May 2013

Nose, knives and gouges to the grindstone this month. Super Hubert is suffering from exposure to Kryptonite and is on sick leave, Magic Eleanor has moved on to better things (at Christies. Hah. What have they got that I don’t?) so working away single handed. Cellos wait for no man, so busy gluing, scraping and varnishing.
As viola models go, the super Mori Costa at Sotheby’s (unusual, but lovely and original) appeals mightily as well. Given enough time, and less spent on this darn computer, there is no end to what can be done.
We celebrated the anniversary of Stradivari’s death in Cremona in 1987 and now the anniversary of his birth, in Oxford. I seem to be approaching this in the wrong direction. Things have changed incredibly in that short time, both inside and outside this profession, but the Maestro still dominates everything we do. At least I think so. And this is my website, so there.

Best wishes to all.


April, come she will. The workshop is still packed tight with cellos; made, half-made, restored, half restored. A highlight this month has been a particularly beautiful Vuillaume, which loyal ‘Strad’ readers will find more about in the next issue. Having lived peacefully now for several months without the constant torment that The Brompton’s Violin Book became, James Buchanan of has come up with a jolly exciting new publishing project. I have learned nothing from experience throughout my life, so have once again thrown myself into this with complete stupidity. I mean committment. Details to follow…
In the meantime Super Hube is handling everything in the workshop with consummate ease, and is also learning to fly on days off in order to complete his set of SuperHube powers. The super-speed is very helpful, but he might have to be a bit more careful with the old heat-vision.
Planned events this month include commencement of the Gaspar Da Salo cello copy I have always wanted to make. As if we didn’t have enough toys to play with. The BVMA Stradivari Symposium at the Ashmolean to look forward to and prepare for. It is also varnish making time, this being now (and I have checked) the 21st century, and stocks from 1716 have run low.

Very best wishes to all.


March 2013

Sincere thanks to everyone who has taken the trouble to send in corrections to The Brompton’s Book. I take it as a sort of encouragement that people are reading and using it, so I’m glad to hear responses. All updates and corrections are being filed, I hope for a second edition one day.

Practical work has resumed in a big way, with cellos coming to shape all around us. Hubert and I have to pick our way carefully into the workshop in the morning. We also have a rather beautiful Grancino cello undergoing a neck reset. Other visiting splendours over the past month include a rare Deconet (hold the arguments, please) and a lovely Panormo. So we’re not short of inspiration.

We’re being joined for a week in March by Emmanuelle Dion-Vermand, another ex-assistant of mine, currently establishing her own business in France. But you know, Twickenham in the early spring is so lovely she couldn’t stay away. So we’re going to work together on a project she has… we need to get some cellos finished and out of the way so that she can find her old bench.

February 2013

This last week has been purfling week, in preparation for cello month ahead. So with Super-Hubert providing the power and myself offering delicate directional touches on the mighty four-handed plane, we shot enough poplar wood shavings to keep us in business for a while. The pearwood went into a pot with all the voodoo dyes, herbs and enchantments (luckily well-provided with axolotl bile still- it’s increasingly hard to find on ebay) and came out lovely jet-black and ready for action. One batch in Montagnana style, another in my favourite Rugeri proportions and another for various Strads.

One cello in the varnish cabinet, two now being purfled, and two others in very rough stages still, but the workshop is looking like some sort of modern sculpture gallery. I’m particularly fond of the flock of scrolls in various stages of development, a little like swans gliding down the river. Will be a little sad when they’re all finished and fitted. Luckily, Hubert’s favourite occupation is cutting pegbox mortices, so no problem there.

Sorry to hear of Charles Beare’s retirement, but he certainly deserves a long and happy one. Sadder still to hear of the death of the great Carl F. Becker of Chicago.
The Stradivari exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford this summer sounds set to be another once-in-a-lifetime experience. How many of those is any one person entitled to?

Cheerio, and thanks to my customers for their patience.

January 2013

It’s cold, but we have 5 cello projects to keep us warm. A Rugeri copy, two different Montagnana models and two ‘B’ form Stradivaris all in various stages. Have to keep checking the right neck goes with the right body or we might end up with some interesting mixtures. It’s nice to have a big pile of shavings to sweep up at the end of each day. Very satisfying. An enormous purfling making day lies ahead, as we need fresh supplies of the three types required.
Other than that, some work on an interesting viola, a Brescian model by Gulbrand Enger of Copenhagen dated 1869. Enger was a student of Vuillaume, and it shows. Very refined and professional work. It now has it’s neck reset and the new set-up seems to be working.

As a treat, a visit to the Model Engineering Exhibition at Alexandra Palace this weekend, which is always a source of tools and materials that you’d never thought you might need. Plus the chance to play with toys. You never know- there might be a little gadget that will make purfling production a quicker and easier task….

Resolution for next month to learn how to put photos up on these pages. Since it doesn’t involve wood, glue or varnish, it’s all a little confusing for me.


December 2012

This year has culminated with the publication of the ‘Bromptons Book of Violin and Bow Makers’, which has been assembled by James Buchanan, John Milnes and myself over the last few years. I hope it will be a useful contribution to the information available, which thanks to the work of dedicated researchers in many fields, seems in constant need of updating.

The project has taken an enormous amount of energy, but I’m looking forward to ploughing that back into the workshop. I have several cellos to make next year. I am also joined this year by Hubert de Launay, a young and talented maker who will be making sure we don’t slow down.

Merry  Christmas and a happy new year to everyone who has had a casual peek at this website, and a special thank you to those who have actually got in touch.

Best wishes, John