The lirone, or lira da gamba, is the bass member of the lira family of instruments and is a bowed string instrument that has between 9 and 16 gut strings – mine has lucky 13 and was made by Melbourne luthier Ian Watchorn. It is held with the legs like a viol and, also like the viol, its neck is generally fretted. I’d just love to see somebody have a go at playing it in tune without frets! The lirone was primarily used in Italy during the late 16th and early 17th centuries (and particularly in the time of Claudio Monteverdi) to provide continuo, or harmony for the accompaniment of mostly vocal music. It has an almost flat bridge which means at least three and up to five strings lie under the bow at all times. It is unique in being a single instrument that is able to bow and therefore sustain harmonies with varying of dynamic and attack – a bit like a consort of viols all in one – and the sound is a lovely shimmering effect.