Introduction: Lessons Learned in Making a Medieval Vielle
This is my replica of a medieval vielle, an ancestor of the modern violin. It was played by troubadours from the 13th to the 15th centuries.
This is not meant to be a complete guide to making a vielle, nor is my vielle particularly authentic. I made it because I wanted to see if I could and because I thought it would be easier than a violin (yes on both counts).
Tools used were:
scrollsaw (for the c-holes)
curved planes (for shaping the arched belly)
Step 1: Basic Measurements
As stated, my vielle is not exactly authentic.
I made it quite small so it was more comfortable for a violin player. A traditional vielle is closer to a viola in size.
The main differences between the vielle and the modern violin (apart from the body shape) are that the fretboard and bridge are at a much lower angle, the fretboard is almost flat, and the vielle has tied frets, made of catgut (or nylon in my case).
I followed basic lutherie technique making the body. The ribs were steam bent around a mold and reinforced with thin strips of wood along the edges where they are glued to the body and back. The same mold was used as a template for cutting out the belly and back, with an overlap of about 2mm all around. The ribs are very thin, about 2mm.
My vielle has a soundpost, which is not traditional. Mostly I just wanted to see if I could do it. I set it in place with a bent length of stiff wire, sharpened at one end.
Step 2: Neck and Pegboard
The vielle has a less steep neck angle than a modern violin. Additionally, the neck is traditionally attached with a screw or nails to the body, but I used a mortise and tenon joint like a violin. After a few years, this joint came loose, as you can see in the close up. Resetting it would involve removing the belly and reglueing.
You can also see the top pegs are set at an angle. This I highly recommend NOT doing, as the strings are wont to slip off. The neck is left unvarnished, as with a violin, to reduce friction with the hand. The pegboard is a separate piece, attached with a dovetail joint to the neck.
The frets are made from a nylon guitar string, and positioned with a fret calculator and a bit of trial and error.
Step 3: Belly and Back
The belly is made of bookmatched Sitka Spruce. I arched the belly very slightly using curved planes, but a traditional vielle has a bent belly. I arched it because a) I wanted to use my planes and b) it meant the ribs were easier to make, since they could be the same height all around. The back is one piece and flat.The belly was reinforced with a couple of thin ribs across the widest parts. Both belly and back are about 4mm thick.
Step 4: Tailpiece and Bridge
The tailpiece is a simple piece of wood, held in place by the tension of the strings, as with a violin. The peg is a violin peg, the strap is a shoelace. The bridge is a standard violin bridge, cut short (because of the flatter neck angle) and flattened on top a bit. The fretboard of the vielle is almost flat, which makes playing chords easier and melodies harder except on the top and bottom string.
The vielle plays nicely, though it sounds quite thin and reedy due mostly to the lower neck angle. I actually preferred plucking it, like a mandolin. It stays in tune very well.
All in all, making this vielle was a fun experience, but if you are after something more authentic for your Early Music group, I would recommend buying a kit from a real luthier.