Welcome to the official webpage of the NAUTILAUTA, an instrument I started designing around 2008, and whose first ever version was finished June 20, 2012 by luthier Josh Humphrey of Eugene, Oregon.

Though it has existed in the form of brainwaves and pixels lo these many years, its actual realization comes about as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign undertaken throughout February, 2012.

The names of each contributor to that campaign appear below with my great thanks and appreciation! Please check them out!


Here is the best video on the instrument at the moment, but you can also see it being played here and here.


Immediately below are pictures that Josh took on the day it was finished - click on them to see each one much larger! Below that are: a short video about the instrument, some photos of its construction, and a brief history of the design process and details - enjoy!

Immediately below is the video that served as the first promotional material for the Kickstarter campaign.  

Erratum: the diagram for the guitar chord "E7" in the video should say "E flat 7" - ah, well!

Thanks go to Roger Landes for permission to use his image of the buzuq in the video above; the instrument was made for him by Samir Azar (from a bowl back by Viken Najarian).


By clicking on these links you can read up on the differences between 12-tone Equal Temperament and Just Intonation (and for the more adventurous, you might peruse the Xenharmonic Wiki).1 Click here for information on what's going on with this instrument's fretting, specifically.

Click on any image to see it much larger.  

Walnut back and sides, redwood top, spruce bracing... here it comes! (April 12, 2012 - J.H.)  

Here's Josh hand-planing the top! (This video doesn't stream like the one above, so your browser has to download the whole thing ... that takes a while, so enjoy the photos below and come back here in a minute or two ... thanks!)  

Here is the as-yet-unshaped bracing (they'll end up much thinner and more delicate looking). I've never had an instrument with this kind of "lattice" bracing before and am really "listening forward" to playing it. This bracing technique is relatively new, having been invented by Australian guitar luthier Greg Smallman only a few decades ago. Since this instrument has no sound hole cut into the top (another rare feature - in this case in imitation of the Turkish tanbur) the whole top will get to vibrate like a drumhead (... you wouldn't want a hole in drumhead, right?), and for that reason the special ability of this kind of bracing to stabilize the top evenly is much desired.

Those of you who have seen my "blueprints" for this instrument will be as surprised as I was to see that Josh is bracing the back with lattice bracing also, but what's good for the goose is good for the gander, and I'll be glad to hear how it comes out. I understand that generally lattice bracing makes an instrument extra resonant and loud... I've got fingers crossed into a little lattice of my own!

A close-up of the bracing beneath the top.

Here is the raw neck of the thing ... see it being made in this exciting short video (May 14, 2012).

Coming together!

Wow... that logo really came out well!

Buffed and ...

ready for the last bits: tuners, nut, bridge, tailpiece and strings. Nice, right? (Thanks again Josh Humphrey! June 19, 2012.)




My first ideas about the Nautilauta (as imagined in the graphic above) came from wanting to mix Fred Carlson's unfortunately discontinued dreadnautilus and a Turkish lâvta.2 It turns out that microtonalist Augusto Novaro had also had the idea for a guitar with a similarly shaped body, apparently as early as the 1930s (hat tip to John Schneider for that information!), but to my knowledge the Nautilauta, even at this stage, would be the first metal-fretted, plucked-string "lute"-type instrument intended to play all the tones appropriate for classical Turkish music (or any other makam-based music).

That version would have had a few more frets than a lâvta, actually; probably the same frets as a Turkish tanbur but with a shorter scale length. It might also have been called a tamir, which more or less means "fixed" in Turkish, to contrast with the bozuk or bouzouki, which means "broken" (...and what's broken about it? Can't get all the notes, of course!).


The place where the upper bout meets the neck marks the octave, and the highest fret marks an octave and a fifth from open strings. Looking at it here I notice that the ratio between the width of the nut and that of the bridge should be slightly greater; here it's about 2:3, but on this version I'd want it to be around 4:7, like on a cümbüş.

The instruments above show the Nautilauta's development into its flat-backed form, and with the body actually in the shape of a Fibonacci spiral, expressing the Golden Mean, which in my mind goes well conceptually with Just Intonation.

