One of the more obscure instruments of the early middle ages that seemed to be fairly widespread at least in northern Europe was the medieval viol (also called the guitar fiddle, or the "octave fiddle" for its figure 8 shaped body). It does not appear to be directly related to the renaissance viol family (derived from the Spanish vihuela di arco), but instead is a form of early bowed tenor or bass fiddle, probably used strictly for accompaniment of some kind. Versions of it show up in manuscripts and sculpture starting the the 1100's until the middle 1300's, when it fades away.

So what is it? It is a bowed stringed instrument, fairly large, somewhere around 30-35 inches in length from the images, exclusively played gamba style (on the leg, like a cello). It seemed to most commonly have three strings, though a couple of the images show as many as five. In southern Europe there seemed to be far less distinction between it and the "normal" medieval fiddles, especially as that region more frequently played the fiddle gamba style (the Spanish rebab, Cretan/Greek lyras, Balkan gadulkas for example are all still played that way). The instrument was most likely carved from a single block of wood, as most early medieval instruments were, with an attached soundboard. The shape of the body was roughly figure eight shaped, with various waist bumps or points. From the sculptural evidence, it seems as though the instrument had both a flat soundboard (again, very typical of early medieval instruments) and a flat back (also consistent with a block carved instrument). Other elements were quite varied.

The difficulty in getting any real written evidence for its existance is that it didn't appear to have a separate name. There definitely seems to be a distinct iconographic type, but no separate word for it. We tend to run into this problem with the rebec as well, as all bowed instruments, especially in the medieval period, tended to be called some variant of fiddle (viol, viola, vielle, fiedel, etc.) indescriminately. As such we don't really have any confirmable textual evidence for the instrument (though there are lots of references to fiddles). This also includes tuning, which we'd have to make some sort of guess on based on the physical form of the instrument and the scant information we have on tuning of fiddles in general. There are no physically surviving examples.

That leaves the iconographic evidence, which I present below. I will try to point out what features seem to be relevant with each one, and then try to make some summary statements about what might be a "typical" instrument. First I will make my normal disclaimer regarding historical pictoral evidence. The artists and sculptures often worked without models, and in some cases (as is extremely evident in the beastiaries) without ever having seen the objects they are depicting. With musical instruments especially, you have to be careful in working out details from small marginal illustrations where the artist may be taking liberties for convenience or effect. For example, a harp drawn 1/4 inch high might only show six strings because that's the most the artist could physically fit into the picture. But that doesn't mean that specifically such harps only had six strings. Likewise, there are depictions of physically impossible constructions (pegs that couldn't turn or that are strangely placed; the number of strings and pegs not matching; etc.). So any consideration of iconographic evidence has to be taken with much trepidation and a good deal of salt. That said, a good deal can still be gleaned from such evidence, and, in any event, it is the only evidence we've got!

Below are the examples that I was able to find. The sources are noted with as much information as I could discover. Notes regarding shape and details follow. For images from which measurements could be taken, I then got some ratios. The Length to Width ratio represents (Total body lenth, from tailpeg to pegdisc)/(widest point of the instrument, usually the broadest point of the lower bout). The higher the number, the narrower the instrument. The body length to neck length ration is (Length of the soundbox portion of the instrument, from tailpeg to joint with neck)/(length of neck and pegbox, from end of the pegbox to the neck-body joint). High numbers indicate a very short neck, lower numbers a longer neck. The upper to lower bout ratio is the (width at widest point of the upper bout)/(width at widest point of the lower bout). Most of these are very close to one, as the bouts are actually usually quite close in size.

1. Mozarabic manuscript S. Beati de liebana explanatio in apokalypsis S. Johannis. Spanish c.920-30. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Hh58, fol.127r.
This is the earliest depiction that I was able to find of anything like the instrument. As expected, it is from the Arabic region of Spain, where bowed instruments are first found in Europe (the Arabs having acquired bowing before the Christian Europeans did). Beyond the very stylized art style, it is difficult to know what to make of these unusual instruments. They are quite huge. If the scale is to be trusted, this would generate an instrument about 5 1/2 to 6 feet long, much like a modern upright bass. Depicted are a broad tailpiece, a tall flat bridge supporting three strings, and a fingerboard of some kind. The neck seems to be carved from a separate piece of wood from the body by the drawn joint. However, there is only one peg depicted, and the strings more or less change number upon hitting the neck (from 3 to 2), and disappear altogether upon reaching the nut. In some cases this might indicate that the strings run to the underside of the pegbox, but the rather odd cross with single central peg? don't seem to represent any real possible configuration. It is an odd outlyer instrument, and I wouldn't really call it a medieval viol. But it does show that a three-stringed bass bowed instrument did exist amongst the earliest of the bowed strings in Europe.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 4.76
Body length to neck length: 1.50
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): N/A

2. St. Jerome's Commentaries on the Old Testament, c.1120. Trinity College, Cambridge. MS O.4.7 fo 112.
This is possibly the oldest image of the medieval viol as it more normally appears. Waisted figure eight shaped body, with a straight lined waist. The neck is distrinct from the body in line, but there is no line or break to indicate either two pieces or a fingerboard. No nut or bridge are depicted either, the former of which is almost a necessary part to the instrument (though not strictly necessary). I would make a guess that this is a unibody with neck construction from a single block. Three strings are evident, matching up with three pegs inserted into the top of a spade pegbox (though the pegs go off at unlikely angles). The tailpiece is quite large (seemingly normal for this type of instrument, as we shall see). The three lobes at the end of the tailpiece could be interpretted two ways. One would be a thick cord (depicted with two lines) running from the end of the tailpiece around a knob at the end of the instrument and back to the tailpiece. Another interpretation would be a decorative tailpiece with a three-lobed tail overhanging the end of the instrument. Given that the artist depicts the bow hairs with two lines as well, I would tend to favor the former interpretation (as a tailgut going around an endnut). There are two soundholes, shaped as simple slots, positioned directly at the waist of the instrument on either side of the strings. The rather long bow is held underhand (like a viol rather than like a cello bow). The whole instrument is about as long as the man's torso or arm, placing it at about 28-30 inches or so in total length, about the size of the treble or alto viol. Overall a good example to set up the type.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.33
Body length to neck length: 1.62
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.91

3. St. Albans Psalter, c 1120-30. Church of St. Godehard, Hildesheim St Godehard Bibliothek fol.56v, fol 37.
This image and the one below it both come from the same source, though stylistically I would say they come from two different artists. This version depicts a long narrow body, similar to some of the early plucked gittern/citole instruments. While there is a figure eight shape, there isn't a defined separate "waist" section, more a continuous curve. There is a small triangular tailpiece supporting three strings. Again there are a couple of ways to interpret the way the tailpiece is connected to the body here. It definitely is some portion of the tailpiece looped around an endnut or extending knob at the tail of the instrument. However there is no break in the outer line, so it would appear that the loop is potentially part of the wood of the tailpiece, suggesting a connection similar to the hook style of the later viol, though again it might simply be that the artist didn't add in the separating line. The artist's depiction of the pegbox does not instill a lot of confidence, as it does not look horribly feasible. It might be an attempt to represent a "cup" style pegbox, with the pegs inserted from below into a hollowed cylinder box. No bridge, nut, or fingerboard are indicated. There are four small circular soundholes situated two in each of the upper and lower bouts of the body, all the same size. Again this instrument is about as long as the player's arm or torso, so about 28-30 inches perhaps. The bow is shorter here, about as long as the instrument, with a marked handle, and again held from below like a viol bow. One interesting note is that the fingers of the left hand seem to be fingering multiple strings, like a guitar chord. This could indicate a possible playing style, or could simply be a clueless artist. Given that two fingers seem to be applied to the same string, it may unfortunately be more likely the latter. But if other evidence suggests this style, might be more convincing.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 4.92
Body length to neck length: 1.57
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 1.09

4. St. Albans Psalter, c 1120-30. Church of St. Godehard, Hildesheim, St. Godehard Bibliothek fol.447r.
This image, from the same MS as above, shows a slightly different form of the instrument (compare especially to the Cathedral of Sainte Marie version below). Figure eight shaped body with waist, but the bow covers the waist area so cannot tell if there are any points or other waist ornaments. Neck blends slightly into body - definitely appears to be one piece construction. No indication of a fingerboard or bridge, and the right hand covers the area where the nut would be, so cannot tell there. The pegbox is a trefoil, with three pegs suggested. There is a fairly large decorated tailpiece, which appears to be attached via a tailgut to a large end trefoil on the body of the instrument. Four large D soundholes are placed at the upper and lower bouts, all the same size. All also have decorative circles around their edges, though it is not possible to tell whether they are inlaid, painted, or carved. The fingering position of the right hand is functionally useless (he appears to be fingering the air a couple of inches off the instrument), so not much to be gleaned there. The bow is again about as long as the instrument, and again has a distinct handle. Hand position here is above the bow, but given the position of the right hand, isn't wholy trustworthy as an accurate depiction. The instrument is about the same size as the others - roughly as long as the arm or torso, though the ratio of neck to body size favors the body more.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.68
Body length to neck length: 2.41
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.88

