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The Lute: Some arcane hints and tips for the player

Tuning the Renaissance Lute

(8 Course, fifteen string)















For the sake of simplicity, we will use the eight course Renaissance Lute in all examples. This lute is the most commonly available these days and the majority of the common repertoire (Vihuela pieces and the Dowland/Holborne British school) is based in the repertoire of this instrument. The Theorbo and Chitarrone have numerous courses below the eight courses of the renaissance lute and the tunings for these additional courses are usually notated in the tablatures intended for performance upon these instruments.

Tuning is accomplished by either tightening or loosening the strings to the appropriate pitch. It is usually easier to tune up to pitch than down, as the strings will contract to a sharper condition when tuning down. Also, if the instrument is tuned to pitches significantly higher than for which it was designed, structural damage may result.

If the lute is strung correctly, twisting the peg in the clockwise direction on the treble side and counterclockwise on the bass side will sharpen the pitch of the string.

Stringing the Lute – Knots and Wraps












Figure C is one method of attaching the bass (wound) strings to the bridge. The string is inserted through its proper hole in the bridge from the fingerboard side, pulled hack over the bridge, under itself where it enters the bridge, back across the bridge, then over the section going from the rear hole forward, and finally under that section, leaving the string end facing the Left hand side of the instrument. This method is perfectly acceptable, however, I don't use it since it puts one more kink in the string that I feel is unnecessary. The method in Figure B holds the string just as securely (in over twenty eight years of usage on my guitars and lutes, I've never had a string slip from the bridge when using this knot) and doesn't' risk the additional strain on the delicate wraps of the string, which seem to separate sooner when subjected to the knot produced in Figure A.

Figure B follows the same procedure as the method demonstrated in figure A until one has completed the loon around the string where it enters the fingerboard side of the bridge. At this point, it is simply tucked under itself at the rear of the bridge, making certain that the resulting “tuck” is squarely on the rear face f the bridge, directly above the hole. If the tuck is on the top face of the bridge, the knot will never hold even the slightest tension. This method puts the least strain on the wraps of the string and also comes apart the fastest.

Figure C demonstrates the method of tying the knot at the bridge on treble strings. (And all unwound bass octave doubling strings.) These strings are more ‘‘ slippery'' than the wound strings, which cling to themselves by their windings. This method is simply method B with an additional tuck added. The string is wrapped around itself a second time, making certain that the second tuck is squarely pressed against the rear face of the bridge.

Figure D The Peg Knot. The string is passed through the hole in the peg. It is then taken around the peg and twisted around the part of itself originally entering the peg. The loop should press into the hole in the peg, wedging the string. Pull the string in the direction of the small arrow in the diagram while turning the peg in the direction of the larger arrow. (Clockwise on the treble side of the lute, counter—clockwise on the bass side.) The string should be slack enough to allow two or three loops of string to be present on the peg when the string has been brought up to pitch.










When winding the string upon the shaft of the peg, he sure the wraps of string proceed along the shaft towards the grip of the peg. (Figure F, top arrow.) This way, the string applies Force to the peg in the direction of the lower arrow, insuring a snug fit between the peg and its hearing surfaces in the walls of the peg box. By making sure this procedure is followed, the tendency for the peg to sup or detune, which increases as the pitch the string is tuned to gets higher, is counteracted by the force of the string on its coils around the peg.

Intonating the Lute

String is sharp, lengthen by pushing knot back towards bridge.

String is flat, shorten by pulling knot forward












The lutenist can compensate for poor intonation stemming from inaccurate string length by repositioning the loop of the knot that passes under the string on the fingerboard side of the bridge.

If, when a string is fretted, it produces pitches that are too sharp, this means that the string length is too short. If the loop of the knot is pushed hack towards the bridge, the length of the string will be increased. This small adjustment may he enough to cause the string to produce the proper pitches and intervals.

If, when the string is fretted, the string produces pitches that are fiat, then the string length is too long. In this case, the loop is pushed slightly forward towards the fingerboard, causing the string length to shorten. Of course, there may be instances when the amount of adjustment available may be insufficient. This is one of the idiosyncrasies of the instrument. If the instrument plays severely sharp or flat on all the courses despite extensive knot adjustment, there may be problems with the placement of the bridge itself. This condition would necessitate the removal of the bridge from the face of the lute and its position calculated and then reglued. This is certainly the job of a trained, experienced craftsman. For instruments that are in good repair and adjustment, a good rule of thumb for remembering how to adjust intonation is: if the string is sharp, the length is short. If the

string is flat, the length is long. Adjustments should be made accordingly.

