CHITARRONES / THEORBOS

In this catalogue I follow the definitions first arrived at in Robert Spencer’s important article on the subject in Early Music 1976. It is a confusing area of research but in general these are now the generally agreed terms.

It is commonly said that the chitaronne and theorbo are so large that they require the top one or two strings to be tuned an octave down to prevent them breaking.

This seems on first glance plausible because they are such very large instruments, but, although commonly used as a shorthand description, it is in fact almost the exact opposite of the truth. They are actually not quite big enough, and so the bottom 4 or 5 courses have to be tuned UP an octave. This point is clearly explained by Picinnini in his 1623 account of the origin of the chitarrone but has been largely ignored by most writers except Kevin Mason (in his book The Chitarrone And Its Repertoire in Early Seventeenth-Century Italy, Boethius Press 1989).

The theoretically “correct” size for a lute in low A is about 105-117cm depending on the pitch standard, so, as players start to complain(!) above 87-93cm, theorbos would be seriously underachieving in the bass without this octave transposition upwards. (The top 1 or 2 courses are still slightly below optimum.) The diminution of the range by about a seventh thus occurs at the bottom of the range, not the top; thus leading to the need for the extra long basses to restore the range.


39. 93cm & 170cm, 14 courses (6 x 1 + 8 x 1) after Magno Dieffopruchar 1608 (Royal College of Music No.26) 51 ribs; the original is in rosewood with ivory strips between. Neck and extension veneered in ebony with triple ivory strips, ebony and ivory heart in the soundboard, triple rose and ivory lines in the fingerboard. Tuned in G or A but the important thing to note is that the top two courses are tuned an octave lower than standard lute pitch. 8 frets.
Price: £7000
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40. 89cm & 170cm, 14 courses (6 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Matteo Buechenberg 1614 (V&A Museum No. 190-1882) 41 ribs; the original is in shaded yew and has diagonal chequerboard marquetry on the back of the neck and extension and ivory panelled lines on the fingerboard. A triple rose. Tuned in G or A, top two courses an octave lower. 10 frets.
Price & original inlay: £6700
With simpler decoration: £5900
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New! “FOLDING” THEORBO New!

40a. 89cm & 178cm, 14 courses (6 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Matteo Buechenberg 1614 (V&A Museum No. 190-1882) 41 ribs of rosewood or kingwood with holly strips between, neck and extension veneered in ebony with holly stripes. A triple rose. Tuned in G or A, top two courses an octave lower. 10 frets on the neck. Special “folding” mechanism allows the extension to be dismantled and stowed in the special case alongside the main neck.
Price, not including case: £7000
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41. 88cm & 175cm, 14 courses (6 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Martinus Kaiser 1609 (Paris No. E 24) 27 ribs, the original is in ebony with ivory strips between, neck and extension veneered in ebony and ivory herringbone pattern, triple rose, 10 frets.
Price: £5700
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42. 86cm & 158cm, 15 courses (7 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Sebastian Schelle 1728 (Nürnberg No. Gm 1329) 11 ribs; the original is in bird's eye maple, neck and extension in ebonised fruitwood. Single rose. This is a rare example of a large late baroque theorbo with an elegant long body shape and baroque barring, clearly suitable for continuo work. 8 frets.
Price: £5400
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43. 83cm & 167cm, 14 or 15 courses (6 or 7 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Christoph Koch 1650 (Berlin No. 3581) 15 ribs; the original is in kingwood with ivory/kingwood/ivory triple strips between. The neck and extension have an elaborate marquetry inlay of ivory and rosewood. Soundboard edged with ivory, triple rose. Tuned in G or A with either the top or the top two courses an octave lower. 9 frets.
Price & original inlay: £6600
With simpler decoration: £5500
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44. 78cm & 160cm, 14 or 15 courses (6 or 7 x 2 + 8 x 1) My own design based on a body by Harton (Nürnberg MI 56) 35 ribs of yew or rosewood with contrasting spacers. Neck and extension veneered in ebony with holly edging.Triple rose and heart in soundboard. 9 frets.
Price: £5500
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45. 76cm & 154cm, 14 or 15 courses (6 or 7 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Matteo Sellas c. 1635 (Brussels No. M 255) 31 ribs; the original is in shaded yew with ebony strips between. The neck and extension veneered in snakewood with ivory lines, the soundboard is edged with snakewood and ivory, triple rose. Tuned in G or A with the top course an octave lower. 8 frets.
Price: £5600
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For continuo work 8 and 9 fret theorbos are ideal, but there is a solo repertoire which is more conveniently played on theorbos with ten frets to the neck. For those who would like this possibility I suggest the following choices, for these instruments I also suggest pegs for an extra two courses in the lower pegbox as the solo repertoire sometimes also requires 7 courses to be fingered. There is a current fashion for theorboes to be single strung throughout and I am happy to build in this form, though I would recommend retaining pegs for double stringing where the original has these.

