Anglo-Saxon Lyre

Introduction: Anglo-Saxon Lyre

About: Hey, I'm Steven. I'm 16, living in Upstate NY. Currently I am interested in engineering, architecture, science (especially environmental), music, woodworking-Pretty much anything cool or shiny.

Welcome to my on-going project!

Tools Used:

Drill Press

Assorted Forstner Bits

Sandpaper, Assorted Sanders

Jig Saw

Scroll Saw

First of all, some of you might be wondering, the heck is an Anglo-Saxon Lyre? Well, the Anglo-Saxon lyre is a box lyre popular in Europe a long time ago. There are few surviving lyres, but there are some craftsmen who try to recreate these instruments. This is my try at recreating one out of maple and birch plywood for the soundboard (If you have access to a better wood, use it!). I included the Sketchup plans for this project in the 7th step. If it isn't accessible, this may be my fault or it may be due to I had created it in the 2013 version.

Edit on 1/17/2015: After learning much, much more about woodworking, I have decided to stop progress on this blog. I may make a new one. I found that the zither pins would go through the back of the top, and multiple other problems. In addition, I believe that I am acquiring the skills to actually make a nice one, and in much less time. I am leaving this blog up to review my methods and try to find how to improve upon them if I do ever attempt to make this instrument again.

Step 1: Step One: Trace and Cut Basic Outline

This should be the easiest step. I used rulers, a compass, and a straight edge to get the outline onto my lyre. I then used a jig saw to cut out the basic shape. I then drilled holes into the space to be cut out between the arms, then used the jigsaw to cut that part out. If you use a hardwood like maple, be careful-It is a very hard wood, and will take some time to be cut in the curves needed. I apologize for the weird picture from my phone camera.

Updates, 5/26/2015: On reviewing this step, I decided I really should have made the arms wider.

Step 2: Carve the Soundbox

The soundbox can be carved different ways. If you have a router, definitely go with that, if you have the know-how. If your going old-school, get your chisels sharpened and your mallet...mallety? I do not own a router, so I set the depth on my drill press to the appropriate depth and drilled down to it using Forstner bits. Then, I used a chisel to remove any bits too small for the bits to drill into it, and then sanded for around two or three hours using 60-grit sandpaper.

Update, 5/26/2015: If I had to re-do this step, I would use the router I now have available, followed up with a chisel. I actually have sharp chisels now; the chisels I had then were unusable, as the maker had covered the surfaces in rasps and files to make it a 'multi tool'.

Step 3: Cut Out the Upper Arms

Using the pencil lines laid out in step one as a reference, first drill six holes or more using a regular drill bit of your choice. Drill one next to each of the corners, but not on the pencil lines themselves; Then drill one at the vertex of the top parabola, and at the bottom one, again next to but not on the pencil lines. Then use the jigsaw to cut out the wood. The closer you follow the lines, the less wood you will have to carve/sand down.

Step 4: Cut Out the Soundboard

The soundboard is the part of the instrument that is usually the thinnest on the lyre; it's specifics differ instrument-instrument. Usually, on guitars and ukes, the soundboard is made out of the best tonewood, as it matters the most in sound. However, I don't have mahogany or maple veneer on hand; So I used birch plywood (It's great for pyrography as a bonus, too!). I laid the body of the lyre on top of the 'soundboard-to-be', traced it, then cut it out with the jigsaw and scrollsaw. I then dry-fitted it on the body; Not exactly perfect, but not too drastic, just a few centimeters here and there. Make sure to leave an overgap in case your pencil lines weren't accurate, like mine, in some places.

Step 5: (Optional) Add Decorative Touches to the Soundboard

If you are doing pyrography on birch plywood, sand it down to 150; Then trace your design, and use your pyrography tip to woodburn the design into the wood. Then sand it down one more time up to 200, and your ready to move on.

Some other decoration ideas other builders have employed are calligraphy in ink; Jeweled corners, or decorative brass brackets on the arms.

Updates, 5/26/2015: I still like the general design. However, I do not recommend plywood: I sanded through in multiple areas of mine, and some areas splintered off. Still pretty darn cheap though.

