Thursday, July 21, 2016

July Update - a new Stauffer 7

This photo was taken by long time friend and aspiring lute builder, Bill Good. I was exhibiting at Boston Guitar Fest in the middle of June. On the table is my 7 string Lacôte. It was the subject of my last post. And getting a trial, my newest guitar, a 7 string Stauffer.

Many of my lute and baroque guitar clients have 6 string romantic guitars so my plan was to built two 7 string guitars; a Lacôte and a Stauffer and to exhibit them, side by side, at various festivals and private gatherings in the coming months. The Lacôte was ready in April in time for the 60th anniversary celebration of the Toronto Guitar Society. In early June I finished a model of a 7 string Stauffer (photo at left).

I try to build instruments that are faithful to surviving historical  models and often I can use examples that I have personally examined. However, 7string Stauffer guitars are rare and I know of none in public collections. Late last year I bought a copy of Stauffer & Co. by Erik Pierre Hofmann, Pascal Mougin and Stefan Hackl, Les Éditions des Robins. The book (shown below) is an impressive survey of the work of Johann Georg Stauffer, his son Johann Anton and other builders who worked in the  Viennese style from the early 19th century through to Ludwig Reisinger in the 1930s. Importantly, the cultural and musical milieu of Vienna of the era is discussed at length.

Sixty guitars are presented side by side in three photos; face, back and side. Each guitar is documented and its significance is discussed in English, French and German. The book is large, measuring 38cm x 31cm. The text and photos are conveniently placed on facing pages. Unlike many sources that list only the height and width of their subject, these authors include external measurements, 20 in all, for the 60 guitars on a two page appendix that immediately follows the last guitar entry .

I was delighted to find among the entries a 7 string guitar built by Johann Anton in 1827 with a string length of 64cm.  The guitar is a beautiful example of Stauffer's, design, choice of materials and craftmanship. This information provided not only a solid factual foundation but also the inspiration for my replica. I filled in details using my research on Stauffer and other Viennese guitars that I have studied in public and private collections.

After the Boston Festival I visited clients in New York City area for a guitar tasting. Daniel Swenberg watches as David Thompson tries a Panormo replica.

I was re-united with some of my earlier guitars. From the left; the new 7 string Lacôte 2016,  a 61 cm  Johann Anton Stauffer from 2004, an original La Joue 1820, a 1787 model Benedid that I built as a 6 course in 2001 and recently converted to a single 6 and a Panormo  from 2014.

I didn't take enough photos of the construction of my 7 string Stauffer  to dedicate a post to it but I have started a 6 string version of the same guitar. In the future I will publish a post or two about it including the details that are relevant to the construction of a 7 string.

Last week we started renovations on our house that affected my shop. My work has come to a stand still but the renos are going well and I'm hopeful, if impatient.



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Building a Lacôte 7 String

I finished my model of a 7 string Lacôte. Its construction follows the same principles as the six string Lacôte I discussed in four previous posts, the last on March 10, 2013. Navigate through "Older Posts" at the bottom of this page to view these.

I have measurements and photos of several Lacôte 7s and I examined another in detail several years ago. But I wanted to build a guitar that would appeal to guitarists outside the circle of period instrument enthusiasts so I decided to combine features from several guitars. I chose the body of one of Lacôte's décacorde guitars that is in Musée de la musique Paris, E.986.5.1.
E.986.5.1 Musée de la musique

The body is 443mm long, 248mm wide at the upper bout, 180mm at the waist and 310mm at the lower bout. The side rib depth measures 76.5mm at the front and 81mm at the rear. The front of the bridge is 126.5mm from the rear of the body. The rose diameter is 73.5mm and its lower edge is 335mm from the bottom edge of the body.
These were the measurements I made on my visit in 2012 and the ones I used building my model.