82cm Sellas [M255] with neck lengthened.
84cm Harton [MI 56] with neck lengthened and bridge in original lower position.
86cm Sellas [E 547] but strung as a normal theorbo.
88cm Kaiser [E 24]
89cm Buechenberg [190-1882]

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19 COURSE THEORBO

46. 76cm & 154cm, 19 courses (6 x 2 + 13 x 1) my own design based on a combination of the 18 & 14 course theorbos by Sellas (Paris E 547 & Brussels M 255) 31 ribs of rosewood or yew with holly or ebony strips between, neck and extension veneered in ebony with holly edging. Triple rose and ebony and bone heart in soundboard. For playing the repertoire by Kapsberger which requires 19 courses.
Price: £5700
Price, including case and elaborate inlay: £6600
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ENGLISH THEORBO

 

47. 78cm and five stepped nuts to 135cm, 13 or 14 courses, (2 x 1, 5 x 2 + 1 x 2, 1 x 2, 1 x 2, 1 x 2, 2 or 3 x 2) my own design based on available iconographic, manuscript and musical evidence, 35 ribs of yew, rosewood or ebony, neck and extension veneered in ebony with holly lines to your taste. Single rose, soundboard edged with holly and ebony.
Price: £5800
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LIUTO ATTIORBATO

These are the original small renaissance lutes but with added bass strings on an extended pegbox like a small theorbo, they were used extensively for the early 17th century Italian solo lute repertoire.

48. 59cm & 84cm, 14 courses (7 x 2 + 7 x 2) after Matteo Sellas 1638 (Paris No. E. 1028) 15 ribs; the original is in alternate ivory and ebony with double ebony and ivory strips between. Neck and extension veneered in matching ebony and ivory stripes. Fingerboard has engraved ivory panels, a single rose. For tuning in G.
Price & engraved panels: £5300
without the engraved panels: £4800
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49. 64cm & 93cm, 14 or 15 courses (2 x 1, 6 x 2 + 7 x 2) after Matteo Sellas 1637 (Gemeentemuseum) 17 ribs, this is similar in decorative detail to the previous instrument but without the engraved fingerboard panels. The larger size gives a more satisfactory sound, although both sizes appear to have been common. For tuning in G.
Price: £4800
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50. 67cm & 96cm, 14 or 15 courses (2 x 1, 6 x 2 + 7 x 2) 17 ribs; my own design, this has the same decoration as the others. For tuning in F.
Price: £4800
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ARCHLUTES

51. 64cm & 133cm, 14 courses (1 x 1, 5 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Matteo Sellas 1630 (Bologna No. 1748) 35 ribs; the original is in shaded yew with ebony strips between. Neck and extension are veneered in ebony with ivory edging, single rose. Because of its relatively small size this can be tuned to g' at modern pitch and does not require large left hand stretches.
Price: £5100
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52. 67cm & 142cm, 14 courses (6 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Magno Dieffopruchar c.1600 (Vienna No. C 45) 31 ribs; the original is in shaded yew with ebony strips between. The neck and extension veneered in ebony with ivory edging, triple rose and ivory and ebony heart in soundboard. I recommend adding a pair of extra pegs to the lower pegbox so that the solo repertoire,which requires 7 x 2 & 7 x 1, can be played on the same instrument. Ten frets on the neck.
Price: £5100
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53. 67cm & 142cm, 14 courses (6 x 2 + 8 x 1) my own design based on a body by Marx Unverdorben, 31 ribs of yew with maple strips between. Neck and extension veneered in ebony with holly edging. Triple rose and a bone and ebony heart in the soundboard. This is designed to give the largest possible body for this string length while still having ten frets on the neck, which is desirable for the solo repertoire.
Price: £5100
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54. 67cm & 144cm, 14 courses (6 x 2 + 8 x 1) after Martinus Harz 1665 (Edinburgh University No.300) 45 ribs; the original is in shaded yew with ebony strips between. The neck is veneered in ebony and the extension is ebonised sycamore. Triple rose. This instrument has the large body typical of Roman archlutes but a shorter string length than usual and the extension is typical of German rather than Italian work. So it has almost certainly been cut down to suit the higher pitch standard current in 18th century Germany. Because of this it has only eight frets on the neck and, with its large body and correspondingly powerful sound, is therefore more suitable for continuo work and Corelli trio sonatas than for playing the solo repertoire.
Price: £5300
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FRENCH THEORBO

This was a distinct form of theorbo in use in France in 17th and 18th centuries, like the Italian theorboes it has the top one or two strings an octave lower than nominal pitch but it is single strung throughout and has shorter diapasons carried on an extension with a long lower pegbox opening and an offset upper pegbox. The chanterelle has its own separate little pegbox opening. These theorbos existed in two basic sizes: the smaller designed for playing solo pieces and the larger for continuo work.

55. 76cm & 130cm, 14 courses, single strung throughout; my own design based on the measurements in the Talbot MS, the existing instrument in Yale and French iconographical sources, 13 ribs; single small rose, ebony veneered neck and extension. For tuning with the top string in d'.
Price: £5400
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55a. 85cm & 157cm, 14 courses, single strung throughout; my own design based on information in the Talbot MS and French iconographical sources and the surviving small French theorbo, 13 ribs of kingwood; a single rose in a high position, an ebony veneered neck and extension with pierced fretwork design in the back of the lower pegbox. The chanterelle is carried to a separate little pegslot on the side of the main pegbox, this gives a more direct line for this fragile string and makes for longer string life. The upper pegbox is offset to the bass side and carries a shield for your family crest. For tuning with the top string in a'.
Price: £5500
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Copyright 2003-14 by David Van Edwards

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