Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

Just out of curiousity, does anyone know how they steam-bended vihuela sides and lute backs during the renaissance?  I know today most people use a box setup with a series of hoses and a kettle, but I am having a really hard time finding any sources talking about how they did the process originally.  Any leads for sources, thoughts/insights on the topic, etc? 



Adam C.

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I just figured that burning it for supper would save some poor archaeologist down the line from many sleepless hours wondering "what the heck is a 17th century vihuela doing in a 2011 context???"  That, and if I'm going to have to build a new one anyway...then I might as well get some good food out of the deal. 


Mr. Batov's site is actually one of the first I came across when I was considering doing this vihuela as part of my larger friar project...and the Belchior Dias and Chambure models are BEAUTIFUL....definitely beyond my means (in multiple ways).  Having said that I just realized the Regimento 1572 he has copied on his website mentions "bent over hot iron"....so I guess that solidifies the answer to my initial question as to how they bent the sides. 






Yea Adam, I studied archaeology in university as a minor degree and wanted to be "Indiana Jones" before there was ol' "Indy" but succumed to the pull of the life of a destitute musician instead.


It always seemed to me that many of the artifacts found in the digs were purposely put there by someone of the time with a sick sense of humour. By placing that intriguing object where it is, the sole purpose being to mess with our minds five hundred years later.


So, as to burning your vihuela, I've changed my mind. It should be strategically placed to make it's discovery perplexing and completely out of context for the lucky archaeologist in 2450. Pass on the "mind messing" favor.

I like that idea too. You will not only mess with a future archeologist, but with future "early music" snobs! Before you discard it, be sure to put a cheap pickup in it. That way you can be assured there will be hundreds of "Cripps copies" built with this enigmatic electronic appendage on an instrument with nylon strings! All of the beautifully crafted vihuelas built in our time will biodegrade like the ones of old, but you can have yours preserved for future study by applying your archeological expertise and placing it in some strategic location, like say a hard rock cafe somewhere...

All kidding aside, those pegs are really cool and I hope some of the real luthiers here have noticed this thread. In "Historical Lute Construction", Lundberg talks about the lack of original pegs on extant Renaissance lutes.

Since you have evidence of vihuelas being built on these shores, all the more reason for you to build yours using timbers that would have been available in that area at that time. Talk about historical accuracy. Very cool.

Take note of bracing practices of the time too. Ignore modern guitar bracing. It is one of the things that has a real impact on the tone of the instrument. You can get away with some modern anachronistic things like nylon frets, and even nylon strings to a certain extent, although I'm not going to go down that road, but if you brace it like a classical guitar, it will sound like a 12-string classical guitar, not a vihuela.

Believe it or not, I had actually considered putting a pickup in it....but that booze filled discussion with my friend who is into heavy metal ended up turning into this crazy game plan to instead build a lute with an electric pickup, start a Franciscan metal band called "Fraticelli," and have everyone kitted out in habits.....we even decided on a first album name ("Trial by fire" based on Francis' fire incident when missionizing to the saracens)....but it never went any further than the next morning....thank goodness....


I am not sure that the pegs would technically qualify as renaissance since they are 18th century context, but they are just the best we have so far.  My concession to using them, as mentioned earlier, is for their usability in public archaeology programs that the kids can actually see, hear, and touch.  A direction connection between a single tiny artifact and its broader context.  As for the different bracing patterns, that is definitely something I noticed, but am completely ignorant of the "science" behind....should probably work on reading up on that as well before I get bogged down with coursework again.  As for the strings, I keep going back and forth whether to go for nylgut or gut.....part of me wants to go ahead and get gut (is there a relatively inexpensive source for them?) but I may have to cave and get nylgut just due to costs between these various projects (my violin strings are going to be $60-100 as well from what I've been seeing). 




Here you go Adam, about 2/3's of the way down you'll see the mind melding of the renaissance and the 21st century.



Oh that is awesome....I think a pickup will definitely have to go in vihuela version 2.0....


-Adam C.





Do those long pegs look a bit concave near the top end?

The heads of the pegs aren't concave, but appeared to be VERY slightly tapered towards the top.  They are thinner than the "swollen" part of the upper shaft which then tapers to the bottom, but they also appear to taper slightly towards the little decorative "bulb" on the top.  Sorry, but the only pics I have available are straight on...not sure why I didn't try and get side shots as well.




Actually a solid-body electric vihuela is in my plans for a future build. I'm thinking along the lines of Rickenbacker electric 12-string tone. Think Beatles, Byrds, 1960's kind of tone, but vihuela tuning and scale length. Probably viola da mano shape. It will probably look like a cross between a Rick 12-string and a Hofner Beatle bass.

Larry doesn't use those piezio pickups anymore, I believe. I think he wrote about his dissatisfaction with the tone somewhere on that site. Great site, by the way. Another guy I'd like to spend an afternoon with in the shop.

I think an internal microphone is a better solution for all acoustic instruments, tone-wise, but that's just my opinion. I don't like the piezio sound; too plastic for me. Combine that with nylon strings and you got a real aural petro-chemical fest!

Thank you, gentlemen, for the homage to my fluted-rib bending adventures!


Scot, I hope I went far away back in time, otherwise I wouldn't have had any success ... :)

Adam, returning to your original question, "hot iron" is indeed the answer. To my knowledge, a cast iron rod of elliptical cross section (pointed side for tight curves, dull - for less so) was used for bending sides and ribs in traditional guitar and violin making (quite possibly still is somewhere ...). It was heated in a wood-burning stove and, when hot enough, clamped to the bench. "Hot iron" burn marks can be seen in many old instruments. See, for example, the burn marks left on the sides of this Sanguino guitar (c. 1760s):

Hey alexander, a time traveler I see...good for you. So, what happened with those fluted ribs with the inlay that you posted a photo of many months back? I was looking forward to further photos of that one. It looked very interesting.


It's interesting how uniformly (sort of) spaced those burn marks are. Photo #1 almost looks like chatter from a thickness planer...now that would be something to find planer marks on an original baroque guitar. That would take some explaining...;) Alexander, you time traveling again?

Oh well, Scot, that was just for a bit of fun, if you know what I mean ... If not, I might add some more to the description there when I have time and ... only if I manage to translate from a rather faint-looking script in a flowery 16th century Portuguese dialect ... Anyway, don't take it too seriously, it's not meant to be :))

The purfled rib is real though!

The burn marks are indeed quite uniform on that guitar. My explanation is that he had to move really fast, so as not to cause too much burning and, at the same time, achieve the necessary smoothness of curvature, well before the iron looses its heat.


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