Bowed lyre

The ancient instrument of Estonian Swedes

Bowed lyre

Bowed lyre or bowed harp is a violin like string instrument which is played with a bow. Melody is played on the first two strings and the rest two sound along continuously as a drone.

This instrument, called Talharpa in Swedish, was brought along by Estonian Swedes to the island Vormsi.

Europe has a long history of bowed harp like instruments. They are likely to originate from the British Isles, from which they came through Scandinavia to Estonia and Finland. The sound of a bowed lyre is not as clean as a violin but is pleasantly mild and original. Although various melodies are suitable for this instrument, usually folk tunes are played on it.

Instrument building is a real masterpiece

Building musical instruments is a high skill and technology, which takes for its masters many years to develop. Traditionally, these instruments are all handmade, because how else would there be an instrument with a soul. The long process begins with a careful selection of wood, which must be dried for several years. Even nowadays some people prefer to build their bowed lyre by themselves to create the sense of an ancient tradition, when each player had to build its own instrument with its own tools.

Testing modern technology

I took up the challenge to build an amateur but in itself a nice thing. Modern technology can be a great help to make a more complicated and beautiful instrument than it is possible by hand. First, I needed to design and engineer a 3D model in CAD. This is also the most time-consuming process, but the result was worth it. I had an analogous lyre to copy basic measures and structure. However, as an inexpert instrument builder, I used expert advice to reckon with many specific nuances.

All the wooden parts of the lyre are made in CNC lathe and milling machine, only the final touch is given by hand. The sound box is made of two laminated timber pieces, which are glued together. By milling it is possible to have extremely thin, accurate and equal walls that would not be achievable by hand. Moreover, the details were finished just in few hours. For better tuning, the strings are made of fishing line, even though they do not sound as mild as horse hair.

Bowed lyre

 

Bowed lyre