This is fast becoming my signature violin model! I made it for the first time last year as a commission for a front-desk player in the Hallé Orchestra; I thought it would meet her requirements, and I love its quirky charm and asymmetry. There are many aspects of the design which work especially well to create a sound which is rich and warm but also responsive and sparkly when needed.
The original violin is in the collection of the Royal Academy of Music, and I was lucky to be granted access to measure and photograph it, so each time I’ve made it I can refer back to my drawings and images.
This time the violin is a commission from a talented young player from Reading, who learns with the owner of one of my violins; she thought the quality of sound of my instruments would suit him well. Henry came to try the previous violin of this model that I made, and he and his parents were happy enough to commission one for him.
As ever, I’ve started by making the rib assembly. The ribs are strips of maple planed to 1mm thick, bent using heat and glued to the blocks which are recessed into the mould. Once all the ribs are glued into place, I fit the linings, small counter-strips of spruce which increase the eventual gluing surface with the back and front.
While the glue dries on the various rib joints, I’ve worked on the scroll. This is also made from maple.
Now it’s time to start work on the back and front. I offered Henry a choice of wood for the back, sending him photos of pieces of maple which I thought would work well both visually and acoustically for his violin. He picked this striking one-piece back, which I bought in 2018 when it was already, I guess, about 50 years old. The front came from the same source and is equally old, a lovely even-grown piece of spruce. The picture shows the outlines finalised and the arching roughly shaped.
This done, I then fit the purfling, the decorative inlay round the edge of the violin. I make this myself, a sandwich of willow between two strips of pear wood dyed black. First I cut a channel round the edge of the plates, then bend and trim the purfling to fit. Once the purfling has been glued into place, I start the work to finalise the arching, sinking a channel around the edge of the back and front with the purfling near the lowest point. This gives the definition to the edges and the lovely curves of the arching rise from it.
Now comes one of my favourite parts, finishing the arching. I made careful guides that follow the arching of the original Strad, and have used them to try to recreate this lovely high, full arching, quite characteristic of the later instruments from the Stradivari workshop.
With the arching finished, I turn the plates over and give my attention to their thickness. How much wood to take out is as much an art as a science and I depend largely on my instinct and experience, tapping and flexing the plates until they sound and feel right. I also check the weights, not working to a specific number but just to be sure I’m in the right range.
The final task for the front is to fit the bass bar, which as the name suggests, helps support the lower frequencies of the violin.
Then I take the ribs off the mould, finalise the internal shapes, glue the back to the ribs and then finally, my favourite Friday job, glue the front.
Once the glue is dry, I take the cramps off and finish the edgework, so that the body is ready for neck fitting. Once the neck is in, I finalise its shape so that it is comfortable in the hand.
And now we have the violin finished ‘in the white’, ready for the long and complex varnishing process.
After several weeks of careful work, the violin is now varnished, a lovely warm honey caramel colour, with the wood shining through well. I’ve set it up carefully, and while waiting for a good player to try it, the sound seems rich and balanced.