Stephen Barber & Sandi Harris, Lutemakers
Catalogue and Price List 2013
Reconstructing fluted-back vihuelas
Leading the way . . .
Since originally posting the commentary which follows, we've been approached by a couple of people who felt uncomfortable about our posting a detailed, pointed exposé of the shenanigans and reactions from certain quarters concerning our original ground-breaking work on fluted-back vihuelas, and the theft of some moulds we were using. Sorry, but we make no apology whatsoever for exposing simple chicanery and people who have sought to make a career off of our backs by popping-up and puffing themselves at every opportunity on the internet and elsewhere by claiming they are experts, whilst at the same time heaping abuse upon us. Remaining silent and keeping a 'stiff upper lip' may be what certain people would prefer, but it's not our way: why should we remain silent in the face of self-serving behaviour which on the one hand masquerades as 'research', and on the other slyly attempts to undermine us, when the simple fact is that, had we not as a long-standing Lute Society member remarked recently effectively created a market for these instruments by stirring interest in them in the first place, by building and showcasing them on this website, how many recent makers and speakers on the subject would have bothered?
Having given an enormous amount of information to the lute, early guitar, viola da gamba and vihuela worlds over the last thirty years in the form of published research, drawings, teaching and lectures, Stephen feels that he has given away quite enough already selflessly and generously passing information to colleagues and students. What is quite unacceptable is the unseemly and graceless manner in which certain persons who have taken an interest in fluted-back vihuelas rather late in the day, have seen fit to attempt to denigrate and insult us and our achievements. As leading British guitar maker Gary Southwell has remarked to us, generosity of spirit, let alone offering simple congratulations or even thanks to us for having led the way, seem to be in lamentably short supply in the early music world where certain persons are concerned.
Since we made the first proper modern copies of both the Dias guitar and the Chambure Vihuela (in 1976 and 2001 respectively) and announced them on our website, other instrument makers have started building versions of them but we note that nobody else had tried to make a copy of the Chambure vihuela before the wretched FoMRHI article appeared in the summer of 2001 (and it would appear that, so far, the majority seem to have been working from this piece of blatant plagiarism which cheekily illustrates a pair of our stolen moulds ! yet have tried to pretend otherwise).
The image above shows the relative sizes of the Chambure vihuela and the Belchior Dias guitar of 1581; both of these examples were made in 2003.
Some of our colleagues might consider pondering this fact: when Stephen drew for publication comprehensive technical drawings of the sister instrument of the Chambure vihuela the Belchior Dias 1581 guitar (the oldest known surviving guitar) back in May 1976 (25 years before we built our first Chambure vihuela copy, and long before many of these people were even making early plucked stringed instruments), he was the first person ever to have observed and drawn to public attention the fact that its back of seven deeply-fluted, double-bent ribs like that of the Chambure was not carved from a block as all other luthiers, organologists, commentators and writers had supposed but made from individual strips of wood, bent into shape.
Stephen's original and groundbreaking observation made way back then nearly thirty-six years ago that this structure was made from bent ribs, not from a carved block has turned out to have been one of the most significant contributions to the organology of the vihuela; and our joint work in recent years, pioneering a completely original and reliable technique for making these double-bent ribs, has shown the way to others (notwithstanding that a published article describing the use of our stolen moulds was the vehicle for many). It is to be regretted that a number of 'colleagues' have subsequently lacked the dignity and honesty to give credit where it is due.
Sheet 1 (of two) of Stephen's May 1976 drawings of the Dias guitar (available from the Royal College of Music, London: +44-(0)207-7589-3643) carries the printed observation next to the back view of the instrument that 2 pairs of its back ribs are bookmatched - therefore bent. Recent dendrochronological examination of the guitar's soundboard by John Topham has revealed that it exhibits year-rings dating from 1642 1725, thereby confirming another original opinion he put forward in 1976, written in the Notes which accompany the published drawings (formed whilst drawing the instrument for publication, and which has since been extensively quoted): that the present soundboard fitted to the Dias is from the early eighteenth Century, probably French work, and therefore not original.
Our technique first devised by Stephen nearly 36 years ago when he made copies of the Dias guitar, whilst drawing for publication the original instrument way back in 1976 and refined and perfected in recent years on numerous instruments uses no modern technology whatsoever, nor does it rely on other people's original research; one day we will publish the technique in detail, and certain knock-off merchants will be kicking themselves. Moreover, the vihuelas we have built in this way have all been acclaimed for their clarity, power and projection: their sound is not at all 'introverted and delicate' as some who have described their versions of it (which seems to us to be tantamount to an admission that an instrument has little sound, and is therefore a bit pointless).
A quarter of a century later . . .
We were the first to re-discover the technique for double-bending fluted ribs via our own efforts and initiative, and working independently and although others have since jumped on the bandwagon, they've all simply followed in our footsteps, obviously taking their cue from plagiarised writings published in the amateur newsletter FoMRHI - consequent upon theft of early development moulds we were working on in late 2000.
The simple fact is that following its 're-discovery' in 1996 nobody had made a version of the Chambure vihuela prior to our moulds being stolen and put into the public domain in the amateur publication FoMRHI in April 2001 (and subsequently passed around the Internet).
It also helps if you can distinguish a guitar from a vihuela . . .
One person Alexander Batov who had taken a recent interest in the fluted-back vihuela, has sought to try to pick holes in Stephen's original 1976 drawings of the Dias on the internet (albeit without ever having had the professional courtesy or grace to acknowledge who drew them) and made the spurious claim that this little 5-course guitar was originally built as a 6-course vihuela. The tone of his opening remarks betray his regrettably unprofessional attitude:
"First of all, I would like to add a number of corrections to the existing drawings of the Belchior Dias guitar, from the collection of the Royal College of Music (London) which have been in circulation since 1976 . . .". Those reading his comments will no doubt have speculated as to the motive, since they have no basis in fact when contrasted with the clear evidence presented by the Dias guitar itself.
We originally wondered why he didn't simply do what anybody with basic manners would have done, and approach the author of the drawings Stephen and discuss his views before publishing them prominently on his website; after all, colleagues and institutions around the world regularly consult us and thereby confer on and exchange information. Sadly, it appears that his motive was simply to sell his own instruments on the back of attempting to cast doubt on the work of an established and honest expert who has been making early guitars and vihuelas for far longer than he has. Because he simply went ahead and published this stuff on his website, we felt obliged to set the record straight and make a response on our website, with factual evidence, and expose, challenge and refute his misleading claims and 'criticisms', so long as he chooses to keep this stuff posted on his site. And as at today's date January 2012 the original material Batov wrote continues to be posted on his site, and has never been updated, let alone corrected we are going to remain vigilant in the face of his mischievous ramblings, and will continue to expose them for what they are. Comment and analysis concerning his statements and the questionable nature of his approach in claiming the Dias to be a 6-course vihuela, can be found further down this page.
Making the first copy of the Chambure vihuela
Our relationship with the Chambure vihuela is something that we feel goes right back to January 1976, when Stephen started work on comprehensive technical drawings of its sister instrument, the Belchior Dias 5-course guitar of 1581, in the Royal College of Music collection, London drawings which everybody offering copies of the Dias has of course been working from ever since. Stephen built two copies of the guitar whilst working on the drawings (which were published in July 1976) making the deeply-fluted back ribs with an earlier version of the technique we now use for this construction.
So it was that 23 years later, we were invited by Joël Dugot to travel to Paris to examine with him the newly-discovered Chambure vihuela; he was very interested in our opinions, since Stephen had such intimate knowledge and experience of the Dias guitar. Driving around the Péripherique in northern Paris, heading for the Cité de la Musique, we were wondering with great excitement what we would find; speculating about the newly-discovered vihuela, we suddenly had the strong feeling that it was a dark reddish colour (although we had never seen colour photos, or had its appearence described to us by Joël Dugot, beyond commenting that its back looked to be built the same way as the Dias). Imagine the feeling when we first set eyes on the Chambure, and it was indeed dark red apparently made from mahogany.
We spent an entire day taking careful measurements, using the special and unique equipment that we'd developed for measuring lute backs and viol bellies so that we could be absolutely sure of the curvature of its back ribs in every important plane - and took hundreds of photographs. Joël's parting remark to us, after we'd visited the Musicora exhibition taking place nearby, and had coffee together in a café near the Musée, was "I think you are going to make this vihuela, n'est-ce pas ?". Armed with a comprehensive set of measurements and photographs (there being no drawing available from the Musée at this time) we drove back to London, full of optimism and excitement about the forthcoming project to reconstruct this fantastic instrument.
Once we'd got back to our workshop in London and had the photographs we'd taken printed, and were able to sit down and study and collate the information we'd collected, we decided that we would set about exploring how to make the double-bent back ribs, and were determined from the outset to use no modern technology or adhesives whatsoever - we would only use techniques that would have been available to our predecessors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We began to work on the instrument in early 2000, with the body and neck of the first prototype approaching completion in November 2000, the punches for its rosette finished in February 2001, and the new vihuela finally strung in early May, in time for the 2001 Regensburg exhibition. We felt confident that we had, through a lot of hard work and effort, solved the mystery of how to make the spectacular deeply-fluted back of this wonderful instrument - and we knew we were the first modern luthiers to do so, and build an exact copy of it.
The plot thickens . . .
However, in early February 2003, it came to our attention that somebody had tried to falsely claim our original exploratory research on reconstructing the Chambure vihuela as his own work. Here's what happened:
Experimental moulds which we had made at the beginning of our researches in early 2000 were stolen slyly removed without our knowledge or consent, back in early December 2000 from a wood-machining workshop in a college where Stephen used to teach many years ago (where we had temporarily placed them for evaluation purposes we were considering having more made at the time by the technicians there, who Stephen had known for 30 years). It was the London College of Furniture as was, now pretentiously re-invented as the London Metropolitan University (!). At the time we were told by these technicians that the missing moulds had probably been accidentally recycled for other purposes the machine-shop in question services a furniture-making course, an interior design course and an instrument-making course and it often happened that students passing through would walk off with pieces of timber they found lying around, and re-use them for their own projects although the moulds which 'disappeared' were in a restricted-access office, apparently safe from prying eyes. Those responsible for stealing the moulds must have thought that all their Christmases had come along at once.
We were irritated, naturally, at the loss of some of our moulds, but thought nothing more about the affair, accepting the 'innocent' explanation that they had probably been carelessly sawn-up to be used for something else by a furniture student; we took the remaining moulds away, and continued working on development of the techniques we had invented, and working on the prototype instrument, which was subsequently completed in May 2001.
We thought nothing more about the missing moulds, until we noticed in the last Lute Society quarterly of 2002 (which went out to members in late November) that somebody we seemed never to have heard of was going to speak on the subject of double-bent vihuela ribs at the January 2003 meeting. We were simply curious at first, naïvely thinking that somebody else who had also been working on the Chambure instrument's construction was planning to present their findings until we remembered that this same person, Richard Coleman, a former student of the college referred to above had emailed us in early 2002, asking us in a rather abrupt manner why we had made the Chambure's rosette of 2 layers of wood and 1 of parchment (he erroneously claimed it had 3 wooden layers, he'd obviously mistaken the over-painting covering the original instrument's rosette for a structural layer - see the images of the rosette further down this page). Naturally, our suspicions were aroused, since he had attended the college where our moulds had gone missing.
