My first experience as an instrument maker was as an apprentice to the Breton harp-maker Gildas Jaffrenou. From his workshop I went on to Newark Technical College, where I initially studied general musical instrument repair in 1975. The following year I transferred to the Violin Making School, then under the direction of its founder and director Maurice Bouette, and studied with Glen Collins and Wilfred Saunders.
After graduating from the school in 1979, I began work at J. & A. Beare in London, where I stayed for thirteen years learning the art of restoration, adjustment and instrument recognition, happily surrounded by some of the profession’s best craftspeople and experts, not to mention the greatest instruments imaginable.
Wanting to devote more time to instrument making, I left this idyllic situation in 1991 to establish my own workshop in Twickenham, where I have been ever since.
My independent career has been a mixture of new making, restoration, writing and research. My new instruments are in use by professional players both in the U.K. and abroad, and I have carried out major restorations for collectors and institutions worldwide.
I have been technical editor of and a regular contributor to ‘The Strad’ magazine for many years, with the aim of spreading the information about the violin and its makers which was so hard to obtain during my own training. This has led to several publications on the violin, its history, and famous makers.
As a consultant, I work for the eminent London Dealer Peter Biddulph, and Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Brompton’s Auction houses.
During my time at Beare’s, and with the indulgent help of Charles Beare himself, I began working on the problem of the varnish of the classical makers, which led me to the laboratories of the National Gallery, London, and the director of the scientific department, Raymond White. More help was given by Claire Barlow and James Woodhouse of Cambridge University, and this has led directly to the formulation of my own varnish, which I hope is a plausible and workable recreation of the methods the 18th century makers might have used.
In 1994 I worked closely with Peter Biddulph in the staging of the Exhibition ‘The masterpieces of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu’ at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the vast amount of new research and material gathered there has informed my own work ever since.
Over the last twenty years I have lectured at many international violin conferences, and been invited to act as a craftsmanship judge at violin making competitions in England, America and Poland. I have also taught both violin making and restoration at workshops in West Dean in the U.K., and in Oberlin in Ohio, U.S.A.
Aside from regular contributions to ‘The Strad’ magazine since 1984, I have contributed to the following books:
- ‘The Cambridge Companion to the Violin’ , ed. R.Stowell, Cambridge University Press 1992
- ‘Performing the Music of Henry Purcell’, ed. M.Burden, Clarendon Press 1996
- ‘Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu’, pub. Peter Biddulph 1998
- ‘The Violin Book’, Outline Press 1999
- ‘The Cambridge Companion to the Cello’, ed. R.Stowell, Cambridge University Press 1999
- ‘The British Violin’, pub. British Violin Making Association, 2000
- ‘The Voller Brothers’ pub. British Violin Making Association, 2006
- ‘Four Centuries of Violin Making’, ed. T. Inglis, Cozio Publishing 2006
- Revised catalogue to the Musical Instrument Collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 2010 http://ashmoleaninstruments.com/