Care and Maintenance
For detailed information about tying gut frets click here

Care and maintenance.
In general, the usual, common sense, precautions taken with most musical instruments apply to lute family instruments. The following points are particularly worth noting.

Perhaps most important is exposure to direct sunlight and or heat. All my instruments are built using traditional animal glues which are very strong and versatile, but are vulnerable to heat and / or damp. It is imperative that the instrument should not be left in direct sunlight (such as in front of a window or in a car) where the heat can rise dramatically. This is true even if the instrument is in its case.

An awareness of the effects that changes in humidity will have on your instrument will be invaluable in spotting potential problems early. In the U.K. the relative humidity changes we experience are not generally too drastic. In very cold spells, however, it can be a problem. This is aggravated by central heating. The effect of low humidity on wood is shrinkage. Wood shrinks most across the grain. As lute soundboards are made up of a board with bars glued together with opposing grain directions, they are vulnerable to stress produced by the different movements of the various pieces of wood. The main symptom to look out for is a sinking or dishing across the soundboard. When humidity is very low, soundboards will tend to shrink across their width, while the bars beneath will remain, more or less, unchanged in length. The resulting tension causes the soundboard to sink across it's width. Eventually something has to give and that is inevitably the sound board. If you spot that your soundboard is beginning to sink, try to humidify the environment by one of the following means.
  • A humidifying machine if you have one will be most effective.
  • Hang a damp towel on a radiator every now and then.
  • Keeping well watered house plants helps to maintain a reasonable humidity level.
In all cases, be careful not to over do it! Too damp an environment can be just as bad. It is a good idea to invest in a humidity gauge of some sort. They are widely available and a cheap digital temperature and humidity gauge will be perfectly adequate. Ideally you should aim to keep humidity between approx. 50 an 60%. 5 points higher or lower than this should not cause problems for short periods of time.

Strings and frets.
Accompanying all my instruments, is a list of string gauges and fret gut diameters. It is important not to deviate too far from the recommended string gauges for the instrument. Lutes are fragile and are strung almost to the limit of their strength. Using too heavy strings at too great a tension can cause structural problems that can be expensive to put right. If in doubt about the what strings are acceptable please contact me for advice. When replacing strings the following points may be of help

  • Make sure there is only a small amount of free string behind the knot at the bridge. Long ends here can vibrate against the soundboard causing buzzing sounds.
  • Do not have too much string wound round the peg. This just means extra work winding them up. You will need more string on the peg for the first and possibly the second courses. Wound courses need very little, but it is a good idea to leave enough string to enable the winding to just reach the edge of the pegbox. This will help prevent the pegs from spinning out. (Note. Too much pressure here will cause the peg to be too tight to use!)
  • With wound strings especially, it can help tuning if a little graphite pencil lead is rubbed into the nut groove as a lubricant.
Detailed information about fret maintenance


Over a period of use, your instrument will pick up dirt and grease from your hands. This is most evident on the soundboard where the little finger rests when playing. Wiping the area with a clean rag with a little olive oil can help clean this area. After cleaning in this way you can burnish the area with a little linseed oil. Buff away any excess after leaving it to soak in for a few minutes. As a general rule, be gentle! The backs of varnished instruments can be wiped over with a damp cloth. Oiled backs can be lightly waxed with a soft wax such as Renaissance wax.


During the working life of an instrument of this type it is inevitable that, at some point, some damage will occur. The important thing is to keep an eye out for problems and to catch them early. Regularly check all the joints on the instrument for any sign of looseness or free play. If you find any open joints or loose bars the first thing to do is to let the strings down and then get professional help, the sooner the better. The areas most prone to problems are;
  • The back edge of the bridge.
  • Watch for the bridge trying to peel off the soundboard.

  • The neck joint.
  • See if you can see any movement in this area

  • The soundboard.
  • Soundboard cracks are usually found on the centre joint just behind the bridge or over the top block of the instrument, just below the neck. It is also possible for the soundboard to come un-glued from the bowl. This usually occurs at the bottom of the instrument directly behind the bridge or, sometimes, were the instrument rests against the body.

  • The peg box joint.
  • This is an obvious area of weakness and is also very prone to knocks and bumps that can break the glue joint.

In General

Cracks in ribs and soundboards are relatively easy to deal with, but it is still important to seek professional help quickly. The sooner a crack is mended the more chance there is of repairing it more or less invisibly.