Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Matheus Buchenberg MIM #1570 Brussels

At the end of June I was in Brussels for an appointment at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) Brussels to examine their large theorbo by Matheus Buchenberg, Rome 1610, Inventory number 1570.

My interest in MIM #1570 goes back to the early seventies when I was first collecting information on historical lutes. The theorbo was one of several pictured in Anthony Baines' pictorial survey: European and American Musical Instruments, Viking Press, 1966.  I still find this book inspiring and I turned to it again when I wrote to MIM to ask for an appointment.

Matheus Buchenberg was born in 1568 and worked in Rome at least from 1591 where he died in 1628 .  E.G. Baron (1727) describes him as a builder of theorbos of large proportions with a delicate penetrating metallic tone (Bletschacher).

The theorbo suffered a serious accident in modern times damaging the top and bowl. Repairs were carried out in the 1990s. The top is conserved separately which offers the opportunity to examine the internal features and construction of the top and bowl. On the other hand, it makes it difficult or impossible to accurately record some measurements. 

Two features of the theorbo stand out. It is large. The length of the fretted strings and of the diapasons are approximately 99 cm and 171 cm. The bowl is approximately 71 cm long, 43.5 cm wide and 16.5 cm deep. and it is built entirely in maple, with the exception of the spruce soundboard.

My intent was to collect enough information to enable me to build a good model of the original. This included making tracings of the contour of the bowl, neck and theorbo extension; templates of the cross-sections of the bowl and of the longitudinal axis, as in the photo below; numerous external and internal measurements and numerous photographs. Throughout my examination I recorded  impressions, opinions or reservations of various observable features.

All examination implements were made of plastic, card stock with painters tape or cloth.
Most photographs were taken while the lute was inverted on the examination table.

The museum's photographs and description of the theorbo can be seen on the MIMO portal.

The bowl is constructed with twenty-one ribs of lightly figured maple, mostly sawn well off the quarter. The ribs are separated by dark wood spacers that are less than 1 mm in width. The two edge ribs are significantly wider than the other nineteen which are somewhat uniform in width. The finish on the bowl, where patches of it remain, has some substance. Perhaps it is a varnish applied over a ground. This photo includes the cardboard jig that I use to create a profile of the bowl. More on that later. Since the top is not attached to the bowl the lute lies flat on the examination table. I made a tracing and measured the result; 435 mm wide and 710 mm long to the neck joint. Note - lute bowls are prone to distortion without their soundboard glued in place, therefore my measurements should be considered approximations of the bowl's original  dimensions.

The flattening of the bowl is extreme. Its deepest point is level with the ends of the end clasp and measures 166 mm.

The bowl has been expertly assembled: the joints are tight and the ribs widen uniformly, from the center out, as they disappear under the clasp.

The end clasp is a single piece of maple measuring 740 mm tip to tip. Its maximum height measured at the center is 48 mm. The clasp is visibly asymmetrical in that the treble side (photograph's left) sits lower than the bass side. The discrepancy is not the result of the treble rib having been cut down in an attempt to improve the lute's playing quality because the clasp's finials are the same size. Also, the two edge rib's widths are nearly the same height.

For clarity this photo shows the treble side step in the end clasp. It also demonstrates the rigorous working life this instrument endured. The surface of the bowl is full of dents, scratches, repaired cracks and a few worm holes.


The front of the bowl displays a high level of craftsmanship as the ribs pass smoothly over the front block with joints intact and little evidence of the type of distortion caused by the pull of the strings. The rib widths widen uniformly along the arch of the neck joint and precisely abut the neck.

While the instrument was inverted I made two templates; the cross- section at the widest and deepest point of the bowl and a second template of the longitudinal axis (shown in a previous photo).

I made the template forms from two pieces of heavy card stock glued together to form an over-sized arch. Small rectangular tabs made from  file cards are then placed against each rib of the lute bowl while the other end overlaps the template arch. Each tab is held in place with painter's tape. Once the two edge pieces and the center piece are secured the assembly is self-supporting and the remaining tabs can be easily added . When completed the structure is light weight and accurate.

