Medieval Lute

Large image of Diabolus Medieval Lute

Medieval Lute

Lute plan by Henri Arnaut of Zwolle

Arnaut of Zwolle lute plan

This lute, commissioned by Barry Pope, is closely based on a remarkable survival - an actual lute plan, c.1440, by Henri Arnaut of Zwolle. It needs a little deciphering, as it shows in one diagram both the internal construction of the lute, and the mould on which the body is built. But it is an invaluable document, giving accurate proportions for a type of instrument which has no surviving examples.

The only feature I didn't reproduce from the plan is the strange rounded shape of the body at the neck joint. No other sources show this, so I substituted a joint shown on several paintings of medieval lutes, which is similar to later 16th century models. An alternative option, also common in medieval lute paintings, would be a smooth curve, with the ribs merging seamlessly into the neck.

The distinctive "hammer head" tuning pegs are shown in a number of medieval paintings, and not just on lutes. They appear on paintings of gitterns too, and there are surviving pegs of this type on the Elblag Koboz. The rose design is taken from a mid-16th century lute by Georg Gerle.

There is always a possibility, when working from a historical document, that the instrument depicted is the result of theory and conjecture by the author, rather than practical knowledge. Before I delivered the finished instrument to its new owner, I had it thoroughly tested and assessed by two experienced, professional lutenists. One of them made covetous comments, the other promptly placed an order. It seems Arnaut of Zwolle knew what he was talking about.

It is a 4-course lute, double-strung throughout, including the top course. String length is 58 cm.

The Lute Society suggests that an authentic tuning is

g g a a d' d' g' g'

But a useful alternative would be

d d a a d' d' g' g'

Tuning can, of course, be modified to suit your preference.

Iusually fit Nylgut strings, which are robust and reliable. Frets can be either natural gut or Aquila's synthetic fret gut - whichever you prefer.


Click images to enlarge.

Sound Clips

Two medieval pieces, played by Ian Pittaway



Medieval Lute, 4 course
Case, as shown above
Unfortunately, my standard method of making robust and economical plywood cases would result in a very heavy case for a lute. The much lighter case above uses thinner plywood, with fibreglass reinforced seams. It's much more time-consuming to build, which is reflected in the price.

To order or enquire, pleasecontact me


Delivery - the price depends on where you live. Please enquire.

I hate it when websites say "Phone for a quote", so to give you some idea - getting a baroque guitar in its case to America, including insurance, is currently about £170. Getting one to Kent is about half that.

Waiting time, from placing an order to clutching your new baby, is currently about 16 months. It's very approximate, because the schedule often contains items that are somewhat experimental, and they may take more or less time to complete than anticipated. Usually more.

Deposit- I usually ask for £150 (non-returnable unless I'm dead, insane, incapacitated or incarcerated) to secure an order and cover materials. Once that's paid, your order is entered into my Magic Book. Nothing happens for several months, then you receive an email to tell you I've started construction. A few weeks later, a big parcel arrives, and you squeal with delight.

Anote on HUMIDITY - delicate wooden instruments are remarkably resilient, but they can have major problems with both high and low atmospheric humidity levels. I keep my workshop at the recommended humidity level, between 45% and 50%, and I strongly recommend that instruments are kept as close to that range as possible. Electronic humidity meters are available cheaply on the Internet. They're small enough to keep in your instrument's case.
Low humidity can shrink wood, resulting in cracks and distortion. Case humidifiers, again available quite cheaply, should prevent this.
The main risk with high humidity is the formation of water droplets, either from condensation or perspiration while playing. These can damage varnish and slowly dissolve glue joints. A silica gel sachet can be kept in the case, but use a humidity meter as well. Take care it doesn't reduce the case humidity too far.