The truth is out there . . .
Our suspicions were confirmed when we were subsequently able to listen to a Minidisc recording of his presentation, given to the Lute Society in London on January 25th 2003 we were, conveniently for him 1000 miles away in Vienna at the time. This peroration contained by way of introduction the following remark: " If Steve Barber was here, I know I'd be treading on his toes". Indeed ? Furthermore, we were told by a friend that during this presentation, he was gleefully waving around moulds which she thought looked suspiciously like ours. You can imagine our mounting anger.
It seemed more than coincidence to us that this 'talk' given on January 25th was announced several weeks after we had announced on the Homepage of this site (in early October 2002) that we would be in Vienna between January 14th - 28th, and therefore unlikely to be at the Lute Society meeting on the 25th.
It was then drawn to our attention that an article written by the same person - had appeared in the newsletter of the organisation FoMRHI (which we have never subscribed to, so didn't know about) which, on the basis of access to our stolen property, purported to lay claim to and to describe although so wide of the mark and illiterate, as to be farcical a method for making the back of the Chambure vihuela.
The article began with this garbled but rather telling phrase: "The reader will bear with me if that which I am unfolding is already practiced, for surely I know some makers use similar methods, and I do not wish to 'steal their thunder' ". But it's apparently OK to steal moulds, is it ? Maybe the author should read up on some Norse mythology, wherein he may well ponder that when attempts are made to steal thunder from the gods, they tend to bite back; he might also consider the fate which befell Prometheus. And as for the Aztec gods . . . Quetzalcoatl will come and get you, matey.
Here's another extract from this man of letters: "While the former offers no problem for those of us making lutes, the latter presented a deep wish a sixteenth century Spanish find on vihuela making particularly the bending of ribs" (sic; from the FoMRHI article) and from his January 2003 'talk' to the Lute Society: "At this point one wishes that some self-respected 16th Century instrument maker . . . had made notes. . . without losing his hands. So that down the centuries, I could read these courtesy of Babelfish, cos I don't speak Spanish..". We think we know what he means here (not sure what Babelfish would make of it, though) but nobody at FoMRHI seemed to have bothered to try and edit this impenetrable guff, let alone taken the trouble to check if it was based upon original work. Interestingly, FoMRHI's editor/secretary taught at the same college; and curiously, the miscreant's teacher whose name Malcolm was scribbled on one of the pairs of stolen moulds we retrieved made this telling admission to us: "I mean for what it's worth, when Richard Coleman told me that he was going to do this talk, and it wasn't something I'd particularly encouraged him to do, I asked him to be extremely careful about what he said, bearing in mind the work that I know that you had done on vihuelas, and I said I don't want any question about, as it were, technical plagiarism".
Tellingly, Coleman does not anywhere in the talk or FoMRHI article claim to have invented or actually made the moulds well, he couldn't in all honesty, could he ? Either that or he was just clever enough not to try and falsely claim such credit, knowing the likely fallout once we'd learnt the truth
This person, who had tried in this talk and article to claim as his own our moulds and perforce our original ideas, blurted out during his talk to the Lute Society that once the moulds had come into his hands, what had defeated him utterly thus far was now made at least possible; yes, we bet it was. Ironically for the perpetrators (he did not act alone) of this attempt at technical plagiarism and theft of intellectual as well as physical property, having access to a mould is a very small part of the process and technique we invented, developed and perfected.
Alerted by these developments, we did some further investigation, and were able to put 2 and 2 together conclusively: and we now know for certain what really happened to the moulds we were experimenting with, those responsible having admitted their skulduggery. That the moulds had been stolen was bad enough, but for somebody to then claim them as his own - and moreover to do so publicly in a talk, and in print in FoMRHI, was simply unacceptable. Our investigations have revealed exactly who lay behind this scam, and that furthermore they knew all along (ie since the moulds 'disappeared') that they had our property illegally in their possession, and without our consent. We of course demanded the return of the stolen moulds forthwith; interestingly enough, the threat of legal action and public exposure forced their return; we were not surprised to find that one of the moulds had 'Malcolm' scrawled on it. We will publish all in due course.
Honest research and experimentation are one thing, but that is not what happened in this case: our property was stolen, and the perpetrators went on to furtively use it although they of course knew full-well that the moulds were our work and intellectual property and an ill-advised and cynical attempt was then made by one of them to falsely claim our research and ideas as his own. Having been made aware of what had happened, the Lute Society realised that it had had the wool pulled over its eyes, and that the talk given in January 2003 was blatant plagiarism, using our original ideas and work without our knowledge or consent. The Lute Society did not publish it, given the circumstances, and undertook to seek a published correction and apology from FoMRHI, who ought to be have been ashamed of themselves, but probably aren't, as no apology has ever been forthcoming. So much for the pretence of FoMRHI to be an honest forum.
Hopeless Old Rebec Makers and Failed Intellectuals: a case of déja-vu, Prior-ity, or publish and be damned ?
A former student of Stephen's Mark Mitchell produced during his college days a very funny lampoon of FoMRHI's newsletter back in 1983, which he titled HoRMFI - hence the reference above. When we were working with Dietrich Kessler in 1988 on investigating the construction of viol soundboards which were bent, rather than carved, it was suprise, surprise, somebody involved with FoMRHI who rushed into print (as a clear spoiling tactic) knowing that Dietrich was planning to publish our joint findings himself (which he subsequently did in the journal Early Music). Needless to say, the method proposed in the FoMRHI article was laughably wrong and misleading based as it was on a complete misunderstanding of the process of constructing a viol front from bent staves and apparently published for no other motive than to pretend to have got there first. Sound familiar ? In the circumstances, we are sure the reader will understand why we regard these shenanigans with contempt; it is indeed sad that the enthusiasm and ideals which informed the beginnings of FoMRHI seem to have been traduced and lost in recent years.
Meanwhile, you should beware of imitations and knock-offs, based upon a stolen and only half-baked understanding of our methods; following a lot of research and investigation since examining the original in April 1999, we were the first modern makers to produce a proper copy of the Chambure original, strung in May 2001 with its back made of Cuban mahogany which has a similar density and general properties to the zizyphus of the original (not of a fruitwood, as the plagiarist mistakenly thought and certainly not pearwood, which is about as difficult to bend as cardboard, or even maple also easily bent). It would appear that certain makers have since read the wretched FoMRHI article and taken advantage of the plagiarism it contains and attempted to jump on the bandwagon, following the garbled and misleading suggestions Coleman presented in the talk and article although of course it doesn't change the fact that it was we who got there first, as the plagiarist has since been obliged to admit.
A rash of Chambure 'copies' has appeared since the FoMRHI article was published, and we wonder how many makers currently building such instruments having read it, are now feeling a little uncomfortable, with the realisation that the FoMRHI article was not the original work it purported to be, but blatant plagiarism, based, furthermore, upon our property, which had been stolen. None so far have had the grace to acknowledge where the real credit lies for the initial discovery of the path towards the solution, but the fact remains that we got there first, through honest and intelligent endeavour.
Generosity of spirit, honesty and integrity seem to be in short supply among certain 'colleagues', manifested not least by the whining carpings of a certain conceited freeloading recipient of one Crafts Council grant after another; and another self-publicising Johnny-come-lately to vihuela playing, who has jumped from one instrument to another, 'retired' from semi-professional playing (for the second time in 5 years) came back again like a bad penny, then threatened to inflict a boring, ghastly 'blog' on the rest of us (it strangely fizzled out after one posting). His next announcement was an interest in blues guitar; John Lee Hooker must have been shitting himself.
It amuses us that one person, in an attempt to gain some kudos for himself in the wake of our having built the first proper copy of the Chambure instrument, has published an entire article, which has whole chunks and ideas apparently lifted from this website, although the author coyly states that ". . . bending the wood into this shape is a difficult technique to master". No doubt reading FoMRHI and trying to understand Coleman's ramblings is a difficult technique to master, too. We note that this author, too, has adopted our convention of referring to the instrument as The Chambure Vihuela, as he titles his piece. This fellow also repeats the canard that the rose is made of 3 layers of pearwood, when it is quite clearly only 2 layers of wood (possibly pearwood, but with no grain discernible) and 1 layer of parchment (see close-up images of the original rose, below). If this person failed to observe this rather obvious and basic fact when he examined the instrument - as he claimed to have done in March 2000 what else did he not notice ? But thereagain, that FoMRHI article must have been quite helpful, despite an apparent inability to distinguish parchment from wood.
The two images above show the original instrument's rosette (the missing section to the right in each view helps to orientate the viewpoint - the soundboard was rotated through 180û between the two photographs). Its structure - two layers of wood backed by one layer of parchment on the inner surface - is clearly visible; the parchment layer carries cut and punched filigree detailing. The outer, upper surfaces are covered in a thin layer of paint or gesso, whilst the inside view shows the parchment curling away from the timber in places, with the undulating distortion of the rosette due to the effects of age and fluctuating humidity unmistakable; a little chip of the gesso/paint layer can be clearly seen missing from one of the heart-shaped motifs just below centre in the left-hand image. The lowest layer is not as some people have erroneously claimed very thin wood backed with parchment; it is not, it is simply parchment, covered in the same layer of paint or gesso as the rest of this rosette.
All along we had developed our ideas way beyond the gormless and semi-literate misunderstandings presented in the talk and the FoMRHI article, based as they were upon a complete failure to understand how to use our stolen property. The people behind this the student was obviously not working alone may have had the moulds illicitly in their possession for some time, but they had clearly utterly failed to work out what to do with them; and now we have retrieved our stolen property (albeit that we now have back in our possession a mould which seems, during its X Files-like abduction, to have been mysteriously covered in cork and christened 'Malcolm' ). This pair of clowns clearly thought they had put one over on us, but are they laughing now ? Again what goes around, comes around.
And by the way: steaming the wood into shape (which is very far from what we do) as expounded by Coleman - and sheepishly followed by the others who are currently working from the FoMRHI article - is simply building dangerous stress into the instrument, which can only come out later, since the resultant structure is unstable. If you steam something, it eventually tries to revert to its original shape, simple as that. Sooner or later, the chickens will come home to roost, with the inevitable consequence of instruments whose back ribs have been steamed or forced into an attenpt at the double-curved shape eventually folding-up and collapsing. And steaming doesn't work with the timber of the original, which is why none of the 'steamers' working from the FoMRHI ramblings has managed to produce a proper copy of the original Chambure vihuela. One of the versions we've been sent images of was made from figured maple, but with some of the slices missing from the sequence - suggesting that the maker had struggled, and wrecked a few ribs - and found the steaming technique proposed by Coleman to be far from a definitive solution. Our moulds may have been furtively spirited away (temporarily, as it turned out - the threat of legal action forced their return) and fecklessly thrown into the public domain, but without being able to ask us to explain what you do with them, the knaves responsible were obviously at a loss as to what to do next they'd scratched their heads, but only got splinters. What goes around, comes around, guys.
