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.
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
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;
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.