Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Kaiser Theorbo - fingerboard and its points

The elegance and simplicity of the points at the end of the fingerboard belie the difficulty in constructing them. I always have to be very careful when designing and laying them out on the soundboard.  Good looking points enhance the appearance of the soundboard and poor ones are a distraction. These are the points that I cut for my Kaiser. They are not exact copies of the original. The length of the soundboard tongue and the proportional width of the points are accurate but the curve of the points is a little flatter in my version. I don't have a photo of the original but you can see the original by visiting the museum site. I'll explain how to navigate the site at the end of this post.

I'm sorry that the image isn't more distinct. In the photo I have fitted the bass side point and scored the outline of the second point. I begin by preparing a piece of ebony that is the thickness of the soundboard and the width that I want. It should be several centimeters over length. I cut and finish the point to a smooth contour. I under cut slightly the two edges that fit against the soundboard. This negates the width of the knife blade while making the cut. I tack glue or attach with double sided tape the point in the exact location on the soundboard. Then I score lightly along the two edges. After removing the point the score lines can be deepened until the soundboard is cut through. When the waste is removed the point should fit snuggly. If the fingerboard is curved the points should be curved as well. I glue them in place with thin glue and secure with elastic tape and a couple of wooden wedges as I demonstrated in my last post.

This example is from the Tieffenbrucker lute, E. 980.2.321 in Paris. I don't find the narrow, short point attractive although they are easier to make. Note that the points are wider than the fingerboard at the tied fret. This instrument was converted from an Italian theorbo with a long extension to a shorter German style swan neck lute. The neck was narrowed to accommodate a different style of playing.

CURVED FINGERBOARDS. I arch the fingerboards of all of my lutes that are 10 courses or more. Even though the original model may be flat. My clients appreciate the comfort this feature affords. I accomplish this by curving the neck core itself rather than adding a curved layer of wood to the top of the neck material. Arching the neck core does necessitate cutting into the top edge of the side ribs but the effect is that the strings lie closer to the plane of the top of the lute. On a lute with a single neck lute the edge strings will actually lie below the plane at the nut. This lessens the upward pull on the neck.
For wider fingerboards I always use multiple pieces of ebony for the following reasons. It is difficult and expensive to buy wider boards and I like to minimize the amount of sawing. The stuff is filthy. So I buy guitar fingerboards and cut those to the desired thickness. Then I glue the pieces to the curved neck core separately, starting with the center piece. The following photo shows my system for clamping them.

I cut pieces of used belt sander material in lengths that can be wrapped around the neck. I put a spring clamp on the free end and just at the edge of the piece of fingerboard that I am gluing and then a second clamp on the other side. I repeat this process the length of the fingerboard for each of the separate pieces.

You can visit the Musee de la musique website at:  Once on the museum page click on the caption of the right side of the page; INSTRUMENTS DE MUSIQUE, OEUVRES D'ART. On the next page click on INSTRUMENTS ET OEUVRES D'ART. This opens the catalogue page. Type E. 24 as the inventory number or enter Kaiser as the facture.  Once on this page you may enter any instrument you like  in the search and the museum's entire holdings are displayed.

In the next post I'll build the theorbo extension. 

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