Much ill-informed comment has been written about the Dias and the Chambure instruments, which causes us not a few wry smiles; having drawn the original Dias guitar and built copies of it over a quarter of a century ago, and refined those original techniques in the last few years to produce copies and versions of the Chambure vihuela, we feel that, on the one hand we have nothing to prove but on the other hand the reader will understand why we view with contempt the petty backstabbing, whining and 'Chinese whispers' which some have recently attempted to perpetrate (including from a certain dilettante whose entire career has been underwritten by one Crafts Council grant and bursary after another). None of the unseemly plagiarism and posturing we've had to put up with recently changes the fact that we got there first, whilst others have been trailing in our wake.
A rit of fealous jage . . .
As a postscript to this saga, it amuses us that, far from arousing excitement and delight now that a genuine vihuela has come to light, curiously, the appearance of the original Chambure vihuela has exercised the paranoid tendencies of certain makers, pundits and other sensitive flowers, who, grappling with the challenge it represents, would seem to prefer that it did not exist (and who appear to be terminally challenged by its construction). To our intense amusement, this wonderful instrument seems to cause a lot of ill-informed barking and gnashing of teeth in the modern guitar and lutemaking worlds; and we have received some hysterical abuse from a few of these ill-informed 'worthies', none of whom had ever even examined the instrument, and on the basis of this perforce blind ignorance, have voiced various ludicrous claims, ranging from the suggestion that it is a fake (of what, pray ?) to a type of 19th-Century guitar (!) to it having been made in Nürnberg (that well-known Iberian outpost in Bavaria, and famous home-from-home for lost vihuela players and makers) by local violin maker Matthias Hummel, in the early 18th Century (© Matanya Ophee). Yeah, right.
Matanya Ophee's fulminating and pointless interventions
This vociferous clown whose alleged profession is publishing who told the rest of us that the Chambure instrument was either a fake or a type of 19th Century guitar, and who hectoringly and falsely made the Hummel claim, also (in a style reminiscent of the long-vanished Iraqi information minister 'Comical Ali') claimed that the Chambure is identical to 3 vaulted-back guitars in the Sellas style in St Petersburg, and by the same maker even though images of these instruments are freely available (see below) and they are about as 'identical' to the Chambure as a cabbage is to a football. The guitar he claimed as having the Hummel label is actually an Italianate guitar utterly different in the construction of its back from the Chambure vihuela (none of the guitars in St Petersburg does have an authenticated Hummel label there is only reference made in a catalogue list to a Hummel label in the collection, but not inside any of their guitars). He clings to this crap to this day, although nobody's listening. His motto is clearly 'Never let the truth get in the way of a large attack of verbal flatulence'. Incidentally, has anybody ever seen Ophee and Comical Ali in the same room, at the same time? Hmm.
His unique style is long-overdue for recognition: here's an earlier example, dating back to April 22nd 2000, when Ophee sent this 'contribution' to the discussion then underway on the lute list* concerning the Chambure vihuela:
"As for Dugot's presentation and his article: it is an interesting speculation but rather inconclusive IMO. What particularly disturbs me about the content of the article is that it does not includes (sic) a reference to the several cognate instruments, probably by the same maker, that reside in the St. Petersburg Museum of Musical Instruments and were catalogued as vihuelas in the 1972 published catalogue of that collection compiled by Georgii Blagodatov. And how do I know that the catalogue listings refers to exactly the same instrument that was supposedly discovered by Monsieur Dugot ? By having been there, given a complete guided tour by the then curator, Russian lute maker Alexander Batov, and having seen the instruments in person more than ten years ago.
Dugot, when I asked him about it after his Paris presentation, did not know about the St. Petersburg vihuelas. So I gave him all the details right then and there, which, so it seems, he either forgot about or chose to ignore when he wrote his article".
Of course he ignored it, it was rubbish, and the usual Ophee spluttering nonsense; but what's most amusing about this stupid statement made in a fit of pique because Ophee's own contribution to the 1998 Paris Colloque was not deemed worthy of publishing, and he'd decided to take it out on Joël is that Ophee clearly was either trying to spread false information by trying to fool people that there were three other instruments by the same maker, or he really is so daft that he cannot tell the difference between the guitar in the black & white images below, and the Paris instrument (we've presented images of our close copy of it for comparison, and to show just how misleading, pointless and worthless Ophee's intervention really is). Amusingly, Ophee conveniently 'forgets' that the Paris instrument has no label, hence we don't know for sure who the maker was: yet he feels free to tell us that they are all by the same maker. And this is the fool who has the hubris to dismiss Joël Dugot's careful organology as 'interesting speculation'. A measure of Ophee's character is that it is perfectly normal behaviour for him to use the phrase: " . . . supposedly discovered by Monsieur Dugot" in a worthless attempt to belittle Joël's honest professionalism and in the next sentence trumpet all the rubbish about Alexander Batov giving him 'a complete guided tour' in which Ophee claims Batov told him that the three guitars are vihuelas; that's what Ophee's email says, quite clearly. We'll leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions about Ophee's motives.
Alexander Batov since, however (in early 2005) told Ophee on the Lute list* that he does not now believe that the three hapless instruments quoted by Ophee are vihuelas; he's also tried to explain to Ophee that they do not have the same fluted-back construction as the Paris 'Chambure' instrument, and are simply guitars.
The other interesting aspect of Ophee's email is the reference to Batov, who had since moved to the UK, and recently sought to present himself as an authority on the vihuela. So did Batov really ever tell Ophee that the three instruments in St Petersburg were vihuelas ? We wonder, since Alexander Batov is currently claiming on his website that a perfectly ordinary, similar guitar (also having a simple vaulted back) here in London in the V&A is also a vihuela. For further comment on this, please refer to the article further down this page.
*The Lute list can be subscribed to at email@example.com by sending a message with the word "subscribe" in the first line. The lute list archives can be found at:
We have been asked to remind people of the annual Matanya Ophee prize for Recent Setbacks In Organology. Candidates are invited to submit entries along these lines:
"I think that the St Petersburg guitar N 424 shown in the image below . . .
. . . is identical to one of these"
Prizes are awarded according to levels of blockishness (©Thomas Mace) idiocy and obfuscation; gratuitous abuse (©Matanya Ophee) earns extra points. The distinguished man of letters and vihuela expert Ophee graciously presents the awards in person, which consist of signed copies of his slim volume: Matanya's Charm School: A Guide To Graceful Manners.
Ophee has protested on the internet that he has been 'savaged and trashed' by the exposé above (allegedly by one 'Sandi Barber' whoever he or she is); another case of pots calling kettles black, when his signature style has always been to 'savage and trash' (as he puts it) anybody who dares disagree with him; that's exactly how he reacted to our initial, dignified announcement back in 2001 that we'd completed the first modern copy of the Chambure vihuela. As stated above, it's all there for anybody to read in the archives of the Dartmouth lute list, along with other vituperation he has posted against anybody so foolish as to express an opinion contrary to his.
Back in June 2005, Ophee announced very publicly that he was about to visit St Petersburg, and would publish photos of the '3 identical vihuelas' in the St Petersburg museum, to show the world that the 'Chambure' instrument in Paris is clearly identical to them, and ipso facto a German guitar (???). The great man's June 2005 expedition has come and gone, and we and the world are still waiting . . . rumour has it that he wasn't in St Petersburg at all, but was sailing up and down Loch Ness in search of the monster, miffed because it had apparently published some 7-string guitar music underwater. Or was that Hummel? How strange that he should have been lurking around the Loch, when he affects such contempt for its namesake Arthur Ness, a decent and honest man.
An acquaintance of his remarked recently that he is so volatile that he would probably explode if one were to wish him 'happy birthday'. . . so Many Happy Returns, MO.
Another of these 'experts' (an amateur maker and player who apparently scribbles away in the proctology department in a local government office here in the UK, in Leeds) in a fit of pique - or maybe, as Inspector Clouseau of the Sureté would put it, 'a rit of fealous jage' took the René Magritte approach This Is Not A Vihuela and made the wonderfully surreal suggestion that he did not need to actually look at the instrument to know exactly what it was (or wasn't) and was thus happy to pontificate from a distance. He claimed to be able to absolutely tell the difference between as he bleatingly put it an elephant and a monkey (?) simply by looking in a book, and that was all that was necessary for such a cognoscento as he. Indeed.
In response to this extraordinary statement, Stephen wished him the best of luck, should he ever encounter a marauding elephant only to discover that it was actually a bit larger than an A4 page from a book . . . or for that matter a vihuela-playing monkey.
To paraphrase the great Dr Samuel Johnson, Employment in local government is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Well, clearly in the case of two of the characters in this saga.
The frustrated ramblings of this daft pair, whilst providing endless amusement, add nothing to the furthering of our knowledge and appreciation of the vihuela and its music (or indeed very much else). And quite what satisfaction they derive from their chosen state of blissful ignorance is anybody's guess. Unsurprisingly, they subscribe to FoMRHI.
Subscribers to FoMRHI both here in the UK and in North America have been busy ever since, knocking out versions of this instrument. Various instrument makers have written articles, made presentations, and generally tried to claim some à-priori 'knowledge' of the techniques we pioneered, without any of them having the grace to acknowledge the truth: that it was our original work, and our stolen moulds published in FoMRHI which pointed all of them in the right direction in the first place.
There has almost been a queue forming, of people trying to claim for themselves the discovery of a reliable process; but by a curious coincidence, all of these have appeared since the FoMRHI plagiarism first surfaced and all those now offering 'copies' of this instrument are surprise, surprise, FoMRHI subscribers to a man. Even Clouseau could work out the sequence of events . . . Entertainingly, their 'explanations' have ranged from the modestly vague: ". . . bending the wood into this shape is a difficult technique to master" to the downright flatulent claim by a recent speaker that bending wood in this way is "Common knowledge in the violin-making world ". Nonsense ! Having for all his working life maintained close contacts with distinguished colleagues in the violin-making world (including Charles Beare, the distinguished Stradivari connoisseur, and owner of a fine collection of original Venetian lutes and guitars, including the Magno dieffopruchar 6c lute) Stephen smiles at this feeble explanation. (This person's starting-point was, we have been told, an article written by the late Rémy Gug, who spent his own working life struggling against plagiarists and parsimonious nit-pickers not to mention trustafarians and freeloaders; Rémy's article concerned the bending of historical harpsichord bentsides using hot sand).
However, neatly leaving aside the fact that no archives or guild records anywhere explain any of the processes and/or methods used by the old violeros, his mischievous and misleading suggestion deserves clarification: yes, there are references to vihuelas being made ' acanaladas' (fluted), aconvadas' (convex) or 'vihuelas tunbadas' (that is with a bent back in the shape of a tomb, tumba) and there are also references to the use of sandbags in laying wood veneers and tortoiseshell. But all of us who have searched for a solution to the question of how these double-curved ribs were originally made, and arrived at a technique for making them, cannot say that our method is definitely what the old makers did.
