Notes from the workshop – a Luteshop documentary

Notes from the workshop - a Luteshop documentary

A glimpse into the working life of Martin Shepherd, lutenist and lutemaker. This video features interviews, as well as performances by the luthier on his own instruments.
Click ‘show more’ for full list of music. Best watched in HD.

Subtitles presently available in English. French subtitles will be added soon.

Filmed, directed and edited by Francis Shepherd, music played by Martin Shepherd.

1. Robin is to the Greene wood Gonn – Anon. (Folger lute book, f.16)
2. [Recercar] (Ness 8) – Francesco da Milano (Siena lute book, f.20)
3. Fantasia (Ness 82) – Francesco da Milano (CUL Dd.2.11, f.16)
4. [Prelude] – Anon. (CUL Add.3056, f.10v.)
5. [Recercar] – Francesco da Parigi (Siena lute book, f.25) |

Like many people who get interested in
the lute, I started off playing the guitar and I
found myself playing lots of transcriptions of lute music and harpsichord music and early music generally on the guitar, so it was quite natural to want to play that music on the lute. Another attraction actually was that the lute is a much more social instrument. The repertoire of the guitar is very much solo music and there are lots of lute duets, there are lots of songs
and you can play continuo… and all of this was very attractive to me, so eventually I managed to buy a lute. Almost as soon as I'd done so, I discovered that actually there are lots of different
kinds of lute, and because the lute repertoire is so enormous and covers such a wide span of time, about three centuries from about 1500 to about 1800, you really can't play all of that music
on one instrument – you need several different instruments… and so it's quite natural to want to play music from a particular period on the instrument for which it was written. I couldn't afford to buy another lute, so I
decided to have a go at making one. I had some woodwork experience: I had some bad woodwork experience at school. I had some slightly better woodwork experience with making model
aeroplanes and in fact a very specialized kind of model aeroplane which involved making very very light structures and (them)
very very accurate… so maybe that had some influence on on the lutemaking which I've subsequently done. This is a seven course lute, it has thirteen strings: six arranged in pairs and one single string at the top. Often this single string was in fact a double string, at the time when this kind of lute was very popular, which was the end of the 16th century, and this
particular lute is typical of the kinds of lutes which were made by German makers in Northern Italy, in Venice and Padua at the end of the 16th century. The body is made up of thin strips of wood we call these ribs, in this case it has thin strips also sandwiched between the ribs to give that effect. It has what we call the capping strip round the end which
reinforces the the construction of the body. At this end of the lute there is a block in this case made of willow, you can't see it it's inside, to which all the ribs are joined, and then the neck is joined to the block with a butt joint, and there's a screw or nail that goes through the block and into into the neck to reinforce that joint. The semitones are determined by gut frets which tied around the neck and having frets which are simply tied in place means that you can actually move them
slightly to adjust the tuning. The strings go over a very sharp angle as they go into the pegbox, over what we call the nut, which in this case is made of bone. The bridge is just a solid piece of wood. It's actually rather light: it's cutaway at the back and at the front and its function really is just provide an
attachment point for the strings. and it mustn't be too heavy. The rose is a purely decorative feature there has to be some kind of opening in the soundboard but the size of the opening is not particularly important, and the design of the rose is even less important. The designs are traditional designs which were used by makers from the earliest lutes that we know about right through to some of the latest ones, so they're not particular to any maker. This is a complete lute back, it's been made on a solid mould, which is the shape of the inside of the lute back. If I take it off, you can see that the back is made of very thin wood, these very thin ribs, which are bent on a bending iron – this is a piece of rib from a different lute, which was bent on this bending iron. So if we want to make a lute, which is based as closely as possible on a historical model, the obvious thing
to do is to find a lute in a museum and use that as the basis for the modern reconstruction. What we have here is a drawing, a very accurate drawing of a lute in the Warwick County Museum. It dates in its present form from the
17th century and this drawing shows exactly what the
instrument is like now, warts and all, as it were. There are
various distortions obviously, that have happened over the centuries and some, what you might call innacuracies in the original construction: the body for example is not completely symmetrical we don't think
there's anything systematic about that it just happens to be a little bit wonky. So we're going to have to make
another drawing, which we can use as a basis for our reconstruction, which straightens out some of these little irregularities. The history of the lute is largely a history of increasing the number of strings on the instrument. The lute was well established European musical culture by the 15th
century and it was also towards the end of the 15th century that
people started playing the lute with their fingers rather than with a plectrum, and this gave rise to a new kind of notation, specifically intended for the lute, called tablature. in 1507 a whole string of
publications came from Italian presses right through the 16th century
and they are all for a lute with six courses – six pairs
of strings top string often single. This if you like
is the classic form of the lute in the 16th century. Towards the end
of the century, people started to add more and more strings to the lute. We think this may be due to developments in string technology
amongst other things, and by about 1600 or so, and lutes or nine and
sometimes even ten courses were being used, and the extra strings were all added in the bass, so the original six strings
are as they are here, but then with an extra
set of strings in the bass, giving more scope for playing lower notes and also being able to play lots of notes as open
strings, rather than as strings stopped on the fingerboard. Lutes had always been made in a variety of sizes, partly because people wanted to use them
not just for solo music, but for accompanying the voice and other
instruments, and towards the end of the 16th century, there was increasing use of the lute in early opera and things which required a very loud lute, and one way to make a lute more brilliant is to take a very large lute, but tune it at a
very high pitch but of course that's impossible normally
because the top string is already tuned very close to breaking point. So a kind of lute was developed where the top string and sometimes the second
string were tuned an octave lower than the normal pitch and that results in a rather strange tuning, which we call a 're-entrant' tuning. Another problem was to get a strong enough bass, and one way to make
the bass stronger is to have very long bass strings. And so, around the middle of the 1590s, this instrument was developed, called a theorbo. It's essentially a bass lute with the re-entrant tuning of the top two strings. And it also has long
bass strings which go to an upper pegbox nearly twice as long as the strings on the fingerboard. So you have really essentially the top six strings of the lute and then a series of eight, seven or eight long bass strings
which are played only as open strings, like a harp. They're tuned to a scale so that you can play almost any bass note that you want to play as an open string. By 1600, the lute had not only gained more strings, there was also some
experimentation with the tuning, and the French in particular started detuning the upper strings of the
lute, so that the first string was tuned to a lower pitch than before, and eventually this process led to the development of completely new tunings for the top six strings, which gave more, gave different resonances to the instrument, and they got very interested in
exploring these resonances. This kind of lute developed yet more courses and the classic French lute of the 17th
century has eleven courses. And this persisted, this type of lute was used until around 1700, a at which point interest in the lute in France really died out essentially, and the Germans, or German-speaking countries took over this lute and added yet more strings to it and we end up with a 13 course lute by about 1720.

