Lute making summer school
August 6th - 14th 2011

Workshop picture

The Workshop

This was the twelfth 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, a 14 course liuto attiorbato, a double-headed 12 course lute and two renaissance lutes to be used in the Norfolk School lute-playing project. This year we were making a triple pegbox 13 course baroque lute based on instruments by Jauck. As seen in this memorable postcard from the roaring 20s of this instrument which is currently held in Yale University, though, alas, not in the same manner!!

Jauck lute

It is an opportunity to learn in practical terms how to make a lute and to take part in the different processes.

Not all the pictures are in the right order, but I hope it gives a proper flavour of the week.

To return to the list of past summers click here.

Click here to see all the pictures as a slideshow


01.jpg (812 K)
The traditional group photocall showing the lute-to-be as a pile of wood. This time it’s indoors because of the English rain! It’s a surprisingly small pile as a lute is after all very light. (In fact this year we weighed the waste wood and it came to twice the weight of the finished instrument. Although it is a very complex instrument I feel very confident of this group who have between them a lot of experience. They are (from left to right) Julien Stryjak from Strasbourg, Luciano Bernardi from Pavia, Mario Giardini from Edinburgh, David, Luke Emmett from Bedford, Francesco Contó from Venice, Sterling Price from Salt Lake City, Gernot Hilger from Bonn and Thea Abbott our mistress of ceremonies and chef.
02.jpg (779 K)
Mario and Sterling fitting the second rib, making sure the joint is perfect.
03.jpg (729 K)
Cutting the outline of the complex triple upper pegbox with a narrow blade bandsaw. This triple pegbox is the main unusual feature of this lute and it will occupy most of our attention through the week.
04.jpg (679 K)
Luciano fitting the fourth rib. These look rather plain at the moment but they are quite a nice set of birds eye maple so they will look rather splendid when varnished. Birds eye maple was used a lot in the mid eighteenth century for instrument making so it is very appropriate for this lute.
05.jpg (660 K)
Final sanding of the outer shape of the pegbox using a bobbin sander. Originally the (non-electric) apprentices probably did the final smoothing with a scraper. In fact this picture is rather out of order, it comes after rather a lot of carving!
06.jpg (788 K)
Gernot starting to carve the outer sides of the pegbox.
07.jpg (783 K)
David demonnstrating fitting the outer rib. For some reason this is always more difficult than any of the other ribs.
08.jpg (830 K)
Tea-break! Always rather a civilised affair with Thea’s homemade cakes. We try to eat out of doors as much as possible but the weather was not particularly kind this year and all the evening meals had to be eaten indoors.
09.jpg (767 K)
Luke fitting the last rib on the treble side of the lute. You can see the ebony lines between the ribs. Jauck seems to have liked spacers like this between the ribs, some of his are even triple.
10.jpg (799 K)
The lute is off the mould now and Mario is gluing in the second of the paper tapes along the rib joint. Original lutes usually had paper tape, very rarely parchment, along the rib joints, that was usually reserved for cross-banding. Paper in those days was much higher quality than commonly produced nowadays so I have to buy really good quality acid-free water-colour paper to match it.
11.jpg (752 K)
Drilling out the centre of the upper pegbox using a flat-bottomed Forstner bit in a drill press. When I examined one of the Jauck originals in Brussels I discovered that he had somewhat cut corners by simply sawing in from the top of the pegbox and then gluing in a plug to fill the gap. I have slightly changed his design by keeping a full back to each section of the pegbox where the originals had open backs. I find the open back is slightly less stable and is apt to lead to slipping pegs in use.
12.jpg (678 K)
Luciano putting the finishing touches to the bridge.
13.jpg (772 K)
One end of the half-finished bridge. This rather beautiful design is typical of this style of lute, both Brunner and Jauck used it for their instruments and it does look rather pretty.
14.jpg (682 K)
