Stradivari tools – iron planes

Posted on | March 27, 2015 | 6 Comments|

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The remaining tools from the Antonio Stradivari workshop are kept in the museum in Cremona – Museo del Violino. The tools give an interesting glimpse into the working practices used in the Stradivari workshop during the early 18th Century. Over the years,  I’ve copied and adapted some of them to make instruments in the workshop.

The original tools were passed down through Antonio Stradivari’s family, to his youngest son, Paolo Stradivari.  In the late 18th Century Paolo sold them to Italian violin collector Count Cozio. After being kept by Count Cozio and his descendents, they were finally sold in the early 20th Century to violin maker Giuseppe Fiorini. In a generous gesture, he donated the entire collection of tools and Stradivari templates/forms to the City of Cremona in 1930.

A few years ago, I was inspired by a colleagues efforts to copy the scrapers       (a simple steel scraping tool) from the museum collection. I copied a few of the Stradivari scrapers and they fit very well to certain tasks in making a violin.

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Original scraper tools

Taking this a step further, I was curious to copy the planes from Stradivari. Below is one of four iron planes in the museum.  The body is made from two pieces of sheet iron. The sides are from one piece, bent around to form the two sides and curved back of the plane.  The sole of the plane is bent to shape, curving up at the front of the plane. The blade is held in place with a wooden wedge against a metal pin.

Strad plane - 1Using the dimensions and photos kindly sent to me from the Museo del Violino,    I cut to shape 2mm thick mild steel and hammered each piece into the required curves.  With a small fret saw I cut the mouth in the sole of the plane, for the blade to fit through. To join the pieces, it was welded together at ‘General Grinding and Machine Works’, by Will Walton. He was very helpful and his machine shop is just 5 minutes from my workshop. I filed and smoothed the plane into the final shape. Holes were drilled for the metal pin and I filed the pin for a tight fit.  The plane was finished off with a 28mm wide blade held in place with a rosewood wedge.

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I think the size of this plane should make it well suited for cello making. I look forward to see how efficiently it works making my next cello!

This project was also a little inspired by tools my grandfather and great-grandfather made years ago. (below) Some of these perform beautifully and I still use a few for certain jobs in the workshop.

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Note: The Museum in Cremona sent me more photos and more dimensions of the Stradivari planes. Though they asked me not to publish these, I’m pleased to share this information with interested luthiers.

 

 

 

 

Follow up – Montreal Exhibition

Posted on | February 24, 2015 | No Comments|

The luthier exhibition in Montreal from December gathered together violin and bow makers from around Canada. Organized by the violin shop  Wilder & Davis, the main event was held in the room shown below, at the Chapelle historique du Bon Pasteur.

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Later the room (shown above) was full of players trying instruments and chatting with all the luthiers. It was great to talk with my colleagues as well, many I hadn’t seen in years, and try their instruments.

I presented a violin and viola for the exhibition.  The viola was already owned by an Ottawa violist, Nancy Illman. She generously lent her viola  (shown below) for this event. Thank you! My violin at the exhibition was purchased by a student at the University of Montreal. She is currently the concert master of the University Orchestra and a student of Claude Richard.  The violin was a copy of a Joseph Guarneri violin from 1742, once owned by Yehudi Menuhin.

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‘Dushkin’ 1742 Guarneri copy.

Posted on | February 7, 2015 | No Comments|

This year is Pinchas Zukerman’s last season as music director with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO). Over the past few years, my assistant and I have restored a number of the instruments in the Zukerman Instrument Collection at the NACO.  While dealing with this collection of string instruments, Pinchas Zukerman played a Stradivari copy that I had just finished making, but he wondered why I wouldn’t copy his violin! He was very kind to allow me to measure and copy his  ‘Dushkin’ Guarneri Del Gesu violin from 1742, Cremona.

The original violin has a robust construction and style with a beautifully coloured and textured varnish on the back. The first known owner was C.H.C Plowden who purchased the violin 1867. It was then sold by British violin dealers W.E. Hill  & Sons in 1927 to American violinist Samuel Dushkin. Inherited by his widow in 1976, it was purchased by Pinchas Zukerman in 1979.

In the early 1980’s the violin was restored by violin maker, René Morel, in New York who fit a new bassbar, bridge and soundpost. I was fortunate to talk with René Morel about the work he did on this violin before he passed away in 2011. Below is my copy.

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Montreal Luthier Exhibition

Posted on | December 3, 2014 | No Comments|

This Saturday December 6th, I will be in Montreal for the “Forum des Fabricants” – an exhibition of contemporary violins, violas, cellos and bows.

The exhibition and concerts will take place at Chapelle historique du Bon Pasteur at 100 Sherbrook Street East.

The event is organized by the violin shop Wilder & Davis in Montreal. String players can try a range of instruments from across Canada and Europe in one venue. Most of these instruments will be on consignment with Wilder & Davis in December and January to allow players time to try them further.  I will be presenting one violin (Guarneri model) and one viola (16/1/4″ Andrea Guarneri model).

Luthier Exhibition Montreal Dec.6th

There will also be a concert at 2pm at the Chapelle historique du Bon Pasteur at 100 Sherbrook Street East, featuring Toronto and Montreal Symphony Concertmasters Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan.

I look forward to meeting musicians and catching up with colleagues!

 

NACO Dequincey Viola

Posted on | October 27, 2014 | No Comments|

Last week the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada began their tour of the United Kingdom. Beginning in Scotland they have traveled south with a busy schedule of concerts.  This summer, NACO violist David Thies-Thompson, purchased a viola made by my assistant which he took with him on tour. The photo below shows Charline Dequincey putting the final touches on the varnish as she was finishing this instrument for the workshop.

