How to Build a Lute

Written by kimberly wylie
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How to Build a Lute
No lutes remain from prior to the 16th Century. ( Images)

The lute first came to Europe as the Arabian "Ud" with the Moors' conquest of Spain, as early as the Eighth Century. By the 14th Century, lutes had widely spread across Europe. Today, those who enjoy Medieval music to Renaissance enthusiasts ensure the lute continues to be appreciated. Manufactured lutes cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. However, with time, patience and the appropriate tools, you can make a lute for a fraction of the price.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Stiff paper
  • 1/8 sheet particleboard, 1/2 inch thick
  • Dimensional lumber
  • Lute body and neck wood
  • Soundboard wood
  • Fretnut
  • Pegs
  • Bandsaw
  • Wood file
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • 2 finish nails
  • Hammer
  • Push pins
  • Masking tape
  • Paper binding tape

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  1. 1

    Make top- and side-view scale drawings of your lute. As there are no standard sizes for lutes, the size and shape are up to the maker's discretion. They commonly range from 18 to 24 inches in length and 8 to 12 inches wide. Proportions are often the width is approximately half of the overall length. Visit a local Renaissance festival or a museum to get an idea of what size lute you'd like to make, and fashion your drawing from this investigation. Key components that need to be on your drawing include: the bowl shape, the string length, the position of the fretnut, the position of the bridge, where the neck and body intersect, and the number and position of the frets. There should be a minimum of eight frets, with nine frets being a common number.

  2. 2

    Construct the mould for the bowl depth of the lute. Cut out the side-view scale drawing of your lute bowl and trace the shape, less the neck block, on the particleboard. Using the bandsaw, cut this shape from the particleboard.

  3. 3

    Construct the ribs for the mould. Cut out the top view of the scale drawing and place the bowl-depth mould piece along the centre. Draw and cut out each of the rib shapes from the particleboard, and affix them to the bowl shape portion of the mould with wood glue.

  4. 4

    Construct the neck block. Using the piece of dimensional lumber, cut out the rough shape of the neck block with the bandsaw. Use the wood file and sandpaper to finish the shape, and affix it to the lute mould temporarily with one or two finish nails, to the top of the mould, where the neck will extend from the body.

  5. 5

    Cut out the rib staves of the lute. Lay out the wood you'll be using to construct the body of your lute, in the grain pattern you want in the finished instrument. The shape of each stave will differ depending on the finished shape of your lute; however, in general, the staves taper to points at both ends.

  6. 6

    Begin to build the bowl of the lute. Position the staves over the mould, gluing the edges together and gluing each stave to the neck block. Use push pins or masking tape to hold the staves in place on the mould until the glue dries.

  7. 7

    Remove the bowl from the mould. Remove the finish nail(s) holding the mould to the neck block and carefully remove the mould. Affix paper binding tape to each seam on the underside of the bowl to strengthen these areas.

  8. 8

    Create the neck, pegbox and bridge of the lute. Use the scale drawings to create the neck of the lute with the frets and install the fretnut. Use the drill press to drill each of the holes in the pegbox. Evenly space the holes to accommodate the number of pegs in your design. The number of pegs will indicate the number of strings on your lute. Peg holes should be offset on either side, with the stem of the peg on one side extending into the space between two pegs on the opposite side. Ensure your pegbox and the hole spacing allow for free movement of the pegs, without hitting the peg next to it. Attach the pegbox to the neck and then attach this assembly to the neck block. Use the bandsaw to cut out the rough shape of the bridge, and finish with the wood file and sandpaper.

  9. 9

    Create the soundboard. Trace the shape of the soundboard onto the soundboard wood and cut out with the bandsaw. Transfer the desired rosette pattern -- the round, intricate pattern cut into the soundboard that facilitates the sound magnification from the strings through the hollow of the body -- to the soundboard and carefully cut out before attaching thin strips of coordinating wood for bracing behind it.

  10. 10

    Assemble the lute. Glue the soundboard into place and the bridge onto the soundboard. Insert pegs into the pegbox and, once the glue is completely, dry, string the lute between the bridge and the pegs.

Tips and warnings

  • As lutes vary in shape and size, use your scale drawings to help determine the quantity and dimensions of wood you need to construct the mould and the lute itself.
  • A 10th fret is sometimes positioned at the position where the neck joins the body of the lute.
  • A variety of wood types can be used in the construction of a lute, including: walnut, spruce, maple, mulberry, Swiss pear, English boxwood and apricot.
  • Use stiff paper to make templates for each stave once your mould is built.

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