5. St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei, c.1120. Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, MS Pluteus xii 17, fo 2.
Figure eight shaped body with bump waist - the first one with the waist ornament. There are several suspect aspects of this image. There are three strings, but they appear to be attached to a fixed bridge. No fingerboard or tailpiece indicated, though there is a decorative bit at the end of the body. It also might be that the "second" line drawn across the bottom might be an attempt to depict the lower end of a tailpiece, the tailpiece thus being as wide as the body at that point. The spade pegbox has three pegs. The instrument is being held backwards to normal, bowed with the left hand and "fingered" with the right, though the way it is being held would make it impossible to actually finger. The bow is very long, twice the size of the instument, but again does have a definite handle. There are no soundholes visible. Overall size is a little smaller, but still within the range of about arm's length.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.33
Body length to neck length: 1.29
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.76

6. Winchester Psalter, c.1150. British Library, MS Cotton Nero C.iv, fo.46.
Quite similar to the St. Jerome's Commentary illustration above. Figure eight shaped with straight-sided waist. Upper and lower bouts are about equal. The neck is distinct from the body, but there is no breaking line suggesting no fingerboard and perhaps unibody construction. Soundholes are straight slots centered around the waist. There is a tailpiece that runs to the end of the instrument, but no visible endloop or endpin. Three strings run up the neck, but there are five pegs depicted in the spade pegbox. The dot shape of the pegs also suggests that they are inserted from the rear. Could be that the instrument is strung in double strings for two of the courses (some of the rebecs are so drawn). This is the first one that shows a definite bridge line, set in the center of the two soundholes, but as it is only a line no other details can be inferred from it. The bow is again quite long, twice the length of the instruemtn and once again has a clearly delineated handle held from below. The right hand is shown fingering multiple strings, this time in a fashion that would be possible and meaningful, but two fingers are still shown fingering air (first and pinky fingers). However, that could just be "how they fell" whilst the other fingers were placed down. While not good evidence in itself, it does start to suggest a pattern. The instrument is again depicted as about as long as his arm.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.26
Body length to neck length: 1.50
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.97

7. German Bible, middle 12th century. British Museum, MS Harley 2804, fo.3v. This one has a soft figure eight shape with a very broad waist, and only soft curves there. Lower bout is definitely larger than the upper bout, and the body has a gradual curve into the neck with sloping shoulders like a viol. No fingerboard or nut is shown. There are three strings, complete with three pegs on a disc pegbox, the pegs being inserted from behind. The tailpiece is fairly long, and though it might be difficult to make out from this particular sized image, it is forked at the end, possibly indicating either a tailgut or a hook joint. There is a very prominent bridge, shown as being perfectly flat and having feet almost like a modern violin bridge (though otherwise being a simple arch). The bridge is also rather tall. The right hand is again shown fingering multiple strings (and well out of first position as well) in a chord-like fashion. The combination strongly suggests a chordal instrument, where all the strings are bowed together. There are two soundholes, simple D shaped, set in the waist of the instrument. The bridge, however, is set in the middle of the lower bout, not between the soundholes as might be expected. The slightly odd playing position (balancing the body on a bent leg) is probably a result of the marginal position of the image rather than a realistic depiction of playing style. The bow is about as long as the instrument, and uses an underhand grip. The scale of the instrument is a bit larger than usual, being about from the knee to almost the top of the head, making it closer to about 35-40 inches long.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.54
Body length to neck length: 1.64
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.90

8. Bible of St. Etienne Harding from the Abbey of Citeaux, 1109. Dijon, Bibliotheque publique, MS.14 Vol.III, fol.13v.
I don't know why, but the player here just looks French to me. In any event, body is figure eight shaped with point waist, bouts roughly equal, and a soft blend into the neck with sloped shoulders. There are three strings leading to three pegs in a spade pegbox, pegs inserted from underneath. Tailpiece is present, and looks to be looped around an end knob. No indication of bridge, fingerboard or nut. There are four D shaped soundholes, situated at the upper portion of each of the bouts, with the lower soundholes larger than the upper soundholes. The bow is a little longer than the instrument, and is held in the underhand position. This one interestingly doesn't appear to have a handle, and the thumb seems to be tensioning the hairs. The right hand is again fingering what appears to be a chord, or at least fingering multiple strings. The instrument is again about as long as the arm or torso.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.40
Body length to neck length: 1.55
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.84

9. York Psalter, c.1170. Glasgow University Library, MS Hunter 229, fo.21v.
One of the cleanest renderings we have. Body is figure eight shaped with a waist "bump" and sloped shoulders blending into the neck. There is no defined break between the neck and the body. The upper bout is smaller than the lower bout. No fingerboard or bridge are present. There are six soundholes. Two are large double-keyhole that run almost half the length of the body centered at the waist. Then there are four circular holes at opposite ends of the lower and upper bouts. The tailpiece is rather large (about 1/4 to 1/3 of the length of the body, depending on where you decide the body ends and neck begins), that appears to be hooked around a tail projection integral to the body of the instrument. There is a drawn endnut, and a double-line at the string end of the tailpiece that might indicate an integral tail/bridge. There are three strings connected to three pegs inserted from behind the disc pegbox. The bow is about as long as the instrument, has a decorated handle, and is held in the underhand position. The fingering hand appears to be stopping two strings, but it is hard to tell exactly from the hand position. The whole instrument is, like the others, about as long as the arm or torso.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.00
Body length to neck length: 1.54
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.82

10. Sculpture in right outer archvolt, Cathedral of Sainte Marie, Oloron (France on Spanish border) 12th century.
Very stylized sculpture, so details have to be taken with care. Almost exact figure eight body shape, with no waist figures, and upper and lower bouts almost exactly equal. There is a sharp distinction between the neck and body. Four huge D soundholes practically filling each of the upper and lower bouts. No distinguishable fingerboard or bridge. The tailpiece is very small, and there is no indication that it is looped around anything in the back of the instrument. Three or four strings connect to two defined pegs with two or three worn away spaces on the spade-like pegbox. The bow is very short (about 1/3 the length of the instrument) and has a handle that makes up half of its length. It is held in the underhand style. The fingering hand appears to be stopping at least three strings. Both the front and back of the instrument are flat, and the body is relatively shallow. Overall again it is about as long as the figure's torso..
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 2.94
Body length to neck length: 1.70
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.97

11. Sculpture from Chartres Cathedral (France), 12th Century.
Very clear and detailed depiction of the instrument, showing several important features. The soft figure eight shape has a pair of waist bumps, with the lower bout larger than the upper bout. Though the shoulders are slightly sloped, there is a clear demarkation between the body and neck. The body is rather thin (rib height) in comparison to its broad width. The neck is about half as thick as the body and is fairly long. There is no fingerboard, but there is very clear (and decorated) tailpiece, connected by a long tail-loop to an endnub. There is even a small brace where the tailgut goes over the edge of the soundboard. Potentially of most interest is the very clearly depicted bridge, which is solid (not carved into an arch or comb), and quite high, twice as tall as the instrument is deep, and placed exactly at the waist of the instrument. It is flat however, not arched, so this is not necessarily to imply that there was an attempt to place the strings high enough to individually bow them. There is also a very distinct endnut. There are three strings (though there is some damage to the sculpture so not all of them run their entire length), running to three rear-inserted pegs. The instrument has four soundholes, centered in each of the upper and lower bouts. In the upper bouts, the soundholes are four teardrop shaped holes arranged in a quatrefoil. In the lower bouts are two inward facing crescents, with curls at the ends. Overall the instrument is a little longer than the torso. No bow is shown, as the instrument is merely being carried, not held and played.

