New year, new lockdown. We violin makers are so lucky to have work we enjoy and I really feel the benefit of a nice warm, quiet, safe environment to work in. Never has my lovely purpose-built workshop seemed more enticing.
As orders are thin on the ground I’m enjoying continuing my exploration of models I’ve either not made before, or not for some time. I wanted to make another violin. The last three have all been to a Stradivari model I love and which works really well, but I thought I might have a change, so settled on this. Carlo Bergonzi was the last of the great Cremonese makers; he had a small output, almost all violins, but lovely and quite distinctive. I’ve made this model a few times, and always liked it, so I thought it would be fun to pick it up again, particularly with reference to the 1735 ‘Habeneck’ I’ve been making recently, close in date.
As ever, I start with making the ribs. I’m using a maple one-piece back which was thick enough to allow me to saw off a wedge of wood big enough to get three sets of ribs from; a nice eco-solution to not wasting good wood! And I always like a good bit of vigorous hand sawing.
The ribs are planed to just over 1mm thickness then bent and glued to the mould. Then the linings are fitted; small strips of spruce which reinforce the eventual gluing surface with the back and front.
Then I’ve worked on the scroll. This one is fun; presaging the eccentricity of the later scrolls of Guarneri del Gesu, wide eyes shown to advantage with a narrow second turn. I’ve been working from photos, hoping to capture the elusive spirit of the original.
Now the fun really starts, working on the back and front. I start by making a start on hollowing out the plates; which means I have done as much in advance as possible and can work fast and fluently at the finish. After the hollowing, I cut out the outlines for the back and front and rough out the arching, then finalise the outlines.
The wood for the back is a piece of figured maple that must be at least 50 years old. It has a lovely, luminous texture, and although the figure is not all that prominent, it has lots of character and interest. The front is spruce that I bought some years ago in France.
The next stage is to fit the purfling, the sandwich of black/white/black wood inlaid round the edge of the violin. In this case, the black strips are dyed pearwood and the white is willow. First I cut two parallel grooves round the edge of the plates, then remove the waste wood, then bend, trim and glue the purfling.
That done, I finalise the arching. The Bergonzi arching is reminiscent of Stradivari, and I’ve worked carefully to make what I think will give a powerful and responsive instrument. Then I finish the thicknessing, checking the weight, stiffness and sound it makes when tapped until I’m satisfied with the result.
The Bergonzi f-holes are big and bold, actually quite scary to cut because it’s easy to lose courage and feel you’ve taken off too much wood. What can seem like a huge hole looks different when the violin is varnished and set up, so I’ve stayed with the courage of my convictions.
I make the circular holes using hole cutters, then saw out the rest with a fine bladed fretsaw. Then I work carefully with a knife until I’m happy with the shape.