Introduction: Acoustic Vulcan Lyre

Picture of Acoustic Vulcan Lyre

The Vulcan Lyre, my ultimate testiment to nerdyness. The device one uses when you need to rock out with your Spock out. I must express my gratitude to Michelle my wonderful wife for her help with this project. That she works in a wood shop and knows her way around it has been extremely helpful.

I designed this to be as close in shape to the classic prop from Star Trek as I could, but to be acoustic rather than electric.
EDIT: Here's an MP3 of me playing this lyre

EDIT 2: By popular demand I have added a schematic image with some dimensions. I didn't measure much of anything when I built it so i had to go measure the actual article to get these numbers.

Step 1: Basic Body

Picture of Basic Body

First I designed my lyre shape in a vector graphics program. While adobe illustrator would have made more sense I did it with 3d Studio Max, just cause I like how it handles curves. Technically we can shorten this step to "Draw your lyre".

Then I printed the whole thing out. My printer isn't any bigger than yours, so I had to print it out in sections and then tape it all together. Next I cut out the whole shape, taped it to a big piece of 3/4 inch plywood and cut the sucker out. If you are a better free hand drawer than me you could probably skip most of that and just draw on the plywood. I was trying to get mine as close in shape to Spock's as possible so I was a bit anal.

Next I made a copy of it with some more plywood, then glued the halves together with some clamps.

Oh, uh, see that little area at the bottom that isn't cut out? Yeah, that's important, it does stuff. Namely it gives to something to screw the tail piece to.

Step 2: Edges

Picture of Edges

The edges where rough, being made of cheap plywood, so I puttied them. Some simple off the shelf wood putty did this nicely.

Step 3: Front and Back

Picture of Front and Back

Next I got some 1/4 inch ply and cut out a pair of "pick guard" shapes for the front and back. Here I haven't glues them yet, just set them on the body to test the size.

Step 4: STAIN!

Picture of STAIN!

Yes, stain, bad for your clothes, but good for your Vulcan Lyre. Simple stuff really, just brush it on, wait 10 minutes or so, then wipe off the remainder. Then I glued the front and back on and cut a sound hole in the front panel.. Now it's starting to look cool.

Step 5: Figuring Out Where to Put the Strings and Tuners.

Picture of Figuring Out Where to Put the Strings and Tuners.

So, by this point I hadn't actually measured anything, so I didn't see any reason to start now. My plan was to have a simple wooden bar tail piece, the strings going over a floating bridge, and going to tuners that went up the neck.

I wanted to sorta eye ball the placement, so I made a fake bridge and tail piece out of paper, taped some strings to it and taped every thing in place. When I had the strings placed evenly I marked the neck where I wanted to drill.

Step 6: Zither Pins

Picture of Zither Pins

So I wanted a simple system to tune the strings, and a little research showed me that there is no simpler tuner in the universe than the zither pin. Just drill a hole with a 3/16 bit, and then screw the pin into the hole, done. You can turn the tuners with a clock key (also sold on the site where I got these).

Step 7: Finishing

Picture of Finishing

I had a few pieces of oak lying around, so I cut the tail piece and bridge from them. The tail piece (which I completely over engineered, smaller next time) was just a block of wood with a dozen small holes drilled through one way and three slightly larger holes through the top.

There are fancier ways to mount a tail peice, and I'm sure someone knows them. I am a novice wood worker, so I decided to go with drywall screws. Yeah, I know, there's no drywall in this thing, but I swear these things work on everything.

The bridge is just a chunk of oak cut to form. It's held in place by the tension of the strings, so you need to get them a little tuned then sort of work the bridge underneath them.

For strings I chose acoustic guitar G strings. The geometry of the lyre can give you a pretty good tonal range, depending on what strings you choose. Heavier strings will generally give you lower notes and vice versa. I tuned mine to a major twelve note scale, you can play a lot using only major scale notes, but if you want a different scale you can always retune it.

