minstrel: cheap, fake lutes

Greg Lindahl lindahl at pbm.com
Thu Nov 29 14:51:24 PST 2001

I saw this posting on the rec.music.early Usenet newsgroup, and
thought it was worth forwarding:

Newsgroup: rec.music.early
From: David Kilpatrick <iconmags at btconnect.com>
Subject: Cheap fake lute
Date: Thu Nov 29 17:37:15 EST 2001
Lines: 45
Reply-To: david at maxwellplace.demon.co.uk

Last week I bought a Spanish laud (flat back, six course, double
coursed, metal strung lute) - in Spain the entry level models are very
low cost, so this was just (UK pounds) 75 (20,000 pesetas). All Spanish lauds are
very poorly intonated - the builders, even of expensive models, do not
seem to make any compensation for the steel strings and position the
saddle exactly where they would for a classical guitar, dead on 2X the
octave measurement.

This makes the octave very sharp, tuning very difficult, not helped by
the traditional 20th c laud tuning which is in fourths - an awful tuning
to play, G# C# F# b e a - it only lends itself to moving a few simple
flamenco-y chords shapes from one set of four strings to the next!
(Great for the fast chording of the particular sequences used, and the
fourths probably make melody picking very fast too, but the dissonance
of the open strings is dreadful). So, Spanish lauds are not exactly
popular with other musicians; the tuning sounds out of tune before you
start, and the poor intonation makes it sound even worse.

Following a lead in the cittern discussion list, I removed the tailpiece
and the steel strings, and strung it with two sets of regular nylon
classical guitar strings, tied to the bridge in the normal way. The
intonation is perfect with nylon strings, as you would expect. It can be
tuned in various baroque guitar, guitar or lute tunings without needing
special strings, as the scale is fairly short. The sound is wonderful;
not lute-like, of course, but quite different from an ordinary guitar
and much better for 'faking' lute pieces in guitar tuning.

The instrument looks to the average non-muso like a lute, not a guitar,
although it has brass frets, a guitar-type slotted headstock, no
soundhole rose and is built in flatback, straight ribbed cittern style.
It will certainly pass as a performing instrument. A more expensive one,
with the double f-holes and central small soundhole, would probably be
much better in sound and appearance. Apparently lauds were originally
strung with either gut or wire and it is only recently that steel
strings have become standard.

For the price (the best models from artisan factories cost around (UK pounds) 300,
solid woods all round, very well finished) this is an instrument which
is far easier to carry than a real lute, or an oud. Just thought I would
pass the idea on, since I know some of you do Renaissance Fairs (which
we do not have in Scotland) and like to learn of instruments which look
the part, play the part, but do not cost the part!


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