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 , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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.

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14 Histoires de Guitares

img_2168At the 8th of january an enveloppe fell on my doormat. So far nothing unusual, that happens regularly, but this time it contained a nice surprise: the new cd “14 Histoires de Guitares” by Canadian guitarist David Jacques.

Over the last couple of years David has built an impressive collection of original guitars by some of the most important makers in history.  Unlike most guitar collectors he doesn’t keep his treasures hidden, but shares them with the world. He even tours with them! And unlike most collectors, he is also a very fine player. The old adage that players don’t collect and collectors make lousy players clearly doesn’t apply here.


Some of the highlights of the collection;

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Last year David made a concert program around these guitars. A journey through the whole history of the guitar. With music from all geographic directions. From all time guitar hits  written by Santhiago de Murcia, Mauro Giuliani and Francisco Tarrega. But also to my own delight also a piece by Angelina Panormo (yes, she was the daugher of Louis Panormo, and married to the guitarist Huerta) whose music seems to gain interest among guitarists in recent years. Other unique pieces from the Princess An Lute book to contemporary variations on traditional Cuban themes by Leo Brouwer.

Theorboed guitar

It is hard to describe how unique this collection and project is. Some of the guitars I never dreamt of hearing. Like the Villaume & Giron theorbo guitar. I knew of one example in a museum collection, but that is never played, let alone taken on the road for concerts. You only see it in guitar books, as a curiosity from the cabinet of guitar rarities.


Others are amongst my personal favorites. Like the Torres SE109 from 1887, one of the smaller and less decorated guitars by the father of the classical guitar.  An archetype for any modern concert guitar. Torres proving his skills as a maker. Using modest materials (simple plain cypress for the back and sides, medium grained spruce for the top), to make a fantastic guitar.


The same goes for the 1665 Alexandre Voboam, which was in the collection of the Sinier de Ridder workshop (who did a great job restoring this old lady). Also one of the plainer models in the Voboam family oevre, but a prime example of their work. A picture of the barring is in Andreas Schlegel’s “The Lute in Europe 2”, which I gazed over hundreds of times, and still use as a reference (also for my upcoming set of Voboam building plans).


He cd is accompanied by a very nice booklet with photos of, and more information about the guitars used.

All in all this is a cd that should be in the collection of every guitar enthusiast. It’s fantastic to hear the nuances between the different instruments and pieces. Over the last weeks it has been a constant resident of the workshop’s cd player.

You can also follow David on Facebook. And I would recommend you to do so because besides his guitar recordings and he occasionally uploads hilarious oher videos. Like his christmas series… Be sure to check it out!

Posted in Documentary, Guitar, History, Lectures, Music, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

New plans: Gosewyn Spyker – a guitar from 1760…

Today I will give a lecture for the Dutch Lute Society about the oldest surviving guitar from the Netherlands.

Made in 1760 in Amsterdam by Gosewyn Spyker. This guitar was preserved in the collection of Duivenvoorde Castle, where it was discovered by musicologist and player Jelma van Amersfoort.

She asked me to make a reconstruction of the guitar and its case.

I also made a set of plans for this guitar, so it can be made by other builders as well.

Get your set of plans here or have a look at my other plans in the Payhip store…

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

The Trossingen Lyre – A new set of plans…

trossingen lyresAs you know a large part of my year has been occupied with research after the lyre of Trossingen and making a couple reconstructions.

I often got asked to make a set of plans for people who want to make the lyre themselves. boek luit

While I made a small drawing in Luit van der Tuuk’s book about the lyre, it was impossible to get all details in there. Let alone the engravings.

So I reworked my original digital drawings to make a complete set of plans.

Trossingen Lyre - JAVACA Plan geen maatlijnen

Go to my Payhip page to download your own set!

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“The other Dual Tone”; Guyatone LG-60

About a year ago, a friend contacted me about an old guitar he found in the trash.
He wanted to fix it himself, but lack of time had put it in a corner for years. If I took it in, I could have it. On one condition: that it would be restored and played.

When it came in it looked like this picture on the right, missing its pickups, electronics and pickguards. But the shape of the latter could still be seen as an imprint in the finish.

Later another package came in: containing the missing pickguards, tone and volume pots and pickuprings. There was also one of the cradles for the pickups. Still not a complete guitar, but more than initially hoped for.

I started by documenting the instrument. Drawing and digitizing the outline in order to make a set of plans. When the plans were completed for about 75% the restoration took off.

Cleaning the finish, levelling the frets and reconstructing the pickups.

As a basis I took a set of goldfoil-style bobins and magnets, combining them with two new made cradles. Because it was impossible to find plastic large enough to make the covers, these were made from Blackwood Tek, an ebony alternative. I chose to make them in the same shape and add brass paint to the tops, but not to include the “Guya Tone Sound Product” print. You may see these are replacements.

