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.
Finally, I fitted the bass bar, which helps strengthen the front and reinforces the lower register of the violin, then it’s time to glue the body together.
Then, neck fitting and the violin is finished ‘in the white’, ready for varnishing. All was finished late on a Friday afternoon, and I liked how the violin looked in the lamplight.
Now, in late March, the violin is finished. I’ve used varnish with more cooked-in colour than usual so I’ve achieved a soft caramel orange without adding pigments, which means extra transparency. I’ve also just been given a couple of tailpieces made from Sonowood, which is compressed spruce, an ecological alternative to ebony, which I have successfully used before. So I thought it would be good to use one on this violin. Just waiting to hear it now…