Care of the Tuning Pegs

To fully understand how to maintain the lute's tuning pegs, one must fully grasp the concepts by which they work. The peg is made of a hardwood (usually Rosewood or Ebony) which is slightly harder than the wood of the peg—box (a hardwood also, in most cases Mahogany). The bearing surfaces in which the tuning peg fits are simply holes drilled through the two walls of the peg box. The pegs are tapered so that they are larger in diameter at the grip end than at the end that passes through the opposite wall of the peg box. Friction is applied to the peg to hold a string at pitch by pressing the peg into the peg box, increasing the pressure on the bearing surfaces by means of the taper of the peg. The hardwood of the peg forces the comparatively softer wood of the peg—box to compress slightly. The tendency of the bearing surface then is to try to return to its original diameter, thereby exerting pressure on the peg.

When the lutenist raises or lowers the pitch of a string, he twists the peg in its holes. This creates friction around the bearing surfaces and the peg. The end result is that, over time, the peg will become glazed.

When a peg has been glazed, it will no longer hold the tension of the string without having unacceptable amounts of inward pressure exerted on it. Upon being removed from the instrument, the peg will show two shining bands about its circumference where it has revolved in its bearing surfaces. This smooth glaze does not permit the wood of the peg—box to maintain a grasp on the peg. Forcing the peg too far into the peg—box will cause the holes in the peg—box to become permanently larger in diameter, eventually requiring them to be plugged and redrilled. To avoid having this repair work done prematurely, the lutenist must learn to maintain the tuning pegs in their optimum state — turning freely yet holding firmly.

When the peg does not turn freely, or if it slips when released even when moderate inward pressure has been applied to it, the peg should be removed from the instrument and inspected. If the peg loses tension quickly and, upon visual inspection, there appears to be little or no glaze present, a small quantity of chalk can be applied to the shaft where it makes contact with the bearing surfaces. This will cause a small amount of abrasion between the peg and the peg box; much the same as throwing sand beneath the wheels of a car stuck in the snow will increase its traction.

If a peg sticks in the holes and “creaks” or “clicks” when it is turned, it may be that there is too much friction on the surfaces. In this case, a small amount of soap can be applied to the peg as a lubricant. Never use any variety of petroleum jelly or any petroleum-based lubricants. Petroleum products work wonderfully well on metallic surfaces, but on wood they have the exact opposite effect. Any petroleum products will ruin both the pegs and the peg holes.

If the lutenist adds too much chalk or too much soap, one remedy reverses the effects of the other. (When too much soap causes a. peg to slip, add chalk, and vice versa.)

There will come a time when the peg will be heavily glazed. When this occurs, the only solution is to scuff the peg with sandpaper, thereby removing the glaze. This is done by taking an appropriate size piece of 220 grit Aluminum Oxide (Alox) sandpaper, wrapping it around the shaft of the peg, and twisting the peg around a few times. The sandpaper should not be held too tightly as this procedure is only intended to remove as much wood as is necessary to eliminate the glaze. Any heavy sanding may cause the peg to lose its roundness and will definitely reduce its diameter to the extent that the peg, may

be rendered useless. Visually inspect the peg between every few twists in the paper. A heavily glazed peg will only require two to three complete revolutions in the paper to correct the problem if the proper forces are used. This procedure, when properly executed, should not decrease the useable lifetime of the peg. Of course, pegs do eventually wear out and require replacement.

What's New? The New Album!

Hey, the new album is out! That's right, finally a follow-up to the reissue of my olf album from the late 1980's.

Reflecting Pools is a departure for me as it is totally keyboard. Well, the guitar did show up on one track...


Available through

...And containing nine tracks that are relaxing, inspirational -- sounds like a snooze. Not really, this is great stuff to listen to on a rainy afternoon, while with your significant other (nudge, nudge, know what I mean?) Please visit the Relfecting Pools page on this site or

LOW END What's new with the book that came out over a year ago? After being on back-order at for what seemed like a century, it is my uinderstanding that copies are once again shipping. Barnes and Noble's website is once again stocking LOW END.

DEEP END, the exciting sequel, is being shopped by my literary agent even as we speak.

The Guitar Sessions:Weekly tech tips and exercises to help the guitarist improve. This feature has really taken off. Each week a new page is posted with either an exerices to get the left and right hands moving more efficiently and effectively or an interesting pice from the standard repertoire , demonstrating a necessary technical ability. Judging by the hits these pages receive, you guitar players love this feature!

