Archlute Restoration


Harry's task: restore a partially collapsed modern archlute. it was originally a renaissance lute-- made by the great master Manouk Papazian and later "theorboed"--that is, modified by the addition of a pegbox extension that provides an added "harp" of five-foot bass strings beside--but not on top of--the original fretboard.

The entire instrument was in sorry shape. The theorbo peghead joint was under-structured and eventually collapsed The excess tension had bowed the entire instrument away from the strings, making it impossible to play. The Pacific redcedar top had begun to sink into the beautiful curly maple body shell. 


The Restoration Sequence:

That's Graciela Qui
๑ones, dear friend and longtime student, The patient on the worktable--strings, pegs, tied frets and nut removed. Like a patient etherized upon a table.
After removing a fabric edging strip, Harry patiently inserts a probe into the delicate glue seam that attaches the top to the ribs. Some portions of the seam need to be sawn with a very fine razor saw. Heat is judiciously used to soften the glue that holds the soundboard to the headblock.
The soundboard has been successfully removed with virtually no injury. But evidence shows previous injury from an earlier effort to remove the soundboard. Harry inspects the transversal braces (during the Renaissance, the precise spacing between them was derived using numerological principles!). It seems oddly understructured as lutes go...

The braces had been distorted by the cumulative effects of string tension, and in several cases, had actually pulled away from the soundboard, causing the visible distortion evident on the outside. We were puzzled that the existing braces were carefully selected to be flat-sawn (the weakest orientation of the wood fibers). So to our thinking, it was the reason why they had failed to keep the top stable. Harry resolved to replace them with new, quarter-sawn braces.
Harry has removed all the transversal braces and is seen here scraping off traces of glue.
The undersurface of the soundboard is now ready for new, stiffer braces.
After undoing the collapsed pegbox joint with patient applications of hot water, Harry has devised a better structural solution: He has carved a dovetail pocket into the neck, and inserted a dovetail "adapter" block out of hardwood that spans the joint between the two. The block, which had to be fashioned to hold the pegbox at the correct angle (even compensated slightly to account for the off-center pull of the added off-the-fingerboard string array), will later be sculpted to the contour of the undersurfaces of the neck and pegbox and thus appear to be original.
Another view of the joint rebuild. The portion of the new block (of lighter color) that fits into the pegbox will be sculpted to allow clearance for the strings entering the pegbox. It will also be slotted to accept an inlayed carbon-fiber stiffener.

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