I’m pleased to have the chance to revisit one of my favourite violin models, one of the last instruments from the Stradivari workshop, in fact probably made by Antonio’s son Francesco. This is the fourth time I’ve made it; the model always delivers a rich and powerful instrument with a lovely warm G string.
This is a commission from a player in London. She had seen my work at one of the Makers’ Days organised by the British Violin Making Association, more years ago than either of us cared to remember! So it’s lovely that at last this idea that has been germinating for so long has come to life.
As usual, I’ve started by making the rib assembly. As we’re using a one-piece back, I’m able to hand-saw a wedge off the block of wood big enough to cut down to prepare the ribs from, so they match the back perfectly.
Then I bend the ribs to shape and glue them onto the mould, finally fitting the linings which support the gluing surface against the back and front.
While all the glue joints on the rib assembly dry, I start work on the scroll.
I’m always excited to start work on the back and front. Su picked out a lovely one-piece back from the selection I offered her. It’s maple that I guess is at least 50 years old, which I was lucky to buy from a friend, and it has a wonderful texture, beautiful to work. I paired it with equally old spruce front; the wood was split rather than sawn so the grain alignment is perfect.
After roughly cutting out the outlines, I carve the arching to close to its final shape from the solid wood, using planes of various sizes. Then I finalise the outline to a regular margin from the ribs.
The next stage is to inlay the purfling. I start by cutting a channel around the edge of the back and front, then bend and glue the purfling in place. The next stage it to sink the fluting channel around the edge, when you can see how good your corner joints really look!
The purfling finished, I finalise the arching, using a sharp scraper to get a good finish on the wood. Then I mark out the f-holes; for this I have a template with both f-holes as for this violin they are deliciously quirky and far from a mirror image!
The violin is really taking shape. I turn over the back and front and hollow the flat surface to the final thickness. I work carefully, weighing, flexing and tapping the wood until everything feels right. When the thickness is good, the sound the wood makes when tapped is full of latent energy, like a drum. After that I have the fun job of cutting these deliciously asymmetrical f-holes and then fitting the bass bar, which supports the lower register of the violin.
It’s now time to start assembling the violin. I take the ribs off the mould and finalise the internal shapes, then glue the ribs to the back, using specialised cramps.
After that, I glue on the front and fit the neck. My final task before the violin is finished ‘in the white’ is to finalise the neck shape. I take a lot of trouble over this, so that it’s light and slim and fits comfortably in the player’s hand.
The next stage will be the varnishing, which is a long process demanding care and attention. First I’ll put some colour into the bare wood, then seal it so that the coloured varnish can’t penetrate. Finally it will have three or four coats of coloured varnish.
The violin is now finished. I’ve used a rich golden brown varnish which looks lovely with the fittings; black ebony for the fingerboard and tailpiece, African blackwood for the pegs and boxwood for the chinrest. As usual with this model, the sound is sweet yet powerful, with a rich G string and lovely warmth on the E.