I found that once the strings were broken in they keep a tune remarkably well. The whole thing warped a little over time but seems pretty stable. For the record, I went on to build a few more of these, and they both looked a lot better, but I sold them and forgot to get pictures. Oh well.

Oh, a note on string labeling, I had a little trouble sorting out the strings at first so I used markers to color the C strings red and the F strings blue, a system that I totally stole from Irish harps, that also works REALLY well for Vulcan Lyres. The marker rubs off after a while but I don't have to reapply very often.

I hope this has helped and or inspired you to build something cool.


D10D3 (author)2011-06-24

I'm going to make a run of these to sell, if anyone in interested let me know.

BatInTheHat (author)D10D32016-10-13

I realize that you posted this comment 5 years ago, but if you're still active on here, can I ask how much you sell these for?

D10D3 (author)BatInTheHat2016-10-14

I'm working on a pair of these right now. I'll message you with details.

Raven Designs (author)2014-09-25

I want to make something like this so bad, (with my own design though) did you use regular guitar strings for this or some special string?
The sound was beautiful too, I might turn my instrument's music into mp3s for my video game! awesome tutorial!

Doctor_Duquesne (author)2009-06-11

My last comment (probably). Instead of taping pieces of the harp template together, it's a lot easier to go to a Kinko's and have the whole thing Xeroxed on one of the big large format copy machines. An 8 x 11 inch page can be easily blown up thee or four hundred times-- even much more-- to make a "life size" copy of the template. This costs about four or five bucks for a 24 x 36 inch copy. To make the neck template for my lyre, I had to blow up the plans 630 per cent to get a 24" neck. It takes a little work (and a tape measure) to get it blown up to the exact size wanted, but you only have to pay for the copies you keep; the ones that came out too small or too large can be thrown away.

It took a long time with no accurate plans,but I think I got it all sussed out now after getting the neck too big for only 19 strings.

The first one is solid walnut with mahogany plywood on the top, the other is plain plywood. I think I'll settle on using ash because it's strong and cheap (but I wish a little less heavy. Almost finished now. When I finally get it done, it will be a thing of beauty.

D10D3 (author)Doctor_Duquesne2011-06-01

Beautiful lines, very elegant.

Doctor_Duquesne (author)D10D32011-06-02

Thank you, sir. :-)

LittleRedDragon2386 (author)2010-01-24

I lov ethe idea of making your own instruments XD was wondering where you got the zither pins though ^_^ I could do with some myself for my project XD and if I'm allowed may I alter the instructions for my own kind of instrument? Am planning to make my own Guzheng and was kinda getting annoyed when I couldn't find any instructions for them :(

Am really glad you made the Vulcan Lyre as it seemed interesting and looks simple enough for me to make a Guzheng via these simple instructions XD

Hope you'll let me alter the instructions so I can make my own Guzheng ^_^ it much cheaper than buying a full Guzheng made in some other country ((the price for the cheapest Guzhengs are way too high even by British standards!!!))

Keep it up! You're doing a great job  XD  XD  XD

I don't remember where I got mine, but there's a music supply place that not only sells packages of 100 chrome zither pins for real cheap, but also really cool looking black zither pins.

The Star Trek Tech Manual says the Vulcan harp uses black erandanite pins but since those are a little hard to get here on earth, I use black zither pins instead. They look great especially with colored nylon harp strings and up against a brass fret bar. The fret bar can also be black plastic, and those black zither pins make a good combination.

Anyway, Google "zither pins" and you shouldn't have much trouble finding a supplir of either kind of pins.


Please feel free to use these plans to build any kind of instrument you want. Using the same basic method you could make all sorts of instruments. As for the zither pins you can get them and a lot of other handy stuff here:

Daftehh (author)2011-05-14

Well, here's mine.
At some point I thought it would be smart to have 19 strings, but that left me with little space between the strings to pluck.
Also, I put the pin holes on the wrong side, so I have an awkward position playing it.
But it turned out pretty good. Thanks for the template.

D10D3 (author)Daftehh2011-05-15

Awesome! The bridge spacer bar helps even the strings out I see.

