Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I've recently completed a new Jauck style lute. I haven't kept up my posting here. Last year was a time of reworking old methods and trying to come up with new more efficient ones. It was also a time of many, many repairs that were very intriguing. I should post some of this work, if i can only get to it. I don't necessarily like to advertise repair work. I find it very challenging and not very rewarding depending on the nature of the work. Mostly because the lutes are typically from a variety of makers using sometimes surprising methods and adhesives. Many are bought inexpensively but need significant work to make them playable. It can be a time of discovery coupled with persistent problem solving. For now, I leave it at that. Contemporary and more costly lutes generally have less severe problems and repair is usually limited to soundboard cracks and loose bars, etc..

 I have many new exciting projects to work on this year and hope to report on them in due course. I've mentioned  I have come up with new to me methods, as you will see. The first, important discovery is doing away with gluing my rose patterns on the soundboard altogether. You subsequently have to remove them. This is a waste of time for me. The method of gluing the pattern on can result in a warped soundboard. This is not necessarily a problem. It will be made flat again by gluing the bars on. In fact under the rose a reinforcing paper does need to be glued on. Hide glue has this nasty habit of shrinking rapidly as the water evaporates from the film. This inevitably distorts your pattern and subsequent operations like carving round border rings will show how elliptical your pattern has become. Many lute makers avoid this by gluing their pattern from behind which will be left and altering adhesives and how dilute or not to make them. I don't like the idea of carving the rose from the back side. But, mostly because I just haven't tried it. I interject here, lute making as with many other endeavors, is a constantly evolving process. I'm completely sure, that whatever I post here could and will likely change as the process evolves. So then, Perhaps If i can keep up to date, this blog might be a running database of such changes. Its equally likely that I will pick up something entirely different like a Neapolitan mandolin perhaps! Indeed, I will be building one and should report on it here.

Here I have printed my drawing straight to the soundboard. No pattern to remove. No warping soundboard. and No elliptical designs. The drawing will go away once the relief carving operation is finished. So, I have eliminated some part of the process that is nerve wracking. I've also sped things up slightly, with the added bonus of being able to see what your doing without the paper blinding your view.

another improvement is using vacuum pressure for veneering the backs of lute necks which you can see here.

And using air pressure in the form of an air bladder constricting the fingerboard to the neck core. This was very tricky to work out and get something that wasn't deformed. Because, unlike vacuum you can apply an enormous amount of force. As usual the neck core is what receives the curved shaping. You bend the ebony fingerboard around this. My first incarnation of this setup was the air bladder and hardboard were on top with the coated fabric around the back of the neck. This however, didn't allow the edges of the fingerboard to clamp down tight because there was as much force pulling up as was pushing down by the bladder. This inevitably canceled each other out leaving gaps along the edges.

These next images are just shop typical photos of cutting the extension out. Nothing extraordinary here. Travis Carey does a much finer job of documenting this process so I'll direct you to view that. No need for redundancy there.

A final couple images. The first after gluing the soundboard on. The second a stage photo while varnishing. This post does very little to show the process this lute undertook from lumber to instrument. and more about unique challenges, and admittedly modern solutions to an ancient craft. I am presently under the persuasion that I need to get more done. As I have heard in other situations, I might be inclined to think. The lute doesn't really care how it got here, so long as the methods don't necessarily violate acoustic and historical design principles.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So it seems, re-drilling the holes in a lute bridge is just something that has to happen sometimes, when the player decides it's time for a different string spacing. It also seems that, when I'm doing it, the customer wants the entire bridge re-drilled. In this scenario, my impatience wins the fight, and I find simply twisting a drill between my fingers for the entire bridge, more than I can bear. I am going to try to describe an operation that I've become accustomed to. Don't get me wrong, there is most likely, a better solution.

 I much prefer to drill the holes from the rose side. I don't care as much about the rear end of the bridge, only that the holes line up somewhat tidily. It's quite often the case that the drill can wander off it's course. This is why I prefer the rose side. I like to design the distance between the hole and the top of the bridge to enable a clear indication of how high the string's action will be. The lute string will ultimately like to lie somewhere in the middle of that distance using the classic loop tie. Also, I can make slight deviations from the original hole, left or right, which is usually the case.

With all of this in mind, I have been using a somewhat simple method and what I will describe as a bow drill. Instead of twisting the drill bit between my fingers, the bow drill will do the work in a fraction of the time. Like with many lute repair operations, you need to be extremely careful. Here is the apparatus.

I am somewhat embarrassed with it's simpleness and lack of refinement. I could likely spend a bit more time and design the tool rather than finding the bits and pieces around the shop. However, at first, I wasn't convinced that it would work.

The drill bit is easily acquired from a jewelry supply house. You can find the proper diameters and the business end is just barely long enough to get through the bridge. The shank of the drill is thicker than the drilling diameter which allows the drill to follow the direction you give it a bit more than a long spindly bit would.

The block of wood holds the blunt end of the bit securely and at the correct height from the soundboard. To make them slightly different as you progress towards the bass, I will shim the block with masking tape as required. Hold the block securely from the back and forth motion of the bow. This unfortunately, is the spot where pressure might be applied to the soundboard, likely between the two soundboard braces. You do have to hold it somewhat securely. Only apply as much pressure as necessary to keep the drill straight. Watch out for the end of the bow you're not holding! Don't drive it into the edge of the soundboard.

You are using the soundboard as a table at this point and extreme caution needs to be observed so as not to put too much pressure on it's delicate areas, which is anything other than the extreme edges. It can be tricky to a hold the lute in this position, as it wants to rock on it's back and this just has to be dealt with one way or another. I lightly rest my arm around the edge where the binding is, if I need to.

The bow is merely a length of hardwood notched to accept an old string. Wrap the string around the bit several times to provide enough surface area to allow friction to grab the bit. If  you are pressing too hard into the bridge the bit will grab, overcoming the friction of the bowing string and you'll have to back it out and try again. This is a nuisance because you'll likely have to re-twist the string around the bit.

To drill the hole, you need to measure and prick your points with a sharpened metal rod to give the drill point somewhere to begin, as is standard drilling practice. Don't push into the bridge, only light forward momentum is needed if any at all. Let the drill work. I concentrate all my efforts on protecting the lute from inadvertent damage by the bow and to keeping the drill straight. The height is already set by your block of wood holding the other end of the drill.

Leave it to a lutemaker, to derive pleasure from a tool like this. I'm sure with time and money that I could find a machine tool to do the job. The last time I did this was 2007, so I will likely grab this tool the next time I need it and marvel at simple physics, while doing a mundane task. The jewelers Archimedes push drill didn't work for me. It's diameter was too thick and mine gave up only after a few practice holes were drilled.

This operation is somewhat quirky, demanding your attention. It does have the benefit of using technology that our highly skilled ancient lutemakers might have used. The only point to this being most of the parts can be obtained rather quickly and likely just lying around. I would certainly try gluing a bit in the end of a dowel and try that before. However, if accuracy suffers here may be an alternative.