14th Century Citole #2 - Cantigas de Santa Maria Citole

After the success of the first Citole, I was approached by a friend asking if I would teach him how to build an instrument of this type.  Although it is inevitable that I will have my hands in projects that I am teaching in my shop I try to limit that interaction so that the final product from my students is as much their work as possible.  One of the things I try to do is to build a similar project alongside of them teaching each step on this demonstration piece and then setting them to the same task on their own.

Citole number two is the result of finishing one of these demo pieces. It is constructed of box elder, with a Carpathian red spruce soundboard, fretboard, peghead overlay, tailpiece and rows of red heart. Unlike my first Citole there are no double courses and this instrument is strung with five strings. The frets, nut, bridge header and tailgut saddle are cow bone.

I find that there are many more challenges to building a hollow-corpus instrument than building a rib-built one.  The choice of wood, the ability to adapt when a flaw is found that was previously hidden, the requirement of flexibility in design really inspires me.  And while some later Citole were built up, I am sticking with the solid one-piece construction on this instrument.

I have based this Citole on the Cantigas de Santa Maria illuminations, but it is not an exact reproduction of any of the instruments illustrated.  I wanted to do a hollow peghead instrument, and since this is just a personal playtoy, I decided to use a peghead similar to the one on the Parma Baptistry carving.  The piece of wood, not me, was the determining design factor for almost everything, but I did provide a little basic design guidance.  Here are the images I used to design this instrument.


This instrument shares a lot in common with the Warwick Castle Citole that I built a few years ago.  I will not repeat each step, rather, I will document the points that are different in this instrument and try to describe the benefits / drawbacks of each of the changes.  Overall, this has been an enjoyable project, and an improvement over the first instrument in more than one way.

OK, the end photo first.  Just so you can see where I went with it.  It is a handsome instrument.  I am working on several rose designs - using this instrument as a test bed for the parts for my upcoming cittern.  But the rose is ornamental, it is a complete instrument without it.  I don't expect to be completely finished with any of the roses anytime soon, so the pictures will have to wait.

To start with, cutting and rough hollowing the body.  You can see this procedure many times on other pages on this site, I do not need to bore you with the repeat.  One change I am making is that this instrument will be thinner walled and thinner bottomed than the previous one.

A different bracing pattern for this one.  The Warwick Castle instrument had a single brace below the soundhole.  I used a modified lute bracking pattern for this instrument, and I am not sure how much of the tone inprovement is due to this bracing and how much is due to the other changes (materiala and dimensions), but I believe it is substantial.


Box Elder is not the hardest wood around, so to avoid damage to the tuning head, I added a thick veneer of redheart.  This is a modern feature, but in this case I believe it will eliminate the problems of wear on the tuning peg holes.  Also note the nut riser of maple, and the nut of bone.

The Cantigas and the Parma instruments had different methods of attaching the strings, but I fell in love with the Warwick trefoil and so included it on this instrument.  It is not the most common feature in any of the period illustrations, but it is occasionally seen in dis-associated manuscripts.  The tailpiece is footed and made of redheart, and the bridge is maple and footed instead of flat like the earlier one.  Note the bone overlay on top of the bridge.

Here is the bottom of the tuning head, recessed to help keep the pegs from being knocked out of place.  I like this feature in other instruments, and included it on this one for no other reason than that.  And it does a fine job.

The frets are square strips of bone glued into v-shaped grooves in the fingerboard on edge.  The fretting is modern - I had thought about fretting it in 1/6 comma meantone, but decided that being able to play among modern and medieval isntruments (a compromise) would suit my requirements for this instrument better, so I fretted it to the rule of 17.817.

And for scale, my ugly mug with the instrument.  It is not the lightest, brightest sound, but neither is it deep and dull.  It is tuned to D, a, e, b', f#'.  Although I know that most citole illustrations show 3 or 4 courses, I am experimenting with the stringing and tuning for a cittern I am planning, and decided to use this instrument as a test bed for that one.