The inside of the bowl reveals an interesting history. Most of the original printed paper that covers and reinforces the rib joints remains. Also, a sizeable piece of printed paper is glued over the area just below the internal clasp. Numerous wood cleats reinforce several rib joints. The clasp itself is roughly made and is about 10 mm thick in the middle. New rib material (yew wood) has been inserted to repair  a modern day accident - the soundboard was damaged as well.

The upper left corner of the photo reveals a strip of thin wood has been applied over, and covers much of the width and length of the edge rib. The same addition was made to the opposite edge rib.

The  front block, although appearing to have been roughly made, affords a snug fit for the ribs. A large wrought iron nail pierces the block and helps to secure the neck.

The two auxiliary strips that reinforce the edge ribs terminate at the front block as seen here.

What appears to be the end of the fingerboard is visible in this photo. It is stained black to mimic the appearance of ebony. However, it is not a separate  piece of wood glued to the top of the neck but is part of the same neck material, creating a faux fingerboard.

The evidence for this is, in part, the lack of discernible glue lines around the edge and ends of the of the neck. The surface is cambered. I estimate it to be less than 2 mm in the center tapering to a little over 1 mm at the edges.

This photograph of the neck joint area shows several interesting features.

The arrow-shaped notch at the neck joint is obviously a center line indicator and an idiosyncratic example of Buchenberg's methods.

The top edge of the auxiliary strips that were applied to the edge ribs are visible. They are about 1.5 mm thick. By comparison, this this photo reveals how very thin the two edge ribs are.

I was very disappointed that my magnetic thickness gauge failed to work and I was unable to measure the thickness of the lute's ribs.

The neck is 410 mm long, 101 mm wide and 27 mm thick at the joint with the bowl. It is 81 mm wide at the nut and 20 mm thick at the point of transition to the extension.

The extension is constructed in solid maple 807 mm long, 848 mm if the length of the over-lapping glue joint with the fretted neck is included. It is 73 mm wide at the point it emerges from the front of the neck.  The sides are angled in slightly so that the width of the underside at this point is 68.5 mm. The thickness of the extension at the first peg is 25.6 mm. The rear of the extension is cambered less than 3 mm diminishing to about half that under the theorbo head.

It is interesting to see the sloping contour of the extension as it blends into the neck . This is a style that is always associated with theorbos built with solid wood extensions. This is the earliest example that I have seen.

I can think of no rationale for the two depressions on each side of the extension.

There is a darkened incised line that borders the top and bottom edges of the extension.

The string trough is roughly made with obvious chisel marks, although the recess for the treble strings has a nice profile. The trough is 15.5 cm long, 14 mm wide at the narrow end, 19 mm deep and 11 mm wide at the bottom of the trough.

A darkened incised line borders both edges of the top of the extension.

The peg heads are generally 20 mm wide with a maximum shank diameter of 8 mm.

The string nut is made of a light color wood stained black. It is 43 mm wide. The six string grooves span 35.6 mm. There is a 2 mm camber to the top of the faux fingerboard.

Photographed face down.

The theorbo head, shown inverted, is roughly made. It is 53 mm high, 106 mm long and 71 mm wide at the nut support. The nut is 33 mm high and 85 mm long. The darkened incised lines that are found on the extension continue onto the theorbo head, somewhat clumsily.

Photographed face down.

This view (also inverted) shows the angle of the sides of the head. The width of the head at the widest part of the crook (see the arrow indicator in the previous photo) is 33 mm at the top and 19 mm at the bottom.

The damaged areas of the soundboard have been stablized. It is constructed from straight close grain spruce. The discoloration, cracks, scratches and other defects of age obscure the fact that this a fine soundboard that probably possessed superior acoustical properties.

The ornate triple rose is beautifully cut and is well preserved.


 It deserves a close-up view.


The bridge is made of a light hardwood, probably maple, stained black and accurately drilled for fourteen single strings that span 132 mm. The rear face is indented to help hold the string ends while the front face is under-cut above the string holes creating a slight over-hang that helps to settle the string loops.  It shows signs of being quickly made; there are tooth-plane marks on the top surface and an incomplete chisel cut on the treble side wing. It is still a fine example of the standard design of the era combining functionality with cool aesthetics.

