1990s Cretan Laouto/Baritone Bouzouki Conversion

The laouto is a fascinating instrument -- part oud, part mandocello, and part bouzouki. This one has had a couple "deaths" in its lifetime but hopefully it should be sturdy-enough to survive for the long haul, now.

At some point the top was damaged and so the owner had it replaced by none other than Mr. Apollonio himself -- in cedar. It's beautifully and lightly x-braced underneath and appears to have perhaps retained a rosette from the original board.

When it came here it had some icky impact damage at the endblock that shoved the side under the top and crumpled (into splinters, as I found out) a section of the top right over the endblock. Binding and smaller pieces of decoration were sprung-up, splintered, or missing.

It had a neat wooden tailpiece that rose up from the edge of the instrument a bit and secured ball-end strings about 1/8" above the edge of the top. I'm guessing that the high-point leverage from string tension is what made the impact damage worse than it might have otherwise been. I imagine the fact that the endblock is less than 1/4" thick didn't help, either! There's not much support for a tailpiece load (it had been modified to a tailpiece load to reduce stress on the top) with that little glue contact.

So, all of that damage being true, the owner figured that post-repairs it might make sense to remove a course of strings and drop it down from a 4-course laouto to a 3-course, double-strung something. He suggested DAD like a trichordo bouzouki or something along those lines but I thought it might be nice to get a little more use out of the huge soundbox.

Considering that it has a 29 3/4" scale length, I decided to string it up as a "baritone bouzouki" with octaves on all courses and tuned AEA with the lowest note the same pitch as bass guitar's A string. It sounds huge in this capacity, though I have a feeling the owner will probably lighten the gauges and go with a higher tuning.

The body is 8" or so deep and 14" wide -- it feels ginormous in the lap -- and all of that uninterrupted soundboard is what gives it so much support for low notes.

The repairs were tricky, though. I had to detach the rosette to get inside to cleat a couple of cracks on the lower bout. At the same time I managed to wedge the collapsed sides and endblock back into position, glue them up, and then add a support block of rosewood that buts against the endblock under the top in an effort to help shore-up the too-thin block itself.

After that it was on to the headstock where it got new (parts-bin) tuners and then on to the neck... which had a backbow. I dealt with that bit yanking-up the first position frets just-so and cementing them in place with a little fill and superglue wicked into the tangs. Then I could level and dress them to get the neck effectively straight.

The glued-on bridge had been modified a bit in the past and I added a downpressure bar to the top of it so that "curling-tension" like in the original instrument's design would be applied to that top. This gets some velvet and extra warmth into the sound that a straight tailpiece setup just won't do. After that it was fitting a tailpiece (Gibson-style and rugged, just for stability -- though a fancier one would look nicer) and then compensating the bridge and setting it up.

But! One last thing -- what to do about the compromised top/endblock strength? I fit an aluminum rod through the thing -- endblock to neckblock -- and pinned and glued it at the neckblock. This relieves almost all of the tension from off the weakened endblock and should, hopefully, keep the instrument stable for the future.