It also made sense to me to have a larger resonating area for the bass side and a smaller one for the treble. The original designs without sound-holes would have had a "floating" soundboard with a space between the edge and the face, like Carlevaro's guitars (though the current version is simply closed).

I also asked some design questions such as, "what would the acoustic effect of a nautilus' chambers in place of bracing be?" In the response above, the skin head could be optional - the whole face here needs redesigning, actually - but it would be nice to be able to see the chambers. In any case, currently the Nautilauta has an open plan inside; the "chambers" experiment will have to wait a bit.

Ultimately (or at least currently!) I expanded the Nautilauta beyond classical Turkish fretting to include frets for playing all of the musics of the greater Mediterranean and Mesopotamian culture zone: maqam musics in the Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi, Levantine, and Egyptian styles; classical Persian music; and really, all musics (especially of the Mediterranean Basin) that would normally be sung in Just Intonation if/when not accompanied by tempered instruments.

Click the graphic below for an explanation of why I chose these ratios for the Nautilauta.

_______________________________ The Backers ______________________________

Below are the names, in alphabetical order, of each "backer" of the Nautilauta Kickstarter Project (February 2012) ... I am happy to express many thanks to each of them!

Voula Aldritch
Erkan Altan
Kara Attrep
Michael Benedict
Luciano Berenhauser
John Brainard
Brendan Byrnes
Brendan Carroll
Claire Catania
Jason Christensen
Roy and Rebecca Conant
Daniel Cossu
Jonathan Cossu
Nakul Deshpande
Greg Ederer
Pablo Escun
Daniel Espiritu
Liz Feldman
Sonia Fernandez
Rob Fielding
Andrea Fishman
Laura Forgie
Fretless Guitar Festival (via Michael Vick)
George Fronimopoulos
Jerry Fugate
Rami Gabriel
Amanda "Snobahr" Geyer
Steve Gibons
Denise Gill-Gürtan
Mina Girgis
Jake Goff
Adam Good
Lillie Gordon
Joy Hagler
Jason Hallows
Chris J. Hampton
Anna Hennessey
Paul Hersh
David Howard
Russ Humphrey
Peter Hyoguchi
Nessim Isa
Kelly Morse Johnson
Richard Johnson
Max Katz
Sean Kennedy
Mavrothi T. Kontanis
Lev Koszegi
Ami Kyle
Stan Lanning
Jeremie Lariviere
Arto Lauerma
Dan Lazar
Katherine Sue Ledum
Adam Lucke
Graham MacDonald
Andy Marshall
Mary Hofer-Farris
Anthony McCann
Will McClintock
Katherine Meizel
Joseph Moffitt
Jeffrey Muhr
Scott Myers
Bahram Osqueezadeh
Jon Parsons
Tess Popper
Wendy Posson
Frances Prevas
Chris Ptacek
April Renae
Bruce Shipman
Clifford Smith
Leigh Ann Starcevich
Ken Sterling
Mary Ann Sullivan
Katie Sweeney
Dylan Tarre
Joel Taylor
Amish Tom
Cooper Troxell
Ethan Turpin
Jatila van der Veen
Rob Vollmar
Paul Wernick
Carlton J. Wilkinson
Kevin Wilson
Matt Wright
Noreen Yamamoto

Again many thanks for your support! _________________________________________________________________________________

