14th Century Citole

The citole is a predecessor of the guitar, it is a plucked instrument from the 11th century.   The citole had no particular set shape or size, but like the rebec, the body and neck were carved from one single piece of wood.

I have loosely based my citole on the Warwick Castle instrument, the only extant citole.  It has some design features that I agree are significant, and thus I am putting these features into my instrument.

 It was built as a citole in the 14th century, but converted for Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century into a violin.  This is one of the most fascinating, and to me personally, ugly, instruments ever made.

I am building this citole not to perfect the medieval method of building a citole, but to learn what goes into building a functional citole.  Therefore there are a few things that I will do with modern tools to help get this project moving.  However, since I enjoy doing it, most of the work (with the exception of the gross cutting and hollowing) will be done with appropriate hand tools.

I am going to display my progress in this project on a daily basis - construction shots of each day's progress.  Today, the first day of construction, is Monday, November 7, 2005.  I am hoping to have this instrument done by November 19th, and playing at Crystal Ball.

I am not using any plans, standard dimensions, or measured drawings in this project - I believe most instruments built in this period were built well, and with an understanding of the instrument, but still following a basic "cut it down, hollow it out, glue it together, and play it" attitude.  Sure, there were great instrument builders, but many instruments were built by those who would play them, and this is the type of instrument I want to create.

Start with a hunk of wood, and see where the instrument is hiding in it.  This is 85 tear old English Walnut.  A big plank, from my Grandfather's stock (I was given it upon his death).  It is a strangely figured and flawed piece, but there is a citole in there somewhere - yup, found it.

Laying out the lines.  This instrument will be somewhere between 28 and 30 inches total length, with a holly leaf shaped body.

Basic layout, time to start cutting.  The knot was only half way through the board, so I put it in the part that had to be hollowed out.

Rough cut and shaped, lots of removal left before this thing will even start to resemble a citole.  It is much lighter now, but still heavy

From the front view, showing the trefoil that will hold the tailgut.  One feature of the Warwick citole that I think is a fine idea - holds the strings and provides a handle.  So it is included on mine.

Hogging out the body.  After rough cutting the body and finding no hidden flaws, I used a large forstner bit to remove the wood fast.  Now for chiseling, scraping, and sanding.

Top view of the body being hogged out.  Forstner bits make interesting patterns, y'know?

Tapering the soundbox.  The soundbox is tapered to the front, the instrument has a high bridge more like a violing than a guitar, and the fingerboard is horizontal.  So the body is thinner at the front than at the rear, so that the bridge will be at the height of the fingerboard.

Now the thumbslot is cut.  This allows you to play the instrument and still leaves enough wood on the neck to prevent warping and bending (they didn't have adjustable truss rods for instrument necks in the 14th century).  This is the basic shape of the instrument - lots of detail tweaking, but this is the basic shape.

This is the end of day 1.  More tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov 8)

Day 1       Day 2       Day 3      Day 4      Day 5      Day 6        Day 7        Day 8