Medieval Instruments IIII b: Lutes

Other Lutes

I have also built a number of other lutes for Alfonso X. The two below were inspired by mahogany bowls I found. The first is a Central Asian style lute with paired “3” soundholes in a redwood face and a pickguard of laquered goatskin. The second, with paired crescent holes, is not an exact copy of any instrument but tribute to the varied shapes which occur in early representations in the Middle East before body styles were formalized. There are no rear views because they’re not very interesting.
“Move along there, nothing to see: it’s just a bowl.”

The gittern is another, related, type of short lute which has an eventful history of its own. Until recently, partially on etymological grounds, the gittern was thought to be the guitar-looking instrument which we now call the citole. (See Guitarra Latina.) A final decision may never be made but it looks like we had the two instrument names reversed for most of the 20th century. In any case, I found the carcass of a Chinese instrument (probably a liuqin) in a thrift store and immediately recognized it as a potential gittern (or citole). The sickle-shaped peg box had a very Oriental carved disc on the end which I replaced with a feline head and redrilled for four pegs instead of the original three. I stripped the black paint off the back and dyed it bright blue and painted a gold lozenge design with Alfonsine lion and castle and my initials (looking somwhat like mintmarks from his coins) on the back. In the face I put a large and a small rose and on the neck a dark wood facing with 4 chromatic frets. I notched the edge of the face, an idea I got from an historic Cretan lira which has a similar body shape. Below, someone shows the side view and looks very pleased with himself even though he’s only half-way through with the project.

To round out the types of short lutes, I made a small mandora (mandurría in Spanish) out of a dead pear tree in my back yard in 1982. (I made the similar rebab at the same time. See Fiddles.) I carved a stylized lion’s head and decorated it with blue glass eyes, bone fangs, and a rude red tongue. The cedar top has a castle soundhole along with the usual paired semicircles. The three strings are usually tuned 1-4-8 or 1-5-8.
The model for the mandora was Cantiga 90 which shows two noble musicians in one of their favorite pasttimes, tuning. They both wear delicate gauze coifs (cofias) over their hair. The figure on the right wears a fur boneta and fur-collared noble capa. The man on the left wears a hood, over a fuller-looking pellote. He also sports the fringed beard worn by knights so, perhaps, this is another instrument like the guitarra morisca and rebab, associated with Islamic music. Another mysterious aspect is the identity of this knightly figure. (See Fiddles, and note.)