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A theorboed lute restoration: page two

The effect of the tension of not only the original array of strings —but of the additional strings on the added theorbo neck extension, besides—caused the entire lute shell to distort, stretching it into a new configuration the result of a wood process called "plastic deformation."


Another distortion of the shell was evident, one which left the plane of the soundboard angled in relation to the plane of the neck. To compensate for both distortions, Harry clamps the neck onto a flat board and with a moveable "marking gauge" marks the perimeter of a new rim on the shell which will be flat and level to the neck.

The marked-off portion has been laboriously and precisely trimmed off, and can be seen at the lower left of the photo. Note that the trimmed portion is not symmetrical, due to the fact, noted above, that the neck and shell were not on a level. Having removed the portion of the shell that was rotated in relation to the plane of the neck, the neck and shell now sit comfortably flat on a particle-board workboard made especially for the project.


This kind of trimming-away of the perimeter of the shell in contact with the soundboard is not unusual or harmful to the lute. Indeed, lutes are actually made to anticipate this future trimming by making the staves closest to the soundboard extra wide--since such trimming-away due to tension distortion is actually anticipated and thus allowed for in their original design.


Harry has also been re-bracing the soundboard (I'm revealing my guitarmaking orientation--we call it the "top" or "soundboard." I believe lutemakers call it the "belly" or "table"). The brace bars are made from select, vertical grain spruce. The originals that failed were of flat or horizontal grain--the weaker grain orientation.

Our speculation is that the maker who replaced the top had simply used materials at hand, with less stock on hand to select from.


[ed. new information has arrived informing me that using flat grain (annular rings parallel to the soundboard,) is customary practice in lute-making. Interestingly, this practice is anathema to guitar makers!!]

Harry has re-braced the top to follow not the questionable pattern on the original [collapsed] belly top, but one truer to the period, as specified in the FoMRHI Journal, the Lute Society, and the Lute Society of America.

The 1/16-inch-wide perimeter of the rim of the lute shell presents an inadequate gluing surface for the top. Thus, an interior lining strip must be added to the edge to widen it. The new linings are pre-curved by being bent using heat and moisture. The original linings had been largely trimmed away, so this new set is required). The new linings are seen here being glued on with rows of spring clamps.

This is how the instrument looks after the new top was glued to the ribs. To do this, the shell was placed over the top with glue applied, held tightly face down to the workboard with rubber strapping while the glued dried.

The rebuilt pegbox/theorbo extension/adapter block is epoxied on to the end of the neck and the trick process of recarving the transitions commences. The transitional block is harder wood than the neck or pegbox, making the final fairing all the more difficult.

The rebuilt pegbox/theorbo extension/adapter block is epoxied on to the end of the neck and the trick process of recarving the transitions commences. The transitional block is harder wood than the neck or pegbox, making the final fairing all the more difficult.

Here the transition has been completed, seen from the undersurface of the neck. Two smaller transition blocks are also shaped and inserted into voids right under the nut seat, which had previously been left out during the original theorboing procedure.

The transitional adapter block is ramped to allow the strings to drop into the pegbox. Note that a strip of carbon fiber has been sandwiched in for good measure (just seen emerging under the fingerboard). Also note the two "cheek" flaps that extend from the new transition block into the pegbox walls to further reinforce this crucially stressed area. New peg holes must be accurately drilled and reamed to fit the pegs which will enter nearest the nut.

The neck, pegbox and transition area are treated to several coats of sprayed black lacquer and thus all the elaborate repair and strengthening work is effectively hidden from view.

A brand new fabric edging strip is glued around the soundbox perimeter. The masking tape strip keeps the glue squeezeout from smudging the unfinished top (lute soundboards or bellies are usually left unfinished but sometimes a layer of egg-white is brushed on as a sealer).

The seemingly endless task of setting up the instrument begins—all things taken into consideration, We're not unhappy these instruments are so rare nowadays.

The instrument's owner, Marlboro College music professor Stan Sharkey, is called and appears. He has followed the repair process above and so has been privy to precisely what he will be paying for. Harry relaxes after several weeks of intense, concentrated work while Sharkey tunes the apparatus.

The "It works!" Stan exclaimed several times. He notes and approves of its transformed sound, commenting that it notably has added power in the bottom range. It is an appraisal that is in itself most gratifying to our ears, indeed.


Jonas Nordberg is heard playing a theorbo (not a theorbo-ed lute like Stan's) in the youtube video below:

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