Luke, Luciano and David discuss the details of the bridge. We spent rather a lot of time discussing the precise height, as I felt somewhat indecisive!
15.jpg (808 K)
The peg-making sweatshop! Luke with his back to us is turning while listening to Radio Three on the radio headphones while Sterling is finishing the pegheads on the bobbin sander.
16.jpg (701 K)
There were a lot of pegs to make!
17.jpg (760 K)
Final smoothing and shaping for the neck. This is probably the traditional method with a cabinet scraper to produce the nice hollow profile so typical of baroque lutes. The three holes are for the screws to secure it to the neckblock. Originals used large nails for this, (just like those found in preserved in a barrel of tar in the Mary Rose) large cut nails with forged heads. These are much better than modern nails but our screws are better than theirs so I feel no compunction in using screws.
18.jpg (692 K)
Using a template to check the exact shape of the upper pegbox.
19.jpg (637 K)
Gernot poised to attack the inside of the pegboxes.
20.jpg (769 K)
Francesco carving the inside of the lower pegbox with a shallow No. 3 gouge.
21.jpg (731 K)
More of the same but with the completed back and the soundboard in the background.
22.jpg (642 K)
The body newly glued onto the neck, David, Luciano and Gernot contemplate the deed.
23.jpg (759 K)
Julien marking out the length of a little rose bar on the finished soundboard. Completed bridge strapped to a board for safety, two of the three pegboxes carved out and the pegs themselves nearly finished.
24.jpg (770 K)
Cutting the rebate into the neck end to take the pegbox. This needs to be rather precise and is the most difficult joint on the instrument.
25.jpg (782 K)
David making some point about joints! On the left is Bruce Brook, one of the professional makers who visited during the week to check we were doing it right.
26.jpg (818 K)
Another screw, this time to fasten the pegbox into the rebate in the neck. As with the neck joint, the main strength is supplied by the glue but the screws help to clamp the joint firmly shut.
27.jpg (693 K)
Julien carving the end of the pegbox to fair it into the neck. This style of joint is typical of late German instruments and is clearly derived from violin aesthetics. Its presence on the Harz archlute in Edinburgh is one reason to think that the extension is later German rather than Italian work.
28.jpg (646 K)
Gernot trimming the inside of the pegbox.
29.jpg (677 K)
Julien playing one of several lutes that were around. Informal playing was one of the delights of the week. On the wall in the background are some of the moulds for different types of lute.
30.jpg (727 K)
The bridge with its ebony plate on the top which helps protect it from being dented by string pressure, very much a feature of later lutes.
31.jpg (782 K)
The bridge being glued in place with go-bars to apply the pressure while the glue sets.
32.jpg (773 K)
Luke cleaning up the excess glue after it has gelled a bit.
33.jpg (659 K)
Mario cutting the rose with Luciano looking on. We all had to use the close-up glasses to see well enough, perhaps we’re getting older, or more precise!
34.jpg (759 K)
Julien carving the twin grooves into the struts of the rose design. This is one of the hardest parts of this particular design.
35.jpg (770 K)
But the result is worth the extra effort!
36.jpg (685 K)
The label! We all signed it and we thought it would be nice to dedicate the instrument to the memory of Ian Harwood, the President of the Lute Society, who died earlier this year and who had been such an enthusiastic supporter of these summer schools, And such a regular visitor every year. His encouragement and altruism will be much missed.
Read his obituary here, including a photo taken at one of our summer lutemakings.
37.jpg (765 K)
Cutting the tiny rebate on the upper nut projection. This holds the bone nut in place.
38.jpg (782 K)
Gernot doing more finishing of the pegbox, Luciano and Mario look on.
39.jpg (805 K)
Bruce Brook and Pam Hope, who were welcome visitors. Graham is holding the camera this time!
40.jpg (845 K)
Another busy scene in the Norwich sweatshop. Though, if you look carefully, you notice that at least as much conversation as working is going on. In the background is Philippe Mottet-Rio another professional maker who visited the workshop, this time from Switzerland. Luke is preparing the piece of bone for the lower nut.
