I met the original of this cello in 2015, when I and three colleagues made a collaborative copy of it for the Royal Northern College in Manchester. The RNCM owns this lovely instrument, and we were lucky to have it to hand while we were working. It’s since joined my repertoire of cello models.
This one is a commission from a Norwegian cellist; her husband already owns one of my violins so I feel quite privileged to be asked to make another instrument to join it. We spent some time discussing by email what she was looking for in terms of size and sound quality, and felt that this model would be most suited to her.
The original cello has a back and ribs of poplar, and I like to follow this, as it gives added warmth to the sound, as well as looking beautiful. I planed the ribs to thickness, then heat-bent them to shape round the mould. Finally I fitted the linings, narrow strips of pine which reinforce the eventual glue joint of the back and front with the ribs.
While working on the ribs, I’ve made the scroll. I’ve paid a lot of attention to keeping a good line and flow to the shape.
With the ribs finished, it’s time to start work on the back and front. I’ve picked a nice piece of spruce that I bought some years ago in France for the front. I start by drawing round the ribs onto the back and front, then rough out some of the wood from the inside of the plates before I cut them out and roughly shape the arching, creating a mountain of wood shavings in the process. I was able to make templates for the arching based on the original cello. These are a great aid to remembering what shape I’m after.
I’ve finalised the outline and started the process of fitting the purfling. I cut a channel around the edge of the back and front and bend and fit a sandwich of white willow between two pieces of black-dyed pear. Once all the strips of purfling are bent and the joints cut, I glue it in place, tapping gently with a small hammer. So just in time for Christmas, the cello has made a very good start.
With the purfling in, I’ve been able to finalise the arching. The original Francesco Ruggieri arching is beautiful; very sinuous and curvy, flowing beautifully around the edges and F-holes. I’ve tried my best to reproduce that.
After arching comes thicknessing; taking the wood out of the inside of the back and front until the weight, flexibility and the sound the wood makes when tapped all feel right. This will be different for all instruments, dependent on the qualities of the wood and the shape of the arching, and it’s one of the areas where long years of experience really help.
That done, I’ve cut the f-holes, one of the most pleasurable parts of making an instrument. But for a cello I wish I had longer arms. It’s quite a reach to the middle of the front with my knife!
The final task before gluing the body together is to fit the bass bar, which strengthens the front and enhances the lower register of the cello.
I think that assembling the body is my favourite part of making a cello. It’s magical when the separate parts come together and the cello becomes truly three dimensional. And I love the relationship of the wood of the back and the ribs, particularly in this case with the strong grain of the poplar.
And the final part, fitting the neck. This demands a carefully planned approach and a quiet day. The joint has to be mechanically good, and accurate in three dimensions. Before I glue the neck in place, I do much of the shaping, as it’s easier without a cello body in the way! The cello is now waiting for the varnishing stage.
The cello is now finished. It has an oil varnish in a warm brown colour, which really shows off the grain of the poplar. I’ve set it up with lovely blackwood and ebony fittings, a French-style bridge and Larsen Magnacore strings. The sound is even, silky and warm, with good power and projection.