We can't make such a claim, but what we can honestly lay claim to is having been the first modern makers to work out a method and in our case, entirely without relying on somebody else's original work. The vihuelas which we've built in this style have been consistently clear, responsive and powerful instruments.
And we got there first . . .
The Belchior Dias guitar of 1581 the earliest surviving guitar
In response to a number of misleading claims and dubious statements which have been made by Alexander Batov, since September 2004, both in public forums and on his website, and in emails to an internet 'discussion group' he was instrumental in setting up misinformation concerning the Dias guitar and other significant early plucked stringed instruments we have decided to publish the facts and the background, and images of the Dias. Many people have contacted us, commenting that Batov's interventions and statements which seem to be rather transparently self-promoting should be responded to.
Therefore, in order that anybody misled or confused by him can review the actual evidence for themselves, and make up their own minds (and contrast the evidence with his ill-observed 'theories') we present the images and text which follow.
When he was initially approached by the Royal College of Music in London to draw some of their instruments in early 1976, Stephen Barber decided to take a radically-different approach from previous museum drawings, which seemed at best to have been produced with little concern for anybody who had purchased them with a view to trying to build an instrument from them. Approaching the first drawing, the Dias guitar drawn when Stephen was 24 years old he decided to ignore all previously-adopted 'standards' and conventions and produce a drawing which the prospective maker could actually work from with confidence. Using his art school training and photographic abilities, Stephen set about producing his first ever set of drawings commissioned from a museum the first set of many that followed in subsequent years. Instrument makers have benefitted from these drawings ever since, and made (and presumably made a living from selling) instruments built from them.
These drawings revolutionised how museums presented information on important items in their collections, and they have set standards for accuracy and presentation in technical drawings of plucked and bowed stringed musical instruments which have since been adopted and followed by a large number of museums and institutions. As well as being referred to and acknowledged in countless publications and articles, they have also of course been of enormous benefit to researchers as well as modern instrument makers around the world. The late Robert Lundberg and the distinguished German musical instrument researcher and scholar Friedemann Hellwig are but two major figures in the lute world who have praised the quality of Stephen's drawings and research work.
Back in 1976, Stephen despite a chorus of ignorance prevailing at the time was the first person to observe and go on record categorically that the ribs of the back of the Dias guitar were bent, not carved from a solid block; and he has not only had this observation accepted and vindicated in recent years by the appearance of a second instrument in Paris whose back is made in the same way, but also received acknowledgement of this pioneering work from several organologists and other experts, including Antonio Corona and Joël Dugot; these endorsements underline the quality, significance and value of the original ground-breaking 1976 drawings.
Nevertheless, a number of books and publications continued to spread ill-informed comment following the publication of the drawings: for example, in Guitares, Chefs-d'oeuvre des collections de France (1980, Eurydice, Paris) on page 57 it is stated: "The back of the 1581 Dias is carved from a single block, instead of being built from thin curved strips, and this makes the guitar heavy for its size".
At least in the Notes on page 318, the authors comment under Note 1 that: "Selon Stephen Barber, dans ses notes sur le plan de cet instrument, la table n'est pas d'origine et serait un travail Français du XVIIIieme siècle. La caisse est de dalbergia cearensis, et le fond n'est pas taillé dans la masse, mais constitué de plusiers bands". The Eurydice book does, however, contain beautiful colour photographs of several important guitars, including the Dias.
Unfortunately, in Kevin Coates' generally excellent Geometry, Proportion and the Art Of Lutherie (1985, Clarendon Press, Oxford) on page 148, not only is Dias' name mis-spelt as Diaz, but the date is also wrongly given as 1582; the text states: "The vaulted back consists of seven 'Doric'-fluted ribs of fruitwood . . ."
Tom and Mary Anne Evans write on page 27 of Guitars from the Renaissance to Rock (1977, OUP Oxford) "The arched back is carved from a single piece of wood, and not made from separate strips as were the arched backs of seventeenth-century guitars, making the instrument very heavy for its size".
It took a while for the truth of the matter, which Stephen observed while drawing the Dias back in 1976 (and clearly presented on the drawings and the notes which accompanied them) to sink in; today, nobody doubts that the Dias' back is made from separate fluted ribs, its deeply-fluted, vaulted back construction of double-curved, bent ribs acanalada e aconvada (Tumbado), according to the original sources.
A response to Alexander Batov's claims regarding the 1581 Belchior Dias guitar
However, there has been for several years now a commentary published by Alexander Batov on his website, which attempts to place false and misleading information in the public domain about the Dias guitar; subsequently, this commentary was then expanded upon and presented in a public forum at a meeting of the Lute Society. The starting point for Batov's remarks contained in a webpage somewhat optimistically-titled "The guitar and vihuela crossroads - looking for evidence" is to gainsay Stephen Barber's published drawings of the Dias guitar, making the mischevious claim that the instrument is a vihuela. By a mixture of frivolously nit-picking at Stephen's original 1976 drawings and making a number of false statements about them, and making unsubstantiable and groundless speculations about the Dias and other instruments. Through various distortions (and selective quotes from a 2002 dictionary of Spanish instrument makers although of course the Dias was made in Lisbon, Portugal) he seems to be attempting to pass off as 'facts' his own fantasies and unsustainable opinions about this guitar and other surviving old instruments.
For reasons that will become clear from the following text and images, whatever the Dias instrument was originally made as (we contend that it was built as a 5-course guitar the suggestion proposed by some, which we think is extremey unlikely, given its date a 5-course vihuela) one thing it was never intended to have is 6 courses, since by no stretch of the imagination or the facts was its narrow neck ever made to carry 6 courses.
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the original Dias guitar, and unable to visit the Royal College of Music in London and check for themselves, we have published here below a number of images along with a commentary on Batov's claims and speculations, which expose the sham contained within them; the reader is thus able to draw his or her own conclusions regarding their veracity.
Stephen who was commissioned by the Royal College of Music to draw the Dias for publication in 1976 felt that Batov's remarks and naïve speculations should be responded to, in order that people are not misled by them; he considers that the way Batov has gone about posting his speculations is unfortunate, and comes across as a gratuitous attempt to gainsay somebody who is a respected, acknowledged expert with considerable experience as an instrument maker and researcher, simply to try to persuade people reading his website that his nonsensical statements regarding the Dias guitar have some basis in fact.
They do not, and Stephen responds to Batov's claims as follows:
"It has come to my attention that Alexander Batov has posted a lengthy commentary about my drawings (and the original guitar) on his website, in an attempt to convince people that the Dias guitar was originally built as a vihuela, and moreover, as one with 6 courses. Reading through his remarks, it is clear to me that they are shot through with false statements and claims, and arbitrary speculations which are not supported by the evidence, and blatantly misleading so-called observations and 'corrections'.
Since there is a whole section of his website devoted to trying to convince people to accept his claims that the Dias is a vihuela and not a guitar, and since these claims start with Batov questioning the accuracy of my 1976 drawings and observations, I have decided to challenge his misleading statements and claims and publish here actual images of the Dias along with responses and corrections to Batov's comments, website and internet postings, which will allow people to draw their own conclusions regarding his claims and motives.
Since his remarks appeared on the web, I have been contacted by a large number of true experts in this area, who are concerned that Batov's misleading statements and false claims are not allowed to pass unchallenged; it is important that anybody stumbling across Batov's statements on this subject on the internet and on his website is made aware that they are misleading and wrong.
Batov introduces his claims about the Dias (and other instruments) by alleging that there are several mistakes on my 1976 drawings, and the clear implication is given that they cannot be trusted; since he has seen fit to post these opinions in a public forum on his website which has then been actively puffed at every opportunity (on the lute list, for example, and on a 'vihuela discussion group' set up for their mutual advantage by him and his client) I have decided to publish a detailed rebuttal, since almost all of the claims and comments he makes are false; I have included herein close-up images of the Dias guitar which of course the vast majority of people will only know through the few published photographs (and of course, my drawings) so that people reading the following text can judge for themselves. I also publish here images of another instrument again a guitar which Batov also tried to claim as another vihuela.
As a forward to the following remarks, I am using the word 'vihuela' in this context to refer to the type of instrument that was used to play the music contained in the surviving 7 books of music, published between 1538 and 1576; I am not concerned here with the habit which persisted in Spain until the eighteenth Century of using the word 'vihuela' in a generic manner.
Firstly, I note that Batov made no attempt to contact either myself or the Museum of the Royal College of Music to consult us prior to publishing the material currently on his website; I regard this as discourteous and deeply unprofessional, and so do the Museum. I further note that Batov does not credit me with making the drawings, which he describes as "Having been in circulation since 1976".
Both I and Elizabeth Wells, the former director of the RCM Museum, regretfully note Batov's carelessness in posting mere opinions on his website (which he claims are 'facts') about the Dias without having advised or consulted either of us beforehand; the fact that the garbled and self-contradictory statements he makes have no basis in the evidence presented by the actual instrument leads one to wonder if his motive is simply commercial after all, he is in the business of making and selling instruments, yet appears to believe that posting a lengthy piece on his website which masquerades as insight and something new which has escaped the rest of us for all these years will pass without comment.
I note that Batov's ideas and statements regarding the Dias have already been the subject of responses from Antonio Corona, a person who does know what he is talking about regarding the vihuela and early guitar. Antonio has also demonstrated from the viewpoint of a scholar and player that Batov has made false and misleading statements in this matter, and that his opinions should be treated with scepticism; I will demonstrate here that Batov's claims regarding the Dias and other matters do not bear the scrutiny of comparison to the evidence presented by the actual instrument.
I was initially surprised by the bizarre way in which Batov set out to cast doubt on my drawings, which have been in the public domain since May 1976, when they were published by the Royal College of Music along with accompanying, explanatory notes. I note that nowhere does Batov have the grace to acknowledge any merit in them which calls into question his motivation, in my view.
In sharp contrast to Batov's approach, Robert Lundberg has commented: "In July of 1982, while the lute was open, the English lute maker Stephen Barber published a nicely detailed and informative set of measured drawings consisting of two sheets of interior and exterior views plus notes. These were a welcome addition to a very short list of really complete museum-quality lute drawings" (American Luthierie, #32, 1992). As Batov knows full well, the Dias drawings are reliable, which is more than can be said for his inexperienced and ill-informed speculations.
To attempt to dismiss the drawings in the way he originally did which gave the impression that they are some sort of sketch that has been copied and passed around in a samizdat way since 1976 seems to be a deliberate insult to both myself and the RCM. Amusingly, Batov tried to backtrack somewhat by at least saying that the RCM 'released' the drawings in 1976 although he quite clearly doesn't possess the simple courtesy to name me as their author; I wonder why not?
The position is this: the RCM, in the person of Elizabeth Wells, the curator of the instrument museum, commissioned the drawings from me my having been approached by Ian Harwood and recommended by him. I measured and examined the guitar and produced them for publication by the RCM Museum, for the benefit of those interested in this important artifact. Batov has, of course, only been able to make his so-called 'copy' of the Dias because of the existence of my drawings; I was informed by Elizabeth Wells that he had not measured the instrument prior to making this 'copy', and only photographed it in its display case, through the glass. It appears that he only actually had the guitar on the table before him in the RCM Museum a few weeks after originally publishing the misleading material on his website.
