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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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