Vihuela with inlaid soundboard

For most of the 16th century, the predominant plucked instrument across Europe was the lute. In Spain, however, equal prominence was given to the Vihuela. It is a delicate, 6-course instrument, with its own extensive repertoire. Since it is tuned similarly to a lute, all the 6-course lute repertoire is playable on it.

Aspiring lutenists should note that the vihuela is much easier to hold than the lute, especially when you're starting. Add a strap, and you can concentrate on learning technique instead of wondering how to stop the thing sliding round on your lap.

Bridge and decoration
Bridge and tail button

I inherited my vihuela plans from an established luthier who retired some years ago. He did a thorough research and design job, resulting in an excellent and very playable instrument. The original string length was 680mm, but many players find this unmanageably long, so I have designed a 580mm version (similar to a 6-course lute) which has proved very popular.

Materials - I normally use my preferred woods, which were all available in the 16th century. Body and neck in maple, with a spruce or cedar soundboard. Bridge, pegs, etc. are in walnut. Fingerboard is yew. This, of course, can all be modified to your specification.

Normal stringing is GG cc ff aa dd g'g' but it also works well with a single top string and octaves on the fifth and sixth courses (gG c'c ff aa dd g').

Back of Vihuela
Back view
Vihuela in case
Vihuela in case

Sound Clips

Played by Richard MacKenzie


Played by Ian Pittaway



6-course, plain soundboard
6-course, inlaid soundboard as shown
6-course, inlaid soundboard, full edge banding on soundboard and back
All options include a decorative fingerboard and centre banding on the back.
7 courses - add £100 to the above prices. I know of no historical evidence for a 7-course vihuela, but it allows the extensive 7-course lute repertoire to be played, which is useful.
A fancier rose, more inlay - tell me what you want and I'll work out a quote.

To order or enquire, pleasecontact me


Cases - Excellent cases can be ordered from specialist manufacturers such as Kingham MTM, but they're pricy. I can supply an attractive, custom-built plywood case, black with chrome fittings, for £220 when ordered with an instrument.

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.
High humidity can swell the wood enough to cause cracking and warping, but the main risk 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.