Lute making summer school
August 8th - 16th 2009

Workshop picture

The Workshop

This was the tenth summer school we've run based on the idea of jointly making a lute in a week. The lute is then donated to the Lute Society for use as a hire instrument. In the past we have made a six course renaissance lute, a 13 course ‘swan-neck’ German baroque lute, a 14 course theorbo, a six course bass lute, an eleven course baroque lute, a seven course tenor lute and a 14 course liuto attiorbato. This year we were making two renaissance lutes to be used in the Norfolk School lute-playing project. It is an opportunity to learn in practical terms how to make a lute and to take part in the different processes.

Click here to see all the pictures as a slideshow


00001.jpg (852 K)
The approach to the workshop in summer, it was a very green year.
0001.jpg (833 K)
The members of the course gathered behind the piles of wood which will become two renaissance lutes. From left to right: Luciano Bernardi from Italy, Chris Newman from England, Tommy Nihlen from Sweden, Mohammed Kassem also from Sweden, Nick Southon from England, Luke Emmet from England, David Luff from England, Tad Rytwinski from England and David. Thea, our mistress of ceremonies is somehow missing from this photo, but there in spirit!
002.jpg (635 K)
The rib blanks for one of the lutes of birds eye maple and Indian rosewood [Dalbergia latifolia from sustainable forests] laid out ready for bending. I had prepared these so some of the boring work had already been done.
003.jpg (693 K)
The clear workshop before the onslaught! There are two moulds on swivel stands and I had borrowed an extra bending iron from Malcolm Prior (Thank you Malcolm.) Because it was such a large undertaking this year I had carved the neckblocks and fitted the first rib on one of the lutes. This meant that everyone had two ribs to fit.
004.jpg (727 K)
Mohammed fitting the first rib, helped by David as Chris looks on.
005.jpg (730 K)
A little huddle watching as Mohammed finishes fitting his first rib.
006.jpg (743 K)
Chris bending a rosewood rib while Luciano does something in the background.
007.jpg (638 K)
David’s turn as Chris looks on.
008.jpg (635 K)
David and Mohammed
009.jpg (722 K)
A typical crowded scene with everyone at work. It got quite hot when the sun shone.
010.jpg (786 K)
Not all hard work, we tried to eat outside in the courtyard whenever the weather was good enough. Thea cooked us wonderful meals which were a highpoint of the week.
011.jpg (724 K)
More crowding!
012.jpg (753 K)
Progress. Mohammed fitting his second rib while you can see three ribs already on the striped lute. Sellotape is a major part of the process, one of these days I must try using just paper and hot glue like the original makers!
013.jpg (832 K)
Luciano took hundreds of photographs during the week, a lot of the pictures in this report come from his camera.
014.jpg (684 K)
Two lutes equals a lot of pegs, so everyone had to do a stint or two at the lathe. Here Nick is kitted up with the dust-mask and is working late.
015.jpg (750 K)
The last ribs are the hardest to fit so I tend to help out more here.
016.jpg (766 K)
Practising rose-cutting. Here David is concentrating hard. Everyone had a practice rose and everyone carved part of the roses on the actual instruments.
017.jpg (783 K)
The striped lute off its mould and ready to have its inner endliner fitted.
020.jpg (782 K)
Tommy’s turn at the lathe.
021.jpg (758 K)
David planing a pegbox to size.
022.jpg (777 K)
More food, more wine!
023.jpg (792 K)
Thea and Chris enjoying a glass.
024.jpg (766 K)
Mohammed’s turn for turning.
025.jpg (628 K)
The whole point of musical instruments is the music and there was lots of playing during the week with all sorts of instruments. Luke with a guitar and Nick with an Oud.
026.jpg (738 K)
Luke and Luciano particularly enjoyed playing duets together on a couple of lutes that we had in the workshop. In the background is Luke’s invention, the “Gihuela” © a cheap guitar reworked into a useable vihuela for beginners. It worked really well until the pegbox fell off in beta testing. It’s not only Toyota who have product development problems - and solve them.
027.jpg (799 K)
The inner liner has been fitted and someone has the messy job of gluing in the tapes to reinforce the rib joints.
027a.jpg (763 K)
After which it is safe to clean off the sellotape and glue from the outside with hot water. At last it is looking more like a lute.
028.jpg (774 K)
David shows Mohammed how to fit the endclasp, this is a tricky matter, or at least very frustrating to get the levels exactly right.
029.jpg (711 K)
Fellini at work again.
030.jpg (496 K)
The evening meals outside were magical. Here everyone is listening to Mohammed playing an Oud. In the foreground is Malcolm Prior who came to visit and meet everyone.
031.jpg (310 K)
It's good to be able to improvise after dark! Early musicians take note, renaissance candles were not good for sight-reading.
032.jpg (767 K)
A serious matter this, makes cooking look easy.
033.jpg (670 K)
A Swedish snow-capped treat, courtesy of Tommy! It complemented the strawberries beautifully.
034.jpg (740 K)
Still fitting that endclasp! Chris looks puzzled it should take so long.
