Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are Liuti forti "original" lutes?
The instruments that are offered today under the label “real” or “historical” lutes are not usually originals but replicas of museum instruments that were silenced more than two centuries ago. Consequently, no serious statements can be made about the similarity between the sound of the copy and that of the original. If one would like to use the term “original” lute, then it should be used far more for the liuto forte. These instruments are not copies of models whose sound can no longer be determined today, but – just like the lutes of the past – original creations which are oriented to self-chosen musical standards.
2. Was the Liuto forte developed for lutenists, or for guitarists who wanted to play a lute without having to alter their technique?
The Liuto forte was developed for musicians. For open and creative people who would gladly take part in a tradition, without desiring to be imprisoned within it. Our instruments in no way make concessions to the needs of guitarists. It is nevertheless easier and more satisfying for a guitarist to make music on a Liuto forte than on a historical lute. To the extent that you use a purely guitar technique, you will probably produce a sound reminiscent of the guitar. A lutenist, on the other hand, using a specific lute playing technique can raise associations with what is known as a “historical” lute sound. The sound of the Liuto forte lies quite independently between these extremes, while including both. We are dealing with a truly new instrument. More than a few musicians and listeners have already decided that it sounds like an ideal lute, or how an ideal guitar really ought to sound.
3. What can you play on a Liuto forte?
Whatever you like! Pieces for lute, for guitar, new music, early music, chamber music, arrangements, simply everything. Of any acoustic plucked instrument on the market today, the Liuto forte is the most efficient and versatile. It is limited to no one particular musical style.
4. What exactly sounds better on a Liuto forte than on a guitar or a historical lute?
Again, to put it simply, anything and everything! But that is a question of taste, after all. Why not find out for yourself?
5. Why does the Liuto forte sound richer and fuller than either a guitar or a historical lute? What is the trick? Is there a secret?
There are many secrets involved, but no trick. In terms of acoustics, the basic lute body, itself an early form of the loudspeaker, is considerably more efficient than the box form of the guitar’s resonating chamber. See under About the Liuto forte/Methods of Guitar and Lute construction. To make matters worse, the glued-on nature of the guitar fingerboard and the waisted sides of the guitar body drastically dampen and reduce the resonance of the soundboard above the sound hole; to such an extent that guitar construction could be called “paraplegically lamed” in this area. Almost everything sound-wise happens in only one half of the soundboard. Even if the fretboard were not glued to it, any resonating potential of this part of the sounding table is severely handicapped by the stiff nature of the incurved sides of the guitar. The upper half of a lute’s soundboard, however, is not hampered and takes a lively part in the acoustical events, in tandem with the lower half. In this sense, in comparison with a guitar’s mono speaker, lutes behave like a stereo system and this accounts for their impression of a more interesting and varied sound. For an optical view of this phenomenon, please refer to the modal analyses included in the section Models/ Quality Control on this website particularly noting the ranges 368 & 421 Hz. See under About the Liuto forte – Research. The “bigger” tone of the Liuto forte when compared to the historical lute, on the other hand, is due to its modified soundboard construction. This intensifies the stereo effect mentioned above.
6. Does a Liuto forte sound more like a lute or like a guitar?
The sound palette available to you on a Liuto forte is so wide that you can very closely approach, according to your manner of playing, both the sound of early guitars and renaissance and baroque lutes. But if you decide otherwise, and adapt your style to the vast possibilities of this instrument, then it will gradually begin to sound like itself, a Liuto forte. From that moment on, the question just asked becomes relatively uninteresting.
7. Is the Liuto forte a hybrid instrument?
The claim that our instruments are hybrids of lutes and guitars is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Liuti forti are not mixtures of lutes and guitars but one hundred percent lutes. Their internal construction remains firmly in the traditions of European lute making, yet exceeds them in certain points, making use of new constructive elements, such as the arching of the soundboard prior to its attachment to the body. This procedure effectively prevents the sagging of the soundboard in front of the bridge, which has remained an unsolved problem of old lutes. The barring beneath the bridge in the Liuto forte is a modification of the exclusive use of slightly asymmetrical fan bars invented by the famous lute maker Joachim Tielke (1641-1719) and perfected by Sebastian Schelle (1676-1744). We extend this fan barring beyond the region of the bridge, as had already been done by the legendary Bolognese lute maker Laux Maler with his descant bars. Long before guitar makers of the nineteenth century discovered the advantages of exclusively fan barring under the bridge, it was already a standard feature in the final phase of historical lute making. The Liuto forte can only be called a “hybrid instrument”, inasmuch as the best characteristics of various historical lute types have been combined (theorbo, archlute, angélique and late baroque lute etc). But, in this light, all its forerunners would have to be equally called “hybrids”. The theorbo is a mix of bass lute in g and archlute, the archlute a mix of tenor and alto lute, and the late German “swan neck lute”, with a flat body and triple rose, is a mix of Italian archlute, French d minor lute and the angélique. The makers of the Liuto forte are resuming the tradition in the spirit of the past, great European tradition of lute masters. These differed from their modern followers in that they looked to the present and the future, rather than considering only the past. Being original, they were less bothered with authenticity and “faithfulness” and clearly saw no objection to combining various constructive elements in the interests of serving the music of the time. The astounding variety of historical lute types has its roots in this spirit of openness. We follow the example of the old masters, in also looking forwards.
