Cael's Gotland Lyre (his first instrument)

This one has been a bit in getting here, but worth the wait.  I finally get to add the first instrument of my third child to the projects page.  Of course, he is a boy, so everything is different than it was for the girls.  Suns and moons and seahorses are cool for the daughters, but Transformers and Voltron and Ninjago are the center of the boy's existence, and so had o be represented here (Dad insisted that we didn't vacuum-form an Optimus Prime head and put strings on it, the had to be a reasonable period instrument after all).

So we looked around, and in all the photos we didn't find anything that struck him more than any other, except it shouldn't be just like either of the sisters instruments.  It has long been a plan of mine to see what one of the smaller lyres could be made to sound like, and I was very interested in having a starting point, so I convinced him that a small lyre based on the Gotland stone carving would be neat to have, and it is big enugh to cut a Voltron head shaped soundhole and paint a bright V on the soundboard, and it could be red and yellow and blue and black.  And he was good with that, the days and weeks of indecision were over.

For those looking to be educated, this lyre is based on an instrument carved in a stone found on the Larbro, Kalltade, the Island of Gotland off Sweden.  The context of the carving is not known, it might have been mythical, actual representation, or holding a magical purpose.  Anyway, here is a photo of the carving.

The carving has no relational objects, so guessing size is impossible.  Strings are present, and a worn area that could have been a bridge, but nothing definite representing a tailpiece is present.  And this is good, theoretically.  Many lyre-ologists opine and theorize that the tailpiece is a fiction in these early lyres, that the strings were simply tied on to the tailpin or tail-stub of the lyre, and ran over the bridge and to the tuning pegs.  While there are lots of reasons to question this assumption, truth is we have never recovered an early Anglo-Saxon tailpiece, but we have tuning pegs, keys, bridges, even an extant lyre, and fragments of others.  But no tailpiece.  The most compelling reason to consider the theory.  So we will build this little lyre without one and see how it works.  Cael Nogy, Associate Designer, Instruments of Antiquity.  I like the sound of that.

Started out the same as Ceilidh and Aislinn, with layout work.  The pattern was taken by drawing over 1/2 of the image in Photoshop, then making a masonite template from the resulting printout.  Size is just a guess, but based on Cael's hand.

Dad once again rough cut the body blank on the big resaw bandsaw, then we started to see what Cael could handle.  First off using the 12 inch disk sander to shape the head and tail ends.  He was still getting used to not just staring at the camera when I took a picture, and almost burned the end right off watching me and not what he was doing.

This small lyre was no problem to handle on the spindle sander, so Cael got to work taking the instrument down to the outline.  I taught him how to use the whole belt or drum and to 'average' his sanding by making long, even passes.  The result is a bit lumpy and bumpy, but very good for a first time.

After dad used the industrial scrollsaw to rought cut the hand opening, it's back to the sander for Cael

Now off to the drill press with a modified Forstner bit to hollow out the body.  This is a time consuming process, Cael and I took 2 evenings because he ran out of arm about halfway through.

Hollowed and after a patch of a break-out that Dad caused trying to help, the instrument is ready to be mated to a soundboard.  I chose a simple plywood board, like we used on the girls first instruments, because the other options would have required the use of the big soundboard sander and Cael isn't ready for that yet.  Besides, the ply sounds quite nice.  So first, the soundboard had to be drawn out.

Then Dad cut the board on the bandsaw, oversized by more than a bit, of course, (and used the jigsaw to cut the Voltron head soundhole) and Cael proceeded to glue it on.

Lots of PVC spring clamps later, the soudboard is ready to dry.  This is the end of an evening work - 40 degrees in the shop isn't the environment for glue to dry.

Back to the sander to handle the soundboard overhang and smooth up the instrument once again.

Now time to add the crossgrain reinforcement to the peghead area.  Cael drew, dad cut, Cael sanded and glued the three pieces that make up the overlay on the yoke.  Another evening ended by waiting for glue to dry.

Did I say an evening ended?   At 10 pm, suddenly full of energy, the 5 year old headed back to the shop.  And I taught him how to turn tuning pegs.  Dad did 1, Cael did 5. 

Next night, to the sander to smooth out the reinforcements.  This will be the last major body work on the instrument, the rest will be handwork.

Tape was applied to the peghead to mark the location for the pegholes.  Cael's favorite tool is the drill press, and he made quick work of six 1/4 inch holes.  Time to remove the tape..

Breaking the edges with a sanding sponge, just to make it nice and comfortable and to get rid of any fuzz left by the power sander.

Now for application of color.  Really red is what he wants.  Transfast dye liquid in alcohol, and a brush.  And it will be red.

While the stain is drying, back to the lathe to turn the tailpin.  This will be a bigger pin, because we are going to just loop all the strings over it instead of using a tailpiece.  Here he is using a sanding sponge to clean up the tailpin on the lathe.

After a quick dip in the yellow Transfast, it is time to glue the tailpin in.  A small hammer... 

OK, here is the part where I couldn't take real pictures.  Anyone who has ever tried to teach a 5 year old how to paint evenly and smoothly with a spray can knows that is a hand's on job.  Keeping the can from getting too close, even overlap, no runs.  The clear lacquer went on with a whole lot of screwed up faces, he didn't like the smell of lacquer at all.  So no pics of it getting all shiny, but 3 coats of Valspar spray gloss lacquer with 0000 steel wool in between made a good enough topcoat, and it was time to move on.

The maple bridge was shaped with the spindle sander, but the top, the part the strings rest on, had to be cut by hand.  So Cael took a small file and went at it, leaving the ends proud of the ridge, just like it should be.  This is a Trossingen style bridge, as the Gotland natives probably had as much or more influence from the Germanic tribes as the Bretons, this is just plausible, not guaranteed.

Sanding the sides of the rough pegs flat and to thickness.  Pushstick and fingers out of the way of the disc


Then sanding the tops of the peg heads round.  Just because it geels better and round is less likely to just splinter off than sharp and square.

Using the Sharksaw pullsaw to cut the string slots.  Easier than a back-and-forth saw.   Perhaps a peg got sacrificed to the spirits of the tilted blade, perhaps not, Dad won't say.  But even if it did happen,  Dad has lost a few the same way over the years... Now the only thing left is  fitting  the pegs and stringing.  Remember, at least at this point no tailpiece, a test to see how that system actually works.  People who understand tailpiece theory and the physics of the length of vibrating string on the tail side of the bridge claim this might be less than optimal, might not allow the amount and type of force downward on the bridge and soundboard that you will get with a long rigid tailpiece and small string gap between the tailpiece and bridge.  We will see, I guess.  After all, we can always build a tailpiece if it doesn't work well...

Next morning, time to finish.  First to taper the pegholes and fit the pegs - usually a 2 person job until you build the handstrength to make the pegs fit tight.  Cael was the official fitter, I was the official reamer.

Applying peg compound to each peg to make sure they don't slip or stick.  I do this for all my lyres because of the large contact area of the peg, most violins only have compound if a peg develops problems because they only have 2 small bearing areas.  Also it will help to make sure Cael can turn the pegs.  So with the pegs in, attach the strings and


DONE!!!!  Happy builder with a vry colorful instrument, plays well without a tailpiece, only needs a strap but that can be done anytime.  I can't think of anything that I would have rather done than guide this project.