Recreated Medieval Instrument - the Organistrum

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Blog entry by Derek Lyons posted 03-08-2010 05:22 PM 6729 reads 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

One of my many hobbies is the SCA, recreating Medieval history. One of the things we do is recreate the physical artifacts of medieval times – and some people even do so using nothing but the tools and techniques of the period.

Woodworking shop

Here in a picture taken last summer, my two woodworking mentors are building a bucket using medieval hand tools.

This past weekend I went to our Kingdom’s Arts & Sciences competition, where artisans and craftsmen from around the Kingdom place their work on display and compete for honors. Among the many incredible things on display was a reproduction of an organistrum, a stringed instrument from the 11th century. Even more incredible, was this beauty was built by an individual with limited power tools and limited knowledge of woodworking! (He lives fairly isolated and has little chance to work with others, so I pointed him towards LJ.)

From Organistrum
Here you can see the entire instrument – it’s nearly six feet long! It’s played by two people – one cranking and one on the keyboard.

From Organistrum
A crank turns this wheel, which acts kind of like an infinite violin bow.

From Organistrum
When you depress the keys, they push frets (for lack of a better term) against the strings the same way a modern stringed instrument is played by pushing the string against a fret with your fingers.

The detail work on the ‘frets’ and keys was incredible, but because of the poor lighting I wasn’t able to get a good closeup.

I didn’t get to hear it played, as he was having problems with the wheel binding due to wood movement, but I found a video on YouTube of a smaller version being played.

The men of the Culinary Guild

Not the worlds best photograph of me, but here I am (on the right) taking a break from tending the fire at a culinary demo – cooking medieval dishes using medieval techniques.

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

4 comments so far



56 posts in 3135 days

#1 posted 03-08-2010 06:23 PM

That is awsome, I often thought of joining the SCA. They have a gathering every summer in one of our parks, good find. JIM

-- A day without sawdust is like a day without sunshine

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18290 posts in 3703 days

#2 posted 03-09-2010 06:15 AM

WOW! What deal:-)) Guy did quite a job on it. I have heard there are medieval fairs around here. When was that one?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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Derek Lyons

584 posts in 3595 days

#3 posted 03-09-2010 07:08 AM

The event I was at (in the photographs) is an annual public demo in June here in Port Gamble, the event I photographed the instrument at was last weekend in Elma.

But this is SCA, not Ren Faire.

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

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49 posts in 2935 days

#4 posted 03-14-2011 11:38 PM

Amazing instrument, I would love to make one:-) I have just made a Kantele, but this is just in another league..

-- Mark, Lithuania,

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