Monday, November 17, 2014

Giovanni Fabricatore 1805 - Appointment in Edinburgh Part 2

The guitars of the Fabricatore family represent a style of construction and appearance that is distinct; different in construction and appearance from those made in France, Spain or Austria in the period 1800 - 1840. I always seem to cross paths with one of them whenever I have a museum appointment and I've collected plans from private owners and museums but I had never examined one in detail.  The Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments has two Fabricatore guitars; Giovanni ( built 1805, No.290) and Gennaro (1822, No. 770). I was intrigued by the early build date of Giovanni's guitar so I chose to pair it with Johann Staufer's No. 3838 (see my post from Oct. 5) for my September visit to the museum.

 This guitar was built in the era just before luthiers began to increase the width of the upper and lower bouts. It retains the elongated appearance of mid-eighteenth century guitars but with a more indented waist. 

The flourishes in the lower bout are modest in comparison with other guitars by members of the Fabricatore family. They are sawn from a hard brown wood that was painted black as can be seen in areas where the paint has worn off the rounded edges of the design. They are about 1.5mm high and are glued to the surface of the soundboard. The  monogram (SIF?) is inlaid black mastic.

The edge decoration consists of an inter-locking motif  cut from mother of pearl set in a reddish brown mastic, bordered on each side by ivory and ebony lines. The total width is approximately 9mm. The motif is repeated on the bridge block as well as around the sound hole.

It continues along the edges of the fingerboard and...

wraps around the peghead. Very stylish!

The fingerboard has a radius that is made visible in the photo by the curvature of the nut and first fret. I think this is unusual because I can not recall another Fabricatore that does, nor could I find another while doing background research for this post. Giovanni adds a nice touch by continuing the curvature on to the peg head.  The same effect is produced from the twelfth fret to the sound hole where the fingerboard has nearly flattened out (previous photos).

The peghead is veneered front and back with ebony. Ivory lines fan out across the its surface which is a nice touch. The peg head is attached to the neck with a short but full width V-joint that appears asymmetrical. It has been poorly repaired at some earlier date. The ivory lines multiply on the neck and continue onto the heel.

From this perspective it is possible to appreciate the full effect of Giovanni's treatment of the edge banding, neck veneer and curly maple. The side ribs are curly maple with a worn reddish patina. The wide edge banding, seen at the bottom in this photo totals nearly 9mm. Although it is barely visible in this view the top most single band is ivory. It continues on to the edge of the fingerboard. The 'barber pole' banding around the back is particularly striking. There are nearly 400 individual pieces of black material (?) and ivory set diagonally.

The back is a single piece of maple with a pronounced curl. The back is arched side to side by 4mm across the upper and lower bouts and by 2mm across the waist. The side ribs are tapered so that the depth of the guitar body at the tail is 84mm, at the waist 70mm and 67mm at the neck joint. The finish also appears more homogenous.
In this photo of the tail of the guitar we can see that the finish was applied in several stages; first an undercoat of yellow topped by a final thin layer of red. The yellow undercoat emphasizes the undulating structure of curly maple and when overlaid with certain reds and browns adds depth to the finish. As long as the color of the top coat is transparent enough the wood grain will show through handsomely.

String Length:   627mm
Nut - 12th Fret: 312mm
Body Length:    455mm
Upper Bout:      212mm
Waist:              158mm
Lower Bout:     273mm

Body Depth
At Neck Joint:    67mm
Waist:               70mm
Tail:                 84mm

Open Sound Hole
Diameter:         77mm

Peghead Angle: 20 degrees

All photographs by the author.

Many thanks to Darryl Martin, Principal Curator, Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, who graciously arranged my visit.

And also to doctoral student and Conservation Assistant, Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, who kindly assisted my visit. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Eleven Course Lute after Magno Tieffenbrucker

I finished an eleven course lute using the bowl from Magno Tieffenbrucker's archlute C45 that is conserved in the KHM, Vienna. It is one of my favorite models and I have built it with various string dispositions; as an archlute, like the original, as a larger eight course and as a ten. This lute is strung in the old G tuning with an extended bass. The owner also intends to restring it for D minor. The string length is 646mm.

