Instruments

The following list represents the more significant part of my work, but is in no way a limiting one. If you have any queries and ideas you would like to discuss I shall be very happy to hear from you.

(And please bear with me if I do not provide any pictures of my former work here. As a reformed photographer at professional level I know how wonderful each and every instrument can sound in thumbnail format. But I will provide, upon request, any pictures I may have in store)

Mandolin – Pandurina

Historically both 5 and 6 course instruments are common, tuned throughout in fourths, with the addition of a lower third in the 6 course version.

(In Dalla Casa, by the way, we find pieces both for mandolino and for mandola, where the texture is the same, except for the lowest notes, so implying that the two different names may simply have distinguished the 5 course from the 6 course instrument).

5 or 6 courses, 33 cm string length 

After an anonymous (probably) Italian 18th c. original in Paris. Museum’s drawing.

Mandora

In relatively recent times we started to agree to call mandora this rather neglected instrument of the lute family that played such an important musical role throughout the 18th, and even into the early 19th, century. It was a necessary step in order to put an immediately recognisable label on an instrument otherwise known as Gallichone, Gallizona, Colachon, Calchedon and a few others.

The co-existance of two different tunings, in D and E is supported by the size of the vast majority of surviving instruments, with string lengths of around 65 cm and 72 cm.

The majority of them are 6 course, several are 7 course, and a handful are 8 and even 9 course instruments.

A single treble, normally attached to a treble rider, and octaves up to, and including, the fourth course are distinguishing stringing features.

A six course will be enough to cover most of the repertory.

It is interesting to remark the simple construction (slender 9-rib body with no frills, sometimes not even a separate hardwood fingerboard, very simple barring) made it a practical musical tool that was produced quickly and in large numbers. So the vast majority of mandoras were newly built for the purpose, whereas the majority of baroque lutes were converted Renaissance lutes.

6, 7 or 8 courses, 71-75cm string length 

After Andreas Berr, Vienna 1694, in the Ptuj museum in Slovenija. My own measurements and X-rays from the Ptuj museum.

Renaissance guitar

4 courses, 54 cm string length

My own design, in the absence of reliable surviving originals.

Baroque guitars

Very roughly, we could make a distinction between the Italian vaulted back guitar and the French and Spanish flat back guitars, although we do have the odd flat back in Italy and vaulted back in France, too.

For reasons I’ll be happy to discuss with you my preference goes definitely to the vaulted back.

Most surviving guitars have a string length of well over 70 cm and must be scaled down for modern use.

The main reason why amongst the many surviving instruments I chose the two listed here is that the originals are the right size for modern praxis. The other reason is simply that I find them quite beautiful.

So, both the Tessler and the An. French have a vaulted back, but the latter with a much less pronounced curve, and come with a ‘pagoda’ rosette. Flat back and/or flat rosette are possible alternatives.

5 courses, 66 cm string length 

After Giovanni Tessler, Ancona c. 1620, in Rome, from G. Parrinello’s notebook.
The original French guitar certainly dates a few of decades later, and has a string length of 68.8 cm; drawing by R. Bruné.

For the curious musician: I also build a 54 cm in A and a 75 cm in D, both scaled down and up versions of the original Tessler.

They are both an excellent addition in any ensemble. The guitar in D is an ideal tool for continuo, combining well with the theorbo, by the way, and more flexible than the tuning in E, since it is friendly to both flat and sharp keys.

 

Chitarra battente

5 courses, 57 cm string length

The surviving guitar in the Victoria and Albert museum in London is possibly the only ‘noble’ example of chitarra battente originally built as such, instead of being a modified baroque guitar. Apart from the fact that it does not show any obvious signs of having been tampered with, it also has the right proportions an original design would have, whereas all modified baroque guitars have had their necks noticeably shortened in order to be strung with metal strings of the correct string length for tuning at normal pitch.

The original has metal frets laid out in a meantone temperament.

Triple metal courses, except for the double treble, after the Italian 18th c. anonymous original in London.

 

Drawing courtesy of S. Barber.

Viola da mano, Vihuela

Another example of dichotomy between Italian and Spanish traditions.

It is generally accepted that the Italian viola da mano had a somewhat vaulted back and a sickle shaped pegbox, whereas the vihuela had a flat back and peg plate. (But there are early iconographical examples of vihuelas with back bent pegboxes as on the lute).

