Stephen Barber & Sandi Harris, Lutemakers
Catalogue and Price List 2017
We only build these instruments for genuine students and beginners to the lute (including, of course, children) or for those who are genuinely operating on a limited budget; this is because we have in recent years encountered several people who can clearly afford a full-priced lute, and have bought such instruments from other makers trying to get a cheap instrument from us. We have decided, therefore, to limit the number made each year to 6, and to also choose who we build them for.
They are only made from Temperate Zone hardwoods, except for their ebony fingerboards, but we can use English (East Anglian) black (bog) oak at an extra cost of £50, or black persimmon wood (related to the ebony / Diospyros species we usually use: it is diospyros keaki – harvested by us from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, after the October 1987 Great Storm, which brought down scores of rare trees in the Kew collection). Pegs can be made from plumwood, ebony, persimmon or pernambuco.
Lacey Act (USA only)
For US customers, we guarantee that we ensure that all timbers we use in making your Student Lute are Lacey-Act compliant, and we are experienced in providing the required documentation for the requirements of the current Lacey Act legislation.
We made a 6c Student Lute for Italian lutenist Luca Manassero, and his 12-year old son Tommaso has recently 'inherited' it; Luca sent the images below, showing Tommaso having a lesson from Jakob Lindberg; Luca suggested that we might use the images, as they neatly illustrate who these instruments are intended for:
Above: Tommaso Manassero having a lesson with Jakob Lindberg in Torino (Turin).
Above: Tommaso playing the 6-course lute which we made for his father Luca in January 2009 (No. 4 below).
Recently (late July 2017) Luca got in touch, partly to discuss another lute, and commented: "I still (proudly) own the two lutes you built for me . . . my son Tommaso continues his lute courses in Pavia with your 6 course. I played that lute two days ago (we're spending a few days together at our sea place in Liguria) and I was again impressed by its tone and exceptional clarity: not a student lute AT ALL.
The first Student Lute we sent out this year, in March, went to Chattanooga, Tennessee; it was ordered by the parents of a young woman (who had recently started playing the lute, using a hired instrument) as a surprise 20th birthday present; upon being presented with it on her birthday, she was reportedly astonished and thrilled, and the whole family were absolutely (no pun intended) delighted.
"As soon as the box arrived, my husband whisked it upstairs to our room for me to take a look and so I could wrap ribbon all around the case. I ended up crying in there for several minutes, trying to regain composure over the sheer beauty of the instrument before I could do anything else. My other two daughters had to take over other party preparations for me.
I will send a photo as soon as I have one. I took one quickly last night, but it is terrible because I was shaky in all the excitement. Cordelia was completely flabbergasted with her gift, and could hardly believe you'd taken the time and bother to include a real birthday card. She was so overwhelmed she couldn't do anything but look at it for a long while.
I don't think I will be able to top this birthday. Ever! Thank you so much for the hard work and love that so obviously went into making this thing of beauty".
We are currently completing another Student Lute for a student at London University's SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) who is principally a guitarist, but he wants to explore the lute, its repertoire and technique.
If you are considering ordering one of these lutes, we simply ask you to assure us that you are a genuine student or beginner to the lute, or studying with a private teacher or operating on a limited budget; we would of course equally be quite happy to consider an inquiry from a person who was wanting to start off with a cheaper instrument because of budgetary considerations, who simply wanted to get started with playing, but felt unwilling to commit to the purchase of a more expensive instrument at an early stage.
Although we're not in any way suggesting some sort of 'means-tested' approach to screening potential customers for these Student Lutes, it is the case as most people are aware that a genuine student would have to produce evidence of their status in order to obtain discounts on and off campus; and because we are effectively offering a massive discount where these lutes are concerned, we'd like to feel that a person ordering one of our Student Lutes is a genuine beginner or student (of whatever age or income).
This is not intended to cause you any embarassment, it is simply to protect us from exploitation by people who can afford a full-priced instrument, but who are 'trying it on'. We hope that nobody misunderstands or takes offence at this policy; we had to take a decision either to stop making Student Lutes completely which would be unfair on genuine students and beginners or be selective about who they are made for; for the time being, we have chosen the second option.
We of course are delighted to offer these instruments to parents of children who might be wanting a good first instrument for their child, but who are perforce limited by the usual financial constraints of parenthood. Our Student Lutes have helped a number of children and young people from all around Europe, as well as the UK to get started playing the lute, with a top-quality instrument from our workshop.
