it to tattooing. You cut lines in the wood. Afterwards the slits are filled up with a dark powder (traditionally charcoal, but you can also use cinnamon or coffee grounds) and fixed in place with linseed oil or wax.

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I started out with scalpels and Xacto knives, but soon they began to hurt my fingers. This custom knife was made out of an HSS drill bit and an old paintbrush.

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Tattooing a chisel

But for actual tattoos you need another craftsman/artist. It’s an art form that has always appealed to me. For years I have thought to get one myself, but never found an artist whose work spoke to me.

DamyUntil two years ago I met Damy van der Waal a.k.a. “Mr Staalbad”. He is an all-round artist: woodworker, re-enactor, graphic artist, who also casts bronzes and… specializes in traditional hand poke tattoos!

Besides his own studio, he also works live at living history events. After seeing the tattoos he did on a couple of friends I was convinced.

The technique of handpoking (also known as stick-and-poke) is different from the modern tattoo method. Instead of using oe of those buzzing machines, the tattoo is entirely done by hand. While a machine rips up the skin with a high frequency needle, the process is much more gentle. Resulting in less noise, less trauma and quick healing.

You can see the process in action in this video (enjoy the Dutch language).

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The handle for the needle he uses is based on a find from Denmark. The original has a single bronze tip, but that wouldn’t be advisable to use, so a modern sterilized needle is attached to the handle.

A copy was made by Roodbaert, a genius blacksmith and living history veteran. 

But what to get? My favorite Nooitgedagt Chisel off course!!!

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Say for yourself; what is better for a luthier than to have a chisel with him at all times?

Having this tattoo was a great experience, for me it’s also a mark in time. Closure of the hard times of burn-out, depression and recovery over the last years. I am very thankful to Damy for his patience, skills and enthusiasm while working on this project.

If you want to get a tattoo from Damy, contact him at Facebook.

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Iron Smelting in Africa

Another documentary about iron making. This time from West Africa.

You can see how similar the process is to the one shown in the documentary about early medieval iron production, I posted last week. A family of smiths shows how their ancestors made iron for centuries. The whole process, from digging up ore and clay to making charcoal and bellows.

It shows very good how valuable iron was before the industrial revolution made mass production possible. A sword must almost had the same value as a luxury car these days.  Iron tools were the most expensive possessions of a craftsman.

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Making Iron the hard historical way…

This little movie has fascinated me ever since finding it a couple of years ago.

It’s about recreating historical methods of iron production as used in the Netherlands from te iron age until the middle ages.

Last July I’ve had the privilege to work along with some members of this group, at an event of Archaeological Center “Huis van Hilde” in Castricum. In three days, we made and fired a cob oven, like in the movie, but alongside of three other teams.

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Making cob by treading the loam and straw

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Making the base of the oven

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Drying (photo shamelessly stolen from the HVH twitter feed)

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Hammers and bellows

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Firing the oven (Photo HVH)

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Showing materials and results (photo also HVH)

To keep in style, we worked in historical clothes. And believe it or not, at 35°C in the shade, and with ovens that reach a 1200+ degrees, thick woolen clothes are comfortable. Especially when you’ve got to open up that burning oven to release the bloom.

It is a fascinating process to work on. How you can use simple materials (clay, straw, sand, charcoal) to make something that produces iron. And although it seems crude, inefficient and unsophisticated (especially when compared to the modern iron factories), this is how most iron was produced up until the 19th century. Archaeologists estimate that Dutch iron production in the viking age must have been hundreds of tons, that was traded all over Europe.

For me as a woodworker, iron is a magical material; no grain, plastic and moldable, almost plastic like clay. It demands a completely different approach to work with.

I’ve learned a lot from working with this group. Being compiled of an archaeologist, metal restorers, blacksmiths, and people with lots of experience, amount of knowledge they have between them is gigantic. It’s very inspiring to work with them, all open to share their knowledge in a combination of love for the process and passion for the material.

If you want to see this process for yourself. The group is working at the Viking Festival in Eindhoven in June (Whitsun) and at the Iron Symposium in October (also in Eindhoven). More info to follow in due time.

This event was organized by Jaap Hoogendoorn of “Springlevend Verleden”, who does a lot of these (often international) productions and living history events. Always a blast to work with him. Check out his website (Dutch).

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