Some may find the treble wing proportionally too long and open, but I am convinced this is intentional. Whereas the compact design of the bass wing condenses the mass, the length and openest of the treble wing spreads less mass over a wider area. This mirrors the dimensions of the bridge which progressively concentrates the mass from treble to bass.

The bridge is 227 mm long. The top of the string block is 155 mm long on the front and 158 mm on the rear edge. The top slopes down from the rear so that the treble side at the first string hole is 6.9 mm high while the rear is 8.15 mm. At the fourteenth string hole the heights are 8.8 and 9.6 mm. The gluing surface under the first string is 11 mm front to back while under the fourteenth string it is 13.3. The string holes are generally drilled 3.5 mm above the soundboard.

An excellent technical drawing of the top made by Stephen Gottlieb is available from the MIM museum shop . The drawing includes all bar positions and their dimensions and measurements of the soundboard thickness at numerous locations.

I bought a copy of the drawing while I was in the museum and since I had it available during my study for consultation and future use I did not examine the interior of the soundboard in detail.

All the surviving bars appear to be original. Unfortunately, the two treble bars and the J-bar are missing although their original positions are indicated by glue marks. There is also a scribed circle whose top tangent indicates the position of the first bar. The opposite tangent usually indicates the position of the missing J-bar, while the focal point indicates the position of the bridge.

In closing I would like to thank Anne-Emmanuelle Ceulemans, curator of stringed instruments, who kindly arranged my visit and to Joris De Valck, restorer and my host in the museum's laboratory.

All photos by the author


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Buchenberg Theorbo

As I mentioned in my April Update from 4/20/18 I still needed to finish a few details on my Buchenberg theorbo.  I also hoped the case would arrive in time for the lute to have its coming out in a performance of Ulysses .
I got everything done but the case didn't arrive after the show closed. I am sure there will be other opportunities.

V&A No.190-1882

My Buchenberg is based on a technical drawing made by Stephen Gottlieb. Although Stephen based his drawing on  several instruments by Buchenberg the principal source seems to be No.190-1882 conserved in the Victoria & Albert, London. I never was able to arrange an appointment to examine this instrument but I did visit the V&A instrument gallery in 2006 and shot this photo

The V&A instrument gallery was permanently closed in 2010. I took photos of all of the lutes that were on display. Eventually I hope to post a photo story of that visit.

The technical drawing is available from The Lute Society.
Click here for the link.

To see the Museum's photos of No. 190-1882.  Click here.

 The bowl of the original (and in Stephen's drawing) is made of 41 shaded yew ribs. My stock of yew boards was insufficient for this project and my hands are no longer nimble enough to handle such narrow ribs so I built my model with 29 ribs in bird's-eye maple. I knew that several surviving lutes by Buchenberg were built with maple bowls. His large theorbo (99 and 170cm) Number 1570 in MIM Brussels is built with 21 ribs of maple. I have an appointment to examine this instrument later this month so the configuration of fewer maple ribs was an appealing option. Furthermore, the properties ( density, hardness and elasticity) of yew and birds'-eye maple are similar. I'm a fan of bird's-eye, a believer in its acoustical properties and I had large boards, well speckled with tiny eyes.

I built an open mold with a central spine and the five cross-sections that are represented on the drawing. I marked off the position of the two edge ribs and the center rib then divided the reminder of each cross-section into the required number of segments. A"segment "denotes the position and width of each rib. I did not cut facets into the cross sections since the ribs are relatively narrow and lie close to the mold in any case.

The rear of the bowl is always a difficult area in constructing both the mold and in assembling the ribs. I try to make the procedure as simple as possible.

I dispensed with adding a final cross-section as I have done previously.  The shape never seemed to be quite right and its presence caused additional problems.

My technique now is the construction shown in the photo. Its shape is derived from three known profiles; the longitudinal profile (the center rib), the soundboard profile and the the profile of the last cross-section. I roughed out the shape on a bandsaw, glued the curved sections in place and finished with a fine rasp. I bent three ribs out of scrap wood each one representing a given shape; the center rib, the edge rib and an intermediate one whose curve lay between the two. These served as templates to guide the final shaping. I did not lay out the course of the individual ribs but I did mark the location of the future endclasp. As I proceeded to assemble the ribs beyond those seen in this photo I found it necessary to slightly alter the shape of this addition to the mold which was easily done.

