Caroline Usher's guide to obtaining a lute & strings, lute societies, and publishers.

The following guide, written by Caroline Usher, was originally obtained from Wayne Cripps' FTP site, reformatted here in HTML for easier reading.

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Obtaining a lute

As you probably already know, the lute is an unusual and uncommon instrument. Used lutes are not common nor are knowledgeable people who can evaluate an instrument for you. Therefore, getting hold of your first lute requires some persistence and self-education. There are folk-type and ahistoric instruments being sold as "lutes" which are not suitable for playing the repertoire of the historic lute, Francesco, Dowland, Weiss et al. You should think about what you are interested in, what you want to do with your instrument, and make sure you know exactly what you are buying before you write a check.

The lute's history goes back to pre-historic times in North Africa and the Middle East. Instruments similar to those depicted in medieval manuscripts are still played in this region. After the lute was brought into Europe in the early middle ages it underwent continuous adaptation and evolution, and its form and technique changed along with the style and requirements of European music. We now divide the lute's form and history into three general categories:

the medieval lute, up to the middle or late fifteenth century, 4-5 courses*, played with a plectrum

the renaissance lute, late fifteenth to early seventeenth century, 6- 8 or 9 courses, played with the fingers, comes in different sizes forming a consort (soprano, alto, tenor, bass; most players own a tenor lute for solo playing), tenor tuning: (D F) G c f a d' g' This is similar to modern guitar tuning, if you tune the guitar's g string down to f# and capo up three frets.

the baroque lute, 11-13 courses, early seventeenth to late eighteenth century, played with the fingers, tuned A d f a d' f', hence "D minor lute" (lower strings tuned to a diatonic scale)

The 10-course lute is a transitional instrument between renaissance and baroque, and much early to mid-seventeenth century music for lute is in experimental tunings.

*A course is a pair of strings tuned to a unison or to the fundamental and the octave, and played as a unit. Generally the top course (top 2 courses, for baroque lute) is single.

In the late sixteenth century the lute family put forth a marvellous offshoot in the form of instruments with neck extensions and second pegboxes, the archlute and theorbo or chitarrone (the latter two terms are interchangeable). The second neck and pegbox extend the bass range of the instrument with diapasons tuned diatonically in a scale. These instruments were initially created for accompaniment, primarily of the voice, from a figured bass part, but soon developed a solo repertoire written in tablature. In modern terminology the archlute employs renaissance tuning for its upper 6 courses, the theorbo/chitarrone employs a re-entrant tuning, like renaissance tuning except that the top 2 courses are tuned an octave down. This is because the theorbo typically is a larger instrument with a longer string length, and gut strings of such length could not be tuned to the higher pitches.

The first thing you need to decide is what type of lute you want, which depends on what type of music you want to play. Read the article on the lute in the _New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians_ (also found in the _New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments_) for more information about the history and repertoire. This article has an extensive bibliography and will point you to other articles in NG on related topics, e.g. the section on sources of lute music in the article "Sources." Your library (especially academic libraries) may also have periodicals such as _Early Music_, _Continuo_, _Historical Performance_, and/or publications of the regional lute/early music society which can help you. From these starting points you can set out on ever-widening circles of research. Ask a librarian! They can not only guide you through the particular collection of their library, but help you to use reference indices and computer databases, and locate and borrow materials in other libraries through inter-lib
rary loan.

Unless they are very large, public libraries may not carry periodicals which specialize in early music, but the staff should be able to use reference tools to locate the names and addresses of such periodicals for you, as well as the names and addresses of regional societies for early music.

There are also many recordings of lute music now available, and most have extensive notes about the repertoire presented. This may be the best way to explore the vast repertoire of the lute, to which hundreds of composers contributed. When you obtain the catalogs of dealers who sell modern editions and facsimiles you will begin to get an idea of how much is out there--and this is just what is available in modern publications! There is more that is accessible only in microfilm format. (Note the Microfilm Library of the Lute Society of America; university libraries also hold microfilms and may have or be able to borrow a film of a source you are interested in. Talk to the librarian.)

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Lute Societies

There are several societies for the promotion of the lute and its music (or early music in general), which publish useful journals, newsletters and directories. You should join the society of your geographic region in order to make contact with other lutenists and learn about lute-builders, teachers, workshops, sources of music, strings and other supplies, etc. Getting into the network of knowledgeable people can save you from wasting a lot of time and effort reinventing the wheel.