8. Are Liuti forti heavily built instruments with high string tension?
Liuti forti have a medium string tension and are as lightly built as historical lutes. They gain their power and richness of colour solely from an alteration in the internal construction. To compare Liuti forti with heavily built harpsichords from the early twentieth century (“pianos with harpsichord mechanics”), or with the infamous “Wandervogellaute” (a guitar in lute form), is therefore absurdly irrelevant. It is now generally recognised that the manufacture of these instruments in the 1920s and 30s was not based on any detailed examination of historical models. In contrast, the construction of the Liuto forte has been based on extremely careful study of 17th and 18th century lute construction. The step from the historical lute to the Liuto forte is to be understood as taking place conceptually after and not before the informed copying phase of historical models. It can also be compared with the development of a baroque violin into a violin of the 19th century. Just as the rebuilt violins of the great Italian masters remain authentic violins, so the Liuto forte remains an authentic lute, even if, for some of the adherents of historical instruments, this should be found disturbing.
9. Is the Liuto forte too strong in the lower end of the sound spectrum? Is its tone too bassy?
The Liuto forte lies exactly in the middle of a spectrum whose outer extremes would be marked, on the one hand, by the rather bright tone of historical lutes (for today’s ears often too trebly and sharp), and, on the other hand, by the darker timbre of the classical guitar, which is a (sometimes gloomy) consequence of certain aspects of its construction. A Liuto forte has just so many fundamental and overtone characteristics as are required to achieve, over a range of four octaves, both a warm, singing descant and clear, sonorous basses; without taking refuge in octave stringings, which are accompanied by immense technical disadvantages. There are certain guitarists and historical lutenists, due perhaps to their outsider status in the field of classical music and their close familiarity with their own sound, who are not generally accustomed to question the suitability of their instrument for ensemble playing. The inadequacies of acoustical balance which often result are usually compensated for by a nice combination of forbearance on the part of musical partners and the audience’s good will. With the Liuto forte conditions have once again been provided for the complete integration of a plucked instrument into ensemble music. An acoustical concept was necessary which took note of the sound spectrum of classical ensemble instruments and thus avoided either too bright or too dark extremes of tone. Interestingly, musicians who are neither players of classical guitar or historical lute, and judge according to general criteria, such as transparency and ability to project, have tended spontaneously to prefer the Liuto forte, when they hear them in direct comparison, to both classical guitars and historical lutes. To get an impression of what has just been said, please pay attention to the sound balance between human voice and plucked instrument in the Dowland recordings with Eric Bellocq, Liuto forte, and Damien Guillon, Countertenor (headphones recommended) or the duo Bensa-Cardinot and compare them with any other recording of the same pieces using either historical lute or classical guitar:
1. Eric Bellocq and Damien Guillon:
10. Does a Liuto forte sound like a “real” lute?
The “real” lute sound is primarily a phantom, concerning which there is more speculation and romantic imaginings than actual listening experience. Nineteenth century poetry played its part in the nebulosity and esoteric excesses of such projections. Today’s apologists for the “real” lute sound should therefore again ask themselves the question: how many playable historical lutes have survived, not to mention their original stringing, which would allow us to judge what was and what was not an “original” lute sound. The reconstructions of such long neglected and unplayed instruments all sound very different. To complicate matters further, the few playable historical medieval, renaissance and baroque lutes differ so much, not only among themselves, but significantly from most of their modern reconstructions, that it is completely impossible to define original or real lute sound. The makers of the Liuto forte follow their own sound ideal. It does not rest on a projection of non-provable tone hypotheses about the past, but consciously begins with today’s expectations and standards of sound. The question whether a Liuto forte sounds like a “real” lute is for us of much less interest than the task of forming a new lute sound, which commands as wide a spectrum as possible and satisfies the demands of the contemporary public.
11. Should the Liuto forte replace the guitar and the historical lute?
No, because variety is what is most desirable. The Liuto forte is something new and exciting on offer for players who are either dissatisfied with their guitar or lute or are looking for a complement to their present instrumentarium.
12. Could the historical lute become again a contemporary lute?
Renaissance and baroque lutes are without doubt especially suited to the performance of renaissance and baroque music. Nevertheless – even if they don’t totally fail you in performing tangos and ragtime – it is less than likely that lutes in their historical costume could become again a voice for today. However important it remains to cultivate the tradition; if the lute is to have a future it must first arrive in the present. This can hardly happen in its 300 year old getup.