 Grant MacNeil, owner of The Twelfth Fret guitar store here in Toronto, has a passion  for romantic era guitars and there are always several in his store. I was fortunate that he offered me the opportunity to examine this rare 7 string string Lacôte before it was sold. The model has a short string length (580mm) and is now in a private collection so I didn't use it for my model. But the peghead is typical of Lacôte's work so it served as a fine example for my replica.

This closeup shows the similarity to Lacôte's  standard 6 string peghead design. He simply expanded it to include a side bracket to house the 7th string.

The original Lacôte tuners are mounted on plated metal strips that have corroded over time. Grant showed me photos of the detached peghead taken during the shop's restoration. The neck stock to peghead joint is a sort of concealed tongue and mortise. This appears only as an horizontal line across the narrowest part of the neck.

Rob Rodgers makes an elegant set of single Lacôte style tuners that were a must for this guitar.

The gears sit in recesses cut into the back of the head stock. The string rollers span the string slots and rest in blind recesses in the center spine. Installing each tuner takes time and accuracy. If I ran a production shop I would make templates and machine mill them. But I make one instrument at a time so I do it all by hand. I carefully laid out the design and used a scroll saw (Excalibur 16) to rough cut the string slots and recesses for each gear.

The sawed slots were clean but I erred on the side of caution and made them all a little too small. They needed to be enlarged and squared. I don't have a bench mounted vise so for jobs like this I improvise. The peghead is clamped to a squared block that is in turn clamped to the table. A second matching block is clamped some distance away. A long sanding stick with sandpaper attached on one face and both edges spans the gap. As long as I move the sanding stick perpendicular to the face of the peghead the finished work will be clean, accurate and square.
The string roller passages are blind, they do not go through the thickness of the peghead like the gear recesses and must be cut with a chisel. They require a lot of attention. The rollers on standard tuners fit snuggly in carefully drilled holes and yet smooth operation can be elusive. Tuner manufacturers even offer rollers with bearings mounted on the ends that fit tightly in the peghead holes but allow the rollers to rotate freely.
Since string tension pulls the rollers up toward the face of the peghead and back towards the nut the rollers have to rest precisely against the top and rear surfaces of their respective passages. Achieving this took some fiddling.  Initially, the passages for the rollers on each side of the string slots had to be cut undersize, slowly enlarged, testing the fit until they all worked smoothly.

Finally, I glued an ebony plate of the face and then opened up the string slots and cut the string ramps.

A matching maple plate conceals the roller ends in the center spine.

The two parts of the V-joint were  cut with the Excalibur scroll saw. Then I spent hours perfecting the fit.

I used Lacôte's iconic multi-piece design for both the rosette and edge purfling. But I added a later era style fingerboard and brought it to the edge of the soundhole increasing the number of frets to 19. Note in the previous photos of the historical guitars that both have short fingerboards with additional frets inlaid in the soundboard.

Twelfth Fret Guitar Shop

 Lacôte's choice of bridge design for his multi-string guitars is interesting. The bridge of the guitar from the Twelfth Fret is truncated. It is a simple rectangular block but otherwise contoured with a raised saddle area with the rear sloping to a thin edge like other Lacôte bridges.

The above is the bridge from Lacôte's décacorde conserved in St. Cecilia's Hall, University of Edinburgh. The tips are broken and the 'eyes' are missing but glue shadows pinpoint the location of the lost features.

I used the décacorde design and re-sized it for my 7 string bridge. Note that I angled the saddle to improve the intonation.

St. Cecilia's Hall University of Edinburgh

I have examined three of Lacôte's décacorde guitars and each time I have been impressed with the practicality and aesthetics of the contours of their necks. All were constructed in mahogany with a smooth transition onto the heel.

The advantage to this design is that the short smooth transition from the neck to heel allows the player easier access to the upper frets.

The entire guitar was finished with French polish, allowed to harden and rubbed out with various compounds.