The Lute Society of America (primarily for North America but
with a world-wide membership)
PO Box 1328
Lexington VA 24450
(703) 463-5812
Mary B. Hinely, Administrator:

Caroline Usher, President: publishes annual scholarly Journal, quarterly newsmagazine, Directory of Members, music; has lending library of microfilms, sponsors summer workshops

1994 dues: $35 (VISA and MasterCard accepted)

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Early Music America
11421 1/2 Bellflower Rd.
Cleveland OH 44106
(216) 229-1685
Executive Director: Beverley Simmons

publishes journal, directory of members which includes professional performers and teachers, agents, instrument builders, workshops, college and graduate programs in early music, other early music organizations, etc., etc.

1994 dues: $35 individual, $45 family, $20 student, $50 outside US & Canada

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The Lute Society (Great Britain)
Christopher Goodwin
Southside Cottage
Brook Hill
Surrey GU5 9DJ
Tel: 01483 202159
Fax: 01483 203088
publishes annual journal and (quarterly?) newsletter and
sponsors meetings and workshops

(A personal message from Chris: "Please note that this is a private residence: please do not phone or fax at times when you might wake up my grey-haired mother. Overseas callers, please be aware of the time difference.")

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Societa Italiana del Liuto (Italy)
Via Stendhal, 61
20144 Milano
(02) 4224178

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Nederlandse Luit Vereniging (the Netherlands)
Willem Pijpers
Dotterbloemlaan 14
the Netherlands
publishes quarterly magazine De Tabulatuur
1994 dues: (in Dutch guilders) 45,- ordinary membership; 25,-
below 16 years; 15,- second member on the same address

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Societe Francaise de Luth
48 rue Bargue
F-75015 PARIS

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Foreningen for Tidig Musik (The Swedish Early Music Society)
Box 23019
S-750 23 Uppsala

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Ceskoslovenska Spolecnost Violy da Gamba (also includes
lutenists and luthiers; my information dates from before the
division of Czechoslovakia into 2 countries)
David Freeman, Administrator
Stresovicka 24
162 00 Praha 6
Czech Republic

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Early Music Society of Victoria Inc.
9 Merribell Avenue
East Coburg
Victoria 3058
Phone (03) 755 2137

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Australian Association of Musical Instrument Makers
PO Box 341
NSW 2121
Phone (02) 772 4415
Fax (02) 868 2893

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Early Music Association of New South Wales (Australia):
The EMA of NSW is an active organisation which publishes a newsletter
monthly, has monthly meetings which involve speakers, players, both
professional and amateur and consort play-ins.
The contact address is-
Early Music Association of NSW Inc.
PO Box 735
NSW 2057
Our voice phone number is
(02) 550 1301
and you may also drop us some e-mail if you wish
Thanks for your time
Hilary Rhodes

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Liuuto no Kai (Lute Society in Tokyo)
Mr. Katsuyuki Yazawa
4-15-19 Oshima
Koto-ku, Tokyo 136 Japan

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Lute Publications

The publications of these societies contain ads for instrument builders and stores that may sell lutes, as well as classified ads from private individuals who have lutes for sale. Through them you may be able to find a teacher near you who can help you find a lute or who can evaluate an instrument that you have found.

If you live in North America, you may wish to contact Pat O'Brien, a private teacher of lute and guitar in New York City. As a service to the community, Pat keeps a list of people who have lutes for sale or who wish to buy a lute. He may be able to match you up with an appropriate instrument. You can contact him at 50 Plaza St. East, Brooklyn NY 11238.

A reputable seller will allow you to buy an instrument "on spec," i.e. you have a reasonable amount of time after receiving the instrument (a week or so) to get it evaluated, decide if you like it and want to keep it. If you are not satisfied you should be able to get your money back upon return of the instrument in original condition.

Disclaimer: The following lists of businesses are not necessarily complete, nor have I had personal experience with all the businesses listed. Inclusion (or omission) of any business does not constitute a recommendation. Additions and corrections to the list are welcome.

The following businesses may have lutes in stock for immediate purchase, or may be able to provide you names and addresses of builders. Also see the FAQ file of professional lute-builders.


The Early Music Shop
2010 14th St.
Boulder CO 80302
(303) 499-1301

The Early Music Studio
990 Kent St.
White Rock
British Columbia

Kelischek Workshop
Rt. 1, Box 26
Brasstown NC 28902
(704) 837-5833

The Early Music Shop of New England (Von Heune Workshop)
65 Boylston St.
Brookline MA 02146-7602
(617) 277-8690

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Koten Gakki Center (Early Instruments Center - a branch of
Gitarura Music Publishing Co.)
3-17-49 Shimo-ochiai
Shunjuki-ku, Tokyo, 161
Phone (Tokyo) 3-3-952-5515
Has imported music, used instruments. Good place to check for early music concerts. Carries several lute methods (Renaissance and Baroque) written in Japanese. Takes orders for student lutes made by Mr. Yamashita.

