Initial thoughts on a New Old (but not that old) Instrument
Since this lute is not the most common type that one sees whether it's in concerts or on the internet, I thought it might be interesting to write down a thought or two about this first experience I have had with this instrument and to give it a subjective review.
Since this lute is not the most common type that one sees whether it's in concerts or on the internet, I thought it might be interesting to write down a thought or two about this first experience I have had with this instrument and to give it a subjective review. Before I go into details, I would like to highlight that there will be a second part to this post in which we'll dive into more detail about its historical counterpart and its maker Laux Maler. Then hopefully a third part after that, with more insights from Sandi Harris who is the one who built this modern copy in 2009 together with Stephen Barber who sadly is no longer with us anymore.
This is a lute I have had an eye on for more than two years and recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on it and try it out. When I did, I found out that it was a way more fascinating instrument than I had imagined. So, therefore I am now a very lucky owner of this instrument, and it has already influenced my playing and thinking about early 16th century repertory in some aspects.
The lute is built with beautifully flamed amber-like Hungarian ash ribs, the soundboard is made by Haselfichte (a type of spruce growing in the alps) figured Pear for the neck, pegbox and the fingerboard, Plum for the pegs and finally a Holly bridge and a strap button made by Boxwood. All the woods are beautiful at the same time as they work together to make an even more stunning whole, that is built together with such precision. For instance, the tuning pegs turn very smoothly and it’s a very stable instrument. This is of course also a testament to the previous owner who has taken very well care of the lute. In short, I can look at and play this instrument for hours, getting lost in all the details, both auditory and visual.
For more technical information about this lute and the thoughts of the builders behind it and many other stunning instruments I would recommend visiting www.lutesandguitars.co.uk.
The most notable difference compared to the other lutes I have played before (the other lute that I own and play regularly is a 7-course lute, also made by Stephen Barber and Sandi Harris) is the string length. It is a rather specialised lute in terms of the setup, size, and the dedicated repertoire. From the bridge to nut, it lute measures 67 cm, which allows it to be tuned in F (modern tuning) compared to G which is the most common type in use today when it comes to lutes to play music roughly ranging from the beginning of the 16th century to the first decades of the 17th century. The ability to tune the lute a whole semitone lower than the more common G lute opens quite a few possibilities, perhaps most obviously when it comes to ensemble and duet playing. But it is also giving me as a player rather exciting possibilities when it comes to music for a single lute.
For example, the lower tuning of the lute enhances the effect playing a piece already written in the low register of the lute, as well as making the high register sound more fully, although a bit less brilliant then on a higher pitched lute. My ideal would be to have three lutes - one tuned high, one in the middle, and one tuned low like this lute. In this way, one could use them in a single program, to really use them to bring out all the contrasts in every piece. The only obstacle I've noticed is that longer string length is making it slightly harder to put the string in motion in order to make the instrument vibrate sufficiently. This is to a degree compensated by the fact that this instrument is very lightly built, which in turn is helping the right hand in producing a full sound with a lot of colour and expressions, without it being too heavy on the hands. This was a slight revelation to me since I thought that it's the left hand that would require the most work to get used to the approximately 5 cm extra length compared to what I'm used to. Although I have by no means even scratched the surface of the historic repertoire that suits this lute, I have not yet encountered stretches or anything that seem to be a hindrance. This might be something that only applies to me, since every player's physique is different. I should probably also note that regarding the right hand, I am playing with a so-called "thumb under" technique which nowadays is regarded as the most common right-hand posture used in the beginning of the 16th century. I do feel that it's somewhat easier to get a clearer sound when playing it with a "thumb out" technique. Probably because the angle of releasing the string allows more easily to make a brighter sound. But I'm not as comfortable with this hand position and a lot of the music from this time is idiomatic for a thumb under position.
I could ramble on for many more pages about the lute, but I think it could be suitable to just listen to it. I would therefore like to conclude this post with an actual sample of the lute. It’s recorded on a simple USB mic directly into my phone, but I hope it can convey some of the beauty of this instrument, nevertheless.Part 2 will be a summary of the history of the original lute that this one is based on and about the Laux Maler lute factory in general and what significance it came to play long after the factory ceased to produce lutes. If you have experience and thoughts about this kind of instrument i would love to hear about it and discuss it, so please leave a comment if you do. Untill next time, cheers and take care.