After having initially read the bizarre comments on Batov's website, I decided to look again at the Dias not having at that point in time (October 2004) handled it for over 28 years. I was curious to see if any of his claims had any merit or if he had found something new and interesting which had escaped my attention originally; I take the view that one never stops learning or discovering new things if one has an open and inquiring mind and I therefore wanted to give Batov the benefit of the doubt, and look again at the Dias with fresh eyes. However, I was surprised at just how wrong his claims were, and the unedited photographs reproduced here (taken on Thursday October 21st 2004) clearly show just how much he is distorting the evidence and attempting to hoodwink those unfamiliar with the original instrument.
I am concerned that his claims that the Dias is a 6-course vihuela and not a 5-course guitar are intended to distort the facts and to mislead; its very narrow neck (which has quite clearly never been altered from its original state) makes it impossible that it was ever intended to carry 6 courses of strings.
I therefore decided to put the record straight and respond to his statements, since I feel that this important historical instrument should not be passed off as something it is not.
Many reading this will know that more than 30 years ago I drew the attention of the world of organologists and instrument makers to the fact that the Dias guitar's back was constructed from bent strips of wood and not carved. Many experts and players consider me something of an authority on these instruments, having built copies of the Dias way back then, and having in more recent years built the first copies of the related Paris 'Chambure' vihuela. For the sake of setting the record straight, so that others are not misled by him, and in order to refute his unfounded comments about my drawings, I am not prepared to sit back and let Batov make his misleading claims unchallenged. A detailed response based upon the actual facts presented by the Dias itself illustrated by close-up photographs I took in October 2004, which are reproduced below is the best way of exposing his claims to proper scrutiny, and casting the light of unequivocal evidence upon them.
In tandem with his claims that it is a 6-course vihuela, Batov has posted images of what he calls a 'complete copy' of the Dias instrument on his website; the instrument he depicts is fitted with 6 courses and its back and sides are made from cocobolo. The first problem I have with this 'copy' is that he has made the neck of his 'copy' considerably wider than that of the original Dias instrument, presumably so as to fit 6 courses (he has made his instrument with 1x1 and 5x2 stringing) onto the neck. The centrally-placed hole which Batov refers to as the '11th peghole' has been obviously moved by him significantly up the pegbox away from the lower end of the pegbox rear (and of course away from the nut) so that the player's left hand would not be obstructed whilst playing in the first position as it of course would with a peg inserted in this hole, had Batov copied its exact position and equally significantly its angle, from where it stands on the original Dias. Comparing the images of the original Dias published here with what Batov calls his 'complete copy' clearly illustrates just how much he has distorted the original guitar's proportions and dimensions.
Above: The hole drilled through the pegbox which Batov claims is an 11th peghole made by Belchior Dias, the original maker of the guitar; note the rough scratches near the nut, probably associated with the poor-quality workmanship of whoever drilled this extra hole near the nut.
In the set of images below, I placed a peg in this hole (which has a different taper to the other 10 holes) and it is quite obvious that when playing a guitar as small as this one (553mm string length) the left hand would strike any peg placed in this hole: the first fret whatever the fretting system employed is impossibly close to the peg; this is quite unambiguously clear from the left and central images below. Batov knew this, and of course moved the central hole in his 'copy' further up the pegbox, out of the way; he also moved the other pegholes further up, and changed the proportions of the design of the original pegbox and elongated it.
So: a 'complete copy' ? This, coupled with the obvious widening of the neck of his 'copy' from the original widths of the Dias guitar's neck: 40mm at the nut, 48.5mm at the body: these dimensions produce perforce a bridge spacing of 55mm, which is found on many surviving guitars from this instrument onwards, for over a century (55mm - 58mm occurs across a range of old guitars which have their original bridges). This widening in itself makes a nonsense of his claim that his instrument is in any meaningful way a'copy'. He has simply literally stretched the facts to suit his opinions. I invite the reader to compare these images of the original guitar with Batov's 'complete copy'.
Above: The original guitar does indeed have a hole drilled through the pegbox right behind the nut, and at an angle leaning away from the other pegs. As is quite obvious here, this hole was clearly not made by Belchior Dias, despite Batov's mendacious claim that it was. Consider for one moment trying to sit down with a little guitar of some 55cms string length, and trying to play it with that peg standing thus; now ask yourself how you could play the vihuela repertoire with a peg sitting where this one does. Small wonder that Batov altered its position and angle on his so-called 'Complete copy'.
Had Batov had the courage of his convictions, and wanted to honestly demonstrate that the Dias had been originally made as a 6-course vihuela as he claims, then he would have exactly copied the existing neck widths of Dias (which have not been altered or narrowed) and placed the '11th peghole' (as he calls it) exactly where it is on the Dias in other words, copied those factors which would allow a player to judge for themselves if the instrument was actually playable in the 6-course set-up he contends for. It is quite clear to me that he knows full well that the hole through the neck joint is not original, it was not made by Dias, it was probably not intended to house a tuning peg, and that the instrument was made as a 5-course guitar, not a 6-course vihuela.
The extra hole is drilled off-centre at the rear of the neck; is that really very likely to have been done originally by Dias as Batov claims given the beautifully-executed workmanship of the rest of the instrument ? Is it really plausible that such a craftsman would drill a hole so off-centre and crudely? It passes through the purfling decoration of the pegbox front (the other pegs are carefully placed within the loops of the design) and it is crudely made; at least Batov partially admits this in passing in his text. And moreover it clearly makes playing the instrument in the first position next to impossible: imagine for one moment sitting (or standing) and trying to play this little guitar with a peg in that position.
Where we differ is that to me it is inconceivable that Dias made that extra hole, since apart from being off-centre and roughly-made, it places the peg through the decoration, it is too close to the nut, it stands at an angle sloping towards the body of the instrument which would make playing impractical and uncomfortable and its crude and rough execution and obvious jarring with the existing decoration and design of the pegbox point to a later intervention or alteration. Batov knows this to be the case, which is why he has altered the proportions and dimensions of his 'copy' simply to try and prove his groundless claims.
Elizabeth Wells (at the time the RCM Museum curator) commented that she as a 'cello player was certain that a peg would not be placed so close to the nut how would any player manage to play through a piece which required he or she to return to the first position, on such a small instrument, without extreme inconvenience ? Indeed.
Above: The hole drilled through the pegbox right behind the nut, offcentre and leaning at an angle away from the other pegs.
Batov knew when making this 'copy' that the existing dimensions and proportions of the Dias let alone the angle of the extra hole would make playing the instrument as a 6-course tuned as a vihuela completely impossible, which is why he changed them to try and make a false point; the implication of his description of the instrument he has built as "Complete copy" is that he has indeed copied it in all aspects. But he emphatically has not. And trying to explain away (as he does) the narrowness of the original instrument's neck as something that modern players simply don't know how to approach, is in my view both lazy and an insult to the last 30 years of scholarship, study and performance by a vast number of players. Antonio Corona, Joël Dugot and myself, not to mention an enormous number of players, makers and scholars of the vihuela (and early guitar) clearly don't know what we're talking about . . .
Regarding the existing string spacings available on the Dias guitar 55mm (dictated by the width of its neck) one of the nearest comparable string spacings for five courses on a near-contemporary sixteenth Century plucked instrument is the six-course Gerle lute in the Vienna KHM, which measures 55mm for the first five courses; the Magno dieffopruchar six-course would produce around 56mm (its original bridge is missing). Nobody in their right mind believes that somehow vihuelistas in Spain and Portugal were struggling with 6 courses jammed into the space that other players were accustomed to having for five; and quoting theorboes, mandolins and other later instruments as Batov does in an attempt to support his claims about string spacing on the Dias is both misleading and irrelevant.
Six courses cannot be fitted onto the existing neck of the Dias (which is 40mm at the nut and 48.5mm at the body joint) which is why on his 'copy' Batov has increased the neck width from the original.
I now turn to the issue of the wood from which the guitar's sides and back are constructed; on his website, Batov says "It is very likely that the body of the Belchior Dias guitar/vihuela is made from cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa) rather than, as is commonly believed, from kingwood (Dalbergia cearensis)". I note with the contempt it deserves the sly attempt here to denigrate my professional competence: 'commonly believed" ? Batov, despite trying to present himself as somebody with experience in these matters, seems to me to be trying to gainsay my original and correct identification of kingwood for the simple reason that he does not know what it looks like, and probably does not have access to any true kingwood; reading a description of a timber in a textbook is no substitute for knowledge and experience.
When I examined the Dias 32 years ago, I immediately noted that it was made from kingwood (I was familiar with this timber because my grandfather a cabinetmaker used it in his workshop). I was in the fortunate position of having obtained a large quantity of kingwood in the 1970's, before it became effectively commercially extinct, thus I was in possession of a range of logs (and hence samples) of this timber. Having delivered the drawings and notes to Elizabeth at the Royal College of Music museum in July 1976, I also left with her a sample of kingwood a split log some 150mm in diameter and the same length (with one half of its surface planed), in order that anybody doubting the attribution of kingwood as the material from which the Dias' back and sides had been constructed, could compare and see for themselves.
It should be stated here that many museum timber attributions are wrong, and these mistakes can get amplified and distorted in published information: for example, Kevin Coates describes the Dias as being made of pearwood in his treatise on geometry and proportion (published several years after the Dias drawings appeared). I was therefore determined that with my drawings now in the public domain, a correct attribution would be presented from the outset which is why I left a sample of the timber at the RCM Museum for all to inspect and compare.
Kingwood is also more elastic than other rosewoods (it and cocobolo as well as Brazilian, or Rio rosewood, are dalbergia species) which lent further evidence to its use on the double-fluted ribs of the Dias guitar's back; I had direct experience of this property back in 1976 when I made two copies of the instrument (as a 5-course guitar, naturally, with kingwood sides and back).
Above: The small pores and characteristic gentle streaking of kingwood are clearly visible here, the ruler being included in the photo for scaling purposes; the continuous grain across the back ribs which have the triple purfled lines inlaid is also clearly visible in the lower image; note the lack of "rather strongly defined tight black veining", which is a signature characteristic of cocobolo, not kingwood (please see next image below).
Batov says on his website that kingwood exhibits "rather strongly-defined tight black veining". No it doesn't, as is obvious from the photos above. He seems to have directly quoted this phrase from some textbook or other, rather than observed this from personal experience or been in possession of actual samples of kingwood to compare to cocobolo; since real kingwood became effectively commercially extinct around 20 years ago, most textbooks refer to a similar wood which the timber trade calls 'para-kingwood'. I should know: apart from having several logs of the old wood, I also have a rather large log of para-kingwood, and the difference is more startling than that between Brazilian and Indian rosewoods. Para-kingwood comes from as far north as Mexico, and only began to be widely offered when true kingwood became scarce, whereas real, original kingwood as used on the Dias is Brazilian.
I reproduce below an image of a typical sample of cocobolo so, which timber has the "rather strongly-defined tight black veining" ? And note the typical orange hue that is presented by cocobolo.
