Notes on Building a Vihuela de Mano

This instrument is called a Vihuela de Mano..... a hand plucked vihuela. Vihuela was a Spanish Medieval generic term for Viol. There was a bowed viol, a viol played with a pick and one like mine. The vihuela was Renaissance Spain's answer to the lute. By the end of the 15th Century Spain had been occupied by the Moors for 700 years. Ferdinand and Isabella kicked them out. Immediately pure Spanish arts began to flourish. The lute was the most important solo instrument of the era. However the Spanish disliked it because of its Moorish origins. So they took their native guitar which at the time had four pairs of strings, enlarged it to hold six pairs of strings tuned it like a lute and called it a "vihuela".

Vihuela de Mano - Renaissance Spain's answer to the lute.
View of the back of the Vihuela de Mano.

Mine version is a composite of the writings of Frey Juan Bermudo, a 16th Century stringed instrument expert, period drawings and engravings and photos of a vihuela from around A.D.1500. The sides and back are alternating strips of birds eye maple and black walnut as is the neck. The soundboard is German Silver Spruce. The pegs, bridge and fingerboard are of ebony. The five rosettes were carved with an Xacto knife. Every joint in the back is reinforced like the joints of a guitar. The soundboard is braced like a lute with a curved bass bar and small treble bars. The final finish is historically correct Zip Guard polyurethane varnish, just like Stradivarius used to use. (Haw, haw!) Vihuelas are supposed to have a 600 mm scale like a lute but I didn't know that at the time. I made it 650 mm like a guitar since that was my only point of reference. I tune the lute strings like a guitar. The correct lute tuning is a third higher but that causes the spindly little strings to break because of the too long scale.

This was a delightful project to build. I worked under the direct supervision of the late viola da gamba builder Harold Westover. He was a great teacher and a great craftsman. Twenty-one years have passed since the summer that vihuela came to life. Now that I'm involved with the right folks (L.I.N.T.) I hope to build a classical and a flamenco guitar while I'm still above ground.
Respectfully submitted,
Chris Barker