All photos by the author.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Railich Theorbo Drawing

I examined the theorbo by Pietro Railich, No. 1569  Brussels MIM in 2007. Since then I have used it as a model for a small theorbo with a fretted string length of around 80 cm. In preparation for building a solid mould for these instruments I made a series of templates based on my measurements, tracings, photographs and notes. I recently turned this work into a simple line drawing of the theorbo's bowl. It is available  here as a full-size printable download. The file size is 67 KB and the printed drawing measures 43cm X 70.5cm.

Click here to download the Railich Theorbo Drawing

Detail photo of Gottlieb's drawing

A full size drawing of the soundboard by Stephen Gottlieb is available from The Online Shop (MIM). It shows many details; the bar positions and their sizes and shape, top thickness in many locations along with observation notes.

I had a copy of this drawing for many years and thought the instrument would make a good small theorbo. It also closely resembled the larger Kaiser theorbo that I had been building and that appealed to me. But I couldn't find other information or photos. All of this piqued my interest and on a trip to Europe I decided to include a visit to Brussels.

When I got there I found a theorbo in three pieces. The belly was separated from the bowl.

The other lute is a mandora by Johannes Jauck No. 0251

The front block, neck and extension assembly was detached from the bowl.

And the bowl was missing its front.


The condition of the theorbo affected the measurements that I could make while I was in the museum's laboratory and most recently the method I could use to make a drawing of the bowl. Obviously I couldn't precisely determine  the length of the bowl. I calculated this measurement by taking the length of the soundboard from its rear edge to the position of the neck joint which is clearly delineated by the fret board points that project onto the soundboard (see previous photo). The contour of the bowl at the front block also can be determined by referring to the soundboard profile. For the continuation of the contour of the central axis of the bowl beyond the fracture I created the line by considering the angle of the neck joint, the thickness of the neck at the joint and the position of the joint relative to the length of the soundboard. I had recorded these values during my examination. Fortunately, although the bowl was separated from the soundboard and detached front its front block, it had retained its original contour! When I placed the bowl on Gottlieb's drawing of the soundboard the two matched perfectly. This is a tribute to the skill of the builder and demonstrates the importance of accurately bending and assembling lute bowls. A further note - although the bowl matches the outline of the soundboard the two sides are not quite symmetrical. The treble side from the widest point of the bowl to the interior edge of the front block gradually widens by 2mm and then tapers back to symmetry with the base side as it reached the front block. My drawing uses the fuller treble side for both sides of the contour.

 Those of you who visited my now defunct website,
'' may remember the story on my 'projects' page about this theorbo. Several months ago one of you wrote for information about the instrument now that the page is no longer available. I decided to write this post as a result of that request.

While checking my notes and assembling photos from various files I found that '' is online (!), available in the online archive, Wayback Machine .


Open WAYBACK MACHINE and enter '' in the search window. A window like the one  shown below opens. I clicked on 2011 (that is the first year that the archive scanned my site after I posted the Railich project. January 29 was one of the dates . Clicking on that date opens the index page to my archived website. All of the buttons are live so you can navigate to 'Projects' or elsewhere. Unfortunately not all photos display.

All photos by the author unless otherwise noted

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

March Update - Fiona's Gerle, Lacôte 7, Stauffer 7

It has been a while since I last posted, but that doesn't mean that I've not been busy. Before I describe my work I want to mention a nice surprise.  Fiona Thistle, whom I had not previously met, stopped by to get an endpin for her lute. Fiona who has been playing since the age of 10 (!) bought the lute second-hand for her studies at university so I didn't know which of my lutes she had. I was delighted to see that it was one of my red Gerles from 1995. The Hans Gerle model was my go to renaissance lute from about 1983 to 2000. Most of them were varnished with  a cooked resin varnish in shades from amber  to chestnut. Occasionally, I added red madder as is obvious in this photo. Making the varnish is a  cottage industry and instrument makers usually make their own. However, I was always hesitant to do this as making the mixture is a tricky and dangerous procedure. Luckily one of my students from my teaching days had access to a university chemistry lab's extraction chamber so for a time I had a reliable supply. I also bought the prepared varnish from Northern Renaissance Instruments (England) until Canada Post banned the delivery of hazardous materials - my last shipment was confiscated. I'm always amazed by the appearance of this varnish - translucent, vibrant with incredible depth.


