|Making an instrument starts with a drawing, either worked up from a clean sheet and a set of proportions, or from records of an existing master instrument.From the drawings I prepare a mould, the inner form for the ribs, made in precisely the same manner as the Cremonese masters. The internal blocks which support the ribs, neck and endpin are temporarily glued to the mould and shaped to their finished contours.|
|Next I select the wood, making the choice according to the client’s specification or the nature of the instrument itself. The most common choice is for fine-grained spruce, and uniformly figured quarter-sawn maple, but very different results both tonally and visually can be had from different cuts and more unusually marked wood. The back and front, usually both in two matched pieces, have to be jointed carefully, and then flattened on one side.|
|The next job is to cut the ribs and bend them over a heated former to fit the mould. They are then glued to the blocks already in place on the mould.|
|To finish the rib structure, reinforcement strips are cut from spruce or willow, bent and glued to the inner edges of the ribs to provide strength and a good gluing surface for the back and front. With the ribs finished, they can be laid onto the back and front plates and the outline marked on. Small holes are drilled through the plates into the top and bottom blocks so that pins can be driven in to hold everything in register through all the remaining processes.|
|With the rib outline marked on, the back and front can be sawn out. Then the thickness of the edge is marked out, and the rough carving can be done.|
|As the arching begins to take shape, a flat platform is cleared around the edge, and the channel marked for the purfling. This is made from three strips of veneer, the outer two stained black with vegetable dyes, and slotted into the channel. The arching can then be completed on the outside, using miniature planes and finally steel scrapers to bring the wood to a fine finish.Then the plates are turned over and the critical process of carving out the inside takes place. A violin has to be worked to about 5mm in the centre of the back, down to 2.5 mm at the edges, while the front is a more regular 2.4mm throughout. The thicknesses for viola and cello rise in proportion. Final thickness is decided by the response and strength of the wood itself.|
|At this stage, the ribs can be released from the mould and glued onto the back, while the front goes through a few more stages. Firstly the soundholes are measured out on the front and drawn from templates, and then sawn and trimmed with a knife.|
|Then the bass bar is fitted to the interior, just inside the bass soundhole. This crucial strut runs three-quarters of the length of the front, and both physically supports the arching, and determines the patterns of vibration in the finished instrument. The precise fit and position of the bass bar is crucial to the even response of the violin, and making the bar is a painstaking procedure.
But once the bar is finished and properly regulated, the soundbox can be finally closed.
|To make the neck and scroll, a maple block is marked out and sawn to rough shape, and then carved to the distinctive shape using gouges and scrapers. A fingerboard is prepared from an ebony blank, and glued to the neck surface.
Then the neck can be fitted to the body. This must be done with absolute precision, as errors here will directly affect the tonal response of the finished instrument.
With the neck shaped with rasps, files and scrapers, the violin is ready for the varnishing process.
|My instruments go through several treatments to prepare the wood for varnish, all important from both the visual and tonal aspect. These help to darken and stabilise the wood, and to prime and block the wood pores. My varnish is formulated from linseed oil and natural resins, with colour derived mostly from madder root and other natural pigments.|
|Several applications are needed, with long exposure in a ultra violet light cabinet to cure each coat.|
|Once the varnish has hardened, the instrument can be fitted up with pegs, soundpost, bridge, tailpiece and strings… and then played.|