4. Anogeianakis: Construction of the Laouto

Below is an excerpt from Fivos Anogeianakis' (Anoyanakis) seminal work, Greek Popular Music Instruments describing the construction of the laouto (laghouto in his text, attempting to better translate the letter γ). The depth of detail of this section in comparison to the other instrument families (with the exception of tsambouna, perhaps) is interesting to note. Furthermore, I am interested in this largely historical depiction of laouto construction for its parallels (and differences) to modern (and historically-informed methods) of Renaissance lute construction. I am posting this as a resource to laouto players and lutenists alike (and luthiers, of course - although I don't know how many of those check out my website), particularly as they tend to be most interested in the construction of and ultimately the playability of their instruments. Furthermore, this resource is expensive and hard to find outside of Greece, and I will be responding to it in its entirety over the coming months as part of my own research.

In the late nineteenth century, the lute was made in three sizes, or ‘heights’. In our own time, it is the intermediate size which has become the most popular. Nevertheless, the dimensions do vary to some degree between the finished instruments of different lutemakers, although such differences are relatively slight and have no real functional significance. The lute is often made, moreover, with the bodily build of the player himself in mind - according as to whether he be tall or short, heavy or thin, or whether he has long or short fingers- as well as designed to suit. his stated preferences in the purely musical sphere. The player may, for instance, request that the soundbox of his instrument be of greater or lesser depth, or that the neck be longer or shorter. The Cretan laghouto of today is longer, wider, and deeper than all other lutes made and played in Greece. At one time, lutes similar in size to those played throughout the rest of Greece were also played in Crete. The diagram (fig. 150) gives the dimensions of the intermediate-sized lute the figures in brackets indicate the limits of the dimensions as derived from relevant measurements made of over a hundred different lutes from all the regions of Greece. From these measurements one can safely conclude· that there is no fixed relationship between the dimensions of the various parts of the instrument. For example, the lengthening or shortening of the neck does not necessarily entail the increasing or decreasing in size of the instrument’s soundbox. These lutes, made at various times from 1862 to the present day, constitute a living history of lute manufacture in Greece over the last one hundred and ten years. They are especially valuable insofar as that period of years coincides with both the zenith and the nadir of lute-making in Greece .

However, closely it may follow the lines established and preserved by centuries of tradition, the manufacture of the laghouto - as holds true for so many other Greek popular musical instruments - varies both as regards the dimensions of the individual instruments and the process whereby they are crafted. Minute differences between individual instruments are apparent not only in the case of those instruments manufactured in different workshops, but even between the individual instruments manufactured by the same craftsman. Such variations constitute a living proof of the ingenuity and involvement of the lute-makers with their craft. Their search to create instruments capable of producing a finer or greater sound, increased resistance to changes in the weather, or warping, as well as the sheer beauty of their workmanship, far from acting against tradition, serve~to keep it alive through a process of constant renewal.

In Greece, the laghouto is crafted in the cities, in workshop’s with a long tradition in the making of such instruments behind them. The soundness of the instruments’ construction, their satisfactory functioning and the quality of the sound they produce all depend, essentially, upon the patience, care, and loving dedication (meraki) with which they are made. The manufacture of each lute always proceeds in the same order of construction - body, neck, and table. Several different hardwoods are used in the making of the soundbox: ebony, palisander, asphodel, mahogany, walnut, etc. Lime or some other softwood is used to construct the skeleton of the neck, while the table is usually fashioned from coniferous wood, most often pine.

