Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

In 1978 I purchased an eight-course Student Lute from Spanish Guitar Centre in Bristol, UK, for £230 excl. VAT and shipping costs to Norway. The luthier's name is Alan Clark. The bowl is based on a lute by Hans Frei, and has nine ribs of cherry. Pegs and fingerboard are rosewood. The soundboard is spruce with a simple rose design. Stirng length 60 cm. Considering this is a student lute it has a very nice sound. On the website "History of plucked instruments" Alan Clark is represented with a renaissance lute that looks like mine. But I have been unable to find any information of this fine luthier, so if anyone on this forum knows someting about him I would be glad. In addition: anyone who knows what price I could charge in case of selling it?

 

Best wishes

Harry

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Hello Harry. I saw your request by chance, so I have just joined the forum to reply to you.

I made your lute.  It seems a long time ago now!  I began making lutes around 1970.  I was teaching art at the time, but eventually had so many orders for lutes that I went into full-time making.  In all I made about a hundred lutes and about fifty other instruments, mostly reconstructions of Renaissance and Baroque plucked string instruments, including vihuelas and guitars.   Around 1985 I was ready for a change, so moved on to do other things.

Painting has been my main interest since then, though I still love working with wood, and amuse myself in my retirement by making yew longbows (with some of the yew that was left -over from making lutes) and large format wooden view cameras that I use to photograph the North York Moors.

Thanks for your kind comments about my lute.

Regards,

Alan Clark

Hi Alan. I have a baroque violin (bought second hand) with a label Alan Clark, Blythe Bridge, 1979. It has a lovely tone and a beautiful one piece back. I use heavy NRI gut strings (with roped catline g & d) and a baroque bow by Ken Cameron, Halifax. If you can find time to go to the trouble I would love to know a little more about the instrument and how you came to make a violin. Is it a copy of a particular historical instrument, or if not, how did you decide on its design, dimensions and construction? Is it a one-off or have you made other violins?

After many years researching folk fiddle traditions and early dance music (fiddlers’ tunebooks and dancing masters collections of Country dances, Scandinavian Polskor, Scottish strathspey reels, etc), I am now studying with baroque violin specialist Asuka Sumi in Otley, Leeds. My new repertoire includes Italian, French and German 18th C sonatas and I’m now looking at 17thC sonatas by Schop, Castello, Schmeltzer. Your instrument is great for exploring all of these styles of music. It sounds beautiful and is a great help with developing a historically informed musical interpretation and enjoyable performance. It’s a lovely instrument to own and play. 

Many thanks.. Geoff Bowen

Hello Geoff.  It is good to hear that an instrument I built over forty years ago is still bearing up, and giving pleasure to its owner. 

You will gather from my previous post that I wasn't a violin maker.  I only ever made two; yours is the second, which I sold to the Early Music Shop, when it was in Bradford, and run by Richard Wood.  He used to buy lutes off me.

My interest in the violin came from having a very good friend who was an excellent violinist.  From time to time I would fit a new bridge for him, or re-house the pegs, etc.  Then I came across the Hill book on Stradivari.  This sparked an interest in making one, which was helped by finding the excellent old book on Violin Making  by Ed. Heron Allen.  I gave the first violin I made to my friend's son, then later built the Baroque violin which you have.  I remember getting some technical  details, like neck angle and bass bar dimensions, from the Hill book and also from Eph. Segerman of NRI (I used to buy lute and orpharion strings off him)  

I might have made more violins but was always busy with orders for lutes.  By coincidence, I was actually thinking again about building one.  I have been making a few guitars lately, just for my own amusement.  Not for sale.  Then I made a harp, which is nearly finished.  And I've been wondering what to do next...

Kind regards,

Alan Clark

Hi Alan. Many thanks for this. It’s good to learn something about the instrument and the maker. I too have made reference to Eph Segerman’s research and tried an equal tension set of very heavy Italian style strings on your violin. Despite the lighter construction of a baroque instrument it performed well under very high tension. Equal tension required a big range of thickness of the strings giving four contrasting voices = a growling bass g, flute like d, reed like a, and sweet string e. Fascinating and insightful. I now use a moderately graduated set with decreasing tension from treble to bass which is quicker to respond to the bow. That’s a compromise for playing different national styles across two centuries.

Your violin is recognisably Strad in appearance but I’d be very interested to know if the dimensions you followed were specific to a particular model or period since Strad models changed significantly over his career. 

On a practical note I’d encourage you to build more baroque violins if you are motivated because there’s no doubt that mine is beautifully made and performs superbly.

Congratulations! Geoff

Hello Geoff,

I should have said, yes, it was modelled on a Strad violin, though I don't know which one.  I used the outline plans that came with an American book on violin making, written by Joseph Reid.  I still have it.  He didn't say which one he had replicated, unfortunately.  I must give some thought to this if I'm going to build another violin.

It was fascinating to hear about your experiments with different string tensions.

Regards,

Alan

Many thanks Alan. Great to have made contact. All the best. Geoff

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