L'épinette des Vosges

Make one's instrument

The épinette des Vosges is a popular musical instrument and its making is quite easy ; the nearly whole manufacturers are amateurs ; this popular tradition reoccurs in copying the authentic instruments that we can find : museums, collectors, Vosges homes are many sources of inspiration : the most common and historic examples have five strings, a whole lenght about 420 and 600 millimetres long and a vibrating lenght about 315 and 480 millimetres long. The big width is about 70 and 80 millimetres wide and the small one is about 47 and 60 millimetres wide. The woods used are often fruit woods, but they can also be maple or spruce. Actually there are not any rules.

There are a few old uncommon instruments from an unknown origin, with greater dimensions, three or four strings with which one chromatic does not have a bourdon. But nothing allows to authenticate them. The only clue that allows us to assure that they are really épinettes des Vosges is the account of the meeting between Baron Mengin Fondragon and Père Vincent (Father Vincent ) when the latter said that he had "improved" the instrument in adding another string. But in this text it is written that the instrument measures 1.5 foot.

There are two ways to tighten the strings : the wooden pegs like the ones of a violon or the mechanics of a guitar or a mandoline .

It seemed that the mechanics had appeared about 1885 in Amé Lambert's making in Le Val d'Ajol 



The most tricky in the making is the sharing out of the frets, these 14 or 17 elements hammered in the table and irregularly shared out because they are arranged in a diatonic way. There are several ways to determine the space between the frets ; one of theses ways is often used :

the frettage according to a tempered scale.

It is the most common method : you are to spare out equally the 7 tones and the 5 semitones on an octave. When you want to go the note of a string up an octave, you have to shorten this string by the half of its lenght. As there are 12 notes - 7 tone and 5 semitones - you have to apply the opposite formula of the twelth root of 2 to get the space between each tone and semitone. Then we remove the semitones and we get the required diatonic frettage.




50.00 cm


producing the note without touching anything

47.19 cm

G sharp


44.54 cm


first space

42.04 cm

A sharp


39.69 cm


second space

37.46 cm


third space

35.36 cm

C sharp

33.37 cm


fourth space

31.50 cm

D sharp


29.73 cm


fifth space

28.06 cm


sixth space

26.49 cm

F sharp


25.00 cm


the half vibrating lenght = octave


And so for the following notes ; to simplify, we only takje 2 decimal places, but you have to make the calculations with 12 decimal places to get these precise results.

Here is the formula : twelth root of 2 = 1.05946394359

1 divided by the twelth root of 2 = 0.9438743126817

So : 50 x 0.943873126817 = 47.19371563408 that we have run down to 47.19 in the list.

Of course these marks are theoritical, you have to take the pointer of the string into account, you have to adjust the trestle with a tuner or you have to hear accurately the harmonic to get an instrument with a well-tempered scale.

Now you may take one aspirin to get better !!


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