Flattened back lutes such as this one usually require that about a third of the ribs terminate horizontally rather than vertically.

It is necessary to monitor the width of the ribs as they pass under the endclasp.

When I examine an historical lute I am always careful to record the size of the end clasp and the width of each rib as it passes under the clasp. The two notches on top of the endclasp are usually an important indicator of a transition point in the construction of the bowl.

 The end clasp covers the untidiness.

The soundboard is 40 cm wide and 63 cm to the neck joint.
The  string disposition on my model is 7x1 / 7x1 at 88.3 cm and 164 cm.

The bridge is plum with the string holes on 11 mm centers.

The belly frets are positioned according to 1/6 comma meantone.

The neck is 31 mm thick at the joint tapering to 22 mm at the first fret. Its core is quartered sitka spruce. The veneer is made from Claro Walnut rib stock that I bought to use on multi-piece flat-back baroque guitars. I cut several of these into tapered strips,  and re-assembled them reversing the grain direction on alternate stripes. The pattern is edged with ebony that better resists marring from the fret knots.

This photo shows the bird's-eye maple to good effect. The finish on all hard woods except the fingerboard, that has none, is blond shellac as the base coats with garnet shellac on top applied with the French polish method.


The fingerboard has a 2mm camber at the nut centered under the 6th and 7th strings. From that point the degree of camber diminishes toward the neck joint where the fingerboard is nearly flat. I also scraped a little relief into the length of the fingerboard.

I decided to restrict my use of ebony, limiting it to fingerboards and purfling or banding. My decision is partially based tougher CITIES restrictions on Dalbergia (rosewood) and Diospyros (ebony) and a skin sensitivity to these woods that has now become troublesome.

I had been thinking about this switch for several years and last summer I found a plank of European walnut in southeastern Pennsylvania that was cut from locally grown timber. The story is told that early English colonists wanted English walnuts and brought the saplings with them. The trees' descendants survive to this day.

The extension is constructed with a sitka spruce core capped on the edges with a 5 mm thick strip  of European walnut. The top and back surfaces are veneered with the same walnut.  I sawed  all of these pieces from a large plank.


The back of the extension is cambered along its entire length while the sides taper in from top to bottom. This reduces weight without reducing strength.


 The theorbo head is a separate piece of solid walnut that is 'finish' shaped and then glued to the extension.

The tuning pegs are European plum.


This Buchenberg has been an interesting and exciting model to build, not as daunting as one might image. Its tone is truly large yet lyrical.

    All photos are by the author.


Friday, April 20, 2018

April Update - Buchenburg and Kaiser theorbos

Michael Manderen, admission director at Oberlin Conservatory, avid Renaissance Fair musician and owner of a half dozen of my lutes and guitars, picked up his Tecchler archlute last week.
Although its size remains a limitation on its popularity the Tecchler remains one of my favorite lute models.  Its beauty is unsurpassed and I value its structural stability.

Now a new set of instruments have my attention.

In the foreground a Kaiser theorbo bowl is taking shape. This is modelled closely after E.24 conserved in Museé de la musique, Paris. Work on it has slowed while I finish the Buchenberg
(on the right).
 My shop is cramped and I don't have a dedicated space for finishing so I utilize unusual  set-ups. The theorbo spans the length of the bench and over-hangs the aisle. This is intentional as it allows me to reach every part of the bowl. I have just finished shellacking the bowl when I took this photo.
In the background is the back of a Voboam guitar that was seriously damaged after being left on a radiate-heated floor during the owner's holiday.

I planned to finish my Buchenberg early in April to coincide with the visits of several clients who were or are in town for various shows. Charlie Weaver was here last weekend with  Quicksilver Baroque . Lucas Harris, shown in the photo, is playing in Opera Atelier's production of Return of Ulysses along with Daniel Swenberg whose Schelle theorbo was in my December's update. It was a pleasure to listen to all three and informative to discuss their impressions.