I have just about  completed a seven string Lacôte guitar except for the finish. I combined features from two Lacôte multi-string guitars that I examined in the last several years. This guitar cried out for a set of Rodgers replica tuners. The gears of the tuners are concealed in the peghead (see following photos) and fitting them was a lot of work, but well worth it.

 In my next post I'll have photos  and descriptions of this work, information about the two historical guitars that I consulted as well as my usual construction descriptions and photos.

The gears fit in the rectangular slots while the string rollers sit in the cut-outs. A central cover plate will conceal the roller ends.

I've also gotten a good start on another 7 string, this one after Johann Stauffer, 1827. The model (G24) is described with photographs of the front, back and side profile and complete external measurements in Stauffer&Co., The Viennese Guitar of the 19th Century.


        All photos by the author

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Thirteenth Course Baroque Lute After Hans Burkholtzer and Anonymous E.25

I finished a thirteen course lute based on two historical lutes that  share a common lineage. The Hans Burkholtzer lute, SAM 44 (NE 48) conserved in Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna was built in 1596 in Füssen. Robert Lundberg notes that it was converted from its original string disposition to an 11 course in 1705 by Thomas Edlinger and later to a 13 course with a bass rider. This description was published in Historical Lute Construction published by the Guild of American Luthiers.

The second lute is anonymous E.25 an archlute conserved in Museé de la musique, Paris.
Visit site
This lute came to my attention when I read Joël Dugot's article Some Lutes in Paris Museums published in the Journal of the Lute Society of America, Vol. XVII & XVIII. Like the Burkholtzer lute, it was converted from an earlier string position to an archlute. At the time I was interested in building a larger archlute and this was an interesting candidate.

 I examined E.25 in 2000 making a tracing of the bowl contours and recording other measurements. I went on to build the model but I never repeated the experiment. Dugot made an interesting observation in his article by pointing out the similarities between the design of E 25's bowl and the bowl of the Burkholtzer lute. Both were built with multiple ribs of ivory and the profile as seen from the side are similar. E 25 has 17 ribs while the Burkholtzer has 21.  More importantly the cross-section of the bowls share the same contour. It is this latter feature that I consider to be the most significant in identifying styles of lute construction.

Burkholtzer from the museum's technical drawing

E.25 author's photo

In these two photos the similarity is obvious. A desirable feature of this design is that the depth of the bowl is less than half the width. Shallow bowls usually require shaping the ribs to a kind of banana or 'S' shape and then fitting them to an equally complex mold.  For the most part this design avoids those difficulties. A secondary benefit is that the angle of the edge ribs as they glue to the top provides more grip for the bar ends, perhaps resulting in fewer loose braces.

There are more similarities. The rose and bridge positions from each lute are the same, relative to the length of the top. Also, the harmonic bar positions are nearly identical. Each lute has a single bar across the centre of the rose, three bars between the rose and the bridge, a J-bar and a single finger on the treble side of the bridge. The lutes differ only in that E 25 has three bars above the rose while the Burkhlotzer has two. The former perhaps because the top of E.25 is  20 millimetres longer.

A technical drawing of the Burkholtzer lute and a list of other drawings are available from Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien by contacting

A thorough description of E.25 can be found in:
Les luths (Occident) catalogue des collections du Musée de la musique (vol.1) les cahiers du musée de la musique 7. This catalogue contains excellent photos and descriptions of 78 lutes, edited by Joël Dugot. The entry on E.25 includes an x-ray that shows the position of the harmonic bars.  The catalogue is available at
Use the search box to locate the catalogue.