12. French Bible, 12th century. Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, MS lat. 11509, fol.5r.
Rather small illustration. Figure eight shaped body with upper and lower bouts about the same size, with a strong distinction between the neck and body. Four narrow C shaped soundholes, two each more or less centered in the upper and lower bouts. No fingerboard or bridge, but a large tailpiece (almost half the body length). The tailpiece overhangs the end of the instrument, and there are two little bits to either side of it, indicating perhaps a tail-loop or some other kind of fastener to the body. Three strings run to rear-inserted pegs on a triangular pegbox. The bow is absurbly long, twice as long as the instrument (and as thick as the neck of the instrument), and is held in the underhand grip. The left hand doesn't appear to be actually fingering the strings - the fingers are wrapped around the neck, but not really stopping the strings. The instrument is a little small, about 2/3rd the length of the arm or torso, and actually isn't resting on the knee of the player, but kind of hanging in the air.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.21
Body length to neck length: 1.03
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.98

13. Pillar decoration, Great Hall of Oakham Castle, Leicestershire. c.1180-90.
This sculptural piece has a fair amount of damage to it, but does have some very telling details that make it a useful example. It is figure eight shaped, with a small waist bump, and the upper and lower bouts about the same size. The shoulders are sloped, but there is a fairly clean line between the body and the neck. It can be shown that the soundboard is flat, rather than arched, and the body is rather shallow, the ribs being approximately the same depth all around. There are two shadows that might have been D-shaped soundholes on the lower bout. The upper bour is covered by the bow, and is sufficiently worn that soundholes, if present, cannot be clearly seen. The tailpiece is fairly large and is secured by an endloop to a protruding endbump or pin. There are three very clearer defined strings, though the peghead itself has broken off or worn away, so cannot be determined. Of perhaps most interest is the presence of a bridge, clearer sculpted at the waist of the instrument. It is short, flat, and has two broad feet, with a thickening on either side of the strings (kind of like the pillared bridge form of the Anglo-Saxon lyre). There is also a hint of a fingerboard, extending onto the body soundboard. The bowing arm and most of the bow have broken away, so not much can be said regarding it. The left hand is shown fingering multiple strings, but the stopping is actually off the strings themselves, so unless the middle of the digit is being used rather than the pad of the fingertip (see playing notes below), this is a little difficult to resolve. The instrument overall size is approximately the same size as the torso of the figure.

14. Great Canterbury Psalter, c. 1180-90, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, MS Latin 8846, fo.54.
Not quite sure whether this qualifies as a medieval viol or simply a fiddle played gamba style, but the waist bumps suggest the former. However this representation shows that the line between the two can sometimes be very close. Almost oval shaped, with knobby waist bumbs on a broad body. There is a sharp devision between body and neck. No evident fingerboard, bridge, or endnut. The tailpiece is short, and is secured to a endknob with an endloop cord. Three strings run to three rear-inserted pegs on a disc shaped pegbox. Two outward turned C shaped soundholes, centered at the waist. The shading of the body would potentially suggest an arched soundboard, but the image is so stylized it is hard to say for certain that we have a realistic depiction in that respect. The bow is a little longer than the instrument, does not appear to have much of a handle, and is gripped in an overhand rather than the more standard underhand fashion. Again the instrument is about as long as the arm or torso.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 2.24
Body length to neck length: 1.62
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 1.00

15. English Psalter, c. 1190-1200. St. John's College, Cambridge, MS K.20, fo.86.
Not quite able to see the entire instrument in this case, and it is very tiny in the original illustration, so the details are sketchy at best. Rough figure eight shape with waist bumps and sloped shoulders, creating no firm line between body and neck. Neck is very short, and upper bout is decidedly smaller than lower bout. No visible bridge, tailpiece, endnut or fingerboard, though the lowest part of the instrument is obscured by the picture frame, so where the tailpiece would fall is not visible. Four D shaped soundholes, two in each bout, with the upper ones being a little smaller than the lower ones (proportionate to the relative sizes of the bouts themselves). Three stings run to a disc pegbox. The pegs themselves are not rendered. The left hand is actually holding the end of the pegbox, not touching any of the strings. The bow is a little longer than the instrument (guess), with a handle, and is held in the standard underhand fashion. Hard to tell the exact size, but this one looks to be a little bigger than the normal arm/torso length.

16. Sculpture from the inner roundels of the south doorway of the Church of St. Nicholas, Barfrestone, late 12th century.
A very small and quite worn sculpture on the archway surrounding the south door. Body is somewhat angular figure eight shaped, with a distinct neck joint. Only two soundholes, seeming to be close to the double-keyhole shape. There is a large tailpiece, but it is impossible to determine number of strings, or presense of a bridge with the wear on the stone. The bow is as long as the instrument, and is held in the underhand style by a handle. The left hand appears to be fingering the instrument at the neck joint, which is unusual (would imply playing out of first position). The whole instrument is about as long as the torso.

(same as viol22.jpg) 17. Psalter, c.1200-10. British Library, MS Arundel 157, fo.71v.
An interesting instrument on several accounts. The body shape is fairly typical - figure eight shaped with a waist bump. It is difficult to tell whether the shoulders are sloped or not as the player's hand covers that portion of the instrument, but the direction of the line and shading suggests a hard break between body and neck. The lower bout is larger than the upper one, and the waist bump is actually pretty large. Neck is very short, with broad disk head. The soundhole configuration is fairly unique. Two small D shaped holes are present at the waist of the instrument (just to either side of the strings), and then there appears to be two centrally placed rosettes under the strings, centered in each of the upper and lower bouts. They appear to be inlaid (the rosettes are lined in white, with darker colors in them), so may be inset like the rosettes of the contemporary Arabic ud. There is no tailpiece, but there is an odd tail end, which looks something like a fixed bridge attached to a broadly flared tail nub. Three strings run to three rear-inserted pegs. The bow is exceptionally long, almost twice as long as the instrument, and has a decided handle. It is held in the conventional underhand grip. The left hand one again appears to be fingering all the strings, with two fingers seeming to "bar" the fingerboard, and two seeming to use fingertip pads. The whole instrument is about as long as the torso.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 2.78
Body length to neck length: 2.28
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.83

18. Psalter, late 12th century. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Gough Liturg 2, fo.32.
Slightly damaged illustration has wear so some details cannot be determined. Still, provided a basic set of comparative data. Broad figure eight shaped body with small waist bumps, relatively pointed. The upper and lower bouts are close in size, with the lower being the larger. The neck is very short, and once again the left hand obscures the point of the joint so cannot be sure whether it is hard or sloped. The direction of the line suggests a slight sloping. There are four D shaped soundholes, two in each bout. The endpeg region is obscured by the player's leg. The area where the tailpiece, strings, and pegs would be depicted is damaged, so that information is missing. The pegbox is a simple disc. The bow is about as long as the instrument, and is held underhand, though there does not appear to be a distinct handle. The left hand is drawn grasping the neck of the instrument, with the palm of the hand on the strings, so this is probably not a realistic depiction. The whole instrument is about as long as the torso.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 2.44
Body length to neck length: 2.12
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.85

19. Lindesay Psalter, before 1222. Society of Antiquities, London, MS 59, fo.38v.
Another small MS illustration. This one is sufficiently tiny that there just isn't that much detail on it, but some things can be derived. Figure eight shaped body with what appears to be bump waist (bow partically obscures). Upper and lower bouts are about the same size. The neck is again very short, though we definitely have a sloped shoulder shape into the neck. Pegbox is a simple disc. There are four D-shaped soundholes, two in each of the upper and lower bouts. No tailpiece, bridge, endnut, endpeg, strings or pegs are depicted (probably due to very small size). The bow is almost one and a half times as long as the instrument, and has a small handle held underhand style. The left hand once again is roughly drawn clasping the very short neck, with the base of the fingers intersecting where the strings would run. The instrument is about the same size as the torso.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 2.50
Body length to neck length: 3.20
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.88

20. Psalter, c.1220-30. Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B.11.4, fo.128.
While this illustration is larger than some of the others, the details of the instrument leave much to be desired and the quality is rather poor. This unwaisted figure-eight shaped body has a very short, bent neck. The waist is also not straight across. There is no endpeg, fingerboard, or endnut. The nature of the tailpiece and bridge is somewhat confused. There is a long "twisted" line leading up to a straight "bridge" line, from which the strings emerge. It is difficult to determine exactly what this is trying to indicate. One guess might be a pair of strings (the lower two lines) running up to a triangular tailpiece (the upper two lines and bridge line). Another might make a tailpiece coming very close to a free bridge, or just the strings running from an invisible endpeg over a bridge. In any case, there are two black strings running from the bridge line, and then one "shadow" string farther over, with space for a fourth string inbetween. There are six pegs in the pegbox, so not quite sure how many strings are trying to be represented. The soundholes are huge (very huge) f-shaped, like a modern violin but broader, starting just above the waist and running beyond the middle of the lower bout. The pegbox is not in line with the neck (possibly an attempt to show it as tilted back?), and disc shaped. The bow is about as long as the instrument, and held in an underhand grip on a defined handle. The left hand wraps all the way past the neck, but at least two fingers curl back to finger the two depicted black strings. The instrument is about as large as the torso.

