1940 Harmony Biltmore Ritz Archtop Cretan Laouto Conversion

The same guy who owns this Cretan laouto that we converted into "something else," also owns this Biltmore Ritz (which I worked on back in 2015) that we've now convert into... a Cretan laouto! How about that? His inclination was right, though... this thing is so much more fun in this capacity.

A quick rundown of what a laouto is... it's essentially like a mandocello and tuned CGDA low to high. However, the first three courses are in octaves and the C-course is an octave higher in pitch than "normal" mandocello tuning. In "guitar course" terms the closest relative strings would be the DADB strings. It's re-entrant like a ukulele.

At first this seems like madness but then when you play the thing it quickly becomes obvious that this handles a lot like a rearranged Irish bouzouki. Without having a super-low C course, the whole instrument "meshes together" better for chord-playing or crosspicking. It reminds me of the same charm one finds in tiples. It's a big, lush sound that's not muddy or murky -- like a 12-string guitar without the over-bearingness that they can have. The fifths tuning also just gives it a quirky, "open" sound to its voice, too.

It's good.

At any rate, work entailed a fresh fret level/dress (to effectively remove a hair of warp that the neck gained in its time away), mod of the headstock to 8-strings (I cobbled some '20s Waverly mandolin tuners for this job), mod of the bridge and nut, restring, and setup.

The 25 1/8" scale length is typical Harmony and it's a light instrument at only 3 lbs 10 oz. The top, back, and sides are all solid mahogany.

To keep the unreinforced neck from protesting, string gauges are very light -- 12/24w, 17/36w, 10/20w, 13/13 low to high.


Oscar Stern said…
It's good for strumming chords
Oscar Stern said…
I've never seen an Archtop Cretan Lute-Mandocello Hybrid before, it's so cool that this could be a production instrument w/ a Special sound. Unlike the Traditional Greek Cretan Lute w/ a Bowl back like some Lutes, the Archtop version has an Arched front & back, Floating Bridge (Factory versions will have Tune-O-Matic versions for Fine tuning), Tailpiece, & F Holes, giving it a punchier sound. The Archtop construction also makes it a little easier to hold especially when using a Standard Guitar Strap, & you use strike the strings w/ Guitar pick as opposed to the Long Oud Pick used on the Traditional Cretan Lute. A Floating Pick Guard will help protect the Finish from scratches & some have a Magnetic Pickup which might facilitate recording. A Whammy Tailpiece would enable the ability to do Vibrato by pulling that lever. The Cretan Lute-Mandocello Hybrid has 4 Pairs of Strings (Bottom 3 in Octaves & top 1 in Unison) tuned like the Mandocello (that's C, G, D, A Low to High in 5ths which lets face it gives us Open Chords w/ the 3rd moved up an Octave past the Root & 5th so that it's less muddy) but the C String is an Octave Higher than normally making it Re-entrant like the Ukulele & other instruments w/ that feature. The Re-entrant CGDA Tuning in Traditional Greek Music adds precision to the Picking w/ more open Strings by having the 2nd & 4th Pairs are tuned a step apart, but it's great for other Genres too like Celtic. The reason why Celtic sounds great on this instrument because, even though 5ths Tuning on the Mandocello is great for strumming Chords & Picking Melodies while let's say you sing w/ optional Karaoke tracks in a Home recording setting, it can often get muddy when done in a Celtic setting because that Mandocello C String tends to clash w/ other instruments that have that same Pitch in their range, especially the extended range versions. The Re-entrant CGDA Tuning of the Cretan Lute cleverly solves that problem by again tuning the C String an Octave higher than usually, & it also mushes the notes closer together when you're doing chords giving it more of a Celtic Bouzouki/12 String Guitar Sound, which is why we can also call it the "Celtic Cretan Lute".
Rob Gardner said…
Great project and I love the headstock logo...