Although I only built one archlute with this bowl I've used it for  a number of baroque lutes. Thomas Edlinger had a high enough opinion of the Burkholtzer bowl to use it as the basis for an eleven course. Another, anonymous maker chose to convert Edlinger's work to a thirteen, therefore, it must have been a successful design. I wanted a larger lute than the 70 centimetre string length of the Burkholtzer, so I followed the same path as my two predecessors and out-fitted the E.25 bowl as a thirteen course.  With a ten fret neck it produces a large baroque lute with a string length around 73 centimetres.  With the bass bracket the twelfth and thirteenth courses are just short of 80 centimetres.

The tenth fret sits close to the neck joint and this can cause the fret to slip forward, out of position. I make a tiny peg and loop the fret over it.

Like the Burkholtzer, I like to used an outside edging, but made of ebony.

E. 25 has a unique and seldom replicated rose and I carved it for my archlute model.

But Leonardo's knots is my favourite rose pattern and Burkholtzer used it too so I didn't hesitate to include it.


Burkholtzer's bass bracket and chanterelle are elaborate affairs in ivory.

I used J.C. Hoffmann's  bracket (MIM Brussels 3188) and chantrelle.

The brackets are maple ebonized with black French polish.

The top  photo of the Burkholtzer lute is from Lauten und Geigenmacher des Füssener Landes by Richard Bletschacher. All other photos by the author.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Building a Louis Panormo - Part 2

I finished the model of a Louis Panormo guitar that was the subject of my post from 10/10/15. It is closely based on a Panormo that I restored in 2014 ( see 7/9/14).

Harris Becker, director of the guitar program at Long Island University Post, had commissioned a renaissance lute and when he came to Toronto to pick it up I showed him the work I was doing on my Panormo. Harris reserved the instrument and last week he was back in Toronto to pick it up.

My previous post about this guitar focused on my description of assembling the guitar on a solera.  The technique requires finishing the soundboard with the rosette in place and most of the shaping done on the heel and slipper foot part of the neck. In this post I will take up the story where I left off.

There are a number of steps that are required before the side ribs can be glued to the soundboard. The first step I had done earlier - drawing the contour of the top on the back of the soundboard before I assembled the fan struts and harmonic bars. The side ribs will be bent precisely to this shape and then glued to the top positioning them on that line.  But the front edge of each rib needed to be trimmed so that it fits in the slot that is cut into the side of the front block. This needs to be a tight fit both for strength and appearance.

The tail block has an interesting shape - fairly wide (80mm) but bevelled on the edges so the maximum gluing surface to the back is reduced while the gluing surface to the soundboard is rectangular and measures 80mm wide by 13mm front to back.  The tail block was previously glued to the top taking care that it was perfectly up-right.

The side ribs are held in place while the glue dries with threaded rod screw clamps.

The  top lining for the soundboard is composed of dozens of small triangular block glue in place separately. I made these from Spanish cedar, the same wood as the neck assembly and tail block. They are glued by setting them in a puddle of hot glue, holding them in place for a few seconds and moving to the next one. I wanted to feel more secure about this technique so I used a small stick of wood the height of the sides and a small spring clamp. After setting the piece in a puddle of glue I place one end of the stick against the top of the rib and the other against the  face of the block. When the spring clamp pinches the rib and stick together at the top, the bottom of the stick pushes the block down against the soundboard and in against the rib.  With a few sticks and clamps I work from one quadrant of guitar frame to another thus allowing the glue a few seconds longer to set-up.

Panormo No. 2154, built 1834

Panormo tied down the ends of the fan struts by gluing the lining block right on top. This was probably his usual method as I have seen this in several of his guitars. Note the toothed plane marks on the side ribs.

The inside linings for the back need to be carefully bent to the proper contour. I made a simple but accurate template out of plywood, heat bent two strips of Spanish cedar and allowed them to set in the form until they were needed.