D10D3 (author)2010-08-18

Added a new picture. This is my second Lyre. Note that instead of having a pickguard style sound board I cut the sound board flush with the edges to give it a cleaner appearance.

Doctor_Duquesne (author)D10D32010-11-19

Your 2nd lyre is a beautiful instrument. Looking at the photo, it almost looks like it's made from one piece; almost like guitar construction. I can see how a top panel can be placed to make it look that way, but it also looks like you covered the neck too?

I've been making mine out of walnut, which is costly, so I am always looking for a better way. Would you say how you got the second lyre to look so elegant?

D10D3 (author)Doctor_Duquesne2010-11-19

For the second lyre I covered the whole front and back with a layer of 8th inch plywood rather than a "pickguard" piece of 1/4 inch. This stuff is a higher quality and looks a lot nicer. Also, it was still strong enough to make a decent sound board with a little bracing.

ieatdick (author)2010-05-26

im not much of a star trek fan but did want a lyre harp so i decided to make one in my woodtech class. this one has a little diferent shape but i used the same basic steps when planin how to do mine. i use solid mohogany and routerd out the inside instead of going all the way through. then i put a thin peice of oak flosh with the top over the hole. its not as loud as an acustic guitar but it is a good deal louder than an unamped elictric guitar is. i think its sweet thanks for the idea.

D10D3 (author)ieatdick2010-05-26

Awesome work, glad I helped with a little inspiration.

rimar2000 (author)2009-06-03

Good work, nice instrument. But, isn't weak the mast for the cords? I would add a (key, derrick, strut, stanchion, pitprop, prop, brace, puncheon, shore. (pardon, I don't speak Emglish)), although that would alter the aesthetic.

D10D3 (author)rimar20002010-04-28

The magic of plywood makes this possible.  The neck is an inch thick of solid plywood. The layers in plywood are laid perpendicular to each others grain which produces a very strong substance with high sheer resistance. Over the years the neck on my first lyre has warped a little but not much.

D10D3 (author)rimar20002009-06-03

I think you are asking if the neck is weak due to it's angle. I designed the shape to match the original prop, but wanted a functional instrument. I got around this by over engineering the body, making it about twice as thick as the original prop, this also gave me enough internal space for a good sized resonating chamber.

Doctor_Duquesne (author)D10D32010-04-27

I've watched The Way To Eden a couple dozen times now as that episode has the best view of the harp-- you can even see the [Vulcan] speaker on the back if you have a good freeze frame and a quick finger on the button.

From this show it looks like the harp is about 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick, which is a reasonable thickness for an instrument of that type. The Star Trek Technical Manual is deceptive in many ways, so I rely on that show and he photos from it for some sense of size. But, hey; there are about three diferent versions of the harp seen on the show so it only matters to anal people like me who want it down to 100 per cent plus accuracy heh heh.  <g>  

Butterface67 (author)2009-12-24

I loved your instructable when I say it, and I and thought, "I'll make one for my wife this Christmas."  She's not much of a Star Trek fan, so I won't tell her of its Vulcan heritage - it looks like a cool exotic instrument and that's enough.
I had to make it at work on my lunch times between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It was very easy to make and it sounds great.  Nice work to make your instructions easy to understand.

D10D3 (author)Butterface672009-12-25

I am stunned an honored. This is a Christmas present to me from the internet. I hope your wife enjoys it and I'm so glad I could help make it happen!

markus2102 (author)2009-07-29

where did u get the space suit???? XD great ible to thanks

D10D3 (author)markus21022009-07-29

I made the space suit, another one too based on an Apollo moon suit, they'll be in an instructable soon.

Aztof (author)2009-07-29

great! It looks just like the one that Spock plays in "Amok Time" 5/5

corey_caffeine (author)2009-07-08

this is really nice. could you possibly give some details on how to play?

Nynaeve (author)2009-06-23

Not sure if I already said this, but if not, it bears repeating: A) Absolutely awesome instrument! Looks better than the original electric ones, imo. B) Absolutely fantastic job both on the construction and the 'ible. C) Thanks so much for posting the mp3, and your playing is great. :) D) You and your wife are awesome.

