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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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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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Review: A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance by Douglas Alton Smith

Review: A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance by Douglas Alton Smith

Reviewed by Bryan Johanson

Originally published in American Lutherie #73, 2003 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance
Douglas Alton Smith
ISBN 0-9714071-0-X
Lute Society of America, 389pp. 2002
www.lutehistory.com

Being a witness to history is an exciting and dynamic experience. Every day we follow events that shape our future and define our past. Music history during the past century turned out to be one of the most fluid and exciting periods ever experienced. We saw the rise to dominance of the recording industry and the decline and continued struggle of the music-publishing business. Composers, once the driving, creative force in music history, were marginalized by the surge of dynamic performers seeking their turn in the driver’s seat. This new wave of musical leadership created performance vehicles for themselves largely by exploring music of the past. As a result, buried treasures have been rediscovered. The music of Bach is no longer an occasional academic event, but a daily concert hall occurrence. Compositions by great Renaissance composers Josquin, Palestrina, Morales, Gesualdo, and Victoria can now be heard on recordings and in concerts almost anywhere in the civilized world. Performers have continued to reach into the past with courage and curiosity, reviving repertoire like ancient plain chant, early Greek and Roman music, and the mystic compositions of Hildegard von Bingen. There seems to be no limit to the vast musical treasure trove of the past. This rediscovery of early and ancient music was one of the most important trends in the 20th century, and it appears to still be gaining momentum in this new millennium.

In this brave new world of early music, scholarship, musicianship, and craftsmanship have become equal partners. One of the most impressive revivals during the last fifty years was the rebirth of the lute and its music. Once the most popular instrument in Europe, the lute was extinct by the end of the 19th century. Of the many thousands of compositions written for the lute, none were in circulation. Of the many thousands of instruments, only a handful survived as antique curiosities. As society entered the 20th century, the lute and its music was certifiably dead. However, a curious thing about musical instruments and their music is that death is not as terminal as it is for us mammals. There is no way to bring back a living dinosaur or any number of extinct species of birds, fish, and animals. But the lute, that’s a different story. With scholars like Douglas Alton Smith, luthiers like Robert Lundberg, and performers like Paul O’Dette working on its behalf, the revival of the lute is now in full flower.

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Review: A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance by Douglas Alton Smith

Reviewed by Bryan Johanson

Originally published in American Lutherie #73, 2003 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance
Douglas Alton Smith
ISBN 0-9714071-0-X
Lute Society of America, 389pp. 2002
www.lutehistory.com

Being a witness to history is an exciting and dynamic experience. Every day we follow events that shape our future and define our past. Music history during the past century turned out to be one of the most fluid and exciting periods ever experienced. We saw the rise to dominance of the recording industry and the decline and continued struggle of the music-publishing business. Composers, once the driving, creative force in music history, were marginalized by the surge of dynamic performers seeking their turn in the driver’s seat. This new wave of musical leadership created performance vehicles for themselves largely by exploring music of the past. As a result, buried treasures have been rediscovered. The music of Bach is no longer an occasional academic event, but a daily concert hall occurrence. Compositions by great Renaissance composers Josquin, Palestrina, Morales, Gesualdo, and Victoria can now be heard on recordings and in concerts almost anywhere in the civilized world. Performers have continued to reach into the past with courage and curiosity, reviving repertoire like ancient plain chant, early Greek and Roman music, and the mystic compositions of Hildegard von Bingen. There seems to be no limit to the vast musical treasure trove of the past. This rediscovery of early and ancient music was one of the most important trends in the 20th century, and it appears to still be gaining momentum in this new millennium.

