Fold comfort for the lute

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The Independent Culture

We know the problems facing cellists when they fly with their precious instruments: to avoid damage in the hold, they buy a second seat. But things are even worse for players of the now-fashionable theorbo lute which, at over six-feet long, requires a case like a coffin on wheels. Theorbo players travel by road or rail, as flying is out.

I am rung up by the eminent lute-maker Klaus Jacobsen, who wants me to witness the fruit of a Eureka-moment that should transform this situation. He knew of the 18th-century folding theorbo in a Nuremberg museum, and he knew also of the built-in drawback: to fold the instrument, you must detune it completely, and retuning can take hours. Badgered by customers to find a solution, he has always said it was impossible. "But last year I had a vision, and I realised I could solve the problem."

He shows me how: his prototype has a brass hinge halfway up the neck, and a five-inch nail through a bracket on it, with a brass cylinder going around the nail and under the strings. Hey presto! It takes him 30 seconds to fold the theorbo up, and 30 more to unfold it ready for action again, still in tune. Folded, it would fit easily into an overhead luggage rack.

Will he take out a patent? No, he says, that would be expensive, and other makers could easily find ways round it. "Besides, there are no secrets in this trade – it's all hard work. My colleagues are welcome to copy this. And collective effort may sort out the remaining technical problems."