I’m pleased to revisit this viola, having already made this model as a commission earlier in the year. I was happy with the rich, warm sound it made and so were some of the players who saw it. One of these players has been hiring my small violas for several years, and is now ready to commit to her forever instrument. She’s a talented young viola player, currently studying at the Junior RNCM.
This model is based on an early English viola which I measured up when I was a violin making student, and was the first viola I ever made. For the current version I’ve made new templates and mould and adapted the design slightly in the light of over 40 years experience!
I’ve started by making the ribs, which are strips of maple planed to just over 1mm and bent to fit round the mould. When they are all glued in place, I fit the linings, small strips of spruce which build up the eventual gluing surface with the back and front.
Next up is the scroll; for violas I always keep this as light as possible. As I didn’t have much information for the original scroll from the viola I’m copying, I’ve used as my model a lovely head by the early English maker Jacob Ford.
I’m now working on the back, which is from maple that Naomi chose from the pieces that I offered her, which I thought would suit her viola. I’ve started by taking some of the wood from the eventual inside of the instrument, then cut out the outline and roughed out the arching.
Naomi was keen to have some decoration on the viola. Although the original didn’t have any, it’s quite common for English instruments of this time to have some decoration, so I was happy to oblige. I used a design that is seen on some of the early Italian instruments. The decoration is all inlaid, as is the purfling, the three lines around the edge, that it grows out of. To make the inlay, I use strips of pear wood dyed black, and spindlewood for the central white.
I printed the design on paper (an advantage we have over the early violin makers) and then glued it onto the front, so that I could cut the channel onto the wood with a knife. Then I bent the purfling strips and glued them in place.
With the purfling all inlaid, I finalised the arching and then turned the plate over to finish the thicknessing. I worked carefully, tapping and flexing the plate until it sounds and feels right, a good balance of stiffness and flexibility, and a nice resonant ring.
With the thicknessing done, I cut the f-holes in the front. These are quite a typical design for this period of viola, widely spaced and so upright they almost look as if they lean outwards. The final job for the frotn is to fit and glue the bass bar, which reinforces the front and enhances the lower register of the viola.
Then I take the ribs off the mould, finish the internal surfaces, glue the ribs to the back and then the front to the ribs.
I’ve now fitted the neck and shaped it carefully so that it is slender and smooth and easy to get round. So the viola is finished ‘in the white’, ready for varnishing.
And now the viola is finished. I’ve use a homemade golden-brown oil varnish, and put in slight wear and patina so that it doesn’t look squeaky new. First impressions are that the sound is very even and powerful.