In this brave new world of early music, scholarship, musicianship, and craftsmanship have become equal partners. One of the most impressive revivals during the last fifty years was the rebirth of the lute and its music. Once the most popular instrument in Europe, the lute was extinct by the end of the 19th century. Of the many thousands of compositions written for the lute, none were in circulation. Of the many thousands of instruments, only a handful survived as antique curiosities. As society entered the 20th century, the lute and its music was certifiably dead. However, a curious thing about musical instruments and their music is that death is not as terminal as it is for us mammals. There is no way to bring back a living dinosaur or any number of extinct species of birds, fish, and animals. But the lute, that’s a different story. With scholars like Douglas Alton Smith, luthiers like Robert Lundberg, and performers like Paul O’Dette working on its behalf, the revival of the lute is now in full flower.

In his brilliant and beautiful new book, A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance, Douglas Alton Smith has given us a wonderfullywritten account of the rich history of that once seemingly extinct instrument. Although the lute is most immediately related to the Arabic oud, Mr. Smith takes pains to trace the origin of the lute to much earlier times. The lute’s connection to ancient Greek culture, with its influential philosophy, music theory, and aesthetics, shaped the development of the Renaissance lute as much as its more recent Arabic heritage. Tracing the origin of any string instrument into antiquity is a tricky business. There are many ways in which an author’s narrative can become bogged down in slogging through all the loose ends and fragmented bits. What is so refreshing about Mr. Smith’s book is the strength of its vision. His writing about the lute’s far-distant past is fluid and engaging.

Once he moves us into the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the historical evidence is much less speculative. He clearly traces the rise of the lute’s popularity, country by country. The reader will no doubt delight in the scope of the tale. Mr. Smith has woven many historical threads together to give us a complex and complete picture of the lute as it existed in society. To follow the early history of the lute is to also follow the early history of music. The lute was such an important part of the musical culture of Europe that any musical development was immediately reflected in the lute’s repertoire or construction. In addition to the part played by the lute in music culture and society, Mr. Smith also traces the history of its construction.

Once the book gets rolling into the more familiar terrain of the Renaissance, Mr. Smith traces the lute’s history by region and performer. There are chapters on the lute in Italy, Central and Eastern Europe, France and the Lowlands, and England. Naturally we are treated to mini-biographies of such musical giants as the brilliant and influential Francesco Canova da Milano, Vincenzo Galilei, Lorenzino di Roma, Hans and Melchior Newsidler, Valentine Bakfark, Adrian Le Roy, John and Robert Johnson, Daniel Bacheler, and the incomparable John Dowland. In addition to the copious biographical information, Mr. Smith has illuminated many of them with musical examples and illustrations.

One interesting addition is a chapter on the history of the vihuela in Spain. As many enthusiasts know, the lute did not flourish in Renaissance Spain. The reasons for this are complex and somewhat obscure. What did flourish was an instrument that looked a bit like the guitar but was tuned and played exactly like the lute. Its history and music often show up in histories on the guitar. But the vihuela’s connection to the guitar is a weak one. The vihuela flourished for a brief period and faded into obscurity before the beginning of the 17th century. The music produced by Luis Milan, Alonso Mudarra, and Luis de Narvaez has long been claimed as transcribed guitar repertoire. However, in the last fifty years, luthiers have begun to construct modern replicas of the vihuela. This repertoire is now being reclaimed by specialists on that instrument. It is not surprising that many of this new generation of vihuelistas are lutenists who have made slight adjustments to their technique to master this distinguished music. Mr. Smith has convincingly claimed that the vihuela is simply a Spanish version of the lute. And, though the vihuela will always remain outside the history of the lute proper or the guitar proper, its temporal relationship to the lute is a more natural historical fit. Mr. Smith’s chapter on this marginally related instrument is an important addition to the vihuela’s history.

There are many ways one could enjoy and use this book. It is a remarkable accomplishment in its scope and depth and literary style. For professional musicians, luthiers, and musicologists, this book is an absolute must. It will no doubt become the standard reference work on the subject for many years to come. In addition to use by scholars, luthiers, musicians, and serious-minded students, the book is also an incredibly enjoyable read. On the most obvious level, it can also be savored as a compelling historical narrative. I would suggest that anyone who listens to lute music for pleasure can enjoy this book for the same kind of pleasure.

