Here you can see me at work on a recent project:-
Here is a picture of my latest violin. It is modeled on my favourite instruments by the great Stradivari, know as the ‘Lady Blunt’. The original is one of the best preserved of all of the output of the greatest violin maker of all time and is quite remarkable! I was privileged to be able to see in back in the late 1980’s and it made such an impression om me, that I can still remember it quite clearly.
I decided to construct the violin on an exact copy of the original mould that Stradivari used for this instrument. The mould is the former or template of the instrument which gives it its outline and dimensions. We know that Stradivari used this particular mould as, due to its great state of preservation, there are initials carved into the peg-box which correspond with those of his ‘PG’ mould and the outline is a good fit allowing for small changes in the shape of the instrument due to the method of construction which the maker used. I considered this then to be a good starting point for my own interpretation of this amazing violin.
The mould was made from plywood for stability and I took great care to copy the outline and dimensions as exactly as possible. The recesses are where wooden block are temporarily glued in. These blocks stay inside the instrument and are made from either willow or pine. These act as supports for the ribs or sides of the violin. They are planed to be exactly square and are then carved to the shape of the outline template. The mould itself is of course removed from the violin once the structure is stable. The holes in the mould are where posts are inserted which provide and anchor for the cords which pull against a counter-form that press the ribs against the blocks while they are being glued in. The cords and posts are removed once the glue is dry and the ribs are stable. Note that the top block recess is slightly wider than that of the bottom. This is to give it extra strength and rigidity as this is where the neck of the violin inserts and it has to cope with the considerable tension of the strings.
The outline of the violin is created by its inner shape. This is the ‘harmonic box’, where the sound is created, once the back and front are in place of course. The size and internal shape of the instrument are an important factor in the tonal quality of the violin. In this image, you can see the internal template which I made from aluminium. Again I use aluminium for its stability, so it is less likely to change shape. As you can also see, it is only half the width of the mould. This is so that when you flip it over you get an exact mirror image so both halves of the violin should look the same.
The eventual outline of the violin includes an overhang from the ribs which creates an edge that is chamfered off. This helps to protect the ribs from damage and makes the instrument look very much as we would expect to see it.
I should add at this point, that I did not intend for this violin to be an exact copy of the original. I could have gone this way, but as with many makers, I like to experiment, within fairly strict boundaries, to see how small alterations to various aspects of the construction can affect and hopefully improve the look and sound of an instrument. However, I feel it is important to have a strong ‘jumping off point’ in order to do this. I also intended to have this as my own instrument and so felt a little bit freer to interpret Stradivari’s own ideas.
I will be adding more about how this instrument was constructed and how it turned out tonally, shortly…