Since Daniel was here with his Schelle (his left) I though we would  make a side by side comparison. Both lute bowls are approximately 40 cm wide and 65 cm to the neck joint. The bridges are equally placed as a proportion of the belly length. The Buchenberg is built to its recorded string lengths but Daniel had me shorten the fretted length of his Schelle  from 88 cm to 86 and the extension from 160 cm to 140 for the convenience of flying. He can buy a seat for his lute as it fits under the overhead bins on planes used for medium and long distance flights.

I haven't completely finished the Buchenberg. It still needs more shellac on the extension, a higher diapason nut, final fitting of the tuning pegs and most of all the case that should arrive in the next week. If all goes well Daniel will play it in the final performance of Ulysses on the 28th.

This Buchenberg will be the subject of my next post.

This is a photo of my Voboam as it appeared when new. It arrived back in my shop with the following injuries: a 10 centimeter crack in one rib of the of the six piece back, multiple separations of the joints between back spacers and their adjacent ribs, a major separation of the back from the side ribs, a detached bridge and missing parts of the bridge flourishes and damage to the finish of the back and side ribs.

The owner has been touring extensively and will continue to do so for the near future. Therefore, I decided to give the guitar a complete overhaul. I started by detaching the back and removing the braces. This allowed me to level the affected joints one at a time by sandwiching them between two pieces of plexiglass while the glue set.

Next I'll replace the back bars and attach tiny triangular locating tabs around the perimeter of the back. These help to hold the back to the side ribs but also to insure that the back re-aligns perfectly with the side ribs when the back is re-attached. There's much more to do and the owners next tour begins May 12. I'll report further on this as a side to my next post.

Charles Weaver photo
   More problems: Quicksilver's next show is tonight, the 20th, in Boulder Colorado. Charlie sent me this photo yesterday when he arrived in Boulder. The photo shows the joint between the fretted neck and the theorbo extension of his 2011 Schreiner built Kaiser. The lute is upside down so the fingerboard is at the bottom of the photo and the nut is the white object on the left bottom. The angled sloping form is the extension. It fits into an horizontal V that is cut into the neck  The joint under normal circumstances is reliable and easily withstands the tension of the diapasons. But, if the instrument is dropped by a careless baggage handler the joint can suffer whiplash and crack the joint  ( see arrow). This is the one area of a theorbo that can not be satisfactorily repaired. The neck has to be replaced. Fortunately Charlie has been able to borrow a theorbo for this evenings show.

All photos by the author except as noted.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

David Tecchler A Roman Archlute 1725

The David Tecchler archlute is a stunning instrument. I first saw it unexpectedly as part of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  The Still Lifes of Evaristo Baschenis  The Music of Silence (November 17, 2000 - March 4, 2001). The Met enhanced the exhibition by displaying many of its finest baroque instruments along side Baschenis' paintings.  All of the instruments were mounted in stand alone glass cases that offered unobstructed views from all sides. I was smitten.

You can see the Met's online page of the Tecchler archlute Here

And you can read the exhibition overview Here

I had been interested in large archlutes and the year before I had examined an anonymous archlute in Paris (E.25) and had built a model that had worked out well. But the Tecchler stuck me as something special. I was impressed with the contours of the bowl and that it was built with hard resilient ebony. I wrote to Stewart Pollens, the Met's musical instrument curator at the time, and asked for an appointment to study the instrument.

When I arrived a few months later Stewart's office/workshop was completely taken up with two fortepianos . There was no room for a large archlute so I worked in the musical instrument gallery. It was a Monday so the museum was closed to the public and the lighting seemed to be dimmer than usual.
I decided that under those circumstances to concentrate on observation, measurements and taking notes rather than relying on photographs for details. At that time the afore-mentioned webpage was online. Therefore I had access to detailed photos.

I managed to get a good photo of the contour on the central axis of the lute. This photo shows the fullness of the depth of the bowl.

Also visible is a slight re-curve of the bowl at the rear.

The outer banding on the edge of the bowl is striking. The soundboard is bordered by ebony and ivory lines with a strip of red tortoise shell glued to the exterior.