Musically the two instruments are wholly interchangeable, just as they are, in principle, with the six course lute.

6 courses, string lengths from 57 to 67.5 cm

My own design, in the absence of reliable originals.

Renaissance lutes

Liutino piccolo

4 courses, 33 cm string length

Freely based on the Venere in Vienna and tuned one octave above the tenor, it tops the family that includes treble, alto, tenor, small and large bass lutes.

Treble lute

6 courses, 44 cm string length 

After two twin instruments by Venere in Vienna. Museum’s drawings.

Alto and Tenor lutes

6 courses, string lengths from 57 to 70 cm 

Amongst the several relics by different makers, the Freys, Tieffenbruckers, Malers, Unverdorbens, all showing clear common roots (the Frei vs. Tieffenbrucker dichotomy is a pretty brave modern opinion), I took the Freys as a starting point for my own design. For the simple reason that his surviving instruments seem to be somewhat more reliable.

The 6 course is one of the two fundamental pillars in the history of the lute (the 10 course being the other one) and in my opinion of paramount importance in getting some insight in the historical development of the lute as a ‘tool’ to serve a musical purpose.

The scope of the lute in a fundamentally polyphonic musical context is to grant equal presence of all registers across the instrument (it is no coincidence if the courses are named canto, tenore or basso).

If to our taste it may sometimes feel a bit ‘poor’ in colour of sound it actually meets the need of balance you would expect from a good vocal ensemble. Instrument’s design and  barring layout are conceived to work that way.

When we start adding courses we only try and satisfy changing musical taste, moving from polyphony to accompanied melody, with a consequent extension of the bass register. As soon as it becomes possible, by new developments in string making technology, the overall range of the lute is immediately extended to its lowest limit: in the Michele Carrara ‘manifesto’ depicting an 8 course lute the 7th course is tuned a fourth and the 8th course a fifth below the 6th course. A limit that will never be trespassed, even in baroque times, without extending the bass strings. And that was in 1585.

Design and barring layout evolved accordingly, as is clear to see from the complexity of later barring systems when compared with the 6 course.

7 to 10 courses, string lengths from 57 to 67 cm

11 or 13 rib shells are the rule, shells with 25-27 ribs are possible alternatives on some models.

After originals by the ‘Italian’ masters Frey, Venere and Tieffenbrucker, active in Bologna, Padua and Venice.

Drawings from their respective museums.

Bass lutes

7 or 8 courses, string lengths 76 to 88 cm

Tuned in E or D, based on Venere originals, 17- and 19-rib shell.

10 course, 88 cm string length

After Pietro Railich, Venezia 1640s, in Brussel and Rome, 31-rib shell.

Soundboard drawing from the Brussel Museum.

It was a wonderful experience to be able to design and build a whole family of lutes, based on the many surviving instruments from the Venere workshop, from liutino piccolo to big bass. My deep gratitude to Lynda Sayce for giving me that opportunity.

Baroque lutes

11 courses, 71.5 cm string length 

After Andreas Berr, Vienna 1694, in the Ptuj museum in Slovenija.

According to Baron, Berr was Logy’s favourite maker. The slender 9-rib shell is also ideal for the mandora (see), as can be seen from many examples from the 18th c.

My own measurements and X-rays from the Ptuj museum.

13 course Baroque lutes

A large part of baroque lutes consists of converted Italian instruments.

The fashion starts in France, already towards the end of the 16th century, with a predilection for the instruments made in Bologna. First converted into 9 or 10 course, some of them probably underwent further alterations into 11 and 13 course instruments. These alterations can actually be read in the physical features of some of them. To turn a 10 course into an 11 course lute all you have to do is add a treble rider and, since you end up being one peg short and can’t be bother making a new pegbox, you make the second course single as well. A new bridge, et voilà. Likewise you add a bass rider to turn it into a 13 course.

So the ‘simplest’ of my 13 courses is, indeed, developed from the above mentioned 9-rib shell Andreas Berr.

String lengths of 71.5 and 77 cm for a stringing of 2×1, 9×2 + 2×2.

The next step isadding a swan neck instead, with string lengths of 71.5 and 96cm, 2×1, 6×2 + 5×2.