I built the mould for the lute around 1985 from plans drawn by Gerhard Söhne. It has given good service. I prefer working with solid moulds like this for lutes with many narrow ribs and open moulds for wider and fewer ribs. I have thirty odd lute moulds and they are split fairly evenly between the two types. My two posts from May 8 and 17, 2012 describe building a open mould.  This mould was assembled from blocks of basswood cut to specific cross-sectional profiles as denoted on the published plans, glued together (you can see the glue lines) and then sculpted to the finished shape.

The original archlute has a triple rose. When I build the archlute model I incorporate that design, but as a lute with fewer courses I use a single rose, positioned in the same location as the triple rose.

The design is a abbreviated version of a rose that appears on many renaissance lutes. My source is from the swan neck thirteen course by Joachim Tielke 1678, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, Mu 10.

The bridge is constructed of plum with an ebony cap. I positioned it the same distance from the rear of the belly as it is on the original archlute. I think that maintaining Magno's original geometry for these features is as important as the shape of the bowl for preserving his tonal vision.

The original bowl is constructed with 31 ribs of yew with dark spacers. I used Indian rosewood with holly spacers.

The neck is constructed with a poplar core veneered with strips of black ebony that taper in width from the neck joint to the peg box separated by holly lines. I do not taper the strips individually. I carefully plane an ebony block to the required taper and cut each piece from its edge.

The finished pieces can then be lined up to check for discrepancies.

The length of an eleven course pegbox can be intimidating so I was careful in determining its proportions. The core is pear with an ebony back plate.

The cheeks are veneered with rosewood and holly. The chantrelle bracket is carved from a small block of ebony.

The ninth fret is tied on the neck but it sits very close to the neck joint which makes it very difficult to tie tightly. I like  to insert a tiny peg into the center rib to hold the fret securely in position.

I usually apply an oil finish to mult-rib rosewood bowls. But this time I decided to shellac it using a French polish technique.

 Solvents in the finish will often cause rosewood color to bleed onto lighter woods so I painted the holly spacers with several coats of shellac to seal them using a tiny brush. Then I filled the open grain of the rosewood with commercial wood filler. Once the filler was dry I scraped and sanded the ribs smooth.
 There are many descriptions of french polishing on the internet and if you are interested in trying the technique read a few explanations and watch the videos. Here I'll cover the major points of my technique but I think it is best if you develop your own through practice and patience. In essence, it is a simple procedure.

1. A 2 lb. cut of white shellac flakes dissolved in denatured alcohol.
2. 'Fads' or applicators made from good quality white cotton stuffed with cotton balls and secured with white cotton string.
3. The smaller fad is about the same size as the width of this lute's ribs and is used to apply the polish to one rib at a time. I use a circular motion that is the size of an American Quarter.
4. Ridges from the circular motion build up with repeated applications of polish. These must be removed using the larger fad with a 1 lb. cut of polished. Use a straight light sweeping motion over each rib. A little over-lapping is OK.
5. Always allow the polish to dry for several hours before resuming work with a different fad.
6. 'Spirit off' using the larger fad and a polish that is increasingly more dilute until a flawless mirror finish is achieved.
7. Or, if the spiriting off proves troublesome allow the finish to dry for a week and polish with rottenstone lubricated with mineral oil until you are satisfied.
Decorative tip of the End Clasp

I decided that spiriting off would be too tricky on these narrow ribs. I reduced the amount of shellac to a little less than a 1 lb. cut and made several passes. I allowed this to dry for several days.  Then I rubbed the finish with rottenstone and mineral oil using a soft paper shop towel and Q-Tips for the difficult areas.

Future posts will describe the 1805 Giovanni Fabricatore in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments that I examined last month.
And a multi-post description of my construction of a Panormo guitar from a 1834 model.

All photo by the author.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Appointment in Edinburgh with Fabricatore and Staufer - Part 1 Staufer

Last Monday I visited Edinburgh University for an appointment to continue my study of nineteenth century guitars. At left is a Giovanni Fabricatore built in 1805, EUCHMI No. 290 and below is a Johann Georg Staufer built in 1829, EUCHMI No. 3838. I plan to devote a separate post to each instrument. I'll start with the J.G. Staufer.


Earlier in the history of the Staufer family the surname was spelled with one "f"as it still was when this guitar was built. "Staufer' is faintly visible just above the build number 480.

The Staufer is in nearly original condition including the nickel bar frets. For guitars that remain in playable condition these have usually been replaced with T-frets by modern players so it was special to see them. The fingerboard is not ebony or other hard exotic wood but a domestic  maple that was stained black. Here you can see that the stain has worn off through use in the first playing position. Note also that the string nut has been set up so that the first string lies further from the edge of the fingerboard than the sixth string -- a setup favored by many performers.

The replacement bridge is the one unhistorical feature. There is a pencilled note with the date 1963 on one of the back bars. Presumably this was when the current bridge was mounted. Probably at this time the thin plywood bridge plate that is found under the bridge was added  This  bridge is an example of a lack of understanding of the dynamics of Staufer's guitar design, as I will explain. The bridge block without the saddle is 12 millimeters high and the saddle adds another 6 mm.

This is about the same height that the fingerboard of the adjustable neck sits above the soundboard (17 mm). This is not what Staufer had in mind. He built his guitars with low bridges fitted with a bar saddle, rising  to only 6 or 7 mm above the soundboard. There is an acoustical advantage in having the strings lie this close to the soundboard. The disadvantage, if this were a conventional guitar, is that the players' fingers are cramped for space. The raised  neck of the Staufer design alleviates this problem and the neck's adjustability allows for further adjustment. For whatever reason someone chose to install a bridge that allowed the strings to lie parallel to the soundboard. Unfortunately but predictably, the increased torque generated by the high bridge caused the soundboard to collapse, threatening the guitar's integrity.

The soundboard has four harmonic bars, two above the rose, one to the bridge side of the sound hole and the fourth behind the bridge. I was able to measure the two bars nearest the sound hole, but access to the interior of the guitar was limited so I could only estimate the dimensions of the two distant bars. The bar directly to the neck side of the sound hole measures 22 mm high and approximately 7 mm thick. The bar nearest the front block appeared to be slightly smaller. The bar to the bridge side of the sound hole measures 17 mm high and approximately 8 mm thick. The fourth harmonic bar, the bar behind the bridge is much smaller; perhaps only 12 mm high tapering to 9 or 10 mmm before the beginning of a long scallop and then fitting into the lining at a height of only 2 or 3 mm.

These bars are shaped in the same style as the back bars with one exception that I'll explain later. As an example this photo shows the back bar at the guitar's waist. The wood grain is perpendicular to the bar's gluing surface, the sides are slightly tapered ending in a rounded top surface. The back bars end in a short scallop but the harmonic bars display longer scallops. Both sets of bars fit snuggly into low thin spruce linings. What doesn't show in the photo is the taper in bar height; highest in the center then tapering several millimeters to the beginning of the scallop.

The back was constructed with a single piece of maple that is lightly figured on its edges. The central part of the back has little curl and a grain pattern characteristic of wood cut well off the quarter. There is an advantage in using wood cut in this manner because the piece has a tendency to cup across the grain. This provides the maker with a partially pre-bent back. On this guitar the back is arched 4 mm across the lower bout, 2 mm across the waist and 3+mm across the upper bout.

A defining characteristic of Staufer's Legnani model is the longitudinal arch of the back. This is achieved by making the height of the side ribs progressively lower from the waist forward to the neck. On this guitar the depth of the rear is slightly less than the depth of the lower bout. The specific measurements including the thickness of the back and soundboard are: Rear 83 mm, lower bout 84 mm, waist 82 mm, upper bout 73.5 mm, neck 69 mm. The ribs are lightly figured maple.

I have already mentioned several features of the Staufer neck. This is a fine example so I will show the main features with a brief explanation.

Maple is used throughout and after all the shaping and fitting is completed the assembled neck is varnished  with black shellac. The peg head is made separately and is attached with a 'V' joint. The angle is 20 degrees.

The peghead is really cool. Six-a-side geared tuners fit in a cavity carved in the rear of the peg head. A beautifully engraved brass plate covers the workings. For contemporary aficionados reproductions of these tuners are available from several sources.

The heel is a separate block of maple glued to the neck and then shaped as one piece. Most of the heel is not visible as it protrudes into the guitar body. The rear surface is shaped to act as a fulcrum. The hole that is seen in the heel contains a screw that passes through and is treaded into the front block. By turning the screw with a clock key the neck angle can be adjusted; rising or lowering the distance of the strings above the fingerboard.

The edge banding of the soundboard mirrors sound hole rings.

This post is only half the story of my examination of the this guitar. It is the visual half. I made a profile tracing of the body and recorded numerous measurements. Soon I will make a working drawing that includes this information and post it on this site as a full size downloadable pdf.

All photos by the author.

Darryl Martin, Principal Curator, Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, graciously arranged my visit at a time of upheaval -- the home of the collection, St. Cecilia's,
is being readied for extensive renovations.

Doctoral student and Conservation Assistant, Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, kindly assisted my visit. By the way, Jonathan's thesis is on the lutes of Sixtus Rauwolf. Something to look forward to!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

September Update - Tieffenbrucker, Panormo, Stauffer and Guadagnini

While I was completing the model of the Checchucci guitar that was the subject of my last post I also continued working on other projects and new ones too. Here's the latest.

At left is a nearly completed eleven course lute using the bowl of C.45 Kunsthistorisches Vienna, the Magno Tieffenbrucker archlute. This design is very adaptable and I use it for eight and ten course instruments as well as a conventional archlute. As an eleven it is to be tuned in the old tuning like a ten course but with an expanded range. It will be the subject of a photo blog in the near future.

I have been spending a lot of time working with nineteenth century guitars. Earlier, I posted various stories about repairs, a restoration and an examination. I made working drawings of several Louis Panormo guitars that have passed through my shop and over the last few months I built a replica using a model from 1834. In the photo it is strung up "in the white -- completely assembled and playable but not yet varnished. I have documented every step of its construction. When it is finished I'll share this with you.

I also found time to start a replicate of a Johann Georg Stauffer terz guitar. This instrument is no. 4152 in the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum. It was displayed when I was there last year and although I didn't have the opportunity to examine it I purchased the plans sold by the museum. The neck floats in a deep notch in the front block of the guitar and is adjustable through a screw mechanism that protrudes through a hole that is visible in the heal of the neck.

I reported on this guitar by Gaetano Guadagnini (1796-1852) in an update from October 30, 2013. There are numerous cracks in the soundboard. I removed the back of the guitar to make access easier. I've blocked the cracks from the inside and have now started the process of widening each crack and inserting wood splints. Two of my splints are visible on the bass side level with the soundboard frets. A recess that is ready to receive a splint is  next to the bridge location. Other untreated cracks are visible throughout the top. Gaetano's guitars are not well known today but his construction technique with laterally bent top and back is interesting and got the attention of Hermann Hauser Sr. who built replicas early in the twentieth century.

I am looking forward to finishing these projects and I'll be back with more posts soon.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Checchucci Guitar - Final Installment

Michael Manderen finally gets to try out my model of the Jacopo Checchucci 1628 guitar (Museum of Fine Arts, Acc. No. 2001.707, Boston USA). As Director of Admissions for Oberlin Conservatory Michael travels extensively auditioning prospective students  but during the summer he relaxes by playing weekends at regional medieval fairs. I have built a number of instruments for Michael and when he asked me to build an Italian baroque guitar he agreed with my plan to research and build a model of an instrument that had not yet been replicated. This was to become a two year adventure. I reported on my visit to the museum in this blog on April 25, 2012. Later in the year, November 6, I posted a down-loadable drawing of the instrument. Six more posts detailed its construction including new techniques (for me) while others chronicled various trials and tribulations that I encountered along the way. This final installment tidies up a few loose ends.

The original guitar was constructed with a short neck. I thought this arrangement was impractical so I increased the string length to 65.5 cm. This allowed for one more fret on the neck.

The bridge on the MFA Checchucci is a modern replacement. I didn't find the trident motif convincing, but I did want to retain something of the guitar's aesthetic at this point.

So I borrowed Jacopo's design of the top part of the rear arabesque to serve as the inspiration for the moustache of my bridge.

The triple stringing lines frame every element of the guitar's construction.

Except for the horizontal lines on the side ribs the triple stringers are part of the aesthetics of the original guitar.

 I was fascinated with the design of the peghead and I described its construction in detail in a post on March 11, 2014.

I think the grainy Kingwood figure gives an organic touch to the peghead's geometry.

Although I seldom do this type of work, I think my favorite (and most challenging) part of building this guitar was making the borders. I had to figure out the new techniques for cutting, shaping and aligning the individual pieces. There were problems along the way but it all worked out.


         All photos by the author.