Punkguyta (author)2009-06-22

To be honest, when I first seen the thumbnail for the instructable, I thought he was building some kind of instrument out of some rubber diaphragm or a hot water bottle or something, just the shape and color that it was from afar.

REA (author)2009-06-18

the guy playing it in the picture looks a little like Gordon Freeman.

D10D3 (author)REA2009-06-18


REA (author)D10D32009-06-19

your welcome

Briterican (author)2009-06-18

Although nerdy, I gotta say this is really sweet and creative. Great Job!

thepelton (author)2009-06-04

This is so "Big Bang Theory".

i love that show!!!!!!!!

ereynaud (author)2009-06-05

How long and how wide is the lyre?

Doctor_Duquesne (author)ereynaud2009-06-10

The guy who made the original plans was a bad draftsman; he should've made dimension lines, but I suspect too that maybe he was trying to make money by having you buy two or three of his booklets-- you'd have to, in order to be able to cut out all of those different template pieces. Anyway, after a lot of trial and error and hard work I finally got the one I'm working on down to 47" long x 17" wide with the neck being the longest piece at about 24" long. This is like the version Spock plays in The Way To Eden episode with the space hippies. The one Uhura plays has a shorter neck and a wider body.

D10D3 (author)Doctor_Duquesne2009-06-10

I didn't use his plans, though I may have used a picture from them for the basic outline. My lyre body is built of two sheet of plywood rather than the myriad of cuts described in the plans I think you are describing. While the many cuts method would be better for a hardwood lyre, two sheets is easier with plywood. And I have to say that despite it's plywood nature it's remarkably resonant.

Doctor_Duquesne (author)D10D32009-06-10

At the time, I didn't have a good template and the harp came out {way} too big, but what I used was a 2 foot x 4foot wood panel I got from some company. I had to glue two of them together since 3/4 inch was their biggest thickness, but the results were just as good as plywood but without having to worry about sprucing it up-- and just as good as solid wood but without having to make individual pieces. I don't know if any companies make these wood panels any more in 2 x 4 foot sizes, but if any are available, it's really worth the cost to use pre-cut panels-- especially in light weight woods like hickory, birch, walnut, etc.

ereynaud (author)2009-06-09

Hi: is there a chance that you would post a pdf file of the template?

D10D3 (author)ereynaud2009-06-10

Will a Jpeg do? Well then your wish is granted!

ereynaud (author)D10D32009-06-10

a Jpeg is fine. Thank you very much I´ll try to make a lyre as nice as yours.

FunkNattidelic (author)2009-06-02

Any sound files? This looks pretty cool.

D10D3 (author)FunkNattidelic2009-06-03

Thanks for the comments. I added an MP3 file to the beginning of the instructable, it's not great but it should give you an idea of the things tonal quality.

oblatsky (author)D10D32009-06-03

you shud mak a site to sell theez

Doctor_Duquesne (author)oblatsky2009-06-10

LOL. There *is* a company that makes Vulcan harps-- or says they do. I ordered one for a special birthday gift costing about $600 and after nine months(!) it was finally ready; they claimed they only had one guy making them. If they were going to sell them, they should've had a few ready to go off the shelf or at least tell people up front the lyres were gonna be custom made and could take months to be made. But this company has a bad reputation that I didn't know about up front.

FunkNattidelic (author)D10D32009-06-05

Thats a pretty shweet sounding instrument =P

i feel inclined to build something similar.

If you'd like it to sound even better, use hard wood to make the body frame, then use an acoustically resonant wood for the top and back tuned to 440 Hz. That will give you a much larger sound. I don't know how to set the intonation of a lyre, but I will consult with someone who might and get back to you. I'll be building an electric/acoustic version so I can rock like Spock...whom I grock! (And I've got the bumper sticker to prove it on my old Gibson case!)

D10D3 (author)spiceyweasel2009-06-08

This was always seen as a sorta prototype for one made of real wood but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

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