Click on any photo for a larger version
If you have purchased a 7 and 8 course lute plan from me, then this page provides information and backup for that plan. I taught adult education in Bristol, Bath and Swindon from 1978 to 2000 and this plan evolved during those classes. There were many revisions, the latest being the inclusion of dimensions for both 7 and 8 course lutes.
You will be directed towards making a lute based on the old lutes but which will be acceptable to modern players of historical lutes. Many organisations are mentioned here. If they have a website or email address, that will be on my links page.
There are many good books on guitar making which will provide much of the information needed - planing, thicknessing, wood bending, joining the soundboard, glues, seasoning timber, etc. Check your local library - books can often be reserved on the internet.
Robert Lundberg's excellent articles from the magazine of the Guild of American Luthier's American Lutherie are now available in book form. It is a wonderful book and the photographs of old lutes are exceptional. It costs $75. Have a look at the GAL website for further information.
The next necessity is a plan. Museum plans are very valuable - they show so much detail about how lutes were made. Do not be tempted to buy a plan from a museum and make an instrument from that plan. The plans show the instrument as it exists today; often too large or small for today's players, damaged, modified or repaired. It is rare (but not unknown) to see an modern lute that is a copy of a museum lute.
Besides my own 7/8 course lute plan, there are several sources of plans for making modern recreations of the lute.
The Lute Society (the UK one) sells four plans. The six course and chitarrone are especially good, while the 7 and 10/11 course plans are a little out of date.
The shape of the bodies of old lutes is quite complex. For one thing, the cross section of the lute body was rarely a semi-circle. For another, the first and last ribs are larger than the rest. The 7 and 10/11 course plans ignore this, but they are meant to be used in conjunction with the Lute Society Booklet No. 4, Lute Construction.
Guild of American Lutherie sells plans for many types of lute, but cautions that they are meant to be used in conjuntion with the Robert Lundberg articles. From what I have seen of these plans, they give a lot of information.
Choosing materials and the design of a lute can be daunting. Fortunately, quite a few lute makers now have catalogues on the internet and it is possible to read descriptions and see pictures of their lutes. You will get some very good ideas from these pages. If they make a particular type of lute, then you probably can make one of that type too. If the established makers don't make what you want to make, find out why they don't.
If you want to know what woods I use and what styles of lutes I make, look at my own price list. There are more European lute makers to investigate on my links page and a more comprehensive list of makers can be found on any of the Lute Societies pages.
The wood from the soundboard should always be Swiss pine (picea Abies) (at least that's my opinion!) obtainable from musical instrument manufacturers suppliers. These are often listed in the back of woodworking magazines.
Be certain to use old fashioned hide glue - the stuff that smells and needs a double boiler. Actually, if you get the glue from violin maker's suppliers, it will be surprisingly pure and non-smelly. The unique advantage of this glue is that it comes apart with heat and moisture, making all sorts of repairs possible.
A great deal of research has been published in the Lute Societies Newsletters, the Magazine Early Music, the Galpin Society Journal and the FoMRHMI quarterly. Many of these publications now have an index on the internet.
Beware of books and plans which allow a lute to have metal frets, use guitar strings, use violin pegs or tuning machines, use different wood for the soundboard, or make very heavy lutes after Hermann Hauser. Most lute players prefer historical instruments - this is what gives the lute as a woodwork project an extra dimension. The lute is a tool for musicians.
In the days when woodworkers took apprentices, a wooden box for a sharpening stone was often the first project. It is still a useful first project and I use mine every day. It means the sharpening stone has to be obtained first and the box made the correct size to contain it. Make the box of hardwood, beech is a good choice. The stone could be an 8 inch India combination stone, fine one one side and medium on the other.
As you can see, in 1974, I made my box too small and had to chisel out the ends to fitt the stone in! Try to avoid this, but see note 6 below!
I also chose the grain for the lid incorrectly. Had the grain run the length of the box there would have been less shrinkage. For sharpening, I tend use white spirit instead of oil on the stone. Oil makes the woodwork the hands very dirty and this is transferred to the work. Musical instruments spend a lot of time in the maker's hands! Take care as white spirit is rather flammable.
A second useful project is a thicknessing gauge. It is made of a u-shaped piece of hardwood and the ends of the arms are pierced with 7mm holes. In one hole is a coach bolt, if the bolt and hole are just the correct sizes, the coach bolt will make it's own thread in the hole. A small screw near to and at right angles to the bolt will fix it tight when necessary.
In the other arm a small piece of softwood is jammed into the hole. The softwood is first has a small nail epoxied into it's centre, then is whittled so the nail head is opposite the bolt. Click on the picture.
In use the distance between the sharpened nail and the tip of the bolt is adjusted with a feeler gauge and the wood to be thicknessed is passed between the two points and in marked where it is too thick. It's easier to make small scratches and remember to only scratch the inside surface of the work.
The woodworking in musical instrument making needs to be precise and careful. The following practices will immediately raise the standard of woodwork.
All from emails sent by people working from the lute plan