I also got a good shot of the cross-section of the bowl. Here I focused the camera at the center top of the apron. You can see that the bowl is asymmetrical. Among the measurements that I made were the rib widths at the apron, deepest point of the bowl and the neck joint. These measurements are essential in determining the layout of the ribs and offer clues to the techniques of the luthier. The bowl has not been cut down as is often the case with surviving lutes so the edge ribs retain their original width. Although the rib widths at the neck joint and rear apron are mostly symmetrical, the widths across the deepest part of the bowl are not.

Stewart gave me a copy of the restoration report written by Enrico Pacini, the first page of which is shown here. The document is six pages, with all of the important measurements, photographs of the interior of the belly, the bowl, close-ups of the front block and of the interior rear apron.

The report also includes a detailed discussion of the design of the bowl complete with nine carefully drawn diagrams; cross-sections and profiles.

The format of this report leads me to believe that it appeared as a journal article. I had it translated into English for my own use. I would like to make the contents of  the report more widely known but I have not been able to locate Enrico Pacini or determine where or even if this was published. If any of you can help, please get in touch.

When I built the first model I constructed an open mold composed of five cross-sections and a three dimensional rear section supported by a central spine the shape of which I determined from my photos.

Since the two sides of the bowl were asymmetrical I chose the treble side and replicated that throughout my design.

The original lute has a broad ivory band as the middle part of its apron. On earlier models I included this effect by using a band of holly but here I opted for three pieces of ebony.

The spacers between the ribs of the original lute are two strips of ivory sandwiching a strip of ebony. The total width is nearly four millimeters. I included this feature on my first model but the multiple joints proved unreliable and since then I have used a single strip of holly about 2.5mm wide.

The neck of the original is red tortoise shell with a layer of gold leaf underneath that enhances the transparency of the shell. On earlier models I used bloodwood strips cut from a blank but here I used a figured  mahogany. The ninth fret falls just in front of the neck joint. I  use a tied fret looped over a tiny wooden peg.

Fitting the combined narrow strips with their accompanying spacers can be tricky. Here I have assembled the veneer strips held together with masking tape. The shaped and previously fitted neck is covered with plastic tape. I applied a layer of thin glue to the back of the assembled strips and attached it to the neck in its proper position holding it in place with more masking tape. Once the glue dries the veneer can be pried loose retaining its curvature. The two parts can then be re-assembled free of the anxiety of the separate pieces shifting.

The neck extension is veneered both sides with the same figured mahogany. The purfling is composed of  narrow strips of holly and ebony edged with a wider piece of holly. The center dart topped by a heart is a feature of necessity as much as an adornment.

The veneer when bent over the compound curve of the back of the extension is prone to splitting. A disaster! This is prevented by sawing a kerf up the center of the veneer before it is applied. In the photo you can see the rough edges of the kerf. I have bent a piece of poplar to the curve of the extension (left) and firmly clamped it in location that forms one edge of the dart. When both edges are sawed through the veneer I remove the center part and inlay the holly dart. Topping it with a heart finishes the job.


The theorbo head is a standard design made with poplar and blackened with carbon black dissolved in shellac.

 I use the same soundboard layout as the original lute: bridge and rose position with the same rose diameter.

The rose is a familiar pattern that appears on many  surviving lutes. Tecchler's variation uses curved elements that terminate at the outer ring.


The design of the bridge is simple. But it is the original design and size. My choice of a heart inlay  differs from the original.


A further word about the bridge. You must have noticed that the pegbox held twelve pegs for stringing in courses while the lute is single strung.  The bridge is drilled to work both ways. I was able to use the original Tecchler spacing with holes for single spacing interspersed.  One hole is used jointly. The small while dots are markers that denote the location of the holes for single spacing - to avoid confusion.

All photos by the author.

Edited February 19, 2018
Since posting this story a reader responded to my call for information about Enrico Pacini and his restoration article. The full citation is: Pacini, Enrico. “Una tiorba romana del ‘700: Appunti di restauro.” Il flauto dolce: Rivista sem√®strale per lo studio e la pratica della musica antica 10-11 (January-June 1984): 23-28.

February 22, 2018
Another reader found this article on JSTOR, the digital library available to scholars or for fee. 
Go  to JSTOR