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Trends: 1985 Lute Society Seminar

Trends: 1985 Lute Society Seminar

by Lawrence D. Brown

Originally published in American Lutherie #3, 1985



The 1985 Lute Society Seminar in Oakland, Michigan, June 16-22, was attended by 50 students, 5 professional luthiers, 7 faculty, and 3 guest speakers. The students included serious amateurs, professional and semi-professional players, and rank beginners. They came from as far away as Japan, Europe, Canada, and England, providing a fascinating cross-section of players and instruments from around the world. Since many of those attending brought two or sometimes three instruments, a great many instrument makers were also represented.

For me, as a full-time builder of lutes and other early instruments, it represented an unparalleled opportunity to examine the quality of instruments currently being made by a great variety of makers, and to identify any trends in playing techniques (which can greatly effect the mechanics of a musical instrument).

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Bubinga

Bubinga

by Roger Sperline

Originally published as Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #268, 1984 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998



Bubinga is a hard, heavy wood which may be suitable for instrument backs and sides. It is as dense as Bolivian rosewood (Machaerium scleroxylon) and seems as hard. The piece I have has a beautiful mottle figure and a general tiger-eye sheen. I chose bubinga because it was available locally, relatively inexpensive, and very hard. I’d only made four classical guitars before trying it. All in all, I think I had good luck.

Several woods are called bubinga, including Guibourtia demeusei, G. tessmannii, Didelotia africana, Copaifera spp., and Brachystegia spp. All are called African rosewood and are reddish-brown. I don’t know which one I have.

Despite having many evenly-spaced coarse pores as red oak has, it has a specific gravity of 0.94. My piece was chosen from many, over half of which had evenly-spaced, generally straight growth rings. It is easy to obtain 8" widths for resawing into guitar backs. What makes a challenge is that the grain interlocks randomly, turning at times over 60° to the direction the tree grew, then turning back. In other words, though the growth rings are smooth and parallel, the runout changes severely from inch to inch. This gives a mottle pattern even in well-quartered slices, and causes some of the pores to penetrate a 3/32" plank. Shellac and varnish go right through some of them.

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Big Blue Ladder

Big Blue Ladder

by Harold Turner

Originally published in American Lutherie #33, 1993



Now I wouldn’t know a Pinusconeus abundus from an Avocado delectable, but I do know eastern white pine. I’ve rolled down mountains of sawdust, sawn down a few Christmas trees, and lit camp fires with the cones. I’ve even made a few instruments from the stuff.

Eastern white pine has one rare gift I’m glad to be associated with: the climb! A mass of limbs from the earth to the moon and back. A boyhood dream come true. A place to get away from it all. In the bowing branches of a pine you can be an astronaut, a cowboy ready to jump on his trusty steed, or Tarzan of the Apes swinging from limb to limb.

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Blackboard Eraser Polisher

Blackboard Eraser Polisher

by Michael Dresdner

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #288, 1984 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998

 

I’ve been using a blackboard eraser to do final dressing on my frets. I take this nice soft eraser and a piece of 600 paper and go across the fretboard. It’s beautiful; it just follows the curve and gives you a nice even rounded top. This is for polishing, after you’ve shaped the frets with files.

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Twenty Ancient Dyestuffs and Eleven Mordants

Twenty Ancient Dyestuffs and Eleven Mordants

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #236, 1983 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Dyestuffs

1) Madder (Rubia tinctorum) is one of the most ancient dyes, and its color fastness ranks among the best. It is such an excellent source of red that its name (rubia) means red in several languages. In Holland during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, it was the principal source of wealth. By 1792, encouraged by Charlemagne, France was the top grower. We are told that the French Revolution ruined the farmers. They were later revived by a decree of Louis Philippe, who made red caps and trousers mandatory for his army. In England imported madder was also used for army uniforms (redcoats). Before the “Madder Disaster,” England’s total imports came to one million pounds sterling. When alizarin, synthetic madder, was synthesized in 1869, a yearly world madder production of 70,000 tons declined to nothing. Historians speak of untilled and abandoned madder fields and of thousands of starving farmers (Schaefer, The Cultivation of Madder). Today madder can be hard to find; and sweet woodruff, one of the madder family that produces a less potent red dye, may be substituted. If you prepare the dye from roots, be sure not to use too much heat or boil it too long as the color may shift to a muddy brown.

2) Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), also called eastern hemlock or spruce pine, is an important tannin dye. The bark, either fresh or dried, produces a wide range of colors from rose to slate gray. The nice thing about this plant is that it grows over a wide area of North America so it is easily procured with very little expense. I get mine from a landscape gardener who always saves me a bag of trimmings from one of his pruning jobs. A sharp knife will easily strip away the dark outer bark to reveal the red-purple streaks inside. It is not entirely colorfast.

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