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Travel Lute

Travel Lute

by Ben Cohen

Originally published in American Lutherie #101, 2010

I am an amateur luthier and a lutenist. I recently attended a reunion of sorts with a number of singers from my old early music ensemble at Oberlin College, and I regretted not having a lute handy to be able to accompany some friends on lute songs. I travel with a mandolin because it fits in the airplane overhead bin and allows me to play Bach suites and choros while my flight is delayed. Lutes aren’t good for air travel. The funny shape makes them hard to fit in the overhead bin. While there are some small 6-course instruments that might squeeze into an overhead bin, most lutenists would prefer to travel with an 8-course instrument to cover as much repertoire as possible. Lutes are also delicate and expensive. Flying with a lute usually requires some kind of super-protective flight case, awkward and expensive.

Guitars do not make decent lute substitutes. The guitar has only six strings, and they are not spaced at all like a lute. The world needs a good travel lute.

A banjo approach struck me as the way to go, since the lute has such a thin top that it sounds more like a banjo than any other wooden plucked string instrument. I used a Remo 12" pretuned hand drum that I had on hand.

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