1 Occasionally someone goes out of his ( - and as of yet they have all been males - ) way to let me know that the quality of being "in tune" is not limited to what we call Just Intonation - i.e., that even Equal Temperaments are also "in tune." Let me here return the favor by disagreeing. On one level it is merely a matter of semantics: our ability to speak clearly on the subject is enhanced by having a descriptive term that distinguishes between those sounds that can and do occur "naturally" (that is, with or without human manipulation) in a particular order as a result of the vibration of any object at a given fundamental frequency, and those that can and do occur only either randomly and with extreme rarity (in "nature") or on human-made instruments built for the task that purposively frustrate such an order yet are in accord with the rules governing the particular idiosyncratic system used (for instance, a temperament). The term I learned and prefer that refers to the former quality is (the quality of being) "in tune," and the tones thus produced occur in whole number ratio relations to each other, even when we perceive certain pitches to be relatively dissonant to each other, or when multiple fundamentals play simultaneously, along with their overtones, at such uniform volume that sonically we perceive "white noise," "pink noise," etc. Devices that deliberately do not create such whole number ratio relations between the fundamental pitches it provides may offer pitches in agreement with a system (and their appropriateness when "tuning" - that is, tempering - must be measured in terms of that system and nothing else) are deliberately not "in tune." Indeed, it is no secret that they were invented to artificially approximate "in tune-ness" from multiple fundamentals in order to suit a desire to modulate from any key to any other key. Before one of them - 12-tone Equal Temperament - became so ubiquitous that most "Western" musicians never learn that for thousands of years instruments and music used only whole number ratios of vibration, temperaments could only be spoken of in terms of their measured deviations from that which everyone understood to be the "natural" tuning; now, afterward, most "Western" musicians conflate any deviation from 12-tET - and often mere dissonance itself - with the quality of being "out of tune."

But just as your great-grandparents never ate any food that was not "organic" (which today is a special category of food, and not the normative one in most persons' diet), it is a matter of failing to upgrade the terminology to reflect a changing reality; these ancestors had no reason for a term such as "organic" - what they ate was "food." But anyone today unable to conceive of or express a difference between, say, Coca-Cola and water, Cheez Whiz and cheese, Chicken McNuggets and chicken, in terms of their definitions as "food," is likely to suffer for it. That is not a "value judgment" fetishizing "the natural" over "the artificial" (an idea that some bring to the argument) - even cheese is a manipulation of the ("natural") process of fermentation (though it seems to be closer to "naturally occurring" processes than the mass production of vats of "partially hydrogenated soy protein," whatever that is). Musical instruments, also - even those that are "in tune" - are objects manipulated to maximize the clarity of ("naturally occurring") fundamental tones. Humans manipulate "nature" - that's nothing new, and I'm not trying to tell anyone to live one way rather than another; listen to what you like, eat what you want to eat. But I don't see any advantage in thinking that banana-flavored pudding is as naturally "banana-like" as a real banana, or that music in a temperament designed to approximate that which used to be called "in tune" is as "in tune" as the Just Intonation ratios that defined all human understanding of "in tune-ness" roughly between the Mesopotamian Bronze Age and a couple hundred years ago.

2 I have gotten a few commenters in other forums asking whether or not I know of Fred Carlson's Dreadnautilus, apparently concerned whether or not I had credited him for the design; I am happy to say that, although I mentioned no builder but Josh Humphrey in the promotional material for the Kickstarter project, I have indeed been crediting Mr. Carlson here since 2008. Please also see the main text and FAQs sections here for acknowledgment of my acquaintance with the works - both theoretical and practical - of such instrument innovators as Ozan Yarman, Tolgahan Çoğulu, and Erkan Oğur, who have used different approaches toward solving similar intonation problems. (I learned of Shahab Tolouie's "solution" in May of 2012... interesting!)

While I am at it, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge here the works of King Shulgi of Ur, certain anonymous 19th century BCE Babylonian scribes, Pythagoras of Samos (though he did not cite his sources), Euclid of Alexandria, Ishaq al-Mausili, Yahya ibn 'Ali al-Munajjim, Abu 'Ali ibn Sina, Safiuddin al-Urmawi, Dimitrie Cantemir, and more modern scholars such as Michel Mashaqa, Rauf Yekta, Suphi Ezgi, H.S. Arel, M. Ekrem Karadeniz, Scott Marcus, Amnon Shiloah, Walter Feldman, Owen Wright, Hormoz Farhat and yet others (for whose works see the bibliography of my dissertation).

Incidentally, I have been collecting images of instruments from the Internet for some years, now, and do not always remember where I got them. As can be seen throughout this webste, when I know the provenance of such an image I make a point of crediting whom I can. Several such photos appear as "generic" exemplars in the video above; I believe that their appearance here is permissible under the "fair use" aspect of U.S. copyright law, but if you should see an image on this website for which you believe you or someone you know should receive credit, please let me know, I'd be happy to give credit where it is due.


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