A theorboed lute restoration

A partially collapsed renaissance lute that had been "theorboed" was restored by Harry Becker in our shop. a step-by-step photo sequence follows.

Harry's task was to restore a partially collapsed lute that had been converted into a theorbo (a bass lute). it was originally a renaissance lute--made by the great master Manouk Papazian and later "theorboed"--that is, modified by the addition of a pegbox extension that provided an added "harp" of five-foot bass strings beside the original fretboard.



The entire instrument was in sorry shape. The new added theorbo- peghead joint was under-structured and eventually collapsed.

The excess tension of all the added strings had bowed the entire instrument away from the strings, making it impossible to play. and as well, set a longitudinal twist along the long axis of the entire instrument. The Pacific redcedar top was sinking into the soundox due to the down-pressure of the added strings also.

The injured patient lies on the worktable--strings, pegs, tied frets and nut removed. A patient etherized upon an operating room table.

After removing the fabric edging strip that surrounded the soundboard, Harry patiently inserts a probe into the delicate glue seam that attaches the top to the ribs. Some portions of the seam need to be sawn with a very fine razor saw. Heat is judiciously used to soften the glue that holds the soundboard to the headblock.

The soundboard has been successfully removed with virtually no injury. But evidence shows previous injury from an earlier effort to remove the soundboard. Harry inspects the transversal braces (during the Renaissance, the precise spacing between them was derived using numerological principles!). It seems oddly understructured as lutes go...

The braces had been distorted by the cumulative effects of string tension, and in several cases, had actually pulled away from the soundboard, causing the visible distortion evident on the outside. We were puzzled that the existing braces were carefully selected to be flat-sawn (the weakest orientation of the wood fibers). So to our thinking, it was the reason why they had failed to keep the top stable. Harry resolved to replace them with new, quarter-sawn braces.

After removing all the transversal braces Harry then scrapes off all the traces of glue that remains under them.

The undersurface of the soundboard is now ready to accept new, stiffer braces.

After undoing the collapsed pegbox joint at the far end of the neck by the patient applications of pressure and hot water, Harry devises an improved structural solution to the failed original: He carves a dovetail pocket into the neck, and inserts a specially-shaped dovetail "adapter" block out of hardwood. This new complex adapter piece accepts the neck at one end and the pegbox at the other, spanning the original joint area.


The new adapter block, which had to be fashioned to hold the pegbox at the correct angle (even compensated slightly to account for the off-center twisting of the off-the-fingerboard string array), will later be sculpted to the contour of the undersurfaces of the neck at one end and the pegbox at the other and not be visible to the eye once finished later.

Another view of the re-built peghead joint. The portion of the adapter block (seen of lighter color) that fits into the pegbox will be sculpted to allow clearance for the strings entering the pegbox. It will also be slotted to accept an inlayed carbon-fiber stiffener.