A swan neck lute of quite different design is the J. C. Hoffmann (presumably built in the 1730s) in Berlin.

23-rib shell (the original is bird’s eye maple), wider and flatter than we are used to from the Hoffmanns, much reminding of the Venetian archlute shapes.

String lengths 71.5 and 97 cm, 2×1, 6×2 + 5×2.

My own measurements.

A different class is the A. B. Jauch.

The only instrument made of cypress north of the Alps, to my knowledge.

The swan-neck extension is developed into a triple pegbox, which helps even out the sound balance of the basses.

15-rib shell, string lengths of 75, 90 and 102 cm (the original has 77.7, 92 and 105), 2×1,6×2 + 3×2 +2×2.

After A. B. Jauch, (Graz) 1734, in Copenhagen. (Virtually a twin to the J. Jauch built in Graz in the same year, now in Vienna – I fancy both were built on the same mould, in fact, but I have no way of proving it, of course).

My own measurements. Information on the Vienna lute by J. Jauch from Andy Rutherford’s sketchbook.

Archlutes

A brief consideration on the topic Archlute – Liuto attiorbato (the modern distinction being: long extension with single diapasons – short extension with octaved diapasons).

Historically it is clear that the two terms were basically interchangeable (at least as long as the term teorbato/attiorbato was in use). Some printed intabulations only use attiorbato. Piccinini dislikes liuto attiorbato since it seems to imply a derivation from theorbo and that is not the case – he knows better, since he invented the instrument. Unfortunately when he mentions having an extension added to the lute he does not specify how long it was.

Valentini uses both Leuto teorbato and Arcileuto almost always in conjunction.

If anything, he seems to make a distinction about the tuning of the liuto teorbato, stating that it is ordinarily tuned one tone below the natural one – but then he stumbles over his own thoughts, adding: in that the open fourth course is a G, which of course implies a tuning in A, so we should take it to mean that the liuto attiorbato is tuned one tone above the natural one.

Also, the only time when he does not put the two names in the same basket, is when he gives the tuning for the diapasons: Tuning of the five diapasons of the Leuto Teorbato (so describing an 11 course) and Tuning of the eight diapasons of the Arciliuto, or Leuto Teorbato (14 courses)

Well, wasn’t so brief after all; let us use whichever, as long as we are clear about what we are talking about, at best specifying long or short extension.

Technically speaking any lute can be turned into an archlute, of whatever description, with long or short extension and varying number of courses – probably only ten at the beginning, certainly 11 and 14 as described by Valentini – whereas almost all surviving instruments are 14 courses.

Venetian archlutes

14 courses, string lengths 57-64 cm  

The 57 cm in A is after Matteo Sellas, Venezia 1638, in Paris, 15-rib shell, short extension.

My own measurements and x-rays from the museum.

The 64 cm in G is after very similar originals by the same maker.

15-rib shell, short or long (136 cm) extension upon request.

The stringing on short extended, double-strung throughout, archlutes was invariably 7+7, and almost invariably with a double treble. Instruments with long extension and single diapasons are almost invariably strung 6+8, although modern players usually prefer 7+7. Again, the top string was usually double.

14 courses, string lengths of 67.5 and 142 cm 

After Magno Tieffenbrucker, Venice 1610-20, in Vienna, 27-rib shell.

Museum’s drawing.

Roman archlute

14 courses, string lengths of 71 and 154 cm

After David Tecchler, Roma 1725, now at the Met in New York, 15-rib shell.

From E. Pacini’s notebook.

If you wish to read more about Roman archlutes please go to the Still curious? page.

Theorbos

Chitarrone is the original Italian formal name for the theorbo, its colloquial name being Tiorba. Both names were used in Italy during the early 17th century for the same instrument, but by around 1650 only tiorba was commonly used, whereas theorbo, in its different linguistic variants, was the general name throughout Europe.

 

That said, what is a chitarrone?

In its essence it is a development of a bass lute (just as the archlute is of an alto or a tenor lute) to suit changing musical praxis.

As the Florentine humanists, at the end of the 16th century, were ostensibly trying to recreate the Greek art of recitation to an instrumental accompaniment, they found that the bright, strong sound of a bass lute restrung for, and tuned to, a much higher pitch was ideal to meet their needs.