21. Psalter, c.1220-30. Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B.11.4, fo.85.
Another small MS illustration, this one fairly clear. A short, wide body with short neck and large disc pegbox. There does not appear to be any waist points. The body and neck form a clear devision. There are two large soundholes, thin long C's running from the the middle of the upper to the middle of the lower bout. There is no indication of a bridge, fingerboard, or endnut. There is a endnub, and a very long tailpiece running up to just about the waist of the body. The exact point of the end of the tailpiece, where a bridge might be, is obscured by the crossing of the bow. Four strings run from this point to disappear at the pegdisc (possibly running into holes to behind it?), where four pegs are inserted from behind. The bow is a little longer than the instrument, held underhand, but does not have a grip. The left hand fingers three of the four strings on the very short neck. The instrument is about as long as the torso. Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 2.30
Body length to neck length: 2.00
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.94

22. French Bible, early 13th century. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, MS.76E II, fol.21.
A rather small illustration with a little bit of fading on it. A clear figure-eight shape with no waist ornament and a clean break between neck and body. The neck is fairly long. No indication of a fingerboard, tailpiece, bridge or endnut. There are two large D soundholes in the upper bout, which might be duplicated in the lower bout however the bow obscured that space. There is a large square endnub. Two strings are clearly drawn, though there are at least three pegs (only on one half of the pegdisc) depicted. The bow is almost twice as long as the instrument, with a long handle held in an underhand grip. The left hand clasps the entire neck, with no suggestion of fingering the strings. The instrument appears small, though it still is about as long as the torso or the arm. Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 2.97
Body length to neck length: 1.56
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 1.03

23. Sculpture in north transcept, Westminster Abbey, mid 13th century.
This little sculptural roundel is almost schematic in representation. The body is a figure-eight shape with waist points, the upper and lower bouts about equal. The point of the neck/body joint is obscured by the left hand, which clasps the entirety of the short neck. The pegdisc does appear to be tilted back a bit, and displays possibly three pegs (two top, one bottom, an unusual configuration). The line of the strings, from an unseen endpeg to the obscured endnut, is depicted as a raised bar, so there are no discernable strings, tailpiece, bridge, or other features. Neither are there any soundholes incised on the clean faces of the bouts. The bow is about as long as the instrument, held underhand. The instrument itself is a little smaller than the usual torso length.

24. Psalter, c.1220-30. British Library, MS Landowne 420, fo.12v.
This little grotesque (or perhaps costumed player) though small, is rather cleanly depicted. The viol is very shallowly waisted its long narrow body, and has no waist ornament. The joint of the neck/body is once again obscured by the left hand, but seems to be a sharper one by the direction of the line. There is a tailpiece, though if there is an endpeg or nub it is obscured by the player's legs. There is a bridge indicated at the waist of the instrument by a small black line. No fingerboard is shown, but the hand covers the entire neck. There are four long narrow C soundholes, a pair centered in each bout. Three strings run to three pegs ithe spade shaped disc. The bow is about as long as the instrument, through is held overhand. The left hand appears to be trying to finger the strings, but the fingers are drawn curling in past the point of the fingerboard. The instrument is a little longer than the torso. Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.67
Body length to neck length: 2.52
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.96

25. Brailes Psalter, c.1230-40. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 330, leaf 5.
A very cleanly rendered instrument, with several features of interest. A normal figure-eight shape with waist points and roughly equal bouts, the upper slightly smaller. The neck is again very short, almost wholely obscured by the left hand. The neck/body joint appears to be fairly sharp, however. There is a endnub or peg (the rounded end suggests it might actually be a peg), to which a fairly large triangular tailpiece is secured by an endloop. The tailpiece is incised with V shaped lines as decoration. There is no specific indication of a bridge, but the double line at the end of the tailpiece strongly suggests a footed tailpiece (see below). Of particular interest is the double line right below the left hand, which would imply the start of a slightly curved fingerboard, matched by a double line at the top of the neck suggesting an endnut. There are five strings, and five pegs, but the strings disappear at the endnut. This could be sloppiness on the part of the artist, or could indicate that the strings cut through the neck at the nut and are secured on the back of the peg disc. The fact that the hand covered the entire strings' passage over the neck doesn't help. There are four soundholes, two in each bout. The upper bout soundholes are outward facing D-shaped with small outward curls at the ends. The lower bout soundholes are inward facing D-shaped holes, with no curls. The bow is about as long as the instrument, with a decorated handle held in a confused way (the bow appears to be threaded through the fingers), and the bow has no hair. The left hand has the same clasp on the neck as in others. Body is as long as the torso.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.29
Body length to neck length: 2.57
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.89

26. Amesbury Psalter, c.1240-60. All Souls College, Oxford, MS 6, fo. 55v.
A small illustration with fairly clean rendering. The body is a very soft figure eight, with sloped shoulders implying no firm break between body and neck, though once again this is obscured by the left hand. The upper and lower bouts are pretty close in size. The exact nature of the endnub or peg is hidden beyond the border of the image, but there is a decided tailpiece with an endloop that goes to something "off screen." No bridge, fingerboard, or endnut are depicted. The two soundholes are centered at the unmarked waist, shaped as two outward facing crescents. There are four strings emerging from the tailpiece, only three go through the space between the bow and its hairs, and four continue beyond the bow hairs, but only three line up with the previous decorated strings. To add to this confusion, there are five pegs on the flat pegdisc, to which three strings visibly go. The bow is a little longer than the instrument, and is held underhand on a handle with what appears to be frog of some kind. The left hand once again has multiple fingers active on the instrument, however once again they appear to fingering all one string, and that again somewhat off the instrument's neck. The instrument overall is about torso length.
Ratio measures:
Overall length to width: 3.32
Body length to neck length: 1.86
Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.94

27. Psalter, late 13th cent. British Library, Add. MS 28681, fo.100.
This representation (with a very clean rendition of a fiddle) is mostly obscured by the border and partially by the bow, but there are some telling details worthy of note. The soft figure eight shape has lower bout larger than the upper. Any waist ornament is obscured by the bow. The sloped shoulders blend into the neck fairly smoothly. Whether the soundholes represent two or four holes cannot be determined, but they at least are centered at the waist, rather than in the bouts, and appear to have a keyhole upper portion, with an inward crescent lower portion. No fingerboard is shown, but there is a small corner that would be a tailpiece. There is an endnut before the disc peghead. Three strings run to three pegs. The arrangement of an endnub/peg is impossible to determine. The bow is about as long as the instrument (guessed), held underhand. The left hand once again fingers multiple strings (all three in this case), this time somewhat realistically placed on the actual instrument. This instrument would be perhaps a hair bigger than the torso, but interestingly would come out to not much bigger than the oval fiddle with which it is depicted.


