As you know I am working on a large theorbo after the Matheus Buechenberg (Rome, 1614) in the V&A museum.
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.
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…
While 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…
When 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, the 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 at 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…
As 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.
After closing the box the fingerboard can be put on. (Look at the sheer size of the thing compared to the guitars)
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…
On 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.
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.
Today Luke and Susan came by the shop to collect the finished theorbo. A trip from Manchester to my secret headquarters in Doorn…
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.
Jannemieke de Jong