What is a Lute?

Many of you have heard of a musical instrument with cord and strings that produce beautiful sounds with so much melody. This instrument resembles a guitar but is not exactly like one. It also looks like a vihuela and has the touch of a violin. However, guitars, ukuleles, and violins all have their own repertoire of sound and harmony. Lute, on the other hand, is exquisite in body sound and appearance. It produces a quiet sound, very soft, and subtle. Musicians love playing this instrument as it is easy to play, enjoyable, and acts as a satisfying instrument to play during their pastime. If you are interested to find out what is a lute, stay with us and read all about it in our article.

Lute: The Instrument

It can be described as an instrument with a plucked chordophone that has few strings attached to its belly. It consists of a hole inside its belly that helps to echo sound and produce soft music. 

Just like different kinds of sport, baseball, football, handball, etc. and they all fall under the category of sports that require a ball. Similarly, all the instruments that contain a hole in their body and strings attached to them like the violin, guitar, the Indian sitar, Japanese samisen, and others, all fall under the category of lute. 

Soon as years passed by, the strings have turned into pairs and then to courses. In the 15th century, lute gained the fifth course and by the 16th the classical form of the instrument had a total of 6 courses. People started finding peace within its music and composers started to write more music in tablature.

A Brief History on Lute

Lute gained its popularity in Europe in the early 1600s and has reached its peak popularity in the 1700s. Most of you may know Lute as a musical instrument, but it was considered a popular art during The Renaissance and Baroque periods. It however originated in the Arab during the 13th century.

The Arabian version ‘ud’ was a bit different from the European lute. Spanish merchants who often visited Arabia for trade noticed this unique instrument and brought it to Europe. This ‘ud’ was then modified, complied with European tradition and art to produce the instrument now called the lute. 

Compared to the Arabian ‘ud’ lute has a circular large shape with a hole carved in it belly, it is also ornamented with a perforated rose that is attached to its belly. Based on the Arabian ‘ud’ the first lute has 4 strings attached to it.

Composition of Lute

What is a Lute?

Photo By: Robert Niedring


Lutes are made of hardwood, especially maple, rosewood, or ebony. The wooden body is shaped into a flat thin plate, and they contain a hole below the strings that is known as rose. Unlike guitars, the hole is not completely open, rather is it covered with a single grille in the form of a vine. Some of them are also contain a decorated knot in place of a vine that is carved in wood. 


The thickness of a lute’s soundboard varies. It is mostly around 1.5 to 2.5 mm, however, previous craftsmen used to tune the belly of the instrument as by removing the mass and braced it according to the preference of luthiers to produce sonic musical notes. Some lute players used to coat their instrument’s belly with a thin shellac coat to keep it free from dirt. 


The strings of the lute were previously made of animal gut. Nowadays people use a mixture of nylon and animal gut to make its strings. You must be wonder animal gut? Well, there is a reason behind it.

Strings made of animal gut are very good at producing the sound for period pieces. Animal gut, however, is unstable and turns irregular in shape in high humidity. As a result nylon is added along with it to improve its pitch stability. 

A lute’s strings are arranged in a pair, with one string resulting in the highest pitch. The number of strings varies in each lute. Most 8 course lutes played during the age of Renaissance has 15 strings, whereas, a Baroque lute was if 13 courses and had 24 strings. 

Price Range

Lutes are not a common instrument anymore like guitars and drums. They are custom made have a price range from $500 to $1500. However, is you want this instrument with higher courses then it may cost you a bit more than $1500.

Recommended Pieces for Practice

If you are interested in playing the lute or do not know what the full range of lute’s repertoire is, try listening to Cd recordings of lute pieces. There many recordings of lute from different eras.

You can check the Lute society for regular leaflets. They publish a leaflet often containing lute piece recommendations for lute lovers. You can go through lute recitals and also check the CD albums containing instrumental music and vocal audio with lute pieces. You can find these CDs online or order them through amazon. 

Popularity among Musicians

Many of you might not know that lute has been an extremely popular instrument in the 1600s and it rose to its deceased fame again in the 1900s. It has been loved by musicians all over the world for its substantial body of duets, consort, and solo pieces.

As many famous musicians were interested in this instrument during the Renaissance period, many luterians and composers produced some tough and complex repertoires. These are extremely hard to play and at the same time increasing its value in the world of musical instruments.

What is a Lute?

Photo By: chickaz

Bottom Line

Now that you have read our article, you should know what lute is, what kind of music is produces and where it originated from. Do not worry about its tough repertoires; you can be to be a beautiful lute player is you learn to play with the basic techniques properly.

You can also read: How To Read Ukulele Music Notes: A Guide for Beginners

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