The back slopes forward from the tail where the rib depth is 92mm to the neck joint where the depth is 87mm. This is not an abrupt change but it is still necessary to account for this when gluing the linings.  The difficulty arises in bending the interior linings because they must conform to both the outline of the guitar and the sloping profile of the sides as well as fitting snuggly against the inside of the ribs.  I employed the same technique as I did when assembling the terz guitar. See my post: Building a Stauffer Terz Guitar - Part 2 from 20/11/15.

Panormo used deep back linings, perhaps because he also used thin sides.  These linings are about 19mm by 3mm.  Of the original Panormo's that I have examined the sides vary from 1.6mm to 1.0mm with perhaps a general thickness of 1.2 - 1.3mm.  Areas on one guitar     measured .5mm! From what I understand about Spanish guitar making tradition, thin sides are standard and Panormo did advertise himself, "Guitars in the Spanish Style". The back linings are tapered to a thin edge. In the photo I lined the side with a strip of duct tape to protect them while I vigorously scraped and sanded the linings to a thin edge.

The back  of the original guitar is arched 5mm across the lower bout, 4mm at the waist and 3mm across the upper bout. I made an arched contouring jig out of flexible plywood about 35cm wide and glued  three concaved forms to it; one with a 5mm arch over the 35cm width, the middle one 6mm and the last 7mm. Coarse sandpaper was glued to the business side of the jig. By thoughtfully rubbing the board over the guitar sides both before the back linings are made (as seen in the photo) and again to level them once they are glued in place I can create a smooth transition from one end of the guitar to the other. When it is time to glue the back with its corresponding arched braces to the sides the contours will match perfectly.

 Here the back is ready to glue onto the sides. There are only two bars. Other early Spanish makers built guitars with only the two lower bars. They obviously felt there was an acoustical advantage and that the size of the slipper foot compensated structurally for the missing third bar.


Panormo No. 2154
The bridge design deserves special attention. This is the original Panormo bridge. The raised front edge acts as a saddle. The bridge pins sit in a trough that is about 6mm deep. As a result the strings have a lot of down bearing. The bridge is ebony and the central block measures 23mm front to rear and 230mm wide. The strings span is 62mm and the string height is 10mm. The "eyes" are add-on pieces but the wings are shaped as part of the central block.

I modified the Panormo design in one important aspect. The raised front edge of the Panormo design is straight and does not compensate for the slight difference in pitch between strings of different diameters when each is depressed. As a result such guitars always play a little out of tune. I modified the front edge by creating a flat surface where the ridge had been and cutting a saddle slot as found on modern guitars.  I then fashioned a saddle in ebony and shaped it to compensate for each string. The result is visible as a wavy line.

This close-up shows the depth of the bridge pin trough, the sharp angle of the strings over the saddle, the high string height and the angled sides of the bridge block.

Since the soundboard is domed a few millimetres I shaped the bottom of the bridge to match.

I used African Blackwood for the fingerboard and small mandolin style T- frets. The tuners are Rogers' replicas of Baker tuners that Panormo frequently used.  I planned to fill the grain of the rosewood and spanish cedar so I applied enough shellac to the soundboard and maple peg head to seal those woods against accidentally staining them.

The Indian rosewood  was filled with a commercial filler with a little burnt sienna  pigment added to the mix to bring out the red undertone. The neck was filled with a light mahogany filler mixed with enough neutral colored filler to lighten the mix.

Once the filler was thoroughly dry and lightly sanded I started applying shellac with a French polish technique using blond flakes dissolved in alcohol. 

After allowing the finish to harden for several weeks I rubbed it down first with fine pumice and finished it with rottenstone using mineral oil as a lubricate.

I'm finishing a thirteen course baroque lute after Hanns Burkholtzer and anonymous E. 25. I'll soon have details and photo album.

All photos by the author.