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Lute Strings

These businesses sell strings:


E.&O. Mari/La Bella
256 Broadway
Newburgh, NY 12550

Damian Dlugolecki
520 S.E. 40th St.
Troutdale OR 97060
(503) 669-7966

Olav Chris Henriksen
Boston Catlines
34 Newbury St.
Somerville MA 02144

Dan Larson
Gamut Strings
26 N. 28th Ave. E.
Duluth MN 55812
(218) 724-8011

P.O. Box 82761
Portland, Oregon 97282-0761
(503) 788-5029

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Aquila Corde Armoniche
by Pace Manuela & Co.
via Costantini N. 16
36100 Vicenza
Italy (Italia)
fax 0039-(0)444-960773

51, rue Deleuvre - 69004 Lyon
B.P. 4356
69241 Lyon Cedex 4

Sofracob S.A.
Zone Industrielle
38121 Reventin-Vaugris

Dr. Karl Junger
Postfach 6
D-8521 Bubenreuth/Erlangen

Bernd Kuerschner, Obere Waldstrasse 20, D-65232 Taunusstein, Germany,
+49-6128-6910, fax 8207

Mimmo Peruffo, Via Costantini 16, I-30600 Vicenza, Italy, +39-44-960 773

Pyramid, Saiten- und Stimmpfeifenfabrik Junger GmbH, Sudetenstrasse 41-43,
Postfach 6, D-91088 Bubenreuth/Erlangen, Germany

Fax: 0049 9131206642 from USA 011-49-9131-206642

Pirastro Strings

Gustav Pirazzi&Comp.Postfach 540 D 6050 Offenbach am Main GERMANY
Telefon:069/831011 Telex:413143 piraz d

Matthias Wagner sells Savarez and Aquila strings

Ruschstrasse 5, D-79235 Vogtsberg-Oberrotweil, Germany
Tel. (0049)-7662/94346 Fax. (0049)-07662/94347

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The following businesses sell music and books of interest to lutenists:


Early Music Shop of New England
59-65 Boylston Street *
Brookline, MA 02146 * (617) 277-8690 *

Editions Orphee
407 N. Grant Ave., Suite 400
Columbus OH 43215-2157
(614) 224-4304
(He may no longer be selling retail wbc, july 2001)

Guitar Solo
1411 Clement St.
San Francisco CA 94118

Old Manuscripts and Incunabula (OMI)
P.O. Box 6019
FDR Station
New York NY 10150
(212) 758-1946
Steve Immel:

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Casalini libri s.p.a.
Via Benedetto da Maiano, 3
50014 Fiesole (Firenze)

Brian Jordan Music and Books
10 Green Street
Cambridge CB 2 3JU

8, rue Eynard a La Regle d'Or
CH-1211 Geneve 12 23, rue de Fleurus
Switzerland 75006 Paris
(41-22)310 46 60 France
(33-1)45 44 9433

Severinus Press
12 St. Ethelbert Close
Sutton St. Nicholas
Hereford HR1 3BF
432 880 157 (telephone)
432 880 158 (fax)

Studio Per Edizioni Scelte
Lungarno Guicciardini 9/R
50100 Firenze
+39 55 218690

Tree Edition
Albert Reyerman
Brunhildenstr. 20
D-8000 Munchen 19

Antiqua Edition
Im Hamm 16
D-56132 Dausenau

Tree Edition
Albert Reyerman
Brunhildenstr. 20
80639 München

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Koten Gakki Center (Early Instruments Center - a branch of
Gitarura Music Publishing Co.)
3-17-49 Shimo-ochiai
Shunjuki-ku, Tokyo, 161 Japan
Phone (Tokyo) 3-3-952-5515

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Thanks to Wayne Cripps, Peter Dickof, Etsuko Jennings, Bob Judd, Jane Langley, Benoit Petitjean, Bev Ross, Francesco Tribioli, Martin J. van den Boogaard and Stephen Wilcox for comments and contributions to this file. I am responsible for its final content and any typographical errors. Comments and corrections are welcomed.

Caroline Usher
cpu@suna.biochem.duke edu


updated Nov 2, 98 by wbc

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Other Lute pages at this site:

- The Lute Beginner web home page

- Lute beginner music and exercises: free tablature downloads to learn by.

- how to replace your lute frets: directions on tying new gut frets.

- lute pickup FAQ: inside or outside the lute?

- How to improve a bargain lute: tips for the lutenist on a tight budget.

- Lute related web sites