I’ve made these violas regularly over the years. I came up with the design as a way of making a manageable instrument with an excellent sound that would be slightly less expensive to make than a standard viola design, so ideal for younger players. Several institutions have asked me to make these violas for loan to their pupils including the junior department of the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham’s School of Music. A number of adults have also bought this model, finding it comfortable and responsive. This one is destined for my rental scheme.
This week I’ve started work on the back and front. For the back I’ve chosen a piece of slab-sawn maple with an attractive mottled figure, light in weight. The front is from spruce that I bought in France a few years ago, with a good broad grain which is ideally suited to violas. Firstly I roughed out the arching of the back and front, and after finalising the outlines, I fitted the purfling. Once that was done, I was able to finish the back and front archings.
The next stage was to thickness the back and front. I start by removing the bulk of the wood with one of my homemade wooden scrub planes, and then finish with small brass thumb planes and scrapers. Each piece of wood is different as regards its density and stiffness, so as I get close to my idea of what the final thickness will be, I tap the wood and check its flexibility and weight, taking off small amounts until I’m happy with how it sounds and feels.
With the thicknessing finished, I’ve started work on the ribs. For this model of viola, I build them directly on the back, using a simple wooden frame to support the blocks which reinforce the ribs at the top, bottom and corners. The ribs themselves are made of maple, planed down to just over 1mm thick.
While I’ve been continuing work on the ribs, I made the head for the viola. It’s small, simple and light and I hope echoes the aesthetic of the body. This week, my friend IJmkje van der Werf, a skilled violin maker and repairer in her own right, has been helping in the workshop. For this viola she finished the inside of the rib assembly, cut the f-holes and fitted the bass bar.
With all the separate parts of the viola finished, I was able to glue on the front and fit the neck.
I’ve now shaped the neck and finished the viola ‘in the white’, prior to varnishing.
The viola is now finished; varnished and set up. The varnish is a warm golden brown, just three coats of unpigmented varnish, the colour just from long slow cooking of the resin to oxidise it. It’s very transparent and shows the figure of the wood to good advantage.