We've also, of course, made Student Lutes for newcomers to the lute in North America, most recently for Vanessa Cardui, a 27 year-old Performing Arts graduate in Calgary, Canada, her new 7c lute being delivered in time for Christmas 2014.
It was made back-to-back with an 8c version of the same model – No. 1 on the list below – built in a left-handed format for Angus Wells, a schoolteacher in Durham, England.
These lutes are available at a price of £1600 for a 6-course, £1700 for a 7-course and £1800 for an 8-course (basslutes are £1900); we have been forced to slightly increase their prices, in the wake of our own costs rising.
Cases are extra, and we recommend and supply those by the Kingham MTM Case Company.
The waiting-time for a Student Lute is usually between 12 and 20 weeks; a delivery date will be quoted and agreed upon confirmation of a definite order, which is secured by payment of a deposit of £800. Deposits are non-refundable, nor are stage payments, once work on the instrument is underway, be it preparatory or substantial work.
Any preferences regarding left and right-hand string spacings will be taken into account and worked to.
Left-handed versions of all of these models are available at no extra cost.
We only offer 6, 7 and 8 course lutes as Student Lutes; we do not build Student versions of 9 or 10-course lutes, Baroque lutes, long-necked lutes (ie, archlutes or theorbos) Guitars or Vihuelas. Basslutes attract a slightly higher price because of the larger dimension soundboard timber needed, and the extra work; typically, a 7-course basslute in e' or d' will cost £1800).
Please note: if gut stringing is required, its cost will be added to the basic price of the instrument.
Below: a version of model No. 1 made as an 8-course
Above:on the left, Ben Eliott holds his new 8c Student Lute, collected in March 2009. For comparison purposes regarding the differences between a Student Lute and a full-priced instrument, we thought it would be helpful to illustrate a 10c lute built at around the same time (and on the same mould a Hans Frei 11-rib lute) for Michael Heseltine, which has a black-painted bridge, an inlaid fingerboard and snakewood points and half-edgings; Ben's Student lute is built on the same mould as Michael's, it simply doesn't have these extra details, although it is the equal of the more expensive model in terms of build quality, playability and quality of tone. Ben who was seventeen when he collected his new lute told us that his ambition was to order a 13c baroque lute by the time he's twenty-five.
He actually managed to achieve that ambition quite a bit sooner, as we went on to make him that 13c lute, which he financed by playing jazz guitar gigs.
Ben enrolled as a first study lute student, at the Royal College Of Music, London, studying with Jakob Lindberg, having been encouraged by us to apply for the course, from which he since graduated with distinction.
Above: Antonella La Bella with her teacher Claudio Nuzzo, with an 8c Student Lute (No.6, the Hans Frei model) we sent to her in January 2011.
The following models are available, all of which are based on surviving historical instruments.
Left-handed versions of all models are available, at no extra cost.
1. Anonymous Italian Lute
(7 or 8 courses; 9 ribs; 584mm string length, g' tuning)
2. Georg Gerle
(6-course only; 11 ribs; 600mm string length, g' tuning)
3. Alto lute
(6-course only; 11 ribs; 540mm string length, a' tuning)
4. Magno dieffopruchar
(6 or 7 courses; 9 ribs; 630mm string length, f#' tuning)
5. Laux Maler
(6 or 7 courses; 9 ribs; 670mm or 720mm string length, f' or e' tuning)
6. Hans Frei
(6, 7 or 8 courses; 11 ribs, 610 630mm string length, f#' tuning)
Two rose designs are available, both from original instruments.
The upper one is taken from a lute by Laux Maler, and the lower one from a lute by Magnus Tieffenbrucker.
student Lutes, No.1 Anonymous Italian Lute (top left and lower right)
and No.3 Alto Lute in a' (below left and centre).
The lute above left has a striped back, its ribs are made from two cuts of cherry, whereas the lute beneath it has its ribs cut from one plank, so that they are consecutive. Either style is available, please let us know if you have a preference.
The Student Lutes which we build together are well-known for their brilliant sound, fine workmanship, playability and reliability. These instruments are fitted-in between our main orders within what is usually a twenty-month waiting-list; we make between 4 and 6 each year, with a typical waiting-time of 12 to 20 weeks.