Given all of these examples (there may be more out there, but these are what I could find), what general conclusions can be drawn about the instrument? There are several aspects that appear to be mostly fixed across the spectrum:
  1. Body has a figure eight shape with a definitive waist.
  2. The peghead is flat, not scrolled.
  3. There is a tailpiece secured by either a tail-loop or hard attachment to the body.
  4. The body has a flat front.
Some aspects that are more common than not:
  1. The instrument does not have a fingerboard (only two examples had hints, and none had definitive).
  2. Three strings (a couple had 5, but grand majority only three).
  3. Some form of waist ornament, either a bump, point, or straight section (though 1/3 of the examples had no waist ornament).
The more highly variable aspects included:
  1. Shape of the pegbox - about half were simple circles, the remainder mostly spade-like, though a couple of outliers (the trefoil of Number 4, the pentangle of Number 10) offered other shapes. Either a circle or spade would seem to be appropriate.
  2. Endnut - very few examples have endnuts. However, this may be a function of the artwork (a minor detail not noted or unknown to the artist) or may represent an actual state. For example, the modern erhu and gadulka do not have endnuts - the strings just run to the pegs. So it is difficult to make a broad general statement here. Having an endnut gives more consistancy over the string length, and makes it significantly easier for fingering, as the finger spacing is the same for each string (having the strings different lengths means the stopping points are different for each string). Given that it is probable that all the strings were bowed simultaneously (the few bridges we are shown are flat), and that almost every image shows multiple string fingerings, I would opt for an endnut as more likely than not. It is shown in some examples, so wasn't unknown.
  3. Soundholes - there are widely variant configurations. Four soundholes outnumbers two - the pattern of a pair each in the upper and lower bouts occurs in more than half of the examples. Where there are only two, they generally are centered at the waist point. Then there is Number 9, which combines both of these features for a total of six soundholes, and Number 17, which appears to have two rosettes set under the strings centered in the upper and lower bouts. If it could be said that there is a "standard" configuration, I'd go with the four soundholes, either D or crescent shaped, though as 11 and 25 show, the holes don't even have to match in the upper and lower bouts.
  4. Bridge - this is probably the biggest sticking point. Somehow the strings must be lifted away from the soundboard in order to vibrate, so it is not possible to have nothing as a lifter. There are several examples that show a definitive bridge, and it appeared to be fairly tall and flat when it did appear. Another possible configuration is the footed tailpiece, a kind of bridge and tailpiece in one where two small "feet" extend down from the end of the tailpiece to lift it up from the soundboard, the feet additionally acting to transmit the vibration of the strings to the soundboard. Almost every example has a defined tailpiece, and this would be an easy way to lift the strings off the soundboard. A couple of examples show a double line at string end of the tailpiece, which could be interpretted three ways - 1) as an end of the tailpiece and a closely placed bridge; 2) as a structural end to the tailpiece, suggesting perhaps a footed tailpiece; 3) a decorative element. The fact that in these cases the strings start AFTER the tailpiece ends probably rules out interpretation one. There is no way, however to differentiate interpretations 2 and 3 from each other, so we're left with a guess. Another clue potentially comes with the tailpiece on Number 4, whose U shape where the strings emerge may be an attempt to show a footed tailpiece. However, Number 7 shows a similar U-shaped tailpiece, and has a clearly drawn separate bridge, so that potentially contradicts the notion. Three version have a clear bridge - Number 7 has a tall, flat arch bridge with feet positioned about 2/3rd up the lower bout; Number 11 as a tall solid bridge (though that may be a function of the sculptural detail possible) placed at the waist; Number 13 has a lower arch bridge with feet positioned at the waist. Two other examples have indications of a bridge, though no details: Number 6 and Number 24 have a line placed at the central waist. Numbers 9, 20 and 25 all have a double line or other potential separation at the end of the tailpiece. The remainder have no direct indication, which may be that the artist didn't know about that detail, didn't choose to indicate it, or that it wasn't there. Where there is no bridge shown, the tailpiece is usually shown as floating (meaning that is anchored at both ends by strings, not by any rigid connection to a structural element of the instrument), which leaves open the question of either a footed bridge (which works well as a floating bridge), or a simply undrawn, missing bridge. There are some bridges well defined, so there is a temptation is assume it is simply undepicted when it should be.
  5. Tailpeg/endnub - it is generally impossible to tell in most examples whether the tailpiece is anchored to a nub carved as part of the block of the instrument, or to a peg inserted into the end (as on contemporary lyres or modern violins). Most of the clearly drawn ones appear to be a nub rather than a peg. A couple examples do not have a tail-loop, and appear to anchored more like a renaissance viol (a hinge joint or other hard anchor), especially where the tailpiece overhangs the end of the instrument. But a integral tailnub seems to be the most common.
  6. Neck joint - there are three configurations. The first has a clean hard angle between the neck and body, as on a modern violin or guitar. Just under half of the examples work this way. The second configuration has sloped shoulders, like a renaissance viol, where there is a fairly clear line where the neck begins and body ends, but the joint is more gradual. About half of the remaining examples fall into this option. The third type is a soft blending of the body and neck, where it is difficult to determine exactly where one ends and the other begins. Number 9 is the best example of this. It is the rarest type of the three, having only three or four occurances. The hard or sloped-shoulder neck/body joints are definitely more likely. The average figures for the ratio measurements came out as follows:
    1. Overall length to width: 3.24 (A violin, for example is 2.86 roughly, making the viol longer and narrower)
    2. Body length to neck length: 1.85 (violin is 1.63 or so, giving the viol a shorter neck)
    3. Upper bout to lower bout (widths/diameters): 0.92 (violin about 0.80, so the bouts in the viol are much closer in size)

    Given the full brunt of information above, I'm going to attempt to design a "typical" instrument. I've chosen to use a waist ornament, partially because it is more common, partially because I just like it. The bump is harder to cut than the point, but appears to be more common, so will use the bump. The pegbox will be a round disc. I've decided to use the sloping shoulder with demarcated neck joint style as a compromise of the various designs. I've also decided on the four soundholes design, though the specific shapes may change later on. I'm still torn between trying a footed bridge vs. a free-standing bridge, and will probably re-visit that issue later on when I get closer to having to make a decision. It doesn't affect the overall body design, however, so starting will the silouette form below:

    The body and neck will be cut and shaped from a single block of wood, as was common in the medieval period. The bodies in the sculpture didn't look overwhelmingly deep, so I'm going to probably use only a 3" thick block. There was no fingerboard, and no break shown where a fingerboard would start/stop in any of the examples. This presents two possibilities. First would be that the instrument was hollowed from behind, with a backboard set on it. This would create no lines on the front where a soundboard would end and a fingerboard begin. However, only harps were known to have been constructed in this manner - all other stringed instruments are a hollowed box with a soundboard added as the belly, so that seems very unlikely. The other possibility is that the top-piece of wood went the entire length of the body, from the pegbox to the endnub. While this is supported by the visual evidence, has the structural oddity that you are then using a softwood as a fingerboard. Might be justified especially if the body is hollowed out almost the entire length of the neck, as in the rebec, but not quite sure on that one. Might be that the soundboard is attached, but there is no fingerboard section of it. That is, the soundboard doesn't run up past the start of the neck, with the "fingerboard" area being the hardwood of the neck itself. This would require the soundboard be inset a bit to have the soundboard flush with the neck fingerboard space, as is the case on lutes, for example. It requires a little more thought for the moment. But doesn't affect the carving of the primary block initially, so we have now to acquire the block to carve.

    This is the starting block. It is about 10 inches wide, 46 inches long and about three inches thick of hard (eastern big-leaf) maple. There doesn't appear to be a lot of flame in it, but that is okay, as ultimately it will make the cutting and chiseling much easier to do. The piece was acquired from a local wood store that has some wonderful pieces of hardwood, and it weighs about 30 lbs. at the moment. There were two large knots on it, so I ended up chiseling out the smaller one a bit to make sure that it didn't go through too deeply, and it didn't. The side visible here will ultimately be the back.

    First thing out was to create a template that would serve to draw out the instrument on the block. As the block is so thick, there was a danger in hand-sawing of skewing the cuts, so I needed to draw the outline on both front and back, and have them line up very carefully together. To do that, and to make sure that the instrument was actually symetrical, I did this half-plan in masonite. It will also be used to mark out the soundboard piece.

    The template was used to mark out the instrument on the cleanest section of the block. I then started to do a test cut with my big saw. I discovered that, even with the new big saw, the rate of cut was about 3 inches an hour. Since I had over 100 inches of cutting to do, I kinda despaired on that, as my arm really wasn't up to doing 30 or 40 hours of cutting. To the rescue came Ken Landis, one of the Rotarians in our Camden Club, who has a full woodshop of power tools. He mostly does wood-turning and some cabinet work, and made the generous offer to use his large bandsaw to chop out the block for me.

    A lesson in how power tools make things much faster. Ken was able to cut out the block rather closely with the bandsaw in about an hour. So here is the block pretty much to shape, requiring only cleanup rather than reshaping at this point. Ken then asked what my next step was in the process, at which point I noted that is was hollowing out the block, and I described my normal technique of drilling coupled with the scoop chisel. He proffered a better solution, and to the drill press we went.

    Another hour with the drill press and some huge 2" boring bits and the grand majority of the hollowing was done. Functionally in one morning the power tools were able to credit an "instrument blank" that would have taken me at least 100 hours of manual work. So I consider myself seriously ahead of the game on this one. For his efforts, I gave Ken the remaining bits of wood, including the large endblock which he will probably turn into (pardoning the pun) a nice big bowl.

    Still, even with the gross work done, there is a lot of work still to be done. The boring bits had a starter tip that meant that the last half-inch or so couldn't be drilled into, so at least anothe 1/2 inch of wood has to come off the bottom. The walls are about 1/2 inch or more thick, to allow for a considerable margin of error with the drills (even as it was, there was a single "skip" that is visible in the shoulder on the far side of this view). A lot of chisel work at this point. But I'll probably first cut the neck and head down in thickness to that shaping them is easier (only working with half the thickness of the wood), and then tackle the main block. I also have a new tool on the way - an Arbortech Power Chisel, which might make the whole process easier - we'll see.

    In the meanwhile, I've acquired the soundboard piece from Luthier's Merchantile Inc. It's a full jumbo sized guitar soundboard, and has been edge-glued together and thinned down. The broadest single piece is only 8 inches, so to handle the 10 inch width of this instrument, I needed a joined piece. It is flat rather than arched as I believe the instruments at this time would have had a flat soundboard rather than an arched one. Presently it's about 14 inches wide, which should easily handle the size.

