Inside the Larrivee workshop

A 1983 documentary about the Larrivee workshops. A lot of great luthiers started their careers here.

The video gives great insight in their working methods. Especially the often very creative solutions used in a pre-cnc workshop.

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The Poor Man’s Shop Stand (PMSS)

Work on the theorbos progresses; the first ribs are in place…

Between the ribs is a little fillet. Ash on the walnut instrument (the large Schelle) and walnut on the ash instrument (the Sellas).

For some time I wanted to change something in my lute making routine. Instead of placing the form on a workbench it would be more comfortable to keep it on some kind of pedestal. This allows to get closer to the instrument while working.

The Poor Mans ShopStand™

At my former job we had a couple of Stewmac Erlewine© ShopStands™. Great tools, but a bit expensive for a starting shop. Especially when you’ve got to ship them to Europe and pay customs taxes…

Beside that I didn’t need all of the features (one height is fine and no need for swiveling) and wanted to keep it moveable. So when I got permission to cut up an old trailer, one of the first ideas was to make a ShopStand™.

The main axle was cut in halved an welded to one of the wheel rims. Because I can’t do this myself, the neighboring sculptor (a retired welding teacher) was asked for help. He also provided me with the top of the stand, a 1cm thick piece of steel. To keep it stable, the rim was filled with concrete.

A hole was drilled in the top to attach my wooden pattern makers vise (also made with parts of the old trailer).

So here it is; the Poor Man’s ShopStand or “PMSS™“. A bit crude, but it works fine…

As with all my home-brew tools it has been “Approved by Jan™”…


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A video impression of the last Viking Weekend…

A lovely video of the Viking Weekend at Museum Dorestad.

The museum will close in october and move to a new location. So grab your chance to visit.


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Work on the theorbos continues…

Last week has been quite busy…

Both musicians who commissioned the theorbos visited the shop. One of the things I like is that they are both around my age. People often seem to think Early Music is something for “old” people, but there are a lot of young musicians who are interested in this. Both to play, as to make the instruments. I am working hard to shed off this rather dusty image. And even the “older” generation of players is usually very young at heart, with a very open and bright attitude and mind, enthusiastic and free-spirited.

The Sellas

This theorbo was commissioned by Jannemieke de Jong, a guitarist from Gouda. She brought along the back of her first guitar, because some of the pieces of this instrument will be incorporated in the theorbo.

Some photos taken by Jannemieke. This theorbo will have figured ash ribs with walnut spacers. Just the photonegative of the other instrument.

The Schelle

Lutenist Punto Bawono has become a regular guest and friend at the shop. It’s always good to catch up and speak about our shared passions.

Photos taken by Punto. You can see the difference in size between the two instruments. The Schelle is one of the largest lute-type instruments around. Made in 1728, probably for a working musician or use in an orchestra.

We’re still investigating the use of this type of large Dm tuned theorbo in baroque music. It really is a different instrument compared to the smaller swan-necked instruments, also often called “german theorbo”. We expect the latter were probably more used as a ‘normal’ baroque lute than for orchestral continuo work. Also there is a lot of difference in the execution and build-quality of both types of instruments, but we hope to elaborate on that later. For now it is a continuing built and research project, too early to reach full conclusions.

Cutting the top blocks

Literally a central piece in the construction of lutes is the top block. Joining the three important parts; bowl, neck and belly.

Made of a soft wood, spruce, willow, fir or linden, it is carved to accommodate the shape of the ribs and form the bowl.

It is possible to pre-shape these blocks on a lathe, but I find it easier to cut them by hand with a long chisel. As you can see, instrument making can be rather physical work…

To be continued…

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Bob Dylan Nobel Lecture

On 2016 Robert Zimmerman (a.k.a. Bob Dylan) was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Like almost all things he does, it struck a lot of discussion and controversy. People quarreling over the question wether it was just to give this prestigious award to someone who “just wrote songs”.

As for me, Dylan’s songs have been a part of my life ever since I found my parents’ old records at age nine. Listening to them always felt like reading a book. Lyrica filled with stories and questions, riddled with references to other writers, books, poetry. In this he achieved to bring this to a larger audience than when I would have written a book. Still inspiring millions of people all around the world.

Feel free to disagree, but at least it gave us this wonderful lecture…


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Violin Making – a String Quartet –

A nice video with lots of inspiration…

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The Jew’s Harp

A very nice TED-talk about an almost forgotten instrument.

It’s one of the instruments I often take along to re-enactment events; the “Mondharp” (Dutch: mouth-harp), better known as “Jew’s Harp”.

The name has nothing to do with Hebrew roots, but is a variation on the word jaw…

These instruments have been found in large quantities and many varieties at excavations throughout all of Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Although people often regard it as a toy, in the hands and mouth of a good player (not me) it becomes a serious musical tool…

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A viking invasion..!

“The Vikings for Dorestad” – old educational poster by J.H. Isings (ca.1920)

In the early middle ages, Dorestad was one of the most important trading posts in Europe. And most Dutch people will know from the history lessons in school that it was attacked by the Vikings multiple times.

Last weekend the Vikings were back in Dorestad. Not to plunder and pilfer this time.  But to interact peacefully with the towns inhabitants. Telling stories, share food, exchanging information and discuss history.

Also quite curious was that most these vikings originated in the south, rather than the north. The Viking Genootschap from Flanders.

Beside the re-enactors there also were some other experts in the field. Like collector Thomas Kamphuis, of, who did a “Viking Antiques Roadshow” with some beautiful bronze fibulae. And archaeologist Luit van der Tuuk, who literally wrote some of the books on early medieval history.

For the first time in fifteen years I attended one of the museum’s reenactment events. With some lastminute improvisations a costume was constructed and I was good to go…

The main reason was the lyre constructed earlier. Over the last weeks I made a couple of other examples, experimenting with different materials and construction methods. Working towards a faithful reconstruction for the new museum.

Museum Dorestad will close its doors in october. They will move to the old town hall, in the center of the village. A new location, with different possibilities. So take your chance in the next months to visit the museum at least one last time. For more information see (dutch only)


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Last weeks in random pictures…

This gallery contains 51 photos.

Because a picture may say more than a thousand words… As you can see it has been a rather busy time. Working on instruments and the old fire engine, re-enactment, cathing up with old friends, giving courses etc. I couldn’t … Continue reading

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Theorbo fever

After the overhaul of the machine shop and completion of the student lute it is time to go on with the theorbos. The form for the Schelle has been completed, and the Sellas is next.

This starts with making two rulers in the “Braccio da Sellas”, the unit of measurement used by the Sellas workshop. I re-engineered this one after the dimensions of several instrumers by Matteo and his brother Domenico Sellas.

1 Braccio = 2 Pide

1 Pide = 12 Oncia

1 Oncia = 12 Punto

So one Pide is 12×12=144 Punto.  Dividing by twelve seems to be odd, especially from our metric point of view. But it makes sense once you start working with it. It is very easy to pick out both quarters and thirds of the whole unit. Especially the latter are difficult in our decimal system.

Once the rulers are ready (I made two because the full Braccio is quite a handfull to handle) the basic template can be made. This one serves as a router template for the base plate, as well as a pattern for laying out the soundboard.

Here it lies upon the Schelle template for size comparison. Next to the Schelle it seems to be a rather small instrument. It almost feels like working on a normal scale Alto lute. Quite a strange experience, because it still is a large body.

The base plate cut to shape and resting on the bench. Time for the segments…

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