035.jpg (757 K)
At last it’s ready to glue.
036.jpg (612 K)
A hard life in the sweatshop.
037.jpg (567 K)
Rose cutting, studying and note-taking.
038.jpg (514 K)
Rose cutting has an almost zen-like calm when it’s going well.
038a.jpg (713 K)
A fine collection of sample roses of several designs. Everyone had a go.
040.jpg (612 K)
We're selecting a suitable piece of plumwood for the bridge.
041.jpg (649 K)
Luciano and Tommy worked on bridges in the back workshop.
042.jpg (558 K)
The results were good.
043.jpg (700 K)
More al-fresco meals, it was lovely when the sun shone.
044.jpg (704 K)
Especially in the early evening.
045.jpg (471 K)
Jacob gave this year’s concert in the King of Hearts, a wonderful medieval building near the river in Norwich. It was a sell-out and a wonderful experience.
046.jpg (640 K)
And on that day some of the great and the good of the lute world came to visit. Malcolm Prior, Jacob Heringman and Stephen Gottlieb.........
047.jpg (745 K)
.....and of course, El Presidente, Ian Harwood. It is so nice that he can come and visit during the week.
048.jpg (641 K)
Also Saber Sobey, whose idea the Norfolk Schools Project was. The lutes we are building will be loaned to the two local schools where primary school children will be able to learn the lute for the first time in an English state school.
049.jpg (724 K)
The jointed soundboard is being scraped to thickness by Chris.
049a.jpg (716 K)
And then by Tad. Here he is holding the cabinet scraper, a much undervalued tool.
050.jpg (452 K)
Luke cutting a rose in one of the actual soundboards. Nerve-wracking at first, but not as hard as the finished result looks.
050a.jpg (705 K)
Nick doing the same with one of my little chisels.
050b.jpg (764 K)
You would scarcely guess that the finished rose was the work of everyone on the course.
051.jpg (720 K)
Then the soundboard bars have to be glued in place using these go-bars to apply pressure. A very simple but effective system.
052.jpg (734 K)
Then they have to cut down to size...........
053.jpg (747 K)
.........While David works on the pegbox joint of the striped lute. Gradually the striped lute progressed faster than its plain rosewood twin.
054.jpg (767 K)
Tommy doing the delicate scalloping of the bar ends which has such an important effect on the quality of the finished lute.
056.jpg (697 K)
Norwich is a beautiful city and Luciano managed to take some wonderful photos early in the morning as he walked to the workshop.
057.jpg (840 K)
.......past Pull’s Ferry, a medieval building that once housed the ferryman...........
058.jpg (754 K)
.......because this nearby medieval bridge would have charged high tolls, payable to the bishop.
059.jpg (661 K)
Nowadays it is free to cross, and is the best pedestrian route into the city from my workshop.
060.jpg (672 K)
Fitting the neck.
060a.jpg (740 K)
And drilling the end for the strap button. Lutes are very difficult to hold steady while working on them so an extra pair of hands is very useful.
061.jpg (688 K)
Using dividers to mark out exactly where the bar ends have to be cut.
062.jpg (734 K)
Mohammed looking pleased.
063.jpg (775 K)
Gradually more and more instruments kept turning up for the players and the conservatory became hazardous for the casual visit.
065.mp4(159 Mb)
Mohammed’s Oud playing was one of the highlights and we often stopped to listen.
066.jpg (865 K)
And there were other more rural idylls.
068.jpg (681 K)
And more food. Somehow when a camera appears the jollity of the occasion cools down.
069.jpg (702 K)
But we did have a complete surprise one day when Tad’s wife turned up with some very professional buskers who played very lively folk music. David and Mohammed joined the fun, and fun it was.
070.jpg (704 K)
Music really did form part of the week, which is what I always hoped for these workshops.
071.jpg (588 K)
Duetting across Europe, Luke and Luciano.
072.jpg (622 K)
Luciano particularly liked one of the lutes that was going to be part of the Schools project.
073.jpg (737 K)
Checking the pegbox joint.
074.jpg (442 K)
Everyone signed the labels
075.jpg (601 K)
Fitting the bone nut.
079.jpg (705 K)
We also had the liuto attiorbato belonging to the Society which the summerschool made 2006.
080.jpg (741 K)
Tommy and David
081.jpg (750 K)
David trimming the edge of the nearly finished lute.
082.jpg (767 K)
It really is finished and even strung up. It sounded very good too.
083.jpg (734 K)
This is out of order! Trimming the rebate for the nut.
084.jpg (704 K)
099.jpg (788 K)
The final day, one lute finished and playable and the other not far behind! Amazing in a week.
100.jpg (773 K)
The happy band of workers. Luke and Luciano had to leave before this final photo.
101.jpg (762 K)
Several months later, the handover. Chris Goodwin on behalf of the Lute Society holds one of the lutes while I hand over another to Maureen Hanke, the Norfolk County Music Advisor, and Saber Sobey the moving spirit, is on the other side. Now, in February 2010, the children have been having lute lessons on their lutes for a full term, no-one has dropped out and they are all having a very nice time. Mission well on its way and a big thank you to everyone who has helped with this project.