Gourd Resonator Lute

I acquired several medium sized gourds a few years back, and slowy discovered how to best use them as I intended, to make musical instruments.  Gourds have traditionally served as resonating bodies in musical instruments, either as the main body, or in the case of some Classical Indian instruments, as a secondary resonator.

Classical Indian "Veena"

After the side has been removed from gourd

I must admit that as the instrument took shape it was difficult to limit the intention to one specific idea. I wanted to primarily make a standard Lute length instrument so I may test strings intended for Renaissance lute.

But soon after I began, a host of other possibilities came to mind, including sympathetic strings, which have always intrigued me, maybe an additional Bass string.

After the soundboard was glued on, I carved the sound hole to an appropriate diameter.          I also carved a place for the Cherry wood fingerboard to be inset, an “ogee” or lotus petal shape. I have been aging that Cherry for nearly a quarter century, in fact!  It was a section removed from rabbet of a large picture frame I made in the early 70s.

I was trying out this little “rosette” and found it muffled the sound a bit too much, so  am playing round with the whole idea of making rosettes from parchment.  They need a lot of open space in them so they will not interfere with the volume!

I’ve temporarily removed the little rosette.

The argument has been made that in the European Renaissance it is entirely possible that silk strings were in use, when available, as they had been for centuries.

The Lute came to Europe by way of the Silk Road, through the Arabian peninsula into Byzantium. Gut strings were probably made necessary due to the loss of contact through the Silk Road during the Medieval Era plagues.

See also: Berthold Laufer, Field Museum of Natural History, Vol. XV, No. 3 Sino-Iranica p.537-38. “Chinese Contribution to the History of Civilization in Ancient Iran”

With this I mind, I have produced appropriate string sizes for Lute and they are now available in my STORE

It is very likely that through the early Medieval period silk thread, fabrics, and silk strung musical instruments all travelled along the Silk Road together. And so, I say it is entirely appropriate that a slow return to silk, a superior musical string compared to gut, return to prominence.


The wide nut at the edge of the pegbox is wide, and meant to produce a kind of tingly “buzz” referred to in Japanese as “Sawari” This is a direct borrowing of Cassical Indian instrument sound referred to as “Jiwari”

The Japanese Biwa is designed to take advantage of this peculiar effect.

Satsuma Biwa

The frets on a Biwa are high and wide,

and emphasize dyamic, percussive effects over the melodic.

Still, the best thing about this instrument is that I can pull samples of Lute strings as I make them, get them to the correct tension and play them.

I have not placed the frets yet, but it is getting easier for me to play fretless, anyway. The frets when made will be wide in the manner of a Biwa, I think.

About Lpkaster

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