Stephen Barber & Sandi Harris, Lutemakers
Catalogue and Price List 2016
1  Six course lutes 8  Gallichone/mandora, colascione
2  Seven and eight course lutes 9  Mandolino
3  Basslutes 10  Continuo instruments
4  Ten course lutes, 9-course lutes 11 Renaissance and Baroque guitars
5  Wire-strung instruments 12 Vihuela, viola da mano
6  Eleven and Twelve course lutes 13 Student Lutes
7 Thirteen course lutes  14 Footnotes

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Ten course lutes

The following lutes have been developed from a variety of appropriate earlier models, following the historical practice of re-necking and altering old lutes to meet developing musical requirements. There are few surviving ten-course lutes of a useful size to base an instrument on and precious little information regarding which type of lute was preferred, so we offer here what is a useful and practical selection of models and string-lengths.

These lutes are available with either flat or slightly-cambered fingerboards.


The back of the lute shown above is made from a very interestingly-figured and beautiful Italian poplar, colour-varnished; this particular variety of poplar is very hard and dense, and gives a sound which is the equal of any maple or ash species. We used this particular type of poplar for the two most recent examples of this instrument; for details, please refer to No. 1, below.

£4800 as above.

A version of this lute, bought by Rodney Stucky in December 2010, inspired Rod to send us these comments from Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 28th 2011:

 

"Dear Stephen and Sandi, I've been meaning to write you to update you on how the lute is doing but it's been difficult to put down the instrument long enough to email you. I've gotten it strung to my preferenc; for the moment, nylgut with Dan Larson's Gimped bass strings from the 6th course on down. It sounds wonderful. The chanterelle continues to amaze me. It is bright and clear but at the same time never harsh or shrill. There is a fabulous "body" to the sound that I just love. At the moment that string is actually a plain old pyramid nylon. I'll probably do some experimenting with some other strings for the 1st course but for now the plain nylon is just fine. The rest of the range is also truly gorgeous. I only dwell on the chanterelle because to me that's been the hardest to get right. I know the instrument is still very "green" but it still sounds beautiful and every so often I'll get some sounds, after playing it for an hour or two, that seem to be a hint of where it may go as it breaks in, what a treat. I also love the size and depth of the body.

It has a wonderful balance and playability, perfect string spacing and action. I feel I can "dig in" on this instrument more than many other lutes and it responds with a nice full bodied sound. I think it's the most comfortable lute I've ever played. And then there is the visual aspect, which is just beautiful. The snakewood adds a nice subtle flair to the instrument and I love the use of snakewood for the body frets. And of course the figured ash, which works great with the snakewood, and the top are really stunning. Much more than is evident in the pictures. Speaking of pictures, it's been fun to compare the sister lute to mine on your website. The instrument is so gorgeous aesthetically I would value your thoughts on an end pin.

I hope all is well with you both. As you can see I'm having a wonderful time with the instrument, it was a great investment for me and I look forward to many years of music making with it. Oh and by the way my wife, the singer, also loves the instrument and is looking forward to singing more and more with it. All the best to you both. Rod".


 

1. After Hans Frei, Bologna, c. 1540  (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum C34)

11 ribs in flamed maple, birds-eye maple, or flamed ash; ebony-veneered neck & pegbox, ebony fingerboard; ebony pegs with bone pips.
String length: 620, 630 or 640mm are available, all will suit f#; please let us know what best suits your reach.
Pitch: f#'

Also available at 670mm, considered by some as ideal for the French repertoire (pitch: e').


£4400 (basic version, without decoration)


Our most popular 10-course model, this lute has a slightly flattened back profile, which many players find more comfortable than a deeper-bodied instrument. It has a block-printed 'Hans Frei' label, as does the Warwick instrument (No 2 below). It exists in its present state as an eleven-course instrument, although the soundboard is possibly not by Frei; the geometry of the back has certain affinities with the Laux Maler lute in the GNM Nürnberg (MI54).

The instrument shown above has a back from figured ash striped with Hungarian ash; the neck and pegbox are ebony-veneered, and the ebony fingerboard has a white (bone) panel line, and snakewood pegbox cheeks, edged with bone; snakewood soundboard half-edgings and fingerboard points. The rose design shown here is from the other Vienna KHM Frei, C33.

This 'decorated' version is priced at £4800 (+ £400 for the Hungarian ash alternating ribs).

Dennis Murray, of Lakefield, Ontario, who recently took delivery of one of these 10 course lutes, sent us this message as an email entitled Wow! after receiving it:

"Hello Stephen and Sandi, I have been delayed in obtaining the 10-course lute because of various work-related travel and activities. I was finally able to pick up the instrument last weekend. I must say that it is absolutely outstanding. The workmanship is very, very impressive, the rose is probably the nicest that I have ever seen. After giving the strings about 24 hours to stretch, I was able to give it a pretty good workout yesterday afternoon. Both the sound and playability are excellent. The sustain is perfect, as is the string spacing. It is just so resonant, my renditions of Vallet and Hely have never sounded this good. And yet, as you state on your webpage, the voices are so distinct. Definitely an instument I hope to be playing for many many years (along with the 11-course, of course). Thank you very much for such a fantastic instrument, for putting up with my frequent queries. The lute was definitely worth the wait. D".


