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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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”

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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.

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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?

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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).

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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.

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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.

Torres

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.

Voboam

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).

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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!

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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!
https://payhip.com/b/TlYa

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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.

 

Posted in History, Lute, Music, Printing press, Projects, Uncategorized, Woodworking, Workshop | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Articles, History, lyre, Music, Projects, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment