New year, new viola…
This is one of my own designs of viola, which I’ve made regularly over the last twenty years. it’s been a very successful model, delivering an excellent quality of sound with a small and manageable size and light weight, perfect for young and not-so young players! This one will join my rental scheme, and is destined for a talented young player in Cornwall.
I’ve started by making the back and front. The front is from some lovely quality spruce. This has a special story; it comes from the Fiemme valley in Italy where Stradivari also sourced his wood. In 2018 Storm Vaia hit the area and took down many of the beautiful spruce trees. The specialist woodyard that sources wood from this area launched a crowdfunding campaign to save as much of this wood as possible, to which I contributed. This was in effect a prepayment for some of the wood once converted and seasoned, so here we are. Well worth saving.
The back is of slab-sawn maple from one of my regular sources in Bavaria. It’s markings are quiet and subtle and it should look lovely once finished.
Having roughed the arching from the solid wood, I finalised the outlines, and inlaid the purfling. Then, I finished the edges so that the final shape of the arching could grow from them, giving the wood a lovely smooth finish with a scraper.
The next stage is to thickness the back and front. I remove the bulk of the wood with planes, then scrape to the final finish, checking carefully how thick the wood is, how it flexes in my hands, how it sounds when tapped and what the weight is. These parameters vary from instrument to instrument depending on the qualities of the wood and the shape of the arching. When I’m happy with everything, its done.
Then I cut the soundholes. I use special cutters to make the circles, then remove the bulk of the wood with a fretsaw, finishing with a knife.
The construction method for this model of viola is slightly unconventional, in that rather than using a mould, which would be less successful for the combination of concave and convex curves, I build the ribs directly on the back, using a skeleton framework to keep everything rigid and to help with the gluing process.
I bend the ribs, which are strips of maple planed to just over 1mm, using a heated bending iron, then glue them in place, first the lower ribs and then the upper ones, using specialised cramps.
The ribs are finished; I’ve fitted the linings which reinforce the joints with the back and front. I fitted the bass bar to the inside of the front; this strengthens the front and enhances the bass register. So with that done, I can glue the front to the ribs.
And while the glue dries, I spend time making the simple, light head that compliments the body of the viola.
A flurry of activity and the viola comes together. I prepared the fingerboard, fitted the neck to the body, finished the neck shape and tidied all the woodwork, ready for the varnishing.
I’ve varnished the viola, a nice warm golden colour. I’ve done my usual careful set-up. The viola is sounding good; a rich, deep warm quality.
The viola is now on rental with a young player in Cornwall. Her mother sent me this message the day it arrived:
Victoria has played on it straight away during the youth string orchestra rehearsal tonight and she loved the sound very much.
Back at home Victoria just played the viola concerto by Telemann and I must say the sound was amazing. Absolutely fantastic. This was confirmed by my husband.
Victoria couldn’t stop playing. She learned that concerto on the viola-strung violin and just now realised how beautiful it can sound on such a lovely viola.