21 thoughts on “Notes from the workshop – a Luteshop documentary”

  1. Nice lutes I've actually been thinking about building a lute myself lately, don't know why I'm so drawn to them, I build electric guitars witch are miles away stylistically from lutes but when I watch someone playing them I understand the patterns so it's intriguing and carving custom roses looks like something I would definitely be into. You do very nice work and your playing is great as well.

  2. Anyone know of any sites that are good for us that wants to check out the lute be using the open tuning of EADF#BE. I thought that if I could get some starting point by using this open tuning, the later transition would perhaps be more easy. Can't afford a real lute yet.

  3. hello, can you help me? I need to know in what are the tuning for a medieval lute with 4 courses and 1 string? ( a nine strings lute? ) and in what temperament is usually a medieval lute? thank you 🙂 (I´m making a lute and I´m stuck with the lute frets and strings (dont know how many and dont know what temperament to use )

  4. Dear Martin Shepherd

    I really love your videos. All of your videos helped me a ton. I have been wanting to ask you for quite a while: At what age did you start playing lute transcripts on the guitar, and at what age did you move on to the lute?
    My father has always owned two lutes. One 8 course and a 10 course. I decided to pick up the 8 Course at the age of 16, but quickly lost interest again. After quite a while playing bass in various punk bands, I one day looked up Jozef Van Wissem and realised I had to hop back on. Thanks to your videos, I have recently managed to put new strings, polish and tune the 10 paired lute. The relationship between my father and I has florished in a way I never thought possible. We jam and discuss lute, and he seems genuinely proud, that I continue to play the lute. I like to think that your helpful videos have helped greatly in my success with the lute.

    PS: I performed my own 5 minute lute concert in front of my school two years ago now, and people really liked it. Now that I think back on it, the piece I made was really rubbish. People cheered loudly though. It must be the instrument.
    Have you perfomed with the lute?

    Yours sincerely,

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