2. After Hans Frei, Bologna, c. 1540  (Warwick County Museum Nr. 162)

11 ribs in flamed maple, birds-eye maple, flamed ash or Hungarian ash; ebony-veneered neck & pegbox, ebony fingerboard, ebony pegs with bone pips.
String length: 670mm
Pitch: f
'

This instrument has a fuller, more 'square' body section than the Vienna Frei C34 above; it is also an eleven-course in its present state and it too may not have its original soundboard, although it carries a block-printed 'Hans Frei' label. Neither of these Frei lutes is dated, and very little is known about Hans Frei and his working life.
£4600


3. After Laux Maler, Bologna, c. 1540  (Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum MI54)

9 ribs in flamed ash or Hungarian ash; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox and fingerboard; ebony pegs with bone pips.
String length:
660mm
Pitch: f'


A realisation of the Nürnberg Maler, perhaps the most intriguing and beautiful of the surviving Maler lutes; in its present state, it is a 13-course lute, converted to this set-up in the Schelle workshop in Nürnberg in the early eighteenth century.
£4400 (£5000 with Hungarian Ash ribs)


4. After Andreas Berr, Vienna 1699  (Boston Museum of Fine Arts, USA; formerly Hever Castle)

11 ribs in yew, flamed maple or birds-eye maple; ebony-veneered neck, pegbox & fingerboard; ebony pegs with bone pips.
String length: 650mm
Pitch: f'


Along with No. 1, this model is an ideal size for airs-de-cours; the a' pitch often quoted for these pieces was probably much lower than modern pitch, very likely nearer to modern f' or f#'. Although this instrument was built much later than the golden period of the 10-course repertoire, it is a beautiful shape (the body being slightly fuller towards the neck than the Frei and Maler lutes) and probably influenced by earlier Bologna lutes, and it's just the right size !
£4400


Nine course lutes

In the early days of the modern lute revival, players would often order 9-course lutes, of between 640mm-670mm string length. The first music known which calls for a 9-course lute dates from 1600, Le Trésor d'Orphee, by Antoine Francisque; this is closely followed by Besard in 1603 and Dowland (published in 1604 and 1610). Much of Vallet's music is playable upon a 9-course, as of course are the 1604 Lachrymae consort pieces, and many of Robert Johnson's pieces. Anthony Holborne is the composer of the earliest known English lute music that requires nine courses of strings.

Having been approached again recently to build a 9-course – a welcome request, because they are very nice instruments – we thought it would be helpful for the player who might be considering one to list a couple of suitable models here.

 

1. After Hans Frei, Bologna, c. 1540  (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum C34)

11 ribs in flamed maple, birds-eye maple, or flamed ash; ebony-veneered neck & pegbox, ebony fingerboard; ebony pegs with bone pips.
String length: 640mm
Pitch: f#'

£4500

Developed from our most popular 10-course model, this model has a 9-fret neck.


2. After Martinus Selos, Venice, 1639  (Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum MIM262)

15 ribs in heartwood yew (also available in striped yew, heartwood & sapwood) ebony-veneered neck & pegbox, ebony fingerboard; ebony pegs with bone pips.
String length: 670mm
Pitch: f'

£5000 (£5600 with heart/sap yew)

Although the original lute was made after the period during which the 9-course lute seems to have flourished, we've included it as a basis for a 9-course because it closely resembles the larger of the Frei lutes – the Warwick instrument – but with more ribs.

We can also offer this instrument as a 10-course or an 11-course lute: the original 1639 lute was rebuilt by Gregori Ferdinand Wenger in Augsburg in 1709; it is kept in the reserve collection of the GNM, and not on display, since it is currently set-up as a guitar. The likelihood is that the Wenger conversion was to an 11-course disposition, and that the current 'guitar' neck was made by simply cutting back the neck fitted by Wenger; X-ray analysis reveals that the nail through the existing block has never been disturbed, and there is evidence of the location of Wenger's neck/pegbox joint, thereby pointing to a string length of around 720mm being produced by Wenger's conversion.

The neck made by Wenger does not seem to have been veneered in any way, but probably painted and/or stained – a practice as commented upon by Mary Burwell in 1660:

"The flatt part of the Necks of the Lute and the bridge are to be made of ebony, but to Cover the head, the back of the necke with it as some do is improper because it makes the Lute too heavy upon the left hand the neck cold and slippery for the Thumbe and the frettes are never fast, a neck made of a light wood with a fine varnish as neare as may be to the colour of the Lute but you must keepe it cleane".

It is a moot point as to whether or not the original 1639 neck by Selos – now of course lost – was veneered and/or decorated in a similar style to the body.

This lute is a beautiful shape (see below) and its slightly 'flattened' body profile makes it very easy and comfortable to hold; we reached the conclusion that Wenger had converted the instrument to an 11-course and not a gallichon because there survive the remnants of his fingerboard points – indicating the neck width at 108mm – and a fragment of the original end of his fingerboard is also clearly visible. This neck width is far too wide for any gallichon conversion to have been the likely result of Wenger's rebuild, an 11-course seems far more likely, based upon what was probably originally a 10-course lute by Selos.

For our 9-course interpretation of this instrument, we have chosen a string length of 670mm.

The image above shows Sandi using our Mac G4 Powerbook, documenting the Selos lute during our visit to the GNM, Nürnberg, on October 15th 2004; we measured its back during a return visit in early 2005 (on January 28th) using the machine shown in the image below. The painted 'guitar neck' is clearly visible in these images.