41.jpg (826 K)
More work and chat. We had a very nice time with constant conversation and we still got the instrument finished in the week.
42.jpg (799 K)
Luke checking the bone nut is absolutely flat and level on its base.
43.jpg (631 K)
Sterling practising on a baroque lute kindly loaned by Toby Cockburn. Unfortunately Robert Barto had to cancel his concert at the last minute and Sterling bravely stepped into the breach. Because of airline restrictions he had not been able to bring his own lute, so we had to find one for him to play and he only had a day and a half to get used to the different instrument and unfamiliar spacings.
43a.jpg (736 K)
Sterling playing his concert at the United Reform Church in Norwich. He played a programme of Weiss and Baron, very similar to the one Robert Barto was to have played, and very appropriate for the type of instrument we were making. This photo was kindly supplied by Derek Jackson.
44.jpg (736 K)
Sometimes the sun shone and here we are having an al fresco lunch.
45.jpg (647 K)
Julien Stryjak
46.jpg (691 K)
Luciano Bernardi
47.jpg (699 K)
Gernot Hilger
48.jpg (606 K)
Luke Emmet
49.jpg (635 K)
Francesco Contó
50.jpg (852 K)
Mario and David with the only failure of the week. We were trying to make a rich red lake by cooking logwood lake in linseed oil but however many different temperatures we tried, it always came out like black ink! The madder lake worked perfectly but the technique for that is much better known.
51.jpg (676 K)
More lunch, this time inside. Thea’s meals were wonderful points of conviviality and good food.
52.jpg (807 K)
Getting near the end, so everything has come together and everyone has to work on different bits at the same time.
53.jpg (800 K)
The fingerboard is now on and half the pegs are fitted. The extraordinary shape of the pegboxes is now clear.
54.jpg (695 K)
You could say these pegboxes loomed large in the week!
55.jpg (812 K)
But the rhythmic flow of the shapes is very appealing, and was clearly part of Jauck’s aesthetic vision, it permeates everything about the instrument.
56.jpg (690 K)
The body itself is quite particular, quite unlike the Hoffmann, Schelle or Widhalm bodies of a few years earlier.
57.jpg (816 K)
Mario Giardini carefully scraping the ribs of the nearly finished instrument.
59.jpg (784 K)
At last, there is a bass string fitted and Sterling is assessing the lower nut.
60.jpg (785 K)
This is what Sterling came for! There is now a top string on and it has become an instrument at last.
61.jpg (815 K)
Everyone had a go at holding it. Really we had got it to an almost playable state in very good time. There was no point in putting on all the strings because they would all have to come off again for me to varnish it and ebonise the pegboxes.
62.jpg (800 K)
Posing for its photograph alongside Wilfred Foxe’s new edition of an arrangement for baroque lute of Sonata BWV1005 and Partita BWV1006 by J S Bach published by TREE EDITION. Wilfred is going to be the one to play it at the handover to the Society on September 10th.
63.jpg (785 K)
If only there were more strings!
64.jpg (586 K)
A cocobolo peg with bone pip.
66.jpg (601 K)
The upper pegbox, the quality of work done this week is really very high and the result is a very elegant instrument.
67.jpg (683 K)
More of Jauck’s wavy aesthetic, this time the endclasp has an extra cut-out to echo the scalloped design of the pegbox.
68.jpg (682 K)
The end view. It is a nice squarish cross-section in line with Baron’s remark about the ideal shape for lutes.
70.jpg (798 K)
In spite of the food and wine, we clearly worked them too hard in this sweatshop week!
71.jpg (824 K)
The waste about half-way through the week. At the end this bin was full to overflowing and the waste wood weighed 4.3 Kg whereas the lute itself weighed only 1.2 Kg. When you realise that even the starting pieces of wood had been cut and selected from larger pieces, you can see that instrument making is quite a wasteful process.
72.jpg (833 K)
But surely it was worth it! The final tableau with the finished instrument. Julien and Luke had to leave just before we took this photo.
73.jpg (833 K)
Wilfred Foxe played a tombeau by Weiss at the handover to the Lute Society during their meeting in the Hungarian Cultural Centre on 10th September 2011. And there is already someone in Scotland waiting to hire it!
Photo courtesy of Graham Hope.