The body of the laghouto is made with the aid of a wooden mould (fig. 151). A triangular block (dakos) of some softwood, such as the linden-tree, is temporarily screwed on to the uppermost part of the mould. Upon the block, which will be left inside the soundbox as a support, and in which a groove will be incised later for the insertion of the neck, staves are affixed (fig: 152). To the middle of the block the ‘mother-stave’ is attached; the other staves follow, alternately attached to the right and left of the ‘mother-stave’, and glued to the block and to each other with fish-glue. In order to curve the staves to conform to the shape of the mould, the lute-maker ‘irons’ them with a special kind of hot iron (nowadays, this tool is electrically operated in several workshops in Greece), at the same time gluing them in place. Formerly, the body of the lute would be made up of as many as 23 or even 33 individual staves. Nowadays, the maximum number of staves making up the body of the lute does not exceed 23, and the actual number is often even lower than that. This reduced figure is one consequence of a certain ‘industrialisation’ of lute manufacture. This is particularly true in the case of the bouzouki as well as that of the laghouto - quantities of which are sent abroad, especially to the Greek communities in the United States and Canada. In addition, it should be noted that skilled lute-makers, when cutting the staves, do not need to concern themselves overmuch with their correct length, breadth and thickness at the edges, for these measurements are maintained according to the traditions of each individual workshop. Despite the fact that the master-craftsmen work with no measuring device other than the naked eye, they never err in their efforts to achieve a balanced symmetry in their finished individual instruments. The construction of the body of the lute is completed with the gluing of the so-called ‘side- pieces’ (plaina) to the outermost staves, all the way around, and by adding the kollantza to the place where the staves meet, at the base of the instrument. The ‘side-pieces’ and the kollantza (kollo, to glue, to. paste on), both of which are made of the same kind of wood as the staves, serve to keep the latter in place at the. points they are affixed. When the glue has set and dried and the staves are firmly attached, the mould is removed and the interior of the body is cleaned out with a scraping tool. Small strips of a specially treated cloth (panoharto) are then attached to the joints where the staves of the body meet, either vertically or horizontally. Finally; at the base of the body, a thin, flat board (of any kind of wood, hard or soft) is attached to the inside ‘wall’ of the body in a position corresponding to that where the kollaittza has been attached (fig. 153). The neck of the laghouto, made from a single piece of wood, usually from the linden-tree, is slotted into the groove incised for that very purpose in the triangular block affixed on to the uppermost part of the instrument’s body. The neck must be precisely fitted to the block, and must be firmly glued into place; the more completely the neck and block are fitted together to form a whole, the stronger will be the construction of the overall instrument, and the less liable to warp. In the last few years, instead of making the neck of the laghouto from a single piece of wood from the linden-tree, lute-makers have sometimes used pieces of wood from the linden-tree glued together with some other soft wood, such as that of the pepper tree. In such instances, the lute-maker does not have to ‘dress’ the neck with veneer to protect it against warping, a process that must be carried out when the neck is made of a single piece of wood.
The prevention of warping, especially in the case of the neck of the instrument, is the unceasing and fundamental concern of every skilled maker of lutes. The table of the laghouto is flat or slightly curved; it is always made of coniferous wood, usually pine. A thin pine board is sliced into two layers, and these, placed side by side, together make up the table of the instrument. In order to glue these two pieces of wood together, they are placed in a mould, and, then fixed from inside with seven wooden kamaria (arches), made of coniferous wood. The slight curvature of the table, which makes it more resistant to the strain created by the tautly stretched strings, is achieved when the small pieces of wood that are the kamaria are curved under the table (fig. 154). On the table there is a large, round soundhole with an elaborately carved rosette. The wood to be used in the construction of the laghouto is first allowed to dry out thoroughly over a period of two or three years. Older, highly skilled craftsmen with high standards continue to prefer the natural to the artificial method of seasoning and drying the wood. The natural method always allows for the retention of some moisture in the wood, which is thereby kept ‘alive’; the artificial method, on the other hand, ‘kills’ the wood so treated, in the words of the craftsmen themselves. It is especially important that the wood to be used in the making of the laghouto retain some moisture, as thus it remains pliable. This is necessary in the case of those instruments that have curved sections, and hence require ‘ironing’: these include the laghouto, the tambouras (those instruments having soundboxes made of staves), and the guitar. Dry wood is used in the construction of those instruments that need no ‘ironing’, as they have no curved sections; these are the hollowed-out instruments, such as the pear-shaped lira, the hollowed-out tambouras, and others. At one time, lute-makers followed a different procedure for drying out the wood instead of the natural method; the pieces of wood to be treated were boiled in brine, which, as the older makers of the instrument maintain, “prevented them from splitting”. Some of the older lute-makers went so far as to purchase, at reduced prices, expensive, well made furniture, constructed of high quality materials; they would then dismember the furniture in order to use the wood - mahogany, walnut, etc.- in order to make their instruments. This practice was adopted by one of the true masters of the craft, Manolis Venios of Constantinople, who died around the time of the First World War. The same is done today in Athens by Yiannis Paleologos (born 1904). After the table has been affixed to the body of the instrument, it is then decorated around the edges and around the rosette with inlaid fillets, or geometric figures as rhombi, triangles, squares, rectangles, diamonds, etc. Once executed in mother-of-pearl or ivory or precious woods, these decorative motifs are today carried out in ordinary wood or plastic. Such decoration as the-carved arabesques of the rosette provide ample evidence of the influence of Oriental ornamental art. Once the principal sections of the laghouto (body, neck, and table) have been fitted together, the lute-maker completes the instrument with the finishing touches described below. The underside of the neck, first of all, is rounded so that the player’s left hand can slide up and down more easily during performance, and the neck as a whole is cut down and trimmed to the desired length. When the neck is made of a single piece of wood, the rounded side is covered with thin strips of veneer, made of the same kind of wood as that of the staves of the body of the instrument. On the foremost part of the neck the fingerboard (plaka), a thin strip of ebony or another hardwood, is glued, covering the entire face of the neck and extending to the edge of the table. The fingerboard is decorated along the edges of its entire length, with delicate wooden inlaid fillets or geometric designs. Apart from making the neck resemble more closely
the body of the instrument, this wooden veneer also serves the more important function of protecting the neck from warping. Following this, the pegbox (karavolas) is fitted and glued on -to the uppermost part of the neck, four holes having been opened on each side to receive the eight pegs. These pegs, today similar to those of the mandolin, were formerly like those of the violin, and are generally known as the striftaria, striftalia (turners), or kopilia. The pegbox is set at an obtuse angle to the instrument’s neck; this enables the lutenist to tune his instrument with greater ease. The principal sections of the laghouto are scraped with a metal rasp and smoothed with sandpaper, progressing in stages from coarse sandpaper to fine abrasive. The instrument is then ready to receive a few necessary additions to its basic state; it must be laquered with high-quality varnish, and its ‘arsenal’ of strings must be attached. Before either of the last two finishing touches can be made, the position on the table where the bridge is to be attached must be marked, and semitone intervals must be measured and marked off to indicate the positions of the eleven frets on the neck. The distance from the nut to the bridge should be twice that between the nut and the first cane fret, plus an additional 2-3 mm. For instance, should the distance between the nut and the first cane fret be 34 cm, then the distance between the nut and the bridge should be 0.683 m (0.34+0.34=0.003=0.683). This ensures that the instrument ‘sings well’ and that it doesn’t give false notes. The 2 or 3 additional millimetres are a margin left when the bridge has been glued to the instrument’s table. However well-constructed the instrument may be, a slight warping of the neck and table occur in time as a result of the constant tension of the strings. This invisible ‘bellying’ alters the correct distance between the nut
— p. 233-236, Anogeianakis
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