A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance is published by the Lute Society of America, and I would like to take a few moments and congratulate them for the look of the final publication. It is a beautifully prepared, edited, and laid-out book. The integration of text, musical examples, and illustrations adds immeasurably to the joy of this book. It was obviously prepared with great care and respect for the material, and the Lute Society of America is to be praised.

I can’t begin to express my gratitude to Douglas Alton Smith for his efforts in bringing this book to print. His talents as an historian, scholar, and author are overwhelming. His book is a massive achievement to which the reader can return again and again for information, insights, and pleasure. His efforts on behalf of the lute and its music are inspiring, and I hope that readers of this review will immediately order their own soon-to-be-well-worn-and-well-loved copy of his fine book.

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Review: The Guitar of Andres Segovia Hermann Hauser 1937

Review: The Guitar of Andres Segovia Hermann Hauser 1937

Reviewed by Tom Harper

Originally published in American Lutherie #83, 2005 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



The Guitar of Andrés Segovia Hermann Hauser 1937
Liner notes by Richard Bruné and Don Pilarz
Produced by Dynamic S.r.l., Genova, Italy
Dynamic catalog number CDS 433

Wouldn’t it be great to have in one source working drawings, textual explanations, photographs, and recordings of one of the most important instruments ever built? Dynamic’s offering does exactly this. Richard Bruné, Don Pilarz, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art collaborated to create a definitive description of Andrés Segovia’s famous 1937 Hauser guitar. The result is a boxed set containing a multilingual pamphlet (Italian, English, German, and French), three sheets of full-scale working drawings, a full-length audio CD of Segovia playing the instrument, and a poster. All this fits into a box that is about 6"×9"×3/4".

The pamphlet describes Segovia’s challenges to establish the guitar as a serious classical instrument, the requirements for the instrument, technical details about it, and its physical state. One also gets a sense of Hermann Hauser as a builder. It is clear that he did not create great instruments by accident or luck. There are also almost thirty color photographs that display important details of the outside and inside of the instrument that are very useful to a builder wanting to create a Hauser-style instrument. The writing is clear and concise and provides construction details that I have not seen elsewhere.

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Review: Aux origins de la guitare: vihuela de mano by Joël Dugot

Review: Aux origins de la guitare: vihuela de mano by Joël Dugot

Reviewed by Bryan Johanson

Originally published in American Lutherie #81, 2005 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



Aux origines de la guitare: la vihuela de mano
Joël Dugot
ISBN: 2-914147-23-6
Paris, France: Cité de la Musique, 95 pp. 2004
www.cite-musique.fr

When I started high school, I was given the choice of taking French, Spanish, German, or Latin. This was in addition to the regular “boy” curriculum of math, English, P.E., biology, social studies, and metal shop. (“Girl” curriculum included secretarial studies and home economics.) I had heard that cute girls took French (a gross inaccuracy, as it turned out), so French seemed like a good choice. It was taught by a very round, short, bald man who insisted we call him Maitre. Every day he would breeze into class, walking quickly to the front saying, “Bonjour la classe!” as he went. We would drone back, “Bonjour, Maitre.” We could normally tell from his voice what kind of day it would be. If he was jovial, it would be bad French jokes day. If his voice was stern, we would be covering new material. If his voice sounded tired, we would be conjugating verbs. On rare days he would say nothing at all. That was the silent language of pop quiz.

For two years the main focus of the class was to learn to have a conversation with correct pronunciation. My conversational French was never very good. This was mostly due to the fact that I could barely hold a conversation in English. It was a harsh thing to take a shy, sensitive fifteen-year-old boy and stand him in front of class with an equally shy fifteen-year-old girl and make them speak to each other in clear, enunciated tones: “Hello Claire! Are you going to the library? I heard the record player does not work. Have you seen Jean? He is at the bakery. I think it is going to rain today. It is very moist....”

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