Attention Cheapskates, Paki-bashers, Hoi Polloi!

10-03-2012

For all those referred from the Dartmouth site:

Tsktsking Wayne Cripps  on the term Paki is out of line. He was merely quoting what I wrote here.

For those of you who are ready to paint me as racist. You can stop reading and exit this website right now.I ‘ve no need for your  uber political correctness.

The term came up when I worked with an  internist who hailed from London. He brought it to my attention that many of the ER visits in London were the result of an unfortunate pastime of some rather unpleasant people engaging in ” Paki bashing. ” Since then I’ve had all manner of people refer to their Cheap Ebay lutes as their Paki- lutes. I didn’t come up with that term. What is write about is merely a reflection of what many of you have been saying.In a quick search through the Lute message board archives just searching the term “Paki” yielded 57  responses with that term. The term was used in equal proportion from writers from the US  and  Europe . European responses came from a variety of sources , Scotland, England France and Italy. For those decrying it as insulting in England you only have to look at the source.

My favorite subjects: The cheap , the bad and the ugly and when Lute players whine.

Our friend Mike was recently gifted a lute. Mike being a horn player didn’t know the first thing about lutes. He called me and asked me to check out his new lute. When he walked up the stairs it was quite evident what he had. The trapezoidal red vinyl case gave it away : a Middle eastern made Lute or one of the infamous Paki Lutes. I had seen one of these ten years ago and I have to admit I was tremendously underwhelmed and a bit appalled.

My impression of the Paki lute ten years ago was this: crude at best. The top was made of a rough grade pine, the rose although simple looked as if it had cut with a kitchen knife, the bowl was very rounded with no faceting on the ribs , the pegbox very crude and sticklike with pegs that had been cut rather than turned. The pegs ,to be polite were impossible to tune and hold. On top of that the fingerboard was out of true and the action terrible. And you were waiting for me  to  say but… it had the sweetest tone? No, on the contrary; it played like a pig had terrible tone , and no projection with the notes dying quite quickly. In short : It was a piece of junk , a complete waste of money and lumber.

Since then countless people have defended these Paki Lutes and have played them on videos on Youtube and Lute.ning. I thought either they were very good players who either transcended their instruments or they had doctored the recordings.

Back to Mike : I was expecting see another one of these pieces of junk as we opened the case. This is what I saw : A well put together bowl of Paulownia and rosewood with white spacers.  The body outline was close to that of a Venere . The slightly flattened side profile was quite pleasant . The enclasp was of a rosewood ,although plain it was neither offensive or crude.

paki lute front

The top: made of even fine grain spruce , probably Englemen spruce with a rose in the style of Venere. The rose itself had the right pattern but was still clumsily cut. The voids were there in the right places but the line work was crudely chamfered.  The solid rosewood neck was pleasantly shaped with a good taper. The pegbox was crude in many respects, the peg holes were not on center with the length of the pegbox taper, The relief channels on either side were very crude chamfers. The interior pegbox block was  a very crude rosewood ramp as was the ebony nut. The nut was very crudely cut with very deep string channels that kept the strings from moving across the nut. The pegs were made of ebony ; The good news: they were turned and tapered. The bad news: they didn’t fit the holes and were impossible to turn. More bad news : the pegheads clear each with about 3/32 of inch between the pegs and the pegheads are really thin. Pretty tough to handle.paki rose detail

Some remarks about the playability at this point : the nut spacing at ____mm is adequate for a seven course but really crowded for an eight course. The first three course were so close together that it was impossible to play.

What to do? The strings were removed so that the pegs could be removed and lubricated with peg dope. The nut was recut and respaced . The first six courses were evenly spaced and the seventh and eight courses were crowded onto the bass side.paki peghead

And how did it play and sound? Surprising to me…not bad at all. Not a very big voice but sweet and even on the first four courses.  The action was quite reasonable .What do I think of this thing ? It’s not as bad as I had imagined it. It actually could make a very satisfactory first instrument: consider the cost : My first impression was that all these middle Eastern Lutes were all the same; they’re not. Apparently this model sells for $700 to $900 depending upon the vendor. That’s a far cry from the $350 -$400 Paki lute.

What you get are better materials, a nicer bowl and something that is closer to a Venere copy. Some aspects such as the bowl construction (the actual bowl) and the symmetry of the top are quite good , but other features such as the pegbox construction are still crude ( you can see over extended saw marks and some very rough surfaces ). However you need to keep in mind that the nut needs to be recut , and the pegs refitted. Depending upon whose shop you take it to this could run into another hundred dollars worth of work. It’s not a Paul Thompson Lute but at this price what did you expect?

2 Responses to “Attention Cheapskates, Paki-bashers, Hoi Polloi!”


  • Interesting Mel. I’d just assumed they were as bad as ever. Also, I look at a lute as a good investment as long as it’s a playable instrument ,though say save up and have a proper one built. Need to give you luthiers something to do…

  • I’ve been eying some of these on Ebay and would most likely buy one next year after taxes.They run a little over $700 and some blemished models have been offered for under $600.There’s a cheaper Descant model & Travel model for under $500 but I do wonder about the quality.That’s pretty much what I could afford and willing to pay for.I’ll go for the 7 course.

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