The page is updated every Thursday. Visit the 2004 Archive as well!


My Mission, My Policy

In my opinion, the murder mystery genre reached its zenith in the 1930's and 1940's. The novels penned in those decades were taut, no nonsense stories of people in life and death crises, people who did not flinch when confronted with overwhelming odds or overwhelming emotion. Some of these tales could be hard-edged and hard-boiled, but the heroes invariably had a soft side as well.

I believe that over the years, in an attempt to mimic real life, the writers of murder mysteries--and most other literature, for that matter--have lowered the standards of excellence set by such authors as the gritty Raymond Chandler and the sophisticated Dorothy Sayers. Many authors misinterpret smut for romance and brutality for strength.

My novels aspire to the standards set by the 1940's mystery writers. My tales are as real and grimey as the mean streets that spawned them. Even so, and though they deal with modern issues, you will not find gratuitous sex in my characters' relationships. Sex may be alluded to, but it is never allowed out from behind closed doors. You will find that my books are entertaining to a broad audience--I have had positive comments from teens to grandmothers. One reader was surprised when I told him that there were no obscenities in the book he'd just finished. He hadn't missed them! A good story doesn't need such unnecessary 'embellishment.'

I have conducted book signings at churches, country clubs, libraries and even a street corner (don't ask!) and I've never been called to task for, or ashamed of, my work. Pick up a copy of my latest novel and see if it isn't a good read!

Harry Pellegrin


As a native New Yorker and an American, I am still angered by the cowardly attacks of 9/11. Unless we restore New York City's skyline to its condition prior to September 11th, 2001, the miserable scum who attacked us will have won! Visit and rebuild America!



About My Site:

This site is a way for me to commemorate and celebrate a life and lifestyle that is now extinct. Why extinct? Is it that Thomas Wolfe " You-can't-go-home-again " thing? Is it because life is so much different now that what we experienced in the Bronx in the 60's and 70's is no longer relevant? Yes. No. Yes and no? Definintely maybe ! Why do I always start these little essays with questions?

At first, the main thrust of this site was to promote my book. It is a worthy goal; the book tells a good tale and eveyone who has read it finds it entertaining and thought-provoking. With that sole goal, I went live with this site back in August of 2003. What happened next is what makes this site truly valuable.

There are people I grew up with, attended school and with whom I played in bands -- neighbors, friends, good family -- who I hadn't seen since I moved from the Bronx in 1986. Divorce had forced me into exile, time and distance conspired to seemingly turn this into a life sentence. Thank the muses for the internet! This site wasn't live for more than two months before I was reunited with Paul Silvestro , a childhood friend whom I hadn't seen in seventeen years. His brother Larry , the guy who had turned me on to playing guitar and taught me the things about music that matter the most, now with him I had no contact since 1983. Twenty years! Too long. I felt as if a part of my soul had been restored -- a part that had been missing for ages and had long ago been written off. But more was to come.

Anthony Pernice, Art Clement , Mike Moretti -- all reunited to me.

The 1960's weren't good to a number of us -- many of us had our personal demons to exorcise, be it substance abuse or the insidious hedonism of the times. but through it all, we were instilled with a vibe, cast in an artistic mold--call it what you will--but unless these same environmental stimuli are exactly reproduced, there will never be another crop of people quite the same.

This page delves into what we experienced and how we incorporated these experiences into art, music, literature and life . I've paid tribute to my neighborhood, the Wakefield section of the Bronx. The Discords -- Larry Silvestro and Artie Clemente's first band in the early mid-sixties-- they're here with their matching outfits, Fender, Hagstrom and Gretsch guitars plus those impeccably precise five part harmonies.

Of course, there is an homage to Leo Fender and his magnificent designs, the Telecaster © and the Stratocaster ©. I officially declare C.L. Fender an honorary Bronxite. These instruments have literally changed my life and the way we all hear music. Check out this page on my site.

Rory Gallagher, whom I saw play in 1973 and who has influenced me ever since--he has a page here as well. He has gone on now, but the impact he made is still rippling outwards, changing how we interpret the blues.

Untermyer Park in Yonkers and Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx are included on this site. We were kids interested in a good ghost story and both these places were terrific for providing a few innocent and fun goosebumps.

...and of course, my book!

Please enjoy this site. Nose around. Anyone can find something here to read and get a chuckle.





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