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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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An Ingenious Epinette

An Ingenious Epinette

by John Bromka

Originally published in American Lutherie #31, 1992 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



While attending a festival of bourdon (drone) instruments in Lissberg, Germany in May of 1991, I saw and heard this ingenious épinette des Vosges, made by Gilles Pequinot, a native of the Vosges region of France. He was interested in hearing about the GAL and very happy to share his design with fellow luthiers through American Lutherie.

The traditional soundbox for the épinette is found on this example in the slender, tapered, rectangular box that constitutes the middle portion or upper deck. Gilles has added a fancier and much bigger secondary soundbox underneath the ancestral original soundbox, as seems to be the custom now for the new breed of more cosmopolitan épinette players. It’s rather like what we Americans are doing with hollowed fingerboards on mountain dulcimers, only more so. As you might imagine, the sound of this épinette is hereby amplified to a rich, silvery ringing presence. And it even held its own while Gille’s wife led us through a workshop of dancing bourrées.

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The Travielo

The Travielo

by Ernest Nussbaum

Originally published in American Lutherie #5, 1986 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Cellists who want to travel with their instruments have a problem: on air trips they must purchase a seat for the cello or take the risk of having it damaged if checked into the baggage compartment, and in most cars it won’t fit into the trunk and thus takes up at least one passenger seat. In other words, it’s too big.

For professional cellists traveling to a playing engagement, the purchase of a plane seat is a necessity which at least constitutes a deductible business expense. For symphony musicians on tour there is no problem at all because orchestras have provision for safe shipping of the larger instruments. But for the cellist who would like to practice during a vacation trip or play chamber music with friends at the other end, the expense and bother of taking the cello along often result in its getting left behind.

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Electric Violins: The New Frontier

Electric Violins: The New Frontier

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #12, 1987



In the past, my contributions to this journal have been of the more traditional subject matter. From repairing cracks to varnish recipes, I lend my knowledge of the violin to all our readers. Although this article is not about the traditional violin, I have the same enthusiasm to share the following information with you.

Twenty years ago, electrifying a violin was a simple matter of attaching a DeArmond pickup clamp to the tailpiece and plugging the cord into an amplifier. Not much attention was given to the quality of sound that came out of the speaker. Players were more concerned that the violin could be heard over the drums and other electric instruments.

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The Sami-Sen

The Sami-Sen

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in American Lutherie #12, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



The Sami-Sen (pronounced and sometimes spelled “shamisen”) is one of the trinity of Japan’s important musical instruments, the koto and shakuhachi* being the other two. The equivalent of the Chinese san hsien, this three-stringed lute was originally a solo instrument, played by a wife for her husband, or a lone musician for his or her own enjoyment (and Buddha’s too!). Not until the Edo period (early 17th to mid-19th centuries) was the sami-sen used in <em>gagaku</em> (orchestral) and chamber ensembles. In recent years there has been a revival in the ancient solo literature, many of the solo pieces being conceived of as an aid to meditation. Poetic and descriptive song titles that reflect tone-painting are not uncommon.

The drawing was done from an instrument whose equivalent is probably the Volkswagon or the Sears Silvertone. Even though this bottom-of-the-line instrument shows some crudeness (the inside arch to the soundbox sides appears to have been hacked out with an adz), it is still remarkable. The neck joints fit perfectly, and the soundbox wood is a fine-figured, mahogany-like hardwood that is very attractive. Mrs. Richard Ota, a sami-sen teacher and performer, obtained for me strings, bridge, and pegs, and she owns an instrument of similar caliber to mine, plus a really nice instrument. Lacking a fretboard, once the performer’s fingers have put a hollow in the neck from the most used fretting positions after a few years, the neck is useless. For that reason, the serious sami-sen player owns a cheap instrument for practice and a better one reserved for performing.

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