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Devolution of the Modern Lute

Devolution of the Modern Lute

by Robert Cooper

from his 1984 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #4, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume One, 2000

The other way to do it is with a dovetail extension on the neck, which slides into the block. But that is not really the historical way. Here again, we’re getting back to the historical method, and it seems to be perfectly adequate.

It is common in old lutes to use no tail block whatever. Also, a lute has no edge binding or lining; the top is simply glued right to the rib. The bracing of the lute top is almost entirely composed of transverse bars, with just a J-shape bar and two smaller bars behind the bridge. The transverse bars run directly across the instrument and are butted and glued directly to the sides.

The grain of those transverse bars is horizontal; it runs parallel to the top. You may wonder why in the world didn’t they do it logically, like guitar builders, and run it vertically. The probable reason is that when you make a lot of lutes you have a lot of top wood left over from pieces that you broke. Vertical grain top scraps would make horizontal grain braces. Also, if you split braces out of a billet, they split better this way than otherwise. These braces are rather high. The main brace is a little over an inch tall, by maybe 5MM. They are quite substantial, so the fact that the grain runs flat does not pose a strength problem.

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