I’ve had a like a long period of catching up with odd jobs, varnishing and finishing instruments, also preparing and cooking resins for varnish, and some work for the charity I chair which supports student violin makers, www.rabtrust.org.
Now at last I’m properly back at the workbench, with an exciting new project.
I’ve had this cello model in my sight for ages, and in fact bought the wood for the mould in the spring, but other work intervened. It’s a very late Stradivari cello, to a pattern unique in Strad’s output. It’s quite long but very narrow. I’m always interested in the ergonomics of instruments, and I’ve wondered if the narrowness might be an asset; less flexion of the hips giving more freedom to the spine.
I’ve become intrigued with concept of narrower instruments; normally I think greater width gives richness to the bass. But a couple of years ago I made a copy of an early viola by Matthew Hardie which is also quite narrow, and worked surprisingly well. And more recently I’ve made three versions of the late Stradivari ‘Habeneck’ violin, also fairly narrow, but which have been certainly some of the most successful violins I’ve made. So this is the cello to match. Another interesting aspect of the design is that the C bouts are exceptionally long, a feature associated with a good bass register, and something in common with the Matthew Hardie viola design. So, we’ll see… I’m always up for a challenge.
The preparation for a new cello model is always time-consuming. Drawings, templates, and the mould. But all done now, and I’ve been bending ribs.
Next up, the scroll. I’ve really enjoyed trying to capture the clean workmanship and the lovely sinuous curves of the Stradivari scroll.
The back of the cello is from a nicely figured piece of maple I bought in France about 20 years ago. It’s a slightly narrow piece, so perfect for this cello; I’d been saving it for a narrow instrument! I start by drawing round the ribs onto the back and front, and then starting the hollowing before I even cut out the outline. This reduces a lot of weight early on, making the plates much lighter and easier to handle. And by removing as much wood as possible early on, it means that when I come to final thicknessing, the work goes faster, lending fluency when it really counts.
I’m now doing the preliminary arching of the plates. The photo shows the front, another narrow piece from my stocks; a lovely quality piece of spruce from northern Italy, picked for me by a guitar maker friend who went there to buy wood for himself a couple of years ago.
I use a selection of planes to form the arching shape, lined up here. The wooden ones are all homemade. They wear out after a few years – the friction of the wood flattens the soles – so one of them is a new replacement. This also gives me an opportunity to refine the design.