I wonder if Batov has ever seen actual kingwood itself, otherwise presumably he wouldn't make the false claim that it has "rather strongly-defined tight black veining". On the other hand, this, his chosen description of kingwood obviously yet another quote from somebody else's work rather than personal observation and knowledge is a phrase which rather neatly describes cocobolo, by comparison a rather vulgar wood, relatively cheap and easily available (it always was, compared to kingwood). What he also neglects to mention is that cocobolo has a completely different pore structure to kingwood. I can tell the difference between cocobolo and kingwood, so can Joël Dugot and a host of other experts who have looked at the Dias guitar over the years; Batov apparently cannot yet he felt free to suggest that I've got it wrong and denigrate my expertise by using the rather dismissive phrase "as is commonly believed".
There of course remains the small matter of the Dias having been made in Lisbon from kingwood a timber from the then Portuguese colony of Brazil, whilst cocobolo originated from Mexico, then a Spanish colony; its importation and use in Spain (not Portugal) is not mentioned before the early years of the 17th Century, long after the Dias was made; on the other hand, kingwood was being used in Portuguese furniture in the mid-16th Century. The Dias guitar was made in 1581: go figure.
I invited him to visit the RCM museum, and ask them to show him again the kingwood sample I left with them over 30 years ago, and take along a sample of his beloved cocobolo ( I understand that Batov was shown the 1976 kingwood sample, and apparently went rather quiet) and see if he could spot the difference. His attempted dismissal of my own expertise in these matters by speculation and what comes across as thinly-veiled insult rather than observation and knowledge of the subject is treated with the contempt it deserves: "It is very likely that the body of the Belchior Dias guitar . . . is made from cocobolo . . . rather than, as is commonly believed, from kingwood". Quoting from a timber book and then selectively quoting from Romanillos & Winspear's book are no substitute for experience and knowledge and moreover do not mean that the Dias is made from cocobolo! How can Batov possibly suggest that because there is a 1622 reference to Pablo Herrera having made 2 guitars from cocobolo, that perforce means the Dias must be from this wood too? What sort of chop-logic is that? Perhaps he might try explaining this line of 'reasoning'.
Other Constructional details misunderstood by Batov
Pine blocks adjacent to soundboard bars
Batov claims that these are wrongly-placed on the drawings; I accept that he has a point here, I did indeed indicate that they were next to the existing bars (dating to the 17th Century soundboard and its bars). They are in fact slightly displaced from alignment beneath the existing bars; however, I do not think they are original, they appear to be glued over the linen tape which reinforces the joint between the two side ribs rather than the tape being cut back to allow their being glued directly to the inner surface of the ribs (as they are in all other examples of Iberian guitars I've examined).
They do not appear to sit flat on the tape (ie, there was never a small, shallow groove worked into their surface to allow intimate wood-to-wood contact with the timber either side of the linen as well as the linen itself and thereby sit properly on the wood and the tape). Looking at these again recently, I still am of the opinion that they are probably not original; Batov's proposal that they indicate the original bar positions is, in my view, like everything else 'new' he writes about the Dias, simply wrong. I've worked on enough old guitars including Iberian instruments such as Robert Spencer's former Dias-like guitar and Julian Bream's six-course Joseph Benedid guitar of 1787 to know that these bars (he refers to them as 'tuning-fork shaped') which support the soundboard bars (and which are usually glued in after the soundboard is glued on, with the instrument face-down, therefore before the back is glued on . . .) are not made like this, and I therefore consider that these tiny blocks in the Dias probably have nothing to do with supporting soundboard bars, even if they were original. Other guitars have strips of wood glued to the insides of their side ribs in order to give added strength to the sides (when the sides are either veneered, inlaid or assembled from more than one piece the Ashmolean Voboam guitar of 1641 is an obvious example); and in the Dias, there are also tiny pine blocks placed along the joins of the back which would appear to perform a similar function of strengthening a joint.
On the Chambure vihuela they are much larger, so this is not a useful comparison, since even if the Chambure instrument originated from the Dias workshops or school of makers, these are worked differently to what is found in the Dias. Again, had Batov had the benefit of properly examining the Dias, he might have seen what is actually there, rather than what he would like to see. His contention that these little blocks perforce show where the original bars of the Dias were (and according to him place the bridge perforce 5mm further up the soundboard !) is nonsense.
Inlaid triple purflings
Batov claims that the triple inlaid lines in the valleys of three of the back ribs of the Dias go all the way through; no they don't, they only do this at the ends. If you hold the guitar up, face down, and sight along those lines, they are wavy from side to side, and do not stand in a plane, therefore they are not assembled as fillets as he claims because if they were fitted between two planed halves of the rib (as would be implied by a 'sandwich' construction, rather than an inlay technique) they would perforce have to describe a flat plane from one viewpoint at least, and they do not; any lutemaker would understand this simple principle. For Batov's information, it is clear that Belchior Dias obviously inlaid the triple lines (which are, incidentally, not white-black-white as he claims, but rather white-brown-white, being ivory-kingwood-ivory) after the internal linings of linen were glued in place, to give strength to support the inlaying of these purflings. It seems that Dias may have deliberately let the inlaid lines run off at full depth at the ends, perhaps to baffle anybody subsequently examing his handiwork; if so, he seems to have succeeded with a certain person.
Furthermore, the grain across each of the three ribs fitted with these inlays is absolutely continuous, it has not slid out of alignment at all (which would be likely had the rib been sawn in half, had a flat edge planed on it and then re-assembled with a fillet of ivory/kingwood/ivory glued between the two halves). There would also be evidence inside the instrument, where the linen tape which is glued to reinforce the inner surfaces would reveal the presence of a 'sandwich' construction at least somewhere with a ridge or undulation, which would be produced by natural shrinkage over the centuries; of course it does not, because the lines are inlaid, not assembled. Dias was a brilliant craftsman, but clearly no fool; he didn't make more work for himself than necessary.
Having closely re-examined the guitar recently, I stand by my original view that the triple lines in the valleys of the back ribs are inlaid, probably to around half of the thickness of the rib, and not assembled as a 'sandwich' or fillet. The ones in the side ribs possibly are assembled, although the lack of any 'drifting apart' of the joints, coupled with their erratic course along the ribs, led me at the time to conclude that they, too were inlaid; that's why it says that on the drawings.
Strap-button hole at the top of the pegbox
In the images below, we can see the original guitar's pegbox, which apart from showing that Dias never drilled the suspicious hole near the nut, clarifies another spurious claim made by Batov, clearly exposed by these images that there is a hole at the top end of the pegbox which goes all the way through and was drilled to hold a strap button of some sort. It can be seen here as clearly not an original feature made by Dias: why would he disrupt the carefully-designed and beautifully-executed 'rope' inlays around the pegholes by compromising its upper resolution with a carelessly-drilled hole, and moreover one also drilled so close to the edge of the pegbox?
Take a look at the large chunk of wood broken out of the rear of the pegbox by the careless and clumsy drilling of this hole (not at all clear from the vague image Batov has posted on his website). Contrary to his claims, this hole does not go all the way through, as can be seen in the face view and close-up below right; we couldn't shine a light through it, and couldn't pass a thin 0.2mm diameter wire through it when we examined the guitar again in October 2004.
Above: a small point (as it were), perhaps, but nevertheless in my view calls into question Batov's powers of observation: I did not record the small hole with the broken-out edges nor the pinprick on the front of the pegbox (both at the top end of the pegbox) on the original drawing because I felt back then as I still do that it was a later intervention, carelessly made by somebody other than Dias, after it had left his workshop; that's why I didn't record it on my drawings back in 1976.
It is worth reiterating that this was my first drawing for a Museum; it provoked a lively discussion amongst colleagues and led to my noting later alterations, marking-out lines and toolmarks on subsequent drawings as anybody familiar with my drawings of the 6-course lute by Magno dieffopruchar and the Colichon bass viol will know. It is wholly unworthy for Batov to seek to denigrate my 1976 drawings on the basis of something so insignificant.
His claim, that the two holes (ie the central hole and the first one on the treble side) that show signs of break-out result from the re-reaming of the holes for a later guitar set-up, shows how faulty is his logic, because if the 11th hole which he claims is original was already there, nobody would have touched it, as it would not be necessary in a 5-course set-up (its most recent incarnation); he can't have it both ways he can't use any speculative later re-reaming of the holes to justify his claim that the 11th hole was there from the beginning.
The pegbox holes are also clearly seen in the images posted here to be very neatly made, in contrast to the central hole near the nut (with the exception of the ragged edge of the first peghole on the treble side, which may have been damaged by the same careless person who made the central hole, or it may be the result of careless use, or 'wear and tear'). I am of the opinion that Dias only drilled 10 pegholes, for the simple reason that he was building this instrument as a 5-course guitar, not a 6-course vihuela, by the evidence presented by the (unaltered) neck width and the design of the decoration which carefully loops around the 10 pegholes.
The Dias pegbox
It is quite obvious that Belchior Dias designed this little guitar's pegbox to be in visual as well as physical balance with its neck and body; had he set out to make a 6-course vihuela, his obvious mastery of design and workmanship would surely have incorporated into the pegbox ample room for an extra course (and obviously incorporated a 6th course into the inlay designs on the front of the pegbox). Had a 6-course instrument been what he made, then it is quite clear from these images that the proportions would be quite different from what we see today, and the looping decoration would have encompassed the 6th course; Batov appears to have altered these proportions and dimensions for what he calls his 'complete copy' in order to try and mislead from the clear evidence presented by the guitar itself (and revealed in the images here) to try and somehow 'corroborate' his claim that the Dias was originally built as a vihuela. I may have taken him more seriously had he properly and exactly copied the dimensions and layout of the original instrument's neck and pegbox after all, they are all there on my 1976 drawings, which he of course used to make his 'copy' . . .
And wouldn't a vihuela by Dias be a wonderful discovery ? Thereagain, as we comment elsewhere on this website, we are of the opinion that the Paris 'Chambure' instrument is from the same workshop or school as Dias; anybody who has examined the number of old instruments that we have could not fail to observe the obvious similarities in design and constructional details between the Dias guitar and E0748; they are so similarly executed as to lead to the strong suspicion that they are very likely to be from the same workshop, perhaps even the same hands.
Of course I welcome serious discussion about the Dias guitar, and in the images Batov has posted of his 'complete copy' it is clear that he has produced a neatly-made instrument; however, I and many other experts am concerned that he has posted false and misleading comments on his website, merely in order to try and persuade people that the Dias guitar is a vihuela. There is of course no reason why he or anybody else should not make a vihuela based upon the Dias guitar, but it is wrong to do what he has done, and on flimsy evidence try and convince the public that he has discovered the instrument to be a vihuela; it is not, and I think that deep down he knows that.
Batov sums up his rather rambling and tenuous comments thus: "As the evidence given above suggests, the Belchior Dias 1581 instrument was most probably made with 6 courses of strings and therefore should be more appropriately named a vihuela rather than a guitar". Does it, Sasha ? ". . . was most probably made with 6 courses of strings" ? I beg to differ, on the basis of the images shown above, and a greater knowledge of these matters; the unambiguous photographic evidence presented here would not appear to support that contention, would it ?
