While visiting Israel during the holidays, I paid a visit to the shop of Yaron Naor. Yaron is one of a few craftspeople who has mastered the art of Oud, Lute, and mandoline making. Building a string instrument is perhaps the most challenging feat in woodworking. While there are many aspects of general woodworking that overlap with instrument making, there are a few additional elements that distinguish a luthier's work from the work of a cabinetmaker.
Photo by: Harry Suraski
Photo by: Yoav Chen
While both cabinetmakers and luthiers must have sharp tools, a luthier has no room for error. He or she must constantly work with very precise, even "rocket science-like" measurements, and systems of very demanding tolerances often within the 1/1000 of an inch.This is necessary to ensure that the thickness of the parts he makes are within specs. Most high end instruments have very thin walls and these walls vary in thickness along their length and width.
Here is a picture of a thickness gauge that Yaron built to help him check the proper thickness of parts. He bought the gauge and built the frame from scratch.
The most painstaking part of the process of building instruments of the Lute family is constructing the hull. For this one needs to make thin strips of wood that are steam-banded and glued edge-to-edge on a form similar to the keel of a boat.
Building the instrument requires absolute precision. More than this, a luthier's work often demands vast knowledge in geometry, acoustics, and of course the "alchemy" of obscure finishing techniques. Still, Yaron manages to do even more than this. He invents, develops, and pushes the luthier envelope even further. For example, he recently developed a new way to structurally support the soundboard of his instruments with a leaf-like rib arrangement that add strength and stability.
Yaron is an avid documentarian of his work and has created many impressive albums that show how he builds his instruments. I highly recommend visiting his Picasa to learn about the laborious process that leads to the creation of a wonderful instrument that produces the most beautiful and inspiring sounds.
Here are links to a few of his albums:
Building a 5C Medieval Lute by Yaron Naor