Unfortunately the tuners were beyond repair. The ‘tulip’-style models are temporary. More proper models were ordered already.

I hope to make a little movie with sound samples when the tuners are in.


The Guyatone company started in the early thirties in Tokyo. In the fifties they started to produce guitars. In Great Britain they were sold under multiple brands, including Star, Futurama and Antoria.

Guyatone’s LG-60 was clearly inspired by the Supro Dual Tone, by the American Valco company. Made famous by rock & roll pioneer Link Wray and later David Bowie.

But instead of making a direct copy, Guyatone made a different guitar. With a smaller body and in two different colors (Black or Natural blonde), while the Supro was white..

But the Guyatones could celebrate their own following of famous players. The LG-50 was made famous by Hank Marvin in his early Shadows days. But could also be observed in the hands of The Hurricane’s “Johnny Guitar” and even their drummer Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Star.

The LG-60 was found in the collection of Rory Gallagher.

Rory’s 1959 LG-60B with the “Strat headstock”

Today it is quite hard to find one of these guitars. As they are cherished by players and collectors alike. To get one it would be easier to make one yourself.

Posted in Guitar, Guitar Plans, Music, Restorations, Uncategorized, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Prittlewell Lyre

In 2003, archaeologists of the Museum of London Archaeology uncovered the remains of an Anglo-Saxon grave chamber near Southend, Essex. It soon became apparent this was not a normal burial. The person had been laid to rest with a plethora of riches. Weapons, gold rimmed drinking horns, pottery and metal vessels, furniture, chests and… A LYRE!

The block of soil

The lyre in situ

Or perhaps we should say; “the remains of a lyre”. Or perhaps we should say; “the remains of a lyre” While metal pieces were found rather intact, the soil hadn’t been kind to pieces of organic material. The wood of the lyre disintegrated for the most part and all that was left was a lyre shaped patch of dark soil. In the relatively recent past lyres finds like these had been handled rather crudely, destroying a lot of valuable information. But at this dig, the archaeologists took a different approach. They block lifted the patch of soil, along with the surrounding earth, to investigate further at the lab.

The block was scanned and the first data was published in the 2008 article “The investigative conservation of a poorly preserved Anglo-Saxon lyre from Prittlewell”. While very interesting in regard of the methods used, the article didn’t give a lot of information about the lyre itself. But the few shards of information available were enough to make some sort of interpretation of the lyre.

In 2005 the legendary BBC programme “Time Team” made a special about “The Prittlewell Prince’ and nicknamed him “the King of Bling”. For this episode they asked Zachary Taylor to make an interpretation of the lyre in the block. While a worthy cause, he did take a fair amount of artistic liberties, using the Taplow lyre mounts and Oakley bridge.

The English Tutankhamun

After this episode it remained silent for a very long time. A small paper was published, but nothing more. Until the 9th of may. When news outlets celebrated the “English equivalent to Tutankhamun”. Perhaps a bit of a stretch (most of Tut’s grave goods were intact) but we get the idea…

After the news of the new publication, I immediately contacted fellow luthier Michael J. King.  One of the world’s leading authorities on the early medieval lyre and a pioneer in making historically sound reconstructions. One can say he is a key figure in the current revival of the instrument. Earlier we worked together on his reconstruction drawings of the lyres.
We decided both to order the book and set out to make a replica based on the new complete information in the report.

This still proved to be quite a challenge, the surviving pieces proved to be fragile and sometimes deformed fragments. It’s a small miracle how much information the researchers could read from this block of lyre shaped soil. They even found out the instrument had been broken and riveted together by means of small silver patches.

After about a week of hard work and many messages back and forth, we had a new set of plans ready. Now to make the thing… Michael graciously granted me the honour to make the first example. Over the next two weeks I worked literally round the clock to finish the lyre (and a couple of other lyres) in time for the Whitsun Viking Festival in Eindhoven.

One of the charms of making an instrument for the first time is that you have to make everything yourself, up to the copper alloy mounds and leather tailpiece with iron ring.

Since the experiments for the book about the Trossingen lyre, I’ve been making my own lyre strings from sheep intestines. Unpolished and from whole, unsplit gut strands.

A small example of the sound can be heard in this clip. But this was filmed with my telephone. If you want to hear the full tonal richness of the instrument (or play it yourself) please come to one of the living history events.

This first reconstruction will stay in my own small collection. It has become very dear to me. You will see it around at Dutch living history events, or borrowed by friends for concerts. I do however take orders for other Prittlewell lyres.

Posted in Books, History, Living history, lyre, Music, Projects, Re-enactment, Research, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments