Sunday, February 21, 2016

Thirteenth Course Baroque Lute After Hans Burkholtzer and Anonymous E.25

I finished a thirteen course lute based on two historical lutes that  share a common lineage. The Hans Burkholtzer lute, SAM 44 (NE 48) conserved in Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna was built in 1596 in Füssen. Robert Lundberg notes that it was converted from its original string disposition to an 11 course in 1705 by Thomas Edlinger and later to a 13 course with a bass rider. This description was published in Historical Lute Construction published by the Guild of American Luthiers.

The second lute is anonymous E.25 an archlute conserved in Museé de la musique, Paris.
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This lute came to my attention when I read Joël Dugot's article Some Lutes in Paris Museums published in the Journal of the Lute Society of America, Vol. XVII & XVIII. Like the Burkholtzer lute, it was converted from an earlier string position to an archlute. At the time I was interested in building a larger archlute and this was an interesting candidate.

 I examined E.25 in 2000 making a tracing of the bowl contours and recording other measurements. I went on to build the model but I never repeated the experiment. Dugot made an interesting observation in his article by pointing out the similarities between the design of E 25's bowl and the bowl of the Burkholtzer lute. Both were built with multiple ribs of ivory and the profile as seen from the side are similar. E 25 has 17 ribs while the Burkholtzer has 21.  More importantly the cross-section of the bowls share the same contour. It is this latter feature that I consider to be the most significant in identifying styles of lute construction.

Burkholtzer from the museum's technical drawing

E.25 author's photo

In these two photos the similarity is obvious. A desirable feature of this design is that the depth of the bowl is less than half the width. Shallow bowls usually require shaping the ribs to a kind of banana or 'S' shape and then fitting them to an equally complex mold.  For the most part this design avoids those difficulties. A secondary benefit is that the angle of the edge ribs as they glue to the top provides more grip for the bar ends, perhaps resulting in fewer loose braces.

There are more similarities. The rose and bridge positions from each lute are the same, relative to the length of the top. Also, the harmonic bar positions are nearly identical. Each lute has a single bar across the centre of the rose, three bars between the rose and the bridge, a J-bar and a single finger on the treble side of the bridge. The lutes differ only in that E 25 has three bars above the rose while the Burkhlotzer has two. The former perhaps because the top of E.25 is  20 millimetres longer.

A technical drawing of the Burkholtzer lute and a list of other drawings are available from Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien by contacting

A thorough description of E.25 can be found in:
Les luths (Occident) catalogue des collections du Musée de la musique (vol.1) les cahiers du musée de la musique 7. This catalogue contains excellent photos and descriptions of 78 lutes, edited by Joël Dugot. The entry on E.25 includes an x-ray that shows the position of the harmonic bars.  The catalogue is available at
Use the search box to locate the catalogue.

Although I only built one archlute with this bowl I've used it for  a number of baroque lutes. Thomas Edlinger had a high enough opinion of the Burkholtzer bowl to use it as the basis for an eleven course. Another, anonymous maker chose to convert Edlinger's work to a thirteen, therefore, it must have been a successful design. I wanted a larger lute than the 70 centimetre string length of the Burkholtzer, so I followed the same path as my two predecessors and out-fitted the E.25 bowl as a thirteen course.  With a ten fret neck it produces a large baroque lute with a string length around 73 centimetres.  With the bass bracket the twelfth and thirteenth courses are just short of 80 centimetres.

The tenth fret sits close to the neck joint and this can cause the fret to slip forward, out of position. I make a tiny peg and loop the fret over it.

Like the Burkholtzer, I like to used an outside edging, but made of ebony.

E. 25 has a unique and seldom replicated rose and I carved it for my archlute model.

But Leonardo's knots is my favourite rose pattern and Burkholtzer used it too so I didn't hesitate to include it.


Burkholtzer's bass bracket and chanterelle are elaborate affairs in ivory.

I used J.C. Hoffmann's  bracket (MIM Brussels 3188) and chantrelle.

The brackets are maple ebonized with black French polish.

The top  photo of the Burkholtzer lute is from Lauten und Geigenmacher des Füssener Landes by Richard Bletschacher. All other photos by the author.



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  2. Hi Michael.
    Excuse my poor english.
    I'm a luthier apprentice from Spain.
    For me, your blog is the most interesting and useful resource about lute building in all the Net.
    ¿could I suggests you for write a entry about angle neck calibration and string height?; I have special doubts about that, because some luthiers like Lundberg leave neck and shell edge at the same plane and makes the angle giving distinct height to the diapason at the nut and neck block, but another luthers like Van Edwards make the angle within the union of neck and shell, leaving the diapason with uniform height.
    If you set the neck and shell edge at the same plane, i don't understand how can you make the curve in the diapason of baroque lutes without an not-uniform heigh diapason.
    Thanks in advance, greetings!.

  3. Hi Carlos, I am delighted that you like my blog and find it useful. Setting the neck and diapasons on baroque lutes with arched fingerboards is a difficult and lengthy process. I will write a blog particularly on this subject soon but I have to organize the photos from various projects first.
    Thanks for the feedback, Michael