Unlike many other lutemakers, who generally shy away from building simple instruments for beginners and students, we have chosen to meet the challenge of producing lutes for beginners which combine high qualities of tone, playability and construction with an affordable price for a student or beginner. Most other lutes which are intended for beginners have been produced by amateur makers lacking the benefit of the experience of having made a sizeable number of first-quality instruments upon which to draw.
The basic principle for the design and choice of timbers for these lutes has been developed from a comprehensive survey of the surviving instruments and the relevant contemporary writings and iconography. These suggest that the vast majority of old lutes were made from plain materials, in many cases using what were probably indigenous or locally-available materials. For instance, most of the surviving lutes by the distinguished Bologna maker Laux Maler are made from Ash (fraxinus excelsior) whilst other surviving 16th Century lute-backs are made from Elm, Cherry, Maple, Pear, Plum and other native central European woods. We know from the inventory of the musical instrument collection of Raymund Fugger (1566) that the old lutemakers experimented with exotic imported materials of every description. However, the overwhelming impression from the iconography is of blond or pale-coloured lutes, which suggest the use of native timbers and light-toned varnishing.
This has led us to choose cherry for the backs, and beech for the necks and pegboxes of our Student Lutes; cherry is a very attractive and handsomely-figured timber, eminently suitable acoustically, as well as being historically appropriate. The fingerboard and pegs are of ebony and the soundboard is European spruce (picea abies) and not the quite unsuitable sitka spruce and its ilk, which are usually associated with cheaper instruments. The soundboard is the heart of a good instrument; ours are personally selected at the sawmill of the leading German tonewood specialist near Nürnberg. We only buy one quality of soundboard timber - the best - and soundboards for Student Lutes are taken from the same stack of timber in our workshop as those for our most expensive instruments.
Two rose designs are offered, both taken from historical lutes; we do not use the sort of simplified 'cartwheel' pattern of the type often found on cheaper instruments – and they're not laser cut, as are the roses of some budget instruments.
In the construction of these instruments animal glues (gelatine) are used throughout; we do not use modern glues based on aliphatic or PVA resins since these deaden the sound, suffer from 'cold creep' and are irreversible. All parts are planed, carved and finished by hand - we do not use production machines of any sort, relying instead on our experience of having built a considerable number of lutes of various types.
These instruments are finished with melamine lacquer (used by most modern classical guitar makers to finish high-quality instruments) except for the soundboard and fingerboard, for which we use a transparent oil glaze. This is a sensible, practical way of reducing production time and hence costs without compromising the tonal qualities in any way. Our full-priced lutes whose bodies are often made from highly-figured white timbers (ash, maple), fruitwoods or yew are colour-varnished with oil-varnish, a process which takes a couple of weeks (melamine lacquer, by contrast, can be applied in one day). The time saved by utilising a simpler method of finishing also helps us to offer the player a reasonably quick delivery; and of course the quality of the sound is not compromised.
Student Lutes are fitted with Aquila, Kürschner, Savarez, or Pyramid strings as standard, with nylon, Nylgut or carbon trebles; various combinations of strings are available, according to a player's preferences. We can advise on stringing for complete beginners. All of these lutes have their bridge and pegs drilled to take gut 'catline', 'gimped' or Luchsline' bass strings, which some players prefer; gut strings can be fitted to any of these lutes, but at extra cost, since a typical set can be fairly expensive, particularly for an 8-course. Please state your stringing preferences at the point of ordering.
By offering what we are confident is a fresh approach to the concept of a Student Lute, we are providing inexpensive, high-quality instruments for lutenists at a vital stage of their development when they need a reliable instrument which, from the outset, will give them the confidence and inspiration to progress and enjoy lute-playing without being held back by an inferior or inadequate instrument.
Above is an image sent to us by Jim Curnyn, who ordered a Student Lute from us in May 2007, which he took delivery of later that year. Jim had decided to start learning the lute, and contacted us; Jim lives in Argyll, and we were able to recommend a lute teacher for him who is based in Edinburgh, Rob MacKillop. Jim sent the image above, in an email which also contained the following text, in early September 2009, and agreed to let us use the image and the message which accompanies it:
"Dear Stephen and Sandi, just a note to say how much pleasure I have had with the wonderful instrument you made for me. I love it dearly, and it seems to sing more sweetly as time passes despite my still too clumsy touch and plodding progress. I was delighted to find there is such a wide and varied repertoire for the beginner. Thank you both once again and I hope that business and your plans go well. With my best wishes, Jim Curnyn".
The instrument is No.6 in the list above, made as an 8-course.