The geometry of the instrument was thus upset, though, and since they had no treble string(s) that could be tuned so high, they simply employed thicker ones tuned one octave lower.

So at the beginning a chitarrone (the term Piccinini prefers, although he mentions tiorba as well) was just a bass lute with a funny tuning.

Only after an extension for the diapasons was added to the lute, thus originating the archlute, was the idea implemented on the chitarrone as well.

Piccinini, writing in 1623, claims being the inventor of those developments and having had them carried out in Bologna in 1594.

A chitarrone strung with corde di cetra, i.e. metal strings, is called pandora, which, although not too large in size, which is very practical, it has very deep sound and very long sustain. Piccinini’s words, on a somewhat neglected but important point, that can help dispose of the idea that a chitarrone or theorbo could be strung with metal strings. Nothing wrong in itself, of course, if we bear clear in mind that it is impossible to string a regular theorbo with metal strings and tune it to normal pitch: the strings would have to be impossibly thin, or to be put under an amount of strain that the metals available in the early 17th century would have been unable to withstand.

(Just as an example, they had to string the top course of the early Neapolitan mandolin with gut strings and only the remaining three courses could be strung with brass)

So, the fine and much beloved Venere 75 cm theorbo in Vienna is, indeed, the right instrument to be strung with metal, but that’s just about it, otherwise it should be clear that it is usuitable as a regular theorbo, unless you intend to tune it at a suitable pitch (say in D). 

Contrary to modern praxis, the majority of historical theorbos was double strung, including the ones with 90+ cm string lengths – in fact, there is evidence of a couple of originally single strung theorbos having been turned into double strung – whereas us moderns do exactly the opposite.

Most instruments had 14 courses, invariably 6+8, but the big Graill in Rome had 15 and at least two examples of 18 course instruments are known.

14 courses, 82-84 and 88 cm string lengths

31-rib shell, based on originals by Pietro Railich in Brussel and Rome, and Magno Tieffenbrucker in Brescia.

Roman theorbo

14 courses, 92-96 cm string length

After Magno Graill, Roma 1631, in Rome. 41-rib body – the original has 40(!) ribs, 15 courses and a string length of 96.4 cm.

Drawing by G. Parrinello.

‘Lesser’ French theorbo

14 courses, string lengths of 75.5 and 127.5 cm

Based on a Venere original, altered into a theorbo ‘de pièces’ in D and later into its present angélique form, in Yale, 13-rib body.

From M. Lowe’s notebook.

Geman theorbo

14 courses, string lengths of 88 and 172 cm 

After Sebastian Schelle, Nuremberg 1728, in Nuremberg, 11-rib shell. Tuned in D minor with top string in D (i.e. common Baroque tuning minus top F).

Museum’s drawing.

Tiorbino

14 courses, string lengths of 52 and 96 cm 

31-rib shell, my own design, collated with data from an anonymous instrument in Cleveland, from Ray Nurse’s notebook.

 

Santos Hernández

And well, since I have been indulging in some old man’s sinning I may as well mention it.

Over the past couple of years I ventured into the treacherous realm of the Spanish tradition: a concert guitar of Brazilian rosewood and a flamenco guitar of cypress, after Santos Hernández. To be more precise, what I would have done had I been in his shoes.

The ‘Negra’ lives in my cousin’s – Jadran Ogrin – recording studio downstairs from where I live (Studio Jork, look it up), and has been vigorously, albeit intermittently, played in by a couple of excellent rock-‘n-roll guitarists, with very, very promising results.

The ‘Blanca’ is developing nicely in my unworthy hands and is a lot of fun to play: direct and punchy, warm and very well balanced.

Beside that, on the occasional free sundays I have been working on a late French five course guitar, certainly from 1770s.

It is an anonymous – quite strangely, since it is a really gorgeous one – instrument and the best five course guitar, historical or modern, I have ever heard.

My old friend Joachim allowed me to study it some 15 years ago, and I always wanted to have a go at it.

I have been playing it for some time now, and I don’t know if it is going to match the original, in 240 or so years from now, but it definitely seems to be heading that way.

The short string length, only 61.8 cm and, for the size of the instrument, relatively deep body result in a bright and at the same time full and round sound you rarely hear in baroque guitars.