Renaissance lutes
Baroque lutes
Chitarroni & theorbos
Restoration & repair
Materials & decoration

Stringing & pitch

Pricing & conditions
Getting to the workshop

What string length for what pitch? That is the question.

The renaissance lute evolved, by the latter part of the 16C into a family of 7 instruments, used in various combinations. The Fugger inventory has instruments in seven sizes, and Praetorius, in Syntagma Musicum, at the beginning of the 17C also lists this number of lutes, and gives their names and tunings as follows (the string lengths given are those that I now use):


small octave lute c’’ or d’’
small descant lute b’
descant lute a’
ordinary chorist or alto lute g’
tenor lute e’
bass lute d’
octave great bass lute g



(c. 40cm)
(c. 45cm)
(c. 52cm)
(c. 58cm)
(c. 67cm)
(c. 76cm)
(c. 90cm)

Unfortunately, Praetorius did not give string lengths, and his pitch was anyway nominal, not absolute. Players were instructed to tune their top strings, of gut at that time, as high as they would stand, and the rest at the proper intervals below this.

Existing old lutes, of the late 16C type, mostly 7c and 8c, that appear to form part of definite sets of instruments, do fall into a number of size groups, especially alto, tenor and bass lutes, the greater part of those surviving. These seem to be around 58 to 60cm, 66 to 70cm and 76 to 80cm. The top strings of these sizes are quite capable of being tuned at A440 to g’ e’ and d’ respectively, with a variation of a semitone or so either side of this.

Lutes, then, are far from standardised, and players need to experiment with strings and pitch standard to get the best out of their instrument. For many years lutenists have treated the alto g’ lute of around 60cm as a ‘standard’ instrument, but some recent fine recordings demonstrate that the lower pitch of the tenor lute can give a wonderfully warm and sonorous sound quality, quite different from the brightness of the alto instrument. I feel it may have been this warm ‘tenor’ quality that so beguiled the players of the French Baroque, with their long string lengths and low pitches.

From all this you can see that I am very keen to promote the original string material of the lute, and I do now in fact string all my instruments in gut, using plain, high twist, and copper loaded diapasons from several sources. The strings are, after all, half of the instrument, and the entire history of the lute and its music is bound up with developments in gut string making and the sound quality produced by them.

I am certainly not against using other string materials. Cost after all is sometimes a consideration, and absolute beginners will for a while prefer them for their stability, but the soft and sonorous sound of the real thing will I think convince most players in the end.

my daughter aged 2