Step 6: The Glue-Up

Carefully apply glue to the edges; depending on your grain, the wood may drink in the glue. I used Titebond III for my lyre. Then carefully align the soundboard, and use as many clamps as you can, or resort to the cutting-edge gravity clamps of Brick Co. When the glue has dried completely, then you get rid of excess wood hanging over the edge of the body. Move on to the next step when you are satisfied!

Step 7: Adding Tuning Pins and String

The stringing of the lyre can be complicated, as there are not many full examples of Anglo-Saxon lyres. The little square on the soundbox part of the lyre is where you attach the tailpiece of the lyre to. The tailpiece is usually oval, with the narrow ends perpendicular to the arches in the lyre's body. The six strings are attached in the top-facing part of the oval, and are separated at a bridge, which then lead to the tuning pegs/zither pins.

Some ideas for strings are nylgut, a synthetic gut string popular with reconstructed instrument makers; Gut strings, rather rare; and I used nylon guitar strings.

Tuning pegs can be zither pins, commonly available on websites such as C. B. Gitty or Amazon. The bridge can be simple maple, or ornately carved amber; the tailpiece can again differ between a beautiful ivory celtic knot or a simple dowel. This part of the lyre is really up to the imagination, and even more so the tuning of the instruments; There are tutorials on Youtube by different artists as to which tuning they prefer. Note: One of the reasons I was not able to finish my lyre lately is that I forgot to buy a tuning wrench for my zither pins. Make sure to get one yourself!

Step 8: Playing the Instrument

No one alive has heard the Anglo-Saxon lyre played by it's original creators; However, the majority of players agree that the method used to play this instrument was the block and strum method. This method is where you hold the strings you wish to mute with your fingertips, and with your other hand strum the strings, producing a chord. The other way of playing is just plucking the strings, and some believe that plectrums were used in playing these instruments. Enjoy your Anglo-Saxon lyre!

Step 9: *Coming Soon: My Finished Lyre*

Well, thank you for reading this instructable, and for those who have been watching it, thanks for being patient. Part of the reason mine is taking quite a bit of time is that 1. I have a really low attention span 2. I have no idea what I'm doing 3. I lacked the supplies to finish it. Number 2 is also related to the fact that I seriously underestimated the difficulty of this project. Luckily, one day at Woodcraft I found a massive pile of mahogany cut offs. I promptly picked up one of these boards, to use for a nice contrasting color in the lyre. Right now, I am experimenting with the bridge and the tailpiece designs, while waiting for the main reason this project is taking me so long-finding something to tune the zither pins with.

Update on 5/26/2015

I have found zither tuning keys for a reasonable price on Harp Kits! Hot diggity Dog, I may be able to wrap up this project! Also bought a set of kantele strings to make a kantele for a friend.



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    14 Discussions

    Coming soon, I have to translate the project. I use it on stage, and I have already made some recordings using my saxon lyre playing medieval music with it. I put 9 strings on it instead of 6 or less, and with this improvement I can play more than one octave. The actual tuning system always depends on the played harmonies, but the tuning pegs may be set by only a special tuning handle. See my pics.

    Thanks for inspirations.

    8 replies

    That is simply a beautiful instrument! Nagyon köszönöm, hogy megosztottad a képeket. Nagyon örülök, hogy sikerült, hogy segítsen, még egy kis utat. Is, hogy a különleges tuning fogantyú az oka, hogy nem tudja befejezni az enyém, én csak megtalálja az Amazon, de a költségek túl kevés, hogy a szállítás ingyenes, így meg kell várni. (Elnézést kérek, ha ez fordítva rosszul, én vagyok a Google Translate)

    Thanks, please write in English, because the Google Translator generates more confusions in Hungarian than I can understand anymore. This GT may be useable in the indo-german language families, but can't do anything when meets a language like mine:-)

    Well, as I tried to get the infos, I think you may have problem with the tuning pegs. I used harpsichord pegs made of steel, 4 mm diameter, and a flattened top area to grab and turn. But you can use simple violin pegs, too, made of hardwood, but, in this situation you have to drill conic holes to fit. Choosing this way you won't need any handle or key to tune it.

    I'm going to post my project, I hope in this week, and explain my plains better. I have some ideas after the building of the lyre, which may be useful for the others to make an instrument like this.

