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About Me

Making Principles

I build lutes according to the historical principles found in the best surviving instruments, complimented by evidence from paintings, contemporary documents and other relevant musical sources. Whilst close attention to period style and use of appropriate proportions are important, my attention is always directed towards making instruments that meet the specific musical demands of the lute’s varied repertory.

Where a suitable historical model is not available, I have developed my own designs, which are also based on the same broad principles of proportion, style and suitability for the lute’s repertory. I do not build strict copies of original lutes. To do so is almost impossible, and any such claim would be misleading. I would however hope that any of my instruments would feel familiar when put into the hands of lute players of the past.

Wherever possible I use the same woods as those typically found on surviving lutes, or for which good evidence exists. The only exception being those woods use is limited by regulations such as Cites. In construction I only use traditional hide glue or Isinglass, as these are still technically superior to modern adhesives.  I also make my own oil/resin varnish, and colours.

I am fortunate to have a substantial number of current orders, so at the moment I am not accepting new work. This enables me to concentrate on commissions for existing customers. My hope is that I will be able to take on new work at some point, but that is unlikely to be until 2025. In the meantime, if you require more details on any of the instruments listed, I am happy to talk on the phone or by email.

Biography

My involvement with the lute started in 1969 with Julian Bream’s record “The Golden Age of English Lute Music” A few years later, I read Diana Poulton’s biography of John Dowland and bought a facsimile of Robert Dowland’s Varietie of Lute Lessons, both of which I found fascinating.

During trips to the Victoria & Albert Museum I found myself increasingly drawn to  the musical instrument collection there, and the idea of becoming a lute maker was formed. There was a dynamic Early Music movement in London at the time and I was keen to be a part of it.

Aged seventeen I started an apprenticeship in the Dolmetsch workshop building viols under the direction of Roger Rose. Upon completion in 1978 I returned to London to set up on my own, transferring my skills to the building of lutes. Stephen Murphy and Stephen Gottlieb had both recently returned from trips examining historical lutes in European collections, their drawings and measurements becoming an invaluable guide to building with an informed sense of historical accuracy.

From 1980 to 1986 I established myself as an independent lute maker. I travelled to museums to examine at old lutes, read assiduously, and attended lute courses in the Netherlands where I met many young enthusiastic players. In the workshop I experimented with different building methods, made countless moulds, and started to design lutes based on historical principles. I built lutes for some extremely good professional players, and this led to a full order book with customers in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the US.

By 1986 I was making good progress, but in need of greater financial stability, I started teaching part-time on the Early Stringed Instruments course at the London College of Furniture. By 1990 teaching had become a full time job, and I also enrolled on a degree course studying for a BA Hons in History of Art at Birkbeck College (part of London University). The four years that followed were both stimulating and rewarding and I benefitted from having my intellectual and cultural horizons extended.

On graduation in 1995, and after a break of almost ten years it felt like the right time to start making lutes again, initially in my spare time. Realising whilst I had in the past made some really excellent sounding lutes, I knew that I had never fully understood why – or why some of them didn’t turn out as well. There followed a period of self assessment. During which I was able use what I had learned from my recently completed academic studies, approaching the subject in a much more structured and enquiring manner. I also found the courage to start again from first principles.

For two years I re-examined and tested everything that I knew, or thought I knew, poring over drawings, data sheets and measurements. Gradually the understanding and insights that in1986 had eluded me, started to assume a more coherent form, and for the first time I established a connection between my intentions and the sound of the finished instrument. By about 1999 I had gained enough confidence to accept commissions again, and since 2002 this has been my full time job once more. Today I make lutes for players all over the world from Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan – including Nigel North and Paul O’Dette.

I still find lute making a fascinating occupation. I have found answers to some of the questions that I started out with as a young maker over forty years ago, but many still remain. Partly that is what makes it such an interesting field, as every day is an opportunity to develop or improve on established skills and techniques, and to increase my knowledge and understanding of a still slightly mysterious, but completely compelling instrument.

I have had the great fortune to own 3 instruments from Malcolm, and am looking forward to two more. Malcolm’s lutes are a constant delight to play; they are exquisitely made and beautiful in appearance. What I most appreciate in his lutes is the quality of sound, the singing quality and the wide range of colours which can be found inside each instrument. Malcolm makes it easy for a musician to speak and sing on their lutes.”Nigel North

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