Pegbox design and peghole spacings
Regarding guitar peghole spacings, Batov makes further false claims: in an attempt to prove his claim that the extra hole of the Dias guitar's pegbox is original, he said: "Although it might have been added to the already existing 10 holes at a later stage of the instrument's life, the peg head itself seems to have been designed with the view to allow an extra space for the housing of this additional peg: the distance between the back of the nut and the first two pegs on both the left and right sides of it is even slightly more (28mm) than the average amount for a 'full size' guitar (c. 25mm). One of the most striking comparisons here is with the peg head layout of the above mentioned c.1590 guitar, in which case this distance amounts to only 19mm".
What does Batov mean by "average amount for a 'full size guitar' " ? He's already defeated his own argument by admitting by default that the Dias pegbox is smaller than those of other guitars (perforce its pegholes will of course be nearer to the nut) so just what is this 'average' he's trying to claim ? Batov tries to give the impression that he has looked at a reasonable number of late 16th and 17th Century guitars; if so, then he might have noticed that there is no such thing as an 'average', it not only varies from maker to maker, for example: the first pegs of the 1680 Stradivari guitar are 21mm from the nut, those on the 1700 Stradivari are 36mm (and that variation is on guitars made by the same illustrious maker) but guitars of this period exhibit a great range of peg spacings. So, an 'average' ? Looking at other guitars' first pegs' distances from the nut, the 1602 Choco are 33mm, the Checchucci of 1623 are 25mm, the 1641 Voboam are 29mm, the Sellas in the Ashmolean are 27mm (whoops! there's that average!). I could go on and on . . .
The ridiculous claim Batov makes that: " Here again, as in case with the Belchior Dias 1581 instrument, there is a noticeable lengthening of the peghead in the area above the nut, so as to allow for the central peg to be positioned at the same distance (as that in-between the rest of the pegs) from the two pegs above" is, quite simply, nonsense; the pegbox of the Dias guitar is the smallest of any surviving guitar, at 142mm long, and there is no 'lengthening of the peghead in the area above the nut', the two original pegholes nearest the nut are placed already quite close to it, as the images above show.
This statement deserves clarification: firstly, the pegbox of the Dias guitar is by far the smallest pegbox of any surviving 5-course guitar, and it is quite obvious that it was deliberately made that short to keep it in visual as well as physical balance (being made mostly from ebony) with the rest of the instrument: remember that the Dias is a small instrument, with an overall length of 778mm. There is no space to add a peg, it should be clear even to an idiot that Dias never intended an extra hole in his original design, otherwise the pegbox would have been made commensurately longer; the ex-Robert Spencer guitar (now owned by Frank Koonce, in the US) which Batov refers to has a pegbox which also is fitted with 10 pegholes, and this is longer than the Dias pegbox at 162mm; the Dias pegbox is 142mm long. So, ". . . the peg head itself seems to have been designed with the view to allow an extra space for the housing of an additional peg"?
I don't think so. I also measured and photographed this guitar when it was in the possession of Robert back in 1976, at his invitation, when he learned that I was working on the Dias drawings.
I invite the reader to refer to the image above, which shows the pegbox face; this shows that Dias carefully designed his pegbox to allow for its original 5 courses and along with the other images of the Dias presented here, it shows that Dias did not make that hole, as Batov misleadingly claims.
The outline of the Dias guitar's body (plantila)
This is one of the most ridiculous claims that Batov makes: "Although the original outline of the body was changed, mainly due to the increase of body width in order to accomodate a wider span of strings". This one takes the cake, for several reasons: firstly, if the body was widened to accomodate 'a wider span of strings', why wasn't the neck or even fingerboard also modified ? Secondly, how does he propose that the body was widened ? I wonder just how naïve this guy really is: if you push out the width of the ribs of one of these instruments with its soundboard off (let's for one moment pretend that no stresses are applied to the rest of the structure) the neck comes forwards. By just how much, exactly, does Batov think the outline was widened, in his fantasy world of alteration to a 6-course vihuela ? By the amount needed to accomodate one single course (let's say around 12mm) ? Where does he think that would put the action of the strings ? Examination of the original Dias guitar reveals that the neck is back from the datum of the body at the nut (probably explaining the replaced part of the fingerboard inlay near the belly as I comment on the original drawing and notes) . . . Mr Bean was never this funny or entertaining.
Quoting from the Romanillos & Winspear Dictionary 'The Vihuela de Mano and The Spanish Guitar'
Batov refers several times on his website and in emails attempting to defend his position regarding the Dias guitar to a book by José Romanillos Vega and his wife Marion Harris Winspear, 'The Vihuela de Mano and The Spanish Guitar, A Dictionary of the makers of plucked and bowed musical instruments of Spain (1200-2002). This book which is referred to by its authors as a 'Dictionary' on page XI was published by The Sanguino Press, Guijosa, Guadalajara, Spain in 2002. It contains several inventories of the workshops and properties of instrument makers, and these make fascinating reading.
However, I note that Batov although applauding this book elsewhere on his website has used a quote from an earlier article in Classical Guitar magazine by Mr Romanillos dating back to March 1987, where he says: "The surviving instrument by the Portuguese Belchior Dias is a typical example of the type of vihuela that was being made in Madrid by members of the craft guild".
In the context of the other quotes on his website, and by saying that: "The credit, however, has to be given to José Romanillos who in one of his articles made repeated references to the Belchior Dias instrument as a possible vihuela" (Batov then goes on to make the quote above) it is clear that he is trying to use this earlier 1987 quote to try and prop-up his own opinions. What Batov neglects to quote from Romanillos' recent book is the following passage, which presumably reflects Romanillos' current thinking: "No vaulted vihuela de mano or five-course Spanish guitar has come to light although Belchior Dias' five-course vaulted and fluted guitar made in Lisbon in 1581 can be taken to represent an instrument made in the Spanish style" (page XX of the Prologue). I presume that Batov who reportedly spent a fair amount of time reading from this book during his presentation to The Lute Society in January 2004 has read this sentence (I missed this talk, being away in Vienna at the time, as I am every year in January). Or is he simply trying to pass the buck, by giving Romanillos the 'credit' ?
I wonder why Batov does not also quote this sentence, on page XIX of the Prologue: "This particular technique of making the sides with two ribs can be seen in the five-course guitar with a vaulted and fluted back made by Belchior Dias in Lisbon in 1581". So, Romanillos accepts that the Dias instrument is a guitar; I wonder why Batov did not repeat these two remarks, since they are rather prominent in the text of part I of the Prologue (pages XV - XXI).
It is curious that he relies on an old quote in an attempt to lend credibility to his views, and elsewhere profusely praises the Romanillos & Winspear dictionary, yet seems strangely unable to find the quote mentioned above from their book, along with this one, from page XX: "No vaulted vihuela de mano or five-course Spanish guitar has come to light although Belchior Dias' five-couurse vaulted and fluted guitar made in Lisbon in 1581, can be taken to represent an instrument made in the Spanish style". It would appear that Romanillos considers the Dias to be a guitar, I wonder why Batov is so coy about quoting this ?
This dictionary which costs over £100 (I've seen it advertised for $200 + postage on some websites) is probably not accesible for many people, its distribution and availability are limited; I wonder how many people reading Batov's website and wondering about it, have been able to check its contents for themselves, and contrast the impression he gives of its contents with what is actually written ? José Romanillos and his wife Marian Winspear have done us all a great service by doing the research in the archives; it is a matter of regret that Batov has merely selectively quoted their work to try and support his own spurious claims about a very important surviving early guitar.
The Victoria & Albert Museum Guitar 12/3
In the same text as the Dias claims, Batov announces that he has stumbled on another possible vihuela: "One of the guitars which is on display in the Victoria and Albert museum London has 11 peg holes in its peg head. Here again, as in case (sic) with the Belchior Dias 1581 instrument, there is a noticeable lengthening of the peghead in the area above the nut, so as to allow for the central peg to be positioned at the same distance (as that in-between the rest of the pegs) from the two pegs above. I will give a more in-depth analysis of this important instrument (which may well be another surviving late 16th-early 17th century vihuela !) on these pages in the near future".
The anonymous guitar he refers to 12/3 is not a vihuela by any stretch of the imagination, it is quite simply and obviously a very ordinary vaulted-back guitar of the Venetian, Sellas school that appears in many collections, both public and private, around the world; this type of guitar was made from around 1620 onwards, long after the vihuela fell into disuse and its repertoire ceased to be played. Its pegbox is exactly the same in layout, design and peg placement as a large number of other 'Sellas-school' instruments, and its pegholes are not, contrary to Batov's claims, any differently-placed than the other guitars of this type.
It is simply a typical (probably Venetian) vaulted-back 5-course guitar, nothing more, nothing less; has it not occured to Batov that the best explanation concerning the extra hole on this guitar is that even if it were a properly-made peghole (and it clearly is not) it was made at a much later date, around the time that guitars of the Benedid type were built with 6 courses for the purpose of playing guitar music ? Has he not heard of Boccherini, for example ? Has it not occured to him that the most generous explanation is that maybe a later 6-course enthusiast vandalised it in an ill-advised attempt at a DIY 'conversion' ? And what evidence does he have that people were playing the vihuela repertoire at the end of the eighteenth century, when guitars with 6 double courses were being made in Spain by the likes of Benedid and Pagés ? Or does he think we should call these vihuelas also, and thereby confuse people ? He can't seriously be claiming that this very ordinary and typical Venetian vaulted-back guitar the pegbox of which is identical in outline to so many others of this school of making, is another 'lost' vihuela ?
I understand that Batov has not examined the V&A guitar 12/3 beyond pulling out the sliding showcase in the museum gallery and photographing it from the outside; he has not measured any instruments in the V&A, I am reliably informed, let alone this one. I on the other hand have, and reproduce here images (taken during a recent measuring visit) of the 'extra peghole' which, surprise, surprise has a taper of around 1 in 10 (not a known tuning peg taper, they're usually 1 in 20 and above on historical instruments which have original, rather than fake pegs) a taper completely different to the other 10 pegholes on this guitar.
No doubt he doesn't find anything strange about the fact that the inside of this extra hole is very ragged and rough indeed; compare it to the adjacent pegholes, its crude and uneven surface can be clearly seen in the images below.
Above: close-up views of the rear of the neck/pegbox joint of the V&A guitar 12/3 which Alexander Batov assures us " may well be another surviving late 16th-early 17th century vihuela ! ". Presumably he thinks that the chewed-up mess that is the central hole through the v-joint indicates yet another 'conversion' from 5 to 6 courses. No doubt the 1-in-10 taper is further evidence of a tuning peg being used in that hole too . . .
It is very roughly made, and also leans at an angle, like the 'extra peghole' in the Dias pegbox see images below. It's quite obvious that a peg inserted into this hole makes the guitar impossible to play in the first position like the Dias guitar's extra 'peghole'; a peg inserted into it leans at an angle away from the other pegs as can be seen below where I placed a peg into the central hole, along with another for comparison of the angle it presents compared to the adjacent, proper peghole.