13. Are there historical models for the Liuto forte?
Archlute and theorbo could be called the first “loud lutes” (liuti forti). From today’s point of view they mark the beginning of a process which leads directly through the angélique and J. S. Bach’s single-strung baroque lute to the Liuto forte of the 21st century.
14. Is the Liuto forte idea to be associated with J.S. Bach’s own lute?
The seminal idea for a Liuto forte arose out of the study of Bach’s lute works and the still too little known and researched tradition of his use of single-strung instruments. Unfortunately this tradition has received less attention, since the rebirth of historical lute playing in the 1930s, than the use of double-coursed lute models. The reason will have most likely been the desire to make a clear distinction between the resurgent lute and the then prevalent “Wandervogellaute”. One wanted to affirm not only an optical difference but, with the forceful term “doppelchörig” (double choirs referring to the two strings in each course), a prestigious language barrier could also be erected against the despised, single-string “Gitarrenlaute”. Find out more about “Bach & the Lute”, along with the tradition of single-strung lute instruments, under www.bach-lautenwerke.de.
15. Does a Liuto forte always have single strings and fixed frets?
On demand, we naturally deliver Liuti forti with double courses and movable frets. It must be realised, however, that double courses of strings can never unfold the complete range of dynamics and tone colours which this instrument potentially contains. Moreover, before you make use of the opportunity for the shifting and slant placement of movable frets in the interests of better intonation of certain notes, you ought to consider the consequences of such manipulations on the notes on other strings and whether these side effects are likely to be acceptable to critical listeners. (The most comprehensive survey so far on the subject of fret instrument temperaments is the standard work by Werner von Strauch, Handbuch der Stimmungen und Temperaturen, 2009.)
16. If I string my historically built lute using thicker single strings then it will also sound louder. Do I still need a Liuto forte?
If you were to string a copy of an old fortepiano with fewer but heavier and tighter strings you would not automatically get a Steinway. The main concern in the development of the Liuto forte was not simply volume – which alone has little artistic quality – but the opening up of a greater sound palette and the improvement of a cantabile singing tone for this instrument of traditionally somewhat short breath. For achieving this result, the extension of the dynamic spectrum was an important prerequisite. A historically built lute, strung with thicker single strings, can admittedly seem more penetrating. At the same time, however, you will have to pay for the increase in string tension, when keeping to the historical soundboard construction, with a markedly diminished sustain. Such highly strung instruments can deliver adequate service in ensemble playing, due to their very direct but dry tone, yet they lack sufficient charm for solo playing, as S.L. Weiss already remarked. It is best to judge the actual sound of “historical” lutes, not from the optimised recordings available on CD, but by taking the occasion to hear them in concert or, even better, trying them out yourself. One shouldn’t forget that it was less the lack of volume that sealed the fate of the lute in the late eighteenth century. It shared this weakness with the up and coming guitar, and could have still survived in dilettante circles, if the nineteenth century musical public would have tolerated the “real” sound of lutes. More decisive than the lack of volume were the aesthetic grounds which after 1800 finally led to the preference for the “singing” descant strings and rich palette of the small romantic guitar. Today’s lutenists sadly have the tendency to repress this bitter truth and consequently to reject all potential sonic developments of their instrument in advance.
17. Do Liuti forti sound better played with fingertips or nails?
Both styles are suitable, due to the medium string tension of these instruments. Both have advantages and drawbacks; there is no one “ideal” plucking method. Nails of excessive length would appear not to be suited to the Liuto forte. The best results have proved to be those achieved with a combined style, where the string is first touched by the fingertip and allowed to glide over a well polished nail with no unwanted extraneous noise.
18. Isn’t it much harder to hold a lute body than a guitar body?
On the contrary. The lute, held with a strap, or using a flat foot rest, or even propped against a table provides a more natural and elegant presentation than will ever be possible with a classical guitar. No unhealthy twisting of the upper body or use of decidedly uncharming props is required, like footstools reminiscent of brake pedals.
See also: About the Liuto forte – Playing position
19. Where can I try out an instrument? Where can I get tuition?
You tell us where you live, we inform you of the closest possibility.
20. Are there also more reasonably priced instruments available? Is hire purchase possible?
Now and again demonstration instruments are on sale at reduced prices.
Current offers can be found on our website under „Bargains“
Allowing for your good credit record, there is the possibility of deposit-free financing through our bank over a maximum period of six years at the fixed interest rate of 4.9% per annum (at the time of writing).
Although more than 400 instruments are in use, there appears to be little supply of second hand Liuti forti. This suggests that owners value their instruments as a sure investment. For a long time to come resale value is not likely to suffer the same decline as has been the case in the falling prices of master guitars and copies of historical lutes, where the market has long become saturated.