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Buying a lute

Because the lute is a relatively uncommon instrument, mass produced instruments are rare (and those that do exist are generally of poor quality and are to be avoided).  Therefore you should expect to pay more for your lute than you would for a guitar from your local music shop, but you can get a beautiful hand made instrument for a reasonable price.

While you're shopping around for a lute, try as many instruments as you can.  This can be done by trying other people's instruments at Lute Society events and playing days, and by visiting lute makers and the Early Music Shop.  The Lute Society occasionally holds weekend long lute exhibitions, where you can try out lutes from different makers without any pressure to buy.

Until you know what to look for in an instrument, the best option is usually to rent a lute from the Lute Society

Tuning Pegs

Should I buy a lute with machine heads rather than pegs? No. They are heavy, ugly, and no better than well kept pegs.

Lute pegs traditionally have a heart-shaped head. Sometimes these are in the form of two spherical lobes (modelled after the pegs in the lute in Holbein's painting "The Ambassadors"). Such pegs are incredibly uncomfortable to use.  And anything which punishes you for keeping your lute properly in tune, is to be avoided.

Should I buy a left-handed lute?

Probably not.  

The advantage of doing so is that you can learn with your dominant hand doing the plucking the same as other lutenists. However, the technical demands on both hands are considerable, so this may not be such a big advantage.

The disadvantages are, that it will be hard to buy, and later sell your instrument.  If playing in ensembles (such as at Lute Society events) you will only ever be able to play your own instrument, and will miss out on a lot of pleasurable opportunities for experimentation.