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A Review of Three Old Lutherie Books

A Review of Three Old Lutherie Books

with an Emphasis on Their Guitar Sections

by Jan Tulacek, Alain Bieber, and James Buckland

Originally published in American Lutherie #104, 2010



As we undertake this overview of three 19th-century lutherie texts, we recognize that much older documents were circulating from late medieval times. Some, such as the manuscript of Henri Arnault de Zwolle written in Dijon in 1440, already contained good descriptions of instruments, but to our knowledge, none had the goal to become a comprehensive “how to” lutherie handbook.

From the Baroque era there are the important musical treatises of Michael Praetorius (1620) in Germany and Marin Mersenne (1635/36) in France, with good descriptions of our Western European string instruments. We also have a few fascinating descriptions of particular aspects of lutherie such as the Antonio Bagatella violin booklet of 1782, or the lesser-known Pierre Trichet viol making manuscript of 1640. And while the encyclopedia format of the Enlightenment Period of the middle 18th century never allowed extensive coverage of the topic, the French Diderot and D’Alembert books had wonderful drawings and interesting lutherie information.

But in the late 1820s and early 1830s, still considered by many as the apex of the classical guitar in written music, we see two real lutherie “how-to” books appear, describing all the steps in the fabrication of the guitar. The first writer was Wettengel in Germany, followed a few years later by Maugin in France. In spite of many imperfections, they give a good understanding of the methods used in the two main centers of lutherie at that time, i.e., Neukirchen (now Markneukirchen) in Saxony and Mirecourt in Lorraine. A third important how-to book, by Hasluck, was published in the United States in 1907, but was likely written in the last decade of the 19th century. It is a very important work since it represents the first attempt to write a “how-to” lutherie book in English.

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Review: The Century That Shaped the Guitar

Review: The Century That Shaped the Guitar (From the Birth of the Six-String Guitar to the Death of Tárrega)

James Westbrook

2005. 180 pp., Available from theguitarmuseum.com.

Previously published in American Lutherie #88, 2006



In 1813 the soon-to-be-renowned composer and guitarist Fernando Sor left Spain, never to return. His destination was Paris, in the only country that would have him. After two years of frustration and disappointment he moved to London where he was to finally achieve the success that had eluded him. The large forces that brought Sor to London include his education, his professional training, the many wars in Europe, and taste.

Sor was given a liberal education in his native Barcelona. He studied composition, singing, and the newly invented 6-string guitar. With the premiere in 1797 of his opera Telemachus on Calypso’s Isle, Sor became the celebrated wunderkind. But a career in music was not in his immediate future. He had received a military training that seemed unlikely to cause his musical career much trouble. But, Napoleon’s invasion of Spain changed all that. Sor was thrown into active duty. When the French finally conquered Spain, Sor was given the choice of continuing his military career as part of the occupying French army, or joining the Spanish resistance. (The resistance was not doing so well, as documented by the many gruesome paintings by Goya.) Sor chose to continue his military career with the French (bad move). When Napoleon was finally defeated, these Spanish afrancesados were being murdered by the now victorious resistance at an alarming rate. Like many Spaniards in his position, Sor joined the exodus of 1813 and moved to Paris.

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Nine Electric Guitar Construction References Reviewed

Nine Electric Guitar Construction References Reviewed

by John Calkin

previously published in American Lutherie #63, 2000



Electric guitars are interesting creatures. The noises they are capable of producing are so far removed from an acoustic guitar that a listener could convince him/herself that either something magical has happened to the instrument or something has gone dreadfully wrong in the world.

Creating electric guitars often conjures up a frustrating paradox. The guitar body begins life as nothing more than a chunk of wood and ends up as little more than a chunk of wood, but assembling and shaping that chunk can present a challenge out of all proportion to what you end up with. Power planers and jointers are expensive. On the other hand, accomplishing the job with hand tools requires a serious investment in time needed to learn to sharpen, set up, and master the tools. Farming out the heavy work is possible, but often seems to dilute the lutherie experience (a belief, strangely enough, found most often in rank beginners who have neither money nor talent, and are often cursed with a stunted sense of the practical). To me the obvious answer was plywood, which makes a much better guitar than anyone would have you believe. The shape, cavities, and channels can all be established with routers and such before the body is glued up to thickness. It’s chief drawback is that it’s hard to finish nicely, but it will get you into guitar making with the least amount of outside help and expense.

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Product Reviews: Dan Erlewine’s Don’t Fret video

Product Reviews: Dan Erlewine's Don't Fret video

by Harry Fleishman

Originally published in American Lutherie #34, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Dan Erlewine’s Don’t Fret video and specialized tools
Stewart-MacDonald
www.stewmac.com

I will never forget my first fret job. It was a balmy spring evening; the jasmine were blooming. The year was 1964. We were alone in my bedroom, just me and my Strat. I was an anxious sixteen year old. She was a blonde, born in ’62.

This was nine years before I saw a copy of Irving Sloane’s groundbreaking book on repair, so when I decided to fix a few badly worn frets I was on my own. The worst wear was on the 2nd string, 1st fret and the 1st string, 3rd fret; the rest were still pretty good. Out came the soldering gun! No, I wasn’t planning to carefully remove the offending frets for replacement; I was going to fill the grooves with solder! I heated up the frets and flowed a bit of solder on. After they cooled, I smoothed them over with the file on my nail clipper. They looked great and I felt heroic. That is the proper technique, isn’t it? Nearly thirty years later, I know better. I should have used a soldering iron, not a gun. The gun could have demagnetized the pickups!

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Product Reviews: Acoustech Dynamic Field Pickup

Product Reviews: Acoustech Dynamic Field Pickup

by Harry Fleishman

Originally published in American Lutherie #29, 1992 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Acoustech Dynamic Field Pickup
Acoustech
Orangeburg, NY

My first attempt at guitar amplification was an early ’60s DeArmond pickup on my f-hole Gibson acoustic. It attached with little difficulty or damage and sounded great to me at the time. That was 1962 and my expectations were not terribly high. I plugged straight into a portable Wollensak tape recorder and used it as an amp until I got a used Gibson Falcon as a Christmas gift. A few years later, I installed a roundhole DeArmond in my Gibson J-45. Again, it sounded pretty good, all things considered. But all the things I considered didn’t amount to much. What choices did I really have, after all?

Those little contact mikes, which stuck on the face of a guitar, weren’t very good; I learned that soon enough. And the good-sounding microphones were expensive, unwieldy, and restricting. Like many guitarists, I wanted the freedom of movement that a pickup could give. When the first piezo transducer came out, I stuck one on and boogied. By that time, however, I was more sophisticated, more discerning, more caught up in the folk boom, and wanting a pickup that sounded like an acoustic guitar, only louder. The first I tried was the Barcus-Berry. Not too bad if you didn’t mind sounding like you were inside a bucket. The similar piezos weren’t much better. The Hot Dot sounded great to me when it came out. Like many technological improvements, its refinements masked its shortcomings for a while. I probably installed a hundred of them while continuing my search for a better sounding, easier installing pickup for myself and the customers I was attracting to my repair and building business.

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