    Next up - thinning down the neck/head and tailknob.

    While the first one is still being worked on (having been interupted by other instruments), an Italian gentleman wanted a version of this instrument based off of a German model. The best German illustration is from the 12th Century Bible above, the MS Harley 2804 presently in the British Museum. A better, color version of this is below:

    This one shows a three string, soft waisted instrument, pretty large, with defined tailpiece, and very clean footed and flat bridge. There is no defined fingerboard. From that illustration, I drew up these plans:

    (You can right click on the plan to make it larger if you want to see the details better). These plans generate an instrument 37 inches long, with a string sounding length of 24 inches. The widest bout would be 11 wide. That breadth means I will need braces - I've tentatively sketched in six, but that may be reduced to four depending on the individual strength of the piece I get for the soundboard. The soundboard will be slightly recessed into the body, and the fingerboard will just be the block of the neck. The grid is one square equals one inch, except the bridge, which is one square equals one quarter inch.

    Decided on using wood that would be found in central Europe, so basically maple/sycamore for the body block, German spruce for the soundboard, and walnut for the tailpiece and pegs. So with a plan in hand, off to get wood!

    The block of wood from Superior Maple Products - a very nice 10/4 piece of tiger maple. It's pretty huge (42x13 inches), and weighs in at 33 lbs. The grain on it kind of is Y-shaped, so the instrument will probably be laid slightly off-axis.

    The template for the instrument is cut from masonite. Here is placed next to the other viol template - this one is longer and a bit skinnier than the other one.

    Lining up and tracing the design on the block.

    Where the wood gets stored in my house (the living room). The block waiting to be cut next to the other instrument block (waiting to be finished...) and all the scrap pieces.

    A couple of hours of sawing (I love my Japanese saws - they are SO much easier to use on these hardwood blocks) and we have the block basically cut out. There is a little surface splitting here, but since that area is going to be hollowed out anyway it doesn't really matter.

    Because, of course, the bunnies always have to help...

    The "waist" is sawn out in a shallow V to finish the rough outline. However, the saw can only make straight lines, and the body is actually curved. So I resort to the "comb" method of sawing lots of little cuts to the proper depths and then chiseling out the comb teeth. This is a fairly efficient way to remove the outline material, and prevent from unexpectedly splitting the wood. Thus proceeding, the neck, waist, and tail areas are shaped.

    The more or less final outline of the block. I've also gone around it with the plane/scraper to smooth it down a bit. Final edging shaping will be done with files.

    Next, I drill the holes to start the hollowing of the body. This proved difficult on two points. First, this is definitely the largest block I've worked with, and that meant a LOT of holes. Secondly, the block is quite deep comparably, and the wood very hard. My hand drill would be able to cut about 30 or so holes and then it was seriously over-heating. It took about three hours for the drill to cool down, so it wasn't possible to do more than one or two drill sets in a day. This means it took a while. And yes, I had to count. I come up with 491 holes.

    Having finished drilling the holes, I now start chiseling out the body cavity. I start by basically just cutting down to the "floor" of the hollowed space, and then working my way out to the walls. Here the floor has been reached and spread out a bit in the lower bout.

    The upper bout has been cleared to the walls and down to the floor. The lower bout is still being worked.

    The basic chopping out of the body cavity is finished. From this point on the carving down is done a little more finely.

    The next carving down of the walls and floor removes the wood as far down as the evidence of the drilling. This leaves the walls and floor about 1/2 inch thick. Before I can thin the walls out further I need to have the outside shape of the walls cleanly done so I can know how far I can work outward.

    The outer walls are scraped and filed down to the final outline shape, and clean enough that all that really has to be done further is final sanding. That now allows me to thin out the walls from the inside.

    In continuing the shape the block, next I start forming the neck. The basic area to be cut out is drawn onto the block.

    A long while with the saw and the neck has been roughed out. The neck itself will be carved down a bit and rounded off. The head will be shaved down so that it tilts back.

    At the other end of hte block, the tail stub is cut down roughly into shape so that it is about 1/2 the thickness of the body.

    With the body block basically shaped now, there are a few reworking of the of the design. The person who wants the instrument wanted to add a fingerboard to the original version. He also wanted a curved bridge to be able to bow individual strings. So a few changes were made to the original plans.

    The first problem is to figure out the bridge height and bowing angles to allow the strings to be individually bowed and still have the bow clear the sides of the instrument. That results in a bridge height of two inches or so.

    With the bridge height determined, the angle of the fingerboard is able to figured out. That generates dementions to cut a piece.

    The fingerboard and tailpiece will be made from walnut (left over from the Utrecht citole). This piece was sufficiently large for the fingerboard (though a little over twice as thick as necessary). The design is pencilled in (and traced with white pencil to be seen a bit easier on the dark wood) to follow the grain line of the wood fairly cleanly. This both makes it a bit stronger and adds to the asthetics.

    The piece is roughly cut out, and cut lengthwise in half. It'll be carved down once the neck is fully shaped.

    After the fingerboard, I turn to the tailpiece. That is cut from the "other half" of the fingerboard piece. Again, it is drawn onto the block (based on the 1/1 scale drawing shown here to the left) running along the grain again.

    The tailpiece has been cut out, and shaped to final outline with dremel and files.

    The tailpiece is used to shape down the tailstub on the body block so that they line up smoothly (the olivewood rod is just to hold up the tailpiece for the picture).

    Next on the main block is to thin the walls down. They start off at about 3/8-1/2 inch thick, and the idea is to get them down to about 1/8 inch thick. Using chisels I start carving down the side walls.

    The top edge is thicknessed all around to about 1/8 inch, and then the walls are carved following around the curve (see the upper right corner). This is a very slow process, but progress is ongoing.

    Just to give an idea of how much larger this instrument than others I've made. Here is citole 2, which actually fits entirely inside the cavity of this block. It means everything takes a lot longer than with the other pieces.

    Next up is to shape the neck. First I mark the centerline. The neck is then roughed out with the chisels and then run over with the dremel and files to get a basic rounded neck.

    Having done a rough rounding, next I delineate the actual clean final lines. Those are penciled on both sides The neck is also thinned to a distal taper as well as a curve for the "heel" of the neck, where it joins the body.

    The neck is cleaned up to the lines of the basic shape with a combination of chisels, dremel and files. The distal taper is also evident from this angle.

    The headpiece is next up. The head will be angled back, carved down into a tilted wedge. First I mark where the end of the head will be.

    The top of the head is then carved down with chisels to get the rough right angle. That is then smoothed down with a combination of scrapers and files.

    The neck is cleaned up with files t obe smooth and following the accurate lines. You can also see the slope of the top of the peghead here.

    The underside of the peghead is then carved down until the disk is about 5/8 inch thick using a combination of chisels, the planing tools, and a little dremel work.

    The peghead underside finished, including cleaning up the joint with the neck. All that's left there now is to drill the peg holes, which will be done later when I have the pegs.

    In the meanwhile, I'm starting to also prep the soundboard pieces. The soundboard itself will need bracing. This piece of violin spruce (normally used to make the internal violin bracing blocks) I'm going to cut down into a series a strips to use as crossbraces for the soundboard. The cutting lines have been sketched onto the wood.

    The strips have been cut. Each is about 1/2x1/2 by about 11 inches long. They'll be carved down into T-beams once I have the soundboard piece.

    The strips are then cut to length and numbered so I can keep track of where each one will go when attached to the bottom of the soundboard.

    Finishing the braces, a convenient image series of the steps. Starting off with the strip cut to length, the strip is shaved down to the fixed height and thinned to width. A centerline is marked for the top, and then the strip is carved down into a wedge. The sides of the wedge are then carved inward into a concave curve, and then whole thing filed smooth. Cleaning up the ends of each brace will be done just before they are fitted to the soundboard itself.

    Having finished thinning the walls all around, I need to start lowing the floor of the body block so that the back plate is reduced to its final thickness. It starts off pretty thick - over a half inch, and needs to be reduced down to about 1/8 inch thick. I start working it down with the chisels.

    The difficulty of working the back plate is that is it difficult to determine the thickness. With the walls I can just eyeball it if necessary, or use a small caliper. The problem with the backplate is that because the walls are in place, you can't see it on edge. Likewise you can't get a normal caliper over the sidewalls. So I made a caliper out of masonite with enough throat depth to reach into the center of the body block to give me clean measurements. Tests on it make it accurate to about a millimeter, so I'm pretty confident with it.

    The floor is chiseled down until the back plate is about the right thickness. The corners where the walls meet the floor need to be cleaned up, but here it lets you see how much material was removed.

