This is a lovely commission; a viola that has been ordered to be ready for a small viola playing son, and also when he has outgrown it to become part of the collection of the Benslow Loan Scheme; ‘”to put something back” as my customer says. Good for him.
I’ve made many of these small violas which are great for their young players as they give a real viola sound, and are light and easy to play.
I build them slightly differently from my conventional instruments; I make the back and front first and then build the ribs on the back. I’ve picked a nice, old piece of figured maple for the back. It is strong and has a good grain structure. The wide-grained front is, I think, ideal viola material. So I start straight away by finalising the outlines and roughing the arching shapes. Then I cut the purfling channel and inlay the purfling before finishing the arching.
The next stage was to finish the thicknessing. This has to be done very carefully for the small violas; they need to be quite light but still strong in order to work well. Then I started to make the ribs; I glued the top and bottom blocks to the ribs, bent and glued the ribs then started fitting the linings (which reinforce the gluing surface with the back and front).
The ribs are now finished, read to assemble the viola, and while all this gluing is happening, I make the neat light head which I think complements the simplicity of the body.
I’ve cut the f-holes and fitted the bass bar, so all is ready to ‘close the box’.
And now I’ve fitted and shaped the neck, so the viola is finished ‘in the white’, ready for varnishing.
The viola is now finished. It’s had three coats of oil varnish, a warm golden brown colour. I’ve set it up carefully, paying attention as ever to the cut of the bridge and the fit of the soundpost. First impressions are that the sound is very good; a real viola quality of warmth and resonance.