In a bygone age before the standardisation of the orchestra Luthiers seemed to be involved in the making of all kinds of weird and wonderful instruments. Many were evolutionary ancestors to instruments we recognise today or off-shoots the the greater luthierie tree of life. Others were quite bazaar and unusual when compared to the standard forms we are familiar with.

One such instrument, almost forgotten, near extinction is the Tromba Marine. With little resemblance to a trumpet and no connection to the sea this instrument is a curiosity to behold. Dating from sometime in the 1500’s its form is of a large bowed mono-chord with a unique bridge designed to vibrate against the instruments body producing a sound much like a trumpet!

Tromba Marine Bridge

As shown in the absolutely fine drawing above, the bridge has one leg ever so slightly shorter than the other. When the string vibrates the fixed leg transmits the sound to the instruments top while the shorter leg physically taps the instruments top. This produces a raspy sound reminiscent of the brass family. Beyond this there is little information for the aspiring Trumpet Marine builder to follow. The instrument is present in a few museum collections and is mentioned in the venerable Journal of Experimental Musical Instruments.

Thus I decided to rely on my experience of building classical guitars, the restriction of what materials I had to hand, and could afford to potentially sacrifice, and little imagination (making it up as you go along). My design ultimately had two bowable strings (to make it Twice as good?) and 10 sympathetic internal strings (to make it 10x as fun).

The bracing pattern will be instantly familiar to any one accustomed to looking inside classical guitars. No historical examples I know of used bracing, but as a modern addition these allow the top to be made thinner and lighter to gain a greater strength to weight ratio resulting in a louder instrument. The top is a recycled piano soundboard laboriously hand planed from about 10mm thick down to 3mm.

Tromba Marine Braces

The Rosette is carved into the top as was common on many baroque instruments. The design is fist done on paper and attached to a piece of thin wood using hide glue. This serves as both a template and also adds strength to the rosette.

Tromba Marine Rosette

The neck was made from a plank of cedar. On the left you can see the holes for 10 zither pins to tune the 10 internal strings. On the right you can see my fist attempt at carving a scroll.

Tromba Marine Neck

The rosette also acts as a hatch to allow the tuning of the sympathetic strings. In a slight departure from the renaissance this cover is held in place by two neodymium magnets which were salvaged from a hard disk drive. The magnets are epoxied into the neck while metal inserts are embedded the rosette plate. Everything is hidden by a fine blue felt (taken from the base of a bedside lamp).

Tromba Marine Sympathetic Strings

Here you can see the sides in place attached in the traditional manner using tantallones and the cedar back braces in place. The back and sides were cut from an old wardrobe an initially had a horrible old cracked varnish poorly applied. Some judicious sanding and french polishing produced an unexpectedly good result.

Tromba Marine Back

I decided to make my own cocobolo tuning pegs to match the cocobolo fingerboard and bindings. I used a plane to roughly shape the peg shafts and carved the heads separately. The shafts were then turned in a peg shaver (basically a big pencil sharpener) and the heads were attached using brass rod.

A little geometry was added to the heel quite by random and an ebony heel cap tops it off.

Tromba Marine Pegs and heel

Around the base of the instrument cocoblo and ebony trim for strength and beauty.

Tromba Marine Pegs and heel

I was very pleased with the results of this project as I was unsure how/if it would work out in the end. Working without detailed plans and peer precedent usually associated was building more conventional instruments was fun and challenging. Below is a video of the first trumpet marine heard in Scotland for quite some time.

You can see some of my creations on Google+ and for sale on etsy.

Also check out my OpenBazaar listings.