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Urban Luthier

Bass Gamba neck to body ratio

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I have a question about the standard neck to body stop ratio for bass viola da gambas. Most instruments I've seen have a ratio of about .92 or 1:1.08. Does this sound about right to you?

I have a plan of a really nice Edward Lewis Bass viol that was later converted to a 7 string. The current string length is a generous 720mm. The bridge sits rather low (presumably shifted down to give more weight to the low A string). As a result the neck to body ratio is different than above.  If one were to shift up the bridge up by about 30 mm,  the neck to body stop ratio would fall inline with the above. This would also give a more manageable string length of 690mm. 

Do the ratios about sound right to you? any issue with shortening up the string length in this case? 

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Generally speaking for historic English instruments of this kind,  the length of the neck is equal to the width across the lower bouts.... it seems that the string length arises from the geometrical incidences rather than a proportioned ratio. 

There is obviously some allowance for the angle of the neck. 

Very good luck!  

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The presumably French conversion to 7 string gives the 720mm string length which is about ideal for a multi-purpose 7 string for playing both solo and continuo. The original Lewis 6 string set up would probably, according to Ben's formula come out a bit less, which would be fine as a 6 string but might leave the low A string a bit short if you are making a 7 string version. You might expect the neck angle to be a bit less on the original version as well as it is documented that the French increased the neck angle when converting old English viols to their needs. You can look at the Meares in the RCM collection for an original English neck angle. Another major difference between the 2 versions would be the stringing- probably 3 covered strings and an open wound or gut c string for the 7 string version and only one covered string at most for the 6 string. The bridge position should probably be similar for both versions and would also maybe change the sound for good or bad if you change it from the original bearing in mind the position of the back plate.

.

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Another thing- I remember David Rubio made a number of very successful 7 string viols based on this Lewis in the 1970's and you might like to track one of these down to see what solutions he came up with. The advantage of the Lewis model over other available ones is that if you don't want to make a bent front model he made them with a carved front .

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Thanks Ben and Mark -- this is very helpful.

The Lewis lower bout in my plan is about 400 mm wide, using your calculation Ben this wold give a rather long neck! The neck length is of the Paris Lewis is 325mm - about the same as the 1660  Meares pictured in Monical's 'Shapes of the baroque'

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Yes the Meares in the "Shapes of the Baroque" is the same instrument which is now in The RCM. I am still not clear what kind of instrument you are thinking of making. If you are going to make the Lewis as a 7 string French viol, the best models are going to be other unaltered French viols by Bertrand, Colichon etc. I am not sure what has happened to the neck on the original instrument because it is obviously reduced in width but maybe altered otherwise as well. But for an original reconstruction of the Lewis, English sources and examples will be more relevant. You might be interested in the measurements from the Talbot MS which I attach here in Donington's edition.

Donington_-_talbot's_manuscript.pdf

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Thanks for this Mark, I've seen Talbot's mentioned in most of the literature I've been reading so this will help. As for which instrument to make? I'm at least two projects away from this so I'm doing initial research now. I have two plans (the Lewis and the 1619 Jaye featured in the strad) 

My preference is for a mid-sized English bass with a modest string length 680-690mm. The Jaye above is not suitable based on this criteria - the 760mm string length isn't a good fit for me. Anglicizing the Lewis is a possibility, but not without more research. Third option is to look for another plan all together - but unlike the violin family gamba plans are not that accessible to amateurs!

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Excellent plans for that Meares exist drawn by Stephen Barber but I don't have them. It might be possible to track them down or I could ask around if it proves difficult. That instrument seems to fit your requirements well or there are various Barak Norman's.

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Thanks again for your help Mark! I found a drawing of a Barak Norman in the RCM drawn by Stephen Barber but not the Meares. Also a list of technical drawings here. No sign of the Meares on this list, easiest path i think will be contact RCM directly to find out more

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