    The floor is then leveled with a combination of planes and files, and the joint between the wall and floor chipped out cleanly with chisels. The body cavity is now done (the grey area is just a mineral tone in the wood).

    The soundboard itself is a little bit of a problem. The piece for it needs to be 11 inches wide and 23 1/2 inches long. Guitar soundboards, even jumbo/dreadnaught boards, are normally only about 22-23 inches long, and at most 9 inches wide. Unfortunately, even a joined board (which would be wide enough) isn't quite long enough. Fortunately, I was able to find a "double instrument" board that is about 12 inches wide and about 24 inches long, which will allow me to have a one-piece soundboard.

    The walls of the body block have been finished and leveled very carefully, I fitted the soundboard to the block and traced the shape onto the soundboard. It is a very tight fit, but it does fit.

    The soundboard is then rough-cut from the board into about the right shape, and the top side smooothed down level.

    The top being clean, I then thin the board down from the underside using the planing tool. The board starts off just about 1/4 inch thick, and is thinned to about half of that and leveled smooth.

    One of the "tricks" of the historical makers was to have the soundboard not an even thickness, but an even density. The way this was determined was to hold up the soundboard to a strong light and see where the light did not come through evenly and thin those spots until it did. Here, for example, you can see the top central area of the illuminated space needs to be thinned down just a little more as there is more shadow there. It's a slow process, but it does make for a better board.

    Refitting the soundboard to the block and trimming excess, also making sure the fit is clean all around the edge. I also mark the centerlines in relation to the body block for placement of the piece again, and to line up the soundholes.

    Working now on the back of the board, I mark where the actual joint with the fingerboard will be, and draw in the soundholes from a cardboard template so that they are spaced evenly and are the same size.

    The soundholes are then cut out from the board using a finger drill for an initial hole, then using a jewelers saw to cut them open, and finishing up with some sharp knives and files to clean the edges of the holes. The board is now ready for the braces.

    The soundboard being finished, it is time to attach the braces. The ends of the braces are checked against the size of the main block (so they don't touch the sidewalls), and then are tapered at the tip. Each one is then glued down into place with handweights as clamps.

    The braces all in place, the soundboard is ready now to be fitted to the block. The end of the soundboard where it butts against the fingerboard is also cleaned up and straightened.

    Back to the fingerboard now. The roughcut block of claro walnut for the fingerboard is figured against the final neck shape of the body block. I use my normal tooth method of chipping out the curve of the neck.

    The fingerboard block is now accurate from top view, with the sides roughly cleaned up.

    On that piece, I mark the distal taper of the board, and on the end mark the curve that it will eventually follow.

    Again using the tooth method, I chisel down the board to a wedge shape (from side view). That gets it roughly now into the top and side view shapes accurately. The top is then leveled only in the centerline, and the centerline marked.

    Next with the chisels I whittle down the top of the board into a curve, trying to keep it even on both sides as I go down. This is achieved mostly by sighting down the fingerboard and visually noting where there are differences. I also run my fingers down the piece to feel for bumps or irregularities.

    The last carving bit is to hollow out the underside a bit. This lightens the piece and creates less contact with the body block so it can be more easily removed should that become necessary.

    The shaped fingerboard and soundboard are then matched up onto the body block for any fitting adjustments and to make sure all the edges line up cleanly.

    Satisfied with the shape and lines, I use the files to smooth down the fingerboard, and sandpaper to functionally glass it. The piece is given a light coat of fingerboard oil and is functionally done. The grain of the wood comes out very nicely, though the tiger striping is less pronounced than I thought it would be.

    Back to the body block, the neck under the fingerboard is hollowed out similarly to the fingerboard itself, again mostly to lighten it and to provide a smaller contact surface if removal proves necessary.

    The pieces now all finished, I start actual assembly. I have a bunch of violin spool clamps that I got to do the citoles. However, they proved just a bit too short (meant for total height of about 2 inches and I needed a bit more), so I reworked the clamps so that they can handle a larger opening (up to 3 inches). That will prove useful for other instruments as well. Using the spool clamps to hold it in place, the soundboard is glued to the block. The handweight clamps the one small area where the spool clamps won't reach.

    The soundboard glued in place. Next the fingerboard is glued into place.

    The fingerboard is then clamped and glued into place. After that is dry, the edges all around are cleaned up. The body piece is now ready to be finished, with only the holes for the pegs left to be drilled.

    With the body basically done, it is time to do the fittings (tailpiece, bridge, nut, and pegs). This is the design for the bridge. I select a 1/2 inch thick block of maple to do the bridge and sketch it on from the plans. The inserted rectangles below the arch of the bridge are sawing guidelines.

    Working out the bridge. First, the block is rough cut out. The top edge is now marked so that I can taper the sides appropriately. Next the sides are tapered and the feet shaped a bit. Once I'm happy with the basic shape, the whole is then sanded and cleaned up. The rest of the fine tuning on it will be done when the instrument strung.

    The tailpiece is thinned down to just under a 1/4 inch thick, and then fully cleaned up, sanded and oiled. It now just needs to have the holes for the tailpeg and strings drilled.

    The instrument as it stands. Now just need to do the pegs.

    The pegs are cut from the same piece of wood as the fingerboard and tailpiece. First I design a basic peg (the white template to the left). Three of those will be necesary, so three blocks are cut which will be turned on the mini-lathe. The last piece is for the tailpeg, that will be thrust through the tailpiece into the tailbump on the body block. It will have a carved head of a little face.

    The peg shafts are turned on the mini-lathe, and then are cut out from the block with a saw, which results in little mallets. The heads are then flattened to the thickness of the top of the shaft, and the shape drawn onto them. They are then cut down to that shape, and given a distal taper so that the top of the peghead is thinner than the base. Finally the pegs are run through the peg shaver to taper them for insertion into the instrument peghead. The three pegs are shown more or less finished here. The tailpeg still has it's "mallet" head, as that is going to be carved into a face. The other little strip of wood is cut-off to be used for the nut at the end of the fingerboard.

    Back to the body to start placing the pegs. The tailpiece is a little complicated. The soft soundwood board is higher than the tailnub, so the tailpiece would cut into it if just directly mounted onto the nub. I add a hardwood plate (here another cutoff of the walnut) to cover the top of the nub and to sit a hair higher than the soundboard at the soundboard edge. This is glued and clamped into place.

    The little tail plate in place and filed flush to the nub. It will be tapered backwards to allow for the tailpiece to angle upwards toward the bridge.

    I'm now ready to insert the pegs. Starting with the tailpeg, I drill a pilot hole through the top-plate and nub, and then using the peg reamer straighten it out and widen it to the max thickness of the peg reamer. It's a slow process to bore through that much hardwood, especially without doing any damage.

    The peg is then fitted to the hole. As you can see, it's riding too high. So we have to shave down the peg a bit.

    The tailpeg in the peg shaver. This is a back and forth process to shave just a hair, retest, shave a hair, retest, continue ad nauseum until the peg is sitting at the desired height.

    The tailpeg (with the tailpiece) fitted to the desired height. The head can be carved now.

    At the other end of the instrument, the three pegs are fitted to the peghead. I first mark where the holes will be drilled.

    Pilot holes (smaller than the narrowest part of the peg) are drilled then with a hand drill (sadly I don't have a press). Once again the reamer is used to widen and straighten out the holes. The pegs are then fitted, shaved, fitted, shaved, etc. until they are sitting where I want them.

    The pegs are now in place on the head. The stems will be trimmed down once I've done the set-up when I have the strings. They are a little high now. I also take this opportunity to shape the nut. It also is set way too high, but that allows me some play with I do the setup with the strings.

    All the parts together. The tailpeg head has to be carved still, but otherwise all that's left is lots of sanding and the finish. Then I string her up and we see what kind of instrument we get!

    Lots and lots of sanding. Since this instrument is only going to be oiled rather than lacquered, the entire thing is functionally glassed (meaning sanded down to about 600 grit). The grey "stains" on the back are mineral inclusions in the wood, and are just part of the color of the wood. This took a while.

    After all the sanding is done, the instrument body is then treated in a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax. This is rubbed into the the wood until it is as saturated as possible. That is let dry and air, and then the process is repeated twice more until the wood will accept no more. It then feels like simply polished wood, but is sealed against moisture. The "flame" in the wood also now stands out considerably more, as can be seen from this angle on the fingerboard.