    Oh, I am sorry about that. Anyways, yes, my problems do stem from the zither tuning pins-I can't find a tuning key except on Amazon, and I must wait until I can order one that has free shipping. I hope to be able to get it when I order my sharpening stones. I too think I might revisit this project in the future, and try using other ways of tuning it, such as guitar pegs. If anything, my next 'instrument' project will be using leftover zither pins to make either an Appalachian dulcimer, or more likely, a Finnish kantele.

    The zither peg is a good idea, I have a good friend, who builds harpsichords, that's why I could get some pegs for harpsichord. But I got more: some very important advice, I share them with you. First, when you drill the hole for steel pegs (zither or other), remember you should make a hole with lesser diameter than the pegs have. I used pegs with 4 mm, and the hole was 3,8 mm. This proportion (0,9) is very important, otherwise the pegs won't fit strongly, and can't resist the tension of the strings. (I hardly found a drill in the given size, but I didn't give up:-)) The other advice is about the the wooden material. Never use wood which is not a hardwood - the drilling into it will be more problematic, but the pegs must fit safely. And the inserting of pegs into the drilled holes: take a soap (not liquid, but solid), and coat with it the part of the peg you will bury into the hole, before insert it. This is important too, otherwise the pegs will cry when turned. And how to insert? Try it with a rubber hammer, but attach a small hardwood block between the head of the peg and the rubber hammer, and be sure you hold the peg in the proper angle. Be careful, this is the most dangerous part of the building, and that's why you must use the correct size; the larger diameter won't grip as it needed, but, if the hole is too narrow, this is the point, (the hammering) when the hardwood pegblock will rip. Be careful!

    And an idea: Wouldn't you try to ask a metal turner to make some 4 mm diameter, 3-4 cm long pegs from iron? (No steel needed) You would flatten the top a little bit, and drill the neck with 1-1,5 mm, and curve the butts with a normal hand metal file. Or the turner would use even proper sized bolts (screws) with six side head, removing the screwing surface to be flat (I'm sorry, but I don't knov the correct word for this operation:-) ) - and, perhaps this may be more easy...

    If I can share my own experience : I drilled 4.5 mm holes for 5 mm zither pegs. Following Micheal J Kings videos I decided not to hammer them but to screw them which worked well.

    Congrats, I've seen your video. If I weren't so lazy, I should had been share one too about my own lyre...:-)


    Thanks, and there will probably be another vid soon with the upgraded instrument (tailpiece changed for nails and guitar strings for fishing line, that sounds just perfetct)

    Oh, I forgot! In my opinion the guitar tuning keys are too modern for an instrumnetn like this, and it will even be more difficult to build onto the tuning parts. Te saxon lyre is an 1300 years old instrument, and its only magic (beyond its sound, of course) is its ancient look on stage - or anywhere. Believe me, I've been using it for years, and on every concert I play on it, the people ask what its name, because they have never seen an instrument like this before. And thus the look is very important, because what could I say when they ask, where comes that modern gear machine on this ancient musical instrument;-)

    Hey Steve,

    Very interesting tutorial!! Still trying to figure out how I could make the soundbox in one piece, without to much materials.
    Do you have pictures of the final result?

    2 replies

    I don't know what you mean by making the soundbox in one piece. Do you mean not being able to find a piece large enough to carve and still have the 'neck'? There is one historical lyre I found that had a separate piece of wood joined to the soundbox.

    For the final result, I have not made it. Right now, I have realized I was incredibly foolish in trying to make a historical instrument for a first project. I am now getting better and better with woodworking, and building up a shop; I am hoping, after finishing the commission pieces I have, and some furniture for myself and a cajon, to revisit this project and do it properly.

    One thing I have learned: I was incredibly dumb with the soundbox. Drilling it out was good, but I could have gotten a much better result cleaning it up with a chisel instead of sanding it down.

    Oh no, I meant making it hollow, many people do the back and the frame separately, but I would like it more the way you do it! The way it is meant to be. But that also is the most difficult part, no?

    Curious about what you make! I'll look it up on google

    Not yet. I was going to finish this last weekend, but had to go out of town for two days. Now its crunch time (finals+bandconcert+obligations), but I am about to add some strings and all that fun stuff. If you need help, try Michael J. King-He actually knows what hes doing. I'm pretty much experimenting.