Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Unverdorben Lute in Dean Castle Scotland

Sue and I were in Scotland last week combining holidays with my museum appointments. I am fascinated with the 16th century lute maker Marx Unverdorben and I have made the examination and documentation of his lutes a special project. Unverdorben lutes are seldom used as models by current builders even though he is represented by as many surviving lutes (9) as his more illustrious contemporaries; Hans Frei (12) and Laux Maler (8). Note: totals from Klaus Martius'  lute database

Dean Castle houses an interesting Unverdorben that prompted our visit to Scotland. I was doubly fortunate because when I arrived I was escorted up a narrow winding  stone stairway to the top of the tower where space had been  prepared for me among the museum's wardrobe storage. Where would there be a more atmospheric place to study a 16th century lute?

I spent the day measuring and making templates of the bowl. Some lute makers built elaborate contraptions for recording bowl contours, but faced with a trans-atlantic flight I wanted to find a simpler way. I used the same principle but substituted laminated card stock for templates that I had prepared in advance.These were supported in grooves cut in pine blocks that were positioned on a paper grid. Throughout the process I used the grid to record reference points.

I cut pointed strips of thinner card stock and positioned these at close intervals against the bowl and taped them in place. Alternating from one end to the other then to the center of the arch this apparatus stabilized itself allowing me to create an accurate contour of the bowl's axis. I was particularly careful at the neck joint and at the point where the ribs bend over the edge of the front block.

I followed the same procedure for creating cross-sections. Here I found it necessary to use two markers per rib, each placed so that the marker's edge aligned with the rib joint. Sometimes this procedure was complicated by mis-shapened or ribs that were poorly aligned.

After finishing each contour I traced the result on heavy paper. Besides the axis contour I made four cross-sections; one at the deepest point of the bowl, another at the front block, a third between these two points and a fourth at a point equal to the bridge position.

I had seen museum photos and read descriptions of the lute so I knew in advance there were features of the instrument that were either not original or suspect.
 Mike's Oud Forums . I finished the afternoon examining these.

I was interested in determining if the bowl retained its original contour because the outline of the belly appears too full for a lute of this era. Lute bowls are flexible and were often forced into a different shape and fitted with a new belly during later re-buildings . The rear view of the bowl also suggests a degree of forced distortion and the belly displays a dip of 6 mm  or more from the imaginary plane when I put a straight edge on it. Luthiers achieve this latter effect by either cutting down the edge ribs or pushing the edge ribs out to a wider contour. You can see in a previous photo that the ribs have not been cut down by any appreciable degree.

 Is the belly original? It is very fine grain wood, but the design of the inset rose and the style of the guitar type bridge makes me suspicious. The current rose and bridge could occupy and obscure the position of the originals. I will compare the positions of these with the information that I have gleaned from other Unverdorben lutes that I have examined and analyze the contours of the bowl further before I reach  a decision.

I have no doubt that the neck is original. Its dimensions agree with surviving original six course lutes and it has a characteristic "V" shape like that found on the lute by Georg Gerle.

A convincing feature is how the 19th century guitar peghead fits into the original recess of the lute pegbox. The angle at the end of the ivory neck is 9 degrees. A line representing the seat of the recess is visible too. The edge strip of ivory veneer would have continued across this area to the nut, but it has been replaced with ebony in order to blend with the guitar peghead.
Certainly you have noticed the design covering the ivory ribs. This is a floral motif painted in black and gold. It appears on the fingerboard and around a small part of the circumference of the rose and a small portion along the soundboard binding. It is worn in areas that were subject to abrasion. Painted ribs are unusual, perhaps for the very reason evident here, but decorated ribs are not. Interestingly, Unverdorben has indulged before as represented by his lute, formerly in the V&A.
Unverdorben Lute V&A 193-1882

I would like to thank Jason Sutcliffe, Museums Development Manager, for arranging and making my visit so enjoyable and especially for sharing his passion for Dean Castle so enthusiastically with Sue and me.

Dean Castle
Dean Castle Country Park

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael,

    I have a Jauck lute (70cm, 87cm, 99cm). I am concerned about total string tension on this lute. What overall string tension to you recommend?


    Everett Garber