This cello is a commission from a player who heard one of my cellos that belongs to a former pupil, and decided to approach me with a view to commissioning an instrument. She was interested in a slightly smaller cello. I was able to show her a couple of models, and we settled on this one, which is an adaptation I made some years ago of a lovely small Andrea Guarneri. The original is quite wide and chunky, particularly in the upper bouts, so I narrowed it slightly to make it easier to get round. It has quite shallow ribs so will be a really playable instrument.
This cello marks a landmark in my career, as it’s instrument number 300.
I’ve also started work on the scroll, and returned to now and again while the glue joints of the ribs were drying.
The work so far – back outline finished, the arching roughed out, purfling channel started, scroll well on the way and ribs done.
To fit the purfling, first I cut two parallel lines which will be the sides of the channel that the purfling is glued into. Then I cut away the waste wood in the middle. The purfling itself is a sandwich I make up of white willow between strips of pearwood dyed black. Once it’s glued in, I sink a channel around the edge of the back which forms the beginning of the arching and also of the edgework. On the original Andrea Guarneri cello the purfling is quite close to the edge, a similar distance to a viola, and also the edges are slender, giving a lovely lightness and grace to the edgework. So I’m trying to emulate this.
The arching is now finished. I’ve tried to keep quite faithful to the arching shapes of the original cello, which has a beautiful sweep through the corners and C bouts.
The original Andrea Guarneri, in common with a number of smaller Italian cellos I have come across, has the front rather wider than the back, and therefore the ribs tapering. Nobody knows exactly why this is; shrinkage of the back and distortion of the instrument over time obviously play their part, but it sometimes seems as if the difference is more than I’d expect to attribute to that. I have a hunch that perhaps the gentle outcurve of the ribs helps with projection of the sound.
Anyway, I wanted to make the front slightly wider on this cello, so I’m doing it simply by spreading the ribs with a stick of wood which I’ll remove when the finished front is glued in place.
Thewood I’ve chosen for the front is a beautiful piece of spruce that I bought on my last trip to my favourite French woodyard. I’m now working on the thicknessing.
I’ve cut the f-holes. They are quite widely-spaced, which helps to give the cello a warm and rich sound.
The final stage of work on the front is to fit and shape the bass bar, which helps support the weight of the bridge and enhances the bass register of the cello.
The label is in and all is set to glue the front on and ‘close the box’.
The cello is finished ‘in the white” – neck fitted and shaped, and the whole instrument cleaned and burnished. Before the coloured varnish goes on, I put some colour onto the wood to give some warmth and richness that will shine through the varnish.
The cello is now varnished and set up. For the varnish, I’ve used a rich reddy-brown, with a slight added patina and wear to take off the brand-new look. I’m pleased with the sound – the cello is powerful and projecting, even across the registers and there is plenty of depth and warmth.