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Review: Experimental Musical Instruments

Review: Experimental Musical Instruments

Reviewed by Fred Carlson

Originally published in American Lutherie #3, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Experimental Musical Instruments
A Newsletter for the Design, Construction, and Enjoyment of New Sound Sources
Published bimonthly
Magazine defunct (1999)

Volume 1, #1 (1975)

In a world of luthiers trying, with all the intensity luthiers are capable of, to see who can make the best Martin or Strad copy, this publication is a potential breath of fresh air. It is my personal opinion that we as luthiers have to not only continue traditions, but evolve, expand, even break out of them entirely at times, in order to keep them vibrant and meaningful. Experimental Musical Instruments is a newsletter that seems to me to get to the heart of this issue. Creation is what it’s all about: using existing knowledge as a basis to experiment, learn more, and have fun. And maybe make some real breakthroughs in the process.

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Review: Fine Woodworking Design Book Five

Review: Fine Woodworking Design Book Five

Essay by Scott Landis: Northwest Woodworkers

Taunton Press, 1990

ISBN 0-942391-28-4

Originally published in American Lutherie #26, 1991 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



The first thing I noticed when I received my copy of Fine Woodworking’s Design Book Five was the handsome coffee-table quality of the photographs. This volume is both the largest so far, with 259 photos, all color, and the best looking, with many full-page pictures and a uniformly high standard of reproduction. The second thing I noticed was that none of my instruments were represented. Oh well, I like it anyway.

Will it appeal to luthiers in general? Probably. I think there are good ideas to be found looking at all sorts of good woodworking, and there are a lot of truly beautiful items here. Is it the great American guitar book? Absolutely not.

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Review: Setar Construction, An Iranian Musical Instrument by Nasser Shirazi

Review: Setar Construction, An Iranian Musical Instrument by Nasser Shirazi

Reviewed by Marc Connelly

Originally published in American Lutherie #77, 2004



Setar Construction, An Iranian Musical Instrument
Nasser Shirazi
Berkeley, CA, 2001

For those of you who wish to build an Iranian setar, it would be hard to imagine a finer, more complete text than that presented here by Mr. Shirazi. But if you confuse the setar with the more widely known Indian sitar, you would be in for a surprise. The setar is an ancient Iranian instrument whose variants and descendents have populated string bands throughout the Middle East and Africa for thousands of years. This long-necked, fretted, 3- or 4-stringed instrument with a gourd-shaped soundbox is played with a strumming motion by the index finger, either in traditional Iranian ensembles or as a solo instrument.

For lute makers, Neapolitan mandolin makers, bouzouki makers, and luthiers interested in gourd-shaped soundbox construction (or even using gourds themselves), there are some nifty construction tips to be had here. As I find myself spending too much time considering and reconsidering the relationship between the size of soundboxes and relative soundhole size and placement, I am intrigued by the traditional decisions that the great setar makers made in this regard. Mr. Shirazi’s personal investment in research of this instrument enabled him to include the dimensions of setar examples from three of the most important Iranian master setar builders. Yep, that’s in there too, along with a full-sized drawing of the soundbox staves, accurate drawings of all the important shapes, and photographs detailing key construction steps, including jigs and molds. Great attention is paid to construction details. The smallest point is addressed thoroughly and concisely. Each step of Setar Construction has been organized by a highly refined mind.

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Review: Checklist of Technical Drawings of Musical Instruments in Public Collections of the World by Rob van Acht

Review: Checklist of Technical Drawings of Musical Instruments in Public Collections of the World by Rob van Acht

Reviewed by Robert Lundberg

Originally published in American Lutherie #43, 1995



Checklist of Technical Drawings of Musical Instruments in Public Collections of the World
Rob van Acht
Celle, Germany: Moeck Verlag and Gravenhage
The Netherlands: Haags Gemeentemuseum
1992. 185 pp.; 7 color plates, paper covers
Hfl. 49.00 (approximately $30.00)

This checklist of technical drawings is authored by R.J.M. (Rob) van Acht, Curator of Musical Instruments at the Haags Gemeentemuseum (Postbus 72, 2501 CB The Hague, The Netherlands). It is a listing of somewhat over 450 drawings of musical instruments which are available for purchase from selected museums or collections. The checklist is a production of the Documentation Centre [sic] for Musical Instruments at the Gemeentemuseum where a complete collection of the drawings listed is maintained. Mr. van Acht and his staff at the Gemeentemuseum deserve our thanks for assembling the collection and compiling this checklist as does Moeck Verlag for cosponsoring its publication.

The term technical drawing as used by this author and museums in general should perhaps be explained. These are full-size (1:1 scale) mechanical (outline) drawings that basically show what the instrument looks like from the outside. In the case of stringed instruments this external appearance is shown in several views with greater or lessor details of construction. They are usually prepared by the museum staff who have varying degrees of specific knowledge of the instrument’s construction. Although instrument makers will find most of the drawings to be of some value, the primary use as seen by the museums is organological. That is, the drawings are intended to be used by scholars (organologists) in their studying and writing about the classification, history, technology, and uses of musical instruments. And despite much discussion, complaints, and appeals, the museum community persists in their mistaken belief that some critical structural details and measurements are unessential information. These would include, for example, specific wood types, body cross sections, archings, and thickness measurements. So don’t be disappointed if a drawing you might send for has a serious lack of details, especially interior construction such as barring sizes and locations, and soundboard and back thickness measurements.

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Review: Making Stringed Instruments — A Workshop Guide by George Buchanan

Review: Making Stringed Instruments — A Workshop Guide by George Buchanan

Reviewed by C.F. Casey

Originally published in American Lutherie #26, 1991 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Making Stringed Instruments — A Workshop Guide
George Buchanan
Sterling Publishing Co., 205 pp.
ISBN 0-8069-7464-8

You don’t have to look at the publishing information to know this is a British book. You don’t even have to depend on the usual vocabulary clues. In fact, they’re not even all here. The book uses “clamps” rather than the dead-giveaway “cramps,” although it does refer to “timber” rather than “lumber.” It’s the style, that unmistakable tone typical of English do-it-yourself books: not exactly formal, not exactly old-fashioned (in fact, the book was first published in 1989), but just subtly different in flavor from its North American counterparts.

It’s more than just diction and syntax that make this book different, it’s the approach to the material. As the title suggests, the book is about a variety of instruments: violin, viola, and cello; mandolin and mandola; and classical and archtop guitars. However, rather than treating each instrument more or less independently, as most books of this type seem to do, Buchanan spends fully half the book dealing with the violin and viola, and then adds comparatively short chapters covering those aspects of the other instruments which are different from the violin. He does spend somewhat more time on the mandolin and mandola, as the first flat-top-and-back instruments in the book.

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