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A lute guitar (or Wandervogellaute, less commonly a lutar or guitar lute) is a musical instrument of the guitar family, common in Germany from around 1850. The instrument has a regular six-stringed guitar setup on a lute bowl, however there are many theorboed variants with up to 11 strings. The lute guitar was born out of the Wandervogel movement.
The lute guitar has been used in Europe for over 500 years, and its design has been consistent in several key elements.
The headstock commonly ends in two styles, either a head (representing animals or humanoids) or a curve (into a flat finial, carved or undecorated). Less commonly, instead of gears, wooden pegs may be used to tune the strings. Lute guitar headstocks are thinner and more curved than their modern guitar counterparts.
Neck and fretboard
While the neck of a lute guitar is very similar to that of a modern classical guitar, the fretboard (or fingerboard) design is often different. The fretboard of a modern guitar extends down over the soundboard all the way to the sound hole. However, the lute guitar's fretboard may stop at the bottom of the neck, with the frets continuing down the soundboard independently. The fretboard is occasionally scalloped.
The body of the lute guitar is similar to the rounded body of the traditional lute. Several ribs (or panels) of curved wood (usually maple or rosewood) make up the back of body, glued to a wooden frame underneath. These ribs are sometimes painted to resemble the traditional (or stereotypical) perception of a medieval minstrel or jester. For example, ribs may be painted in alternating colors (e.g. white, green, white and so on).
A modern classical guitar usually has a simply cut sound hole. Lute guitars, however, may have intricate designs carved into the soundboard, such as geometric patterns or representational decorations such as flowers, castles, and scrolls. Alternatively, a simple hole may be cut and a pre-carved disk of wood then glued onto the inside of the soundboard; in some cases, multiple layers of disks are designed in a cascading effect.
The bridge of a lute guitar works in the same manner as a modern guitar bridge, but also serves as a decorative piece made in various shapes, sizes, and styles, often elaborately carved, for example, ending in swirls on each side.
Below is a table of the materials that commonly have been used to make lute guitars.
|Spruce||Maple||Maple||Rosewood||Bone/Ivory/Various Woods||Bone/Ivory/Various Woods||Bone/Various Woods||Bone/Ivory/Various Woods||Animal Gut|
Owners of antique lute guitars should know that the luthier Bruno Merks has stated that nylon classical strings are not suitable due to their tension on very old instruments. This may not be correct and there is no absolute that common strings will damage a genuine lute guitar if the bridge is in good condition.
Repair and maintenance
The condition of lute guitars remaining today varies, depending on the original quality and the quality in which it was stored and used. In extreme cases, guitar bridges and entire soundboards may be splitting from the ribbed body of the instrument. Sound hole carvings or similar decorations may be cracked or missing parts.
Repairing the bridge
Until the late 19th century, the bridge was typically joined to the soundboard using animal glue which tends to crack and break as it ages. As nature takes it course, splitting may occur between the bridge and the soundboard. Although the bridge could be removed and reset by a luthier, additional problems can arise as a result. If the entire instrument has undergone aging and warping as a whole, resetting the bridge or setting a new bridge onto an old instrument may mean it will not physically play as it should. Restoration of antique instruments should be undertaken by experienced professionals.
Repairing the body and ribs
The ribs are a common place for lute guitars to require maintenance. As the wood ages, it warps and moves slightly, reacting to the tension of the strings (or weather conditions, exposure to moisture, etc.). This causes some ribs to remain in position, while others lift or move, creating a small opening between. The damage is not usually severe. Simply gluing any cracks will stop the ribs from moving.
- Lütgendorff-Leinburg, Willibald von (1904) Die Geigen- und Lautenmacher.
- C. 1935 German guitar lute