    The body block functionally done completely now, the last little bit of actual carving is the endpin. This is the peg that thrusts downward through the tailpiece into the tailnub on the body, holding the tailpiece in place. This particular instrument has very few decorative elements, so this is the only real chance for decoration on it. The tailpeg is braced in a large wooden clamp to hold it while I carve it. The idea is to carve it like a small wisened man, sort of like Odin. The face is based on a German carving from the 12th century. The pattern is first drawn onto the end of the peg (which is about 3/4 of an inch across) and the peg carved down to that outline. Then using the mini and micro chisels, the features of the face are carved out very carefully. The eyes are drilled out with the finger drills. When the carving is finished, the whole is filed down with the mini files to clean it up, and given a treatment of oil that darkens it. The last image shows it against the tailpiece. The carving is relatively shallow, but looks rather neat I think.

    All the pieces now basically done, I drill the holes in the tailpiece and the pegs to receive the strings. Using my eternal roll of black nylon cord, I string it up to set the spacing and to start setting the action. I discover that the angle between the nut and the pegs is pretty hard, so that initially the strings kept popping out of the groove being pulled outward. I reshaped the grooves to angle outward in a gentle curve, kind of like a peace sign, and that solved the problem. With the action set reasonably, it was time to add in the frets.

    The frets are tied on gut. Using a fret calculator for distance (the soundlength was 24.5 inches) I tied on the frets from ends of gut strings I had on hand. The original intention had been to try to get six frets on the fingerboard, but the curve of the neck meant that the sixth fret kept sliding back, even when I put a small notch in the fingerboard. I finally tried a bigger notch to hold it, but that simply cut the string. Since I didn't want that to happen repeatedly, I figured it was better to just leave it at the five frets. The fret knots have the string ends burned to keep them from coming undone.

    After doing that setup, the moment of truth. I replace the nylon chord with the actual gut strings. The gut is obtained from Gamut Strings, where I get most of my strings. The tuning here is, low to high, G' (1.5 octaves below middle C), D (octave below C), and G (below C, or the low string of a violin). That places the instrument between a cello and a viola in pitch range. The strings are 1.74mm, 1.28mm, and .96mm respectively. I put on the strings and then adjust the action to where it want it by carefully filing down the nut.

    The initial sound is a little thinner than desired. The plucked sound is very rich (bass citole! I am eventually going to have to make one of those - it just sounds too cool), telling me that the box is good. The bowed sound is a little thinner by comparison, which implies the bridge is not as good. So I thin down the bridge considerably, and do a little reshaping on it. After some back and forth doing that, the bowed sound approaches the plucked sound, and voila, it is finished!

    The finished instrument. Top picture is the angled view. Second picture is the top, side, and bottom views. The flaming of the wood doesn't show up quiet as well in the pictures as it does in the wood, but you can see the "bear claw" pattern in the spruce top. Third image shows the pegs and frets. And the last image shows the little Odin guy. The sound is rich and vibrant, even without a soundpost. It's also really rich being strummed, which makes me think I should try to make a citole at this scale at some point (sounds like an oud that way).

    To get an idea of scale - this is the viol next to my standard sized violin. It's about as big as a tenor baroque viol. Just a hair too large to play braccio style, even for me with my monkey arms.


    In addition to the instrument itself, I've also decided to try my hand at bowmaking. Here I have acquired a 2"x2"x38" piece of very straight grained maple. A 1/2 inch thick slab is then cut from that, and then a 1/2 thick stick is cut of the slab, leaving me with a 1/2" x 1/2" by about presently 38". This will then be rounded off into a long slender stick. The stick even before rounding is pretty flexible.

    The stick is then rounded off and tapered very slightly so that the tip is smaller than the handle.

    I carve a ball end at the handle.

    At the tip is a hollow with a little wooden cap. The idea will be to wedge the hair into the hollow, and then cap off the hole and wedge.

    To work with the bow under tension, and also to bend it to shape, I built a bow jig. Here is the bow in the jig as I bend it.

    A little scrap of the walnut from the fingerboard and tailpiece is carved into a frog for the bow. It will just be slipped into the bowstick where the hair is fit through the stick.

    Hairing the bow: using a shock of violin bow hair (Mongolian white unbleached), each end gathered and tied using black thread while under a small amount of tension. That bundled piece is then used to hair the bow. The first step was to take one end and push it through the drilled hole by the handle. That was "pinned" into place with a small tapered wooden pin that had a channel cut into it. The pin was tapped into place and held the hair in place using just friction/tension. It holds very well. You can see the frog also here in place.

    The other end proved considerably more tricky. My initial idea had been to stuff the other end of the tied bundle into the hollowed end at the tip of the bow, and simply cap it in place. The cap was held on by simple tension. Of course as soon as I tried to allow the cap to hold the bow pressure, it popped off the cap and hair came loose. I tried pinning the hair into the hollow and capping it. That broke the cap in half as it came loose. I then decided to resort to the same solution as at the handle end. I cut a slot in the tip of the bow, slid the end of the hair into that, and then capped it holding it in place. That version held, and is here pictured (along with the little tip frog, which is there mostly to flatten out the hairs).

    And thus we have the completed bow (oiled).

    Showing the underside, so you can see how the two frogs act as a channel to guide the hair flat.

    The bow hair length is about the same as a violin bow (shown here is my standard 4/4 violin bow). The overhanging handle makes it longer though. It is also a bit lighter than my bow - maybe 50g?

    The complete package - bow and viol. The bow is almost as long as the viol, but not quite. After a LOT of rosining, it's ready to play. I've found that it works better with a gamba underhand grip than with a cello overhand grip, but that might just be me. I find that mostly because the shorter body of the viol (compared to a cello) makes the overhand grip a little awkwardly placed (I get jammed up in the shoulder). But the sound is good either way.

    Video sample of the instrument being played. I'm not a gamba player, so my technique is not perfect, but it gives some idea of what it sounds like.


    Bernard Ellis's Recreation
    Based on the Oakham Castle sculpture in England.
    Block carved body, attached neck. Has fingerboard, tailpiece and bridge. Four D soundholes, two each in upper and lower bouts. Three strings. Bridge is low and flat.
    Overall length is 94cm (37")
    Width at widest bout is 54.8cm (21.5")??
    String length is 62cm (24.4")

    Christopher Allworth's Recreation
    Based on the 12th Cent. York Psalter (King David portrait) presently at Univ. of Glasgow, MS U.2.3.
    Body assembled (not block carved), attached neck. Has fingerboard, tailpiece and bridge. Two double-keyhole soundholes. Three strings, low flat bridge. Overall length is 83cm (32.7")
    Main body is 53cm (20.9") long, 27cm (10 5/8") wide
    Body depth is 8.2cm (3 1/4")

    Marco Salerno's Recreations:
    Does three -

    1. Based on 12th Cent. York Psalter (King David Portrait)
    Body assembled, attached neck. Fingerboard (with gut frets), tailpiece, and high arched bridge. Soundboard also arched. Two double-keyhole soundholes, four decorative inlays. Five strings.
    Overall length - guessed at about 80cm (31.5")
    String sounding length (bridge to nut) 53cm (20.9").
    Very deep body (about 10cm or so)

    2. Based on 12th Cent. German Bible (which actually is one known to show a bridge)
    Body assembled, attached neck. Fingerboard (with gut frets), tailpiece, and high arched bridge. Soundboard arched. Two closed c soundholes, five strings.
    Overall length - guessed at about 94cm (37")
    String sounding length (bridge to nut) 60cm (23 5/8")
    Also deep body (about 10cm or so)

    3. unknown source, though probably the same as above. Dimensions and shape similar to number 2. Soundholes smaller, with four small inlays as well at corners of soundboard.

    Jesus Reolid's Recreation
    Probably based on the Great Canterbury Psalter, c. 1180-90, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, but don't know for sure. Cannot get measurements or other specifics from the image on his website. Four strings, flat soundbard, attached fingerboard, bridge, endnut and tailpiece. There is a cute rosette just below the end of the fingerboard on the soundboard.

    Walter Cangialosi's Recreation
    Based on the 12th Cent. York Psalter (King David portrait) presently at Univ. of Glasgow, MS U.2.3.
    Very nice copy, block carved with interesting approach to the body, making it shallow and rounded (there is some evidence that fiddles were shaped this way in general, though the sculptural evidence for this type of fiddle I think suggests a more square shape). I'd be particularly curious to hear how that shape makes the instrument sound (my guess would be a really interesting raspy/nasal tone). Uses attached fingerboard and a high curved bridge.

    Reconstruction by ?
    Based on the 12th Cent. York Psalter (King David portrait) presently at Univ. of Glasgow, MS U.2.3.
    Frustratingly, I cannot find my notes as to who made this copy. What I'd consider the most accurate copy I've seen so far. Block carved, with flat front and relatively deep body, no discernable fingerboard, and low flat bridge. Not quite sure how the tailpiece is attached, but it does have a very accurate appearance. The bridge on this instrument is so low that it would be impossible to play single strings - the only option would be to play all at once.