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├Ęstrale 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



1 comment:

  1. Ho partecipato al restauro di questo strumento... se lo desidera posso metterla in contatto con Enrico Pacini