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The Piccolo Bass

The Piccolo Bass

by Frederick C. Lyman, Jr.

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 8 ,#1, 1980



In the last ten or fifteen years there has been a virtual explosion of interest in the string bass. Many bassists now use their instruments in ways that were hardly thought of just a few years ago. Especially, solo playing employing the extreme upper register of the bass is a prominent technique among soloists in the classical and jazz fields. Modern string technology permits a brilliance, solidity, and assurance of sound in this register that was hard to obtain previously. Electronic means of recording and amplification have brought the sounds closer to the consciousness of a large audience.

Most existing basses, build in other eras for other not necessarily good( reasons, are not much help to the skilled and ambitious player of today. They are hard to play and hard to hear, except in the limited roles they were designed to fulfill. This situation suggested a new instrument which would fill the large gap between the bass and the ‘cello’ and which could be used in the melodic register but with the tonal density of the bass rather than the thinner sound of the ‘cello. I think many people had this idea, and of course we know of Mr. Hutchins’ work which approached the problem from a scientific direction. However, I had never seen a small bass that had the musical properties which were needed.

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Harpsichords: Reconstructing an Era

Harpsichords: Reconstructing an Era

by Byron Will

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 5 ,#4, 1977



The music of the renaissance and baroque has undergone a rebirth in the twentieth century, with musicians and makers attempting to rediscover the high level of the art which was reached. A great deal of work has been done in the enormous process of making a musical era live again, with the scholar having to be cautious of falling into preconceptions and making personal assumptions which may be quite false. This long an difficult process has many times changed the musicians and makers outlook on the “correct” approach. Although there are not and never were absolutes, much more is known than twenty years ago and the modern maker has a better idea of what is required of the musician interpreting the great compositions of the past.

The most logical approach the modern harpsichord maker may take is to carefully study the old instruments and attempt to understand the old makers methods. There are many antiques that have been restored, although not all with the greatest of care. Many old instruments have been altered, perhaps many times, so not much of the original remains. What can we tell from the antiques which are two or three hundred years old? The antiques play music with the clarity, growth, and beauty that a great instrument has, having a strong character that works with the music and performer to give a completely satisfying performance. The antiques sometimes have a certain ugliness or crudeness to their tone adding charm and incisive character. The modern maker must determine what he hears in the antiques, study how they were constructed and incorporate this information in his work in order to properly approach the old makers’ art. Their need for caution is as important as the scholars’.

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The Early & The “Modern” Viol

The Early & The “Modern” Viol

by Theron McClure

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 6, #1, 1978



The study of paintings, drawings, and woodcuts of early viols shows us that all the viols made and played today are copied from those made and used during the final seventy-five years of the three century span of viol playing. In those last years, instruments had been modified to cope with the tonal and advanced technical demands made upon viol players: trio-sonatas required performances of the same degree of virtuosity and lushness of tone possessed by the skilled flautist and violinist of the day, the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries.

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Restoring a “Church Bass”

Restoring a “Church Bass”

by Frederick C. Lyman

Originally published in American Lutherie #98, 2009



“Restoration” is not really a good term for what is done by luthiers who work on old bass fiddles. They are trying to create an instrument that has not existed before, using pieces that give it historical continuity and prestige. Connection with the past, recent or distant, is important to musicians. Having an instrument that can be connected to a previous musical era seems to do a lot to build a player’s confidence and help him or her form a conception of music-to-be.

So given an old instrument that needs a lot of work to be playable, the repairman tries to keep in mind the continuing identity of that particular fiddle. It must seem that there is an unbroken link between what was in the mind of the original creator, and the present-day sound. If this is an illusion, that may be better yet, as we are already in a realm of rampant subjectivity.

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Building the Tar

Building the Tar

by Nasser Shirazi

Originally published in American Lutherie #10, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



The Tar (meaning “string” or “chord” in Farsi) is a classical Iranian stringed instrument which has two body cavities and is played by plucking the strings. The two sound chambers are covered with two separate skin membranes. The instrument’s six strings are tuned in pairs and are played with a brass plectrum inserted in a lump of beeswax. The tar is an integral part of classical Iranian music ensembles, along with the kamanché, setar, ney, santour, tomback, and oud.

The soundbox is extensively made of mulberry wood, although other woods such as maple, walnut, and apricot have also been used. Use a well-seasoned wood with no knots, checks, or other wood defects known to luthiers.

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