Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Journey from Lute Player to Lute Maker

From Lute Player to Lute Maker...

My own background comes from working in my teens as a draftsman, designing and creating crude musical objects since my childhood.  Starting off as a drummer and guitarist, I was transfixed by the sound of classical guitar which led to the lute many years ago.  

As a player of the lute, theorbo and baroque guitar, I have been afforded playing opportunities with many excellent musicians and ensembles.  Several years ago, in a rush of creative energy and dearth of immediate gigs, I made myself a crude medieval instrument, which led to another instrument, which led to another…  I seemed to have a nascent aptitude for it but more significantly, I had been bitten by the bug.   

Imposter Syndrome


Coming at it relatively late in life, (I started building in my 40's) there is a bit of feeling “impostor syndrome”.  After all, I didn't go to school for this or even apprentice with anyone, so I'll never be "legit".  Also, having played the lute and played/owned some really fine instruments, I could never build as well as they do.  All this said, I enjoy working with my hands, it’s indescribable feeling to hear the instrument that you created in the hands of a musician making beautiful music with it.  I learn something new every day (even if it's what NOT to do)

One thing is certain- that this would never have happened if it weren’t for those who have generously and patiently given advice, given feedback and responded to questions and emails.  I am truly thankful!

I encourage other lute players to try their hand at making a lute.  David Van Edwards offers two CD-ROM’s: “Build A Your Own Renaissance Lute” and “Build Your Own Baroque Lute”.  These offer excellent, step-by-step instructions for almost anyone to build these complex machines.  


The late Robert Lundberg published a series of articles for the Guild of American Luthiers in the 1980’s that was posthumously compiled into the book, Historical Lute Construction which I would highly recommend.


It should come as no surprise that experienced players have valuable insight on what works and what doesn't when it comes to action, set up, string spacing and sound.  You can literally build yourself a custom instrument exactly the way you way it.  But when it comes to building instruments for others, it's important to have some objectivity.  A well-known lute maker asked me early into my building endeavors, "can you divorce yourself from your own preferences?"  

Understandably, players can be understandably skittish when it comes to using sharp tools but with proper training and caution the dangers can be minimized.  I encourage you to give it a try!

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