Terminally for Batov's 'hypothesis', its extremely fast taper makes it impossible it ever accomodated a tuning peg anyway; but I'm sure that isn't a problem for Batov and his myopic 'theories'. Maybe he likes to think that the taper of around 1 in 10 (which this hole measures) is likely or even practical for a tuning peg; a suitable taper for a barrel-bung maybe, but never a tuning peg.
It's probably pertinent that the inlays on the rear of the pegbox and heel differ from those on the neck of this instrument in both style and execution: Carl Engel was known to have 'restored' and altered many of the instruments which subsequently found their way into the collections of the V&A who knows what he did to this one? And who knows who was responsible, and when the fast-tapering hole through the V-joint was made ?
'Another surviving late 16th-early 17th century vihuela ! ' as Batov tries to suggest it could be? I don't think so.
After the Dias-is-a-vihuela nonsense, I can't wait for the promised 'in-depth analysis' of this modest, very ordinary guitar, and yet more entertainingly-misleading claims; I am told that at the time he published this stuff about the V&A guitar, not only had Batov never examined the guitar out of the case, but that he had never measured anything in the V&A (but thereagain, he didn't measure the Dias).
For the delectation of vihuela-lovers everywhere, I have posted the images below, showing what might well be yet another true 16th Century vihuela that I had the honour to 'examine' recently:
Above: close-up images reveal several interesting and remarkable facts: the bridge appears to be made from a piece of the True Cross (the instrument seems to have been yet another relic of a Saint). The loaded gut central string (thought to date from the conversion to a vihuela) is densified by the addition of plutonium** hence the eerie green glow it exhibits which is of course why it has survived since the 16th Century (the particular isotope used having a half-life of 10,000 years). Note also the delicate patina of the varnish. It is thought that Bermudo himself may have played this instrument, thereby perhaps contributing to his demise. . .
This very important instrument a very fortunate survivor from the late 16th century (and clearly built according to the 1502 Sevilla Ordinances) may well be another surviving late 16th-early 17th century vihuela !
Note the extra peg inserted into the rear of its neck preventing play in the first position just like the fabled 11th peg of the Dias, as discovered by Alexander Batov; this is a wonderfully-preserved example of a four-course guitar being converted to a five-course vihuela by the stupid insertion of an extra peg at a funny angle. It is likely that the original fluted back was replaced for acoustical reasons (to achieve the required 'tap-tone') with one made from a delicate plywood of cocobolo and ebony (pressed into place by the application of hot sand, it is thought) to give that elusive (for some) extra "sustain in the sound as well as a slight shift in overall response of the instrument towards the higher frequency range" .
Apparently, according to the sage, the "spectral colour of the sound . . . would be potentially more 'orientated' towards the higher frequency range". Thank heavens for these words, which are clearly a sign: the spiritual heir to the great vihuela makers of yesteryear is alive and well and reincarnated as an incomprehensible gnome in cyberspace.
There is no label in the instrument, but its general style and proportions have suggested an attribution to the violero amateuro stupido school. Dendrochronology has dated the instrument's soundboard to 1995, but this is thought to have been based upon a mis-counting of the plywood laminations (resulting in a correct dating to 1599).
(** Recent research has suggested that the substance used may have been polonium).
A 'complete copy' ?
Finally, regarding Batov's Dias 'copy', I am intrigued that he has 'copied' the bridge from the Vieyra guitar in the Ashmolean, Oxford. Does he not realise that it is a fake bridge, made by Hills, the owners of the Vieyra?
When I was drawing the Stradivari and Voboam guitars held in the same collection in the early 1980's, I was granted access to W.E. Hill's records, wherein it was noted that the Vieyra had come into their possession missing its bridge. So back in the 1930's, prior to the collection being offered to The Ashmolean for public display, they set about making a replacement for it based on the unique (and original) bridge on their 1641 Voboam, and copied the signature curves that instrument's bridge has along its rear face. Anybody looking at the Vieyra bridge can see for themselves that it is not original, it does not even line up properly with the inlaid moustachios; at the time they did the work, Hills were not concerned with the finer points of organology, they just wanted to display the instrument with a bridge and strings, and the Voboam was the bridge they referred to, that of the Stradivari guitar being quite clearly specific to that instrument. Batov has not only copied a fake bridge, but he has lifted the soundhole decoration from the Vieyra (albeit with 3 rather than 5 lines of purfling loops) a guitar made at least a century after the Dias, according to the dendrochronology of its soundboard (1532-1684); the Vieyra's label is undated. Given his claimed expertise where early guitars are concerned, it seems curious to me that Batov has not attempted to refer to a more contemporary guitar (the clearly-related Spencer/Koonce instrument, for example) for the soundhole decoration of his 'complete copy'.
Applying the (fake) bridge and soundhole decoration from the Vieyra to his version of the Dias guitar, apart from being just a little dubious and not sitting very well visually with the design of the original Dias fingerboard and pegbox loop inlays which he has used on his 'copy', seems to me as anachronistic as if somebody had claimed to have built a copy of a Louis Panormo guitar of 1840 but had applied the block pearl inlay designs from a 1955 Gibson Les Paul to its fingerboard. From an acoustical point of view, plastering so much inlay onto an already small soundboard is hardly going to help it to work well, as anybody with true experiece of building these instruments would know; I am frankly surprised that Batov has done this, since it is only going to defeat the instrument's use as a vihuela (or a guitar for that matter) by severely restricting the ability of the already rather small soundboard to vibrate properly.
Batov has, in my view, not just taken liberties with a clearly very important original guitar by distorting the evidence presented by it, and by claiming it to be a vihuela, attempting to convince the public on these matters, but has then treated this wonderful little instrument with disrespect, altered its proportions and dimensions to suit his theories and then applied anachronistic decoration to his 'copy' of it, lifted from a much later instrument.
A 'complete copy' ? Again, I don't think so; what he announced on the internet and on his website as a 'complete copy' of the Dias is simply a 6-course 'vihuela' based on the Dias guitar, with the neck significantly widened from that of the original, and the '11th peg' he contends for moved significantly up the pegbox. The instrument that he has made is not a 'complete copy', since he has changed those important aspects which do not support his claims; his proposal that the Dias was originally designed and built as a vihuela (or indeed anything with 6 courses) is demonstrably false, as the text and images above demonstrate.
Alexander Batov has prominently posted on the homepage of his website a lengthy and misleading text which purports to be an impartial examination of the evidence regarding the Dias guitar, and other instruments; since he starts this text by trying to suggest that my drawings are wrong in several respects and unreliable which in my view he has done simply to try and present himself as an expert whilst attempting to dismiss important research work I have done many years ago (and as he knows full well, I continue to do) I have felt it necessary to respond to the false and misleading claims and comments that he has posted, claims which masquerade as informed knowledge and facts which they most certainly are not.
When I was first told about the content of his website, which opens with the rather grandiose claim that it is "The home of the fluted back vihuela" I was amused, since Batov knows full well that we built these instruments long before he did, and his fanciful attempt to claim for himself such a title rings just a little bit hollow; if anybody has the 'right' to call their workshop or website 'The home of the fluted back vihuela' it is us although we wouldn't dream of using such a daft and exaggerated title. So he's worked out a little late in the day a method apparently based upon the late Remy Gug's research, and made a few instruments based on the Dias which he calls vihuelas, with double-fluted ribs, only using woods that can have the traces of the scorching produced by the use of hot sand conveniently scraped away and rendered less obvious (ebony & various rosewoods). That makes his website/workshop the 'Home' of the fluted-back vihuela, does it ? Some might beg to differ.
It has been further drawn to my attention that he is an avid visitor to our website, which leads me to wonder how long after we posted our intention to build a copy of the Dias guitar, that he got it into his head to follow suit and try and steal a march on us and produce one before we did because it seems just a little bit of a coincidence that he announced that his 'copy' was in progress shortly after we announced our plans to build one; to then 'launch' this instrument on the back of a lot of spurious claims about the original Dias calls to mind and suggests a paraphrase of one of the great Oscar Wilde's aphorisms: one act of opportunism may be regarded as a misfortune, a second looks like carelessness.
The final sentence in Batov's opening paragraph states: "I hope this will be for the benefit of all who have acquired the drawing as well as those who want to reconstruct an accurate replica of the Belchior Dias instrument". The text which accompanies this rather disingenuous statement contains all of the canards which I have exposed as false here in this commentary. That he has the hubris to make such a statement before launching into a lengthy and ill-observed shopping-list of daft speculations and false statements would be amusing were it not for the fact that the resulting effect is to mislead people about an important historical guitar, and muddy the waters and cause confusion in the world of guitar and vihuela research; that he uses a thinly-veiled attack on my own professional integrity and expertise as a platform to launch himself as an expert and luthier who knows what he is talking about is regrettable.
And the instrument which he has made and called a 'vihuela', and posted images of on his website, is so far altered from the original Dias, that it is quite simply misleading and disingenuous to refer to it as a 'complete copy' as Batov claims it to be.
An obvious question arises: if he had genuine and straightforward intentions, why didn't Batov contact me to discuss my drawings and other matters, before publishing daft claims and speculations on his website ? After all, he lives and works about 40 miles from me, and I am not exactly unapproachable why does he think I agreed to do the drawings in the first place, if not to spread knowledge and information, for the benefit of my peers and colleagues ? I don't therefore consider that his approach in this matter should remain unchallenged, either in terms of attempting to question my work and competence, or in terms of spreading inaccurate statements on the internet.
The basic point at issue here is that he has attempted to create an image of himself as an expert and careful analyst of early guitars and vihuelas something which in my opinion and that of many other scholars and true experts, he is not where this issue is concerned by traducing my drawings (and hence questioning my own competence) and publishing misleading and false comments about an important historical instrument. Trying to enhance his own standing by gainsaying the respected and acknowledged expertise of somebody who has been working in this area for far longer than he has and has examined (and probably restored) far more instruments than he has is presumably the motive behind his actions, since he simultaneously seems to be engaged in puffing himself at every opportunity, both on the internet and elsewhere.
When I drew the Dias all those years ago, it was in an honest and open spirit of wishing to add to the organology of early plucked stringed instruments, in this case the earliest known (then as now) surviving guitar. Over the more than 30 years that have passed since, a large number of colleagues and institutions around the world have contacted me and discussed the drawings; why did he choose not to do so? I wonder why he decided instead to publish the material on his website, avoiding an open discussion or examination of the Dias guitar with me; I am not dead, and I don't live in a cave on South Georgia . . .
Since colleagues of mine, such as Elizabeth Wells, Jol Dugot and Antonio Corona have deplored his attempts to mislead the public (and misquote them) and I also now find myself having to correct his false and misleading statements about important surviving old instruments my silence in the face of his internet postings and ridiculous claims was not an option.
To sum up, having due respect for the words of the sage: "I hope this will be for the benefit of all who have read Alexander Batov's claims, as well as those who want an accurate account of the Belchior Dias instrument".