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The viola is based on a viola made by Paolo Maggini, in Brescia, Italy in the early 1600’s.  One reason we wanted to copy this viola was to better understand the construction techniques possibly used by Maggini. Going through the process of actually making an instrument is an ideal way to learn about a particular maker from the past. We were also looking for a different type of viola sound compared to the Guarneri and Amati type violas from Cremona that we had both made in the past.

Here is a link to a clip of David Thies-Thompson with cellist Leah Wyber and violinist Jeremy Mastrangelo performing in St. Giles Cathedral on tour in Edinburgh.

http://nac-cna.ca/en/stories/story/music-at-st.-giles-cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

David Thies-Thompson is also a well known and respected teacher of violin and viola in Ottawa.

In the workshop I’m currently finishing a third ‘Maggini’ viola and look forward to hear this instrument as well!

Violin thickness maps

Posted on | September 22, 2014 | 1 Comment|

Sometime ago we were fortunate to have a beautiful Guarneri Del Gesu violin in the shop. We photographed and took measurements of it to keep on file. As I make instruments in the workshop I often refer to photographs and other information for inspiration or to copy. I also keep records of my own violins as I make them.  It’s an important part of most modern violin maker workshops.  For the Guarneri we also measured the thickness of the back and front of the violin.

To measure the thickness we used a hacklinger gauge (shown below) at numerous points, spaced 1cm apart over the entire surface of the back and front of the violin.

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To be precise about the location of each measured point, we laid paper over the back of the violin, printed with a grid pattern. (available online from incompetech.com) I used the hacklinger gauge to measure each point printed on the paper, while my assistant wrote down each measurement.  We factored in the thickness of the paper (.1mm) that we had laid over the violin.   Once we were finished we had a page of measurements (in mm) like this:

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While this might be interesting information, it’s difficult to make sense of all those numbers.  I like to have a feel of the overall concept of a great old violin, not just the thickness of a particular point on the back or front.

To help visualize the thicknesses, a colleague Hans Pluhar wrote software (available at violingraduation) that allows these measurements to be turned into “Colour Graduation Maps”.

Yellow being under 2.5mm and purple over 4.5mm.  scale

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Using the software I’ve made thickness or graduation maps for the workshop.  Below is a part sample of one:

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Now the thick area in the centre of the back is clearly visible (in dark blue and purple). The thinner green areas are also clearly defined. How I interpret and use this information while making a violin is another subject. But having this information, from great sounding instruments of the past,  has been helpful in deciding what concept of thickness I might use in my own instruments.

 

National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada -Violin

Posted on | September 15, 2014 | No Comments|

This summer violinist Donnie Deacon purchased a violin I finished in 2012. Donnie Deacon has been principle of second violins with the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada since 2001. As he played this violin for the first time, it was almost instantly a good fit for him. The violin was based on Yehudi Menuhin’s Joseph Guarneri violin from 1742, which I had the chance to see and study in Seattle a few years ago.

Above is a link to the NACO website with Donnie’s biography. I would only        add that I’ve seen him help and inspire several young players in Ottawa. As well as working at the NACO, he has performed with a range colleagues, both young and older professionals.  Currently he is also music director and conductor of the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra.

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Above is Donnie’s Harrison violin.

Violin Making Competition – Mittenwald Germany 2014

Posted on | July 16, 2014 | No Comments|

This year I entered a violin in the International Violin Making Competition in Mittenwald, Germany. It is held every four years and this time the majority of violinmakers taking part came from Europe and some from Asia. I was the only violin maker from North America to enter.  My violin made it through to  the final round and was performed in the closing concert. I was pleased to be awarded a special prize for workmanship and excellent/special artistic expressiveness. (more or less translated from the German with help from a German colleague!)

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The violin was my usual Stradivari model that I have made for many years.  Though I’ve continued to change details in the f’holes, edgework or for example in the front and back arching. In particular I’ve changed the style of bridge, fingerboard and dimensions of the bass bar over time as well.  The changes in ‘set-up‘ (bridge, fingerboard etc.)  have a large effect on the sound, ease of playing and the feel of the bow on the strings.  Many of these adjustments are from the advice of good colleagues but also a result from working with musicians everyday in the workshop.

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            Stradivari model, Harrison violin 2014

 

 

Cello Flight Case Rental

Posted on | May 15, 2014 | 2 Comments|

We have a ‘Bam‘ Cello Flight Case now available for rent.  We’ve successfully used this case to fly with cellos in North America.  It increases protection for the cello during flights when the cello is placed with the hand loaded cargo. We thought cellists traveling to summer festivals, courses and concerts might find it useful just rent a good flight case for a short time when they need it.

bam-caseThe flight case is in two parts. The standard case is placed inside the thick protective outer shell while traveling.  Once a cellist arrives at their destination, they can use the light weight standard case to get around and leave the outer case at their hotel or residence.

The rental fee is $35 per week, plus a refundable deposit, for both the outer case and standard cello case.

Cellists interested to rent a flight case can contact us at 613 569 4803.

Canadian Armed Forces Collection

Posted on | April 30, 2014 | No Comments|

Some of the instruments from the Armed Forces Instrument Collection were brought into our workshop for restoration and a general check up. Included in the collection was a viola labeled Charles and Samuel Thompson, London, 1776. The condition of this instrument was so good, one of the musicians from the Army just assumed the viola was new.

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It needed the angle of the neck to be raised higher, among other routine adjustments older instruments require after many years. Below is the original top block (inside the viola with the back and sides) into which we reattached the neck at the proper angle.  The hole in the centre of the block is from the iron nail (removed long ago) that the maker hammered in, as they attached the neck while making this viola.  Today necks are glued to the body, not nailed. My assistant managed to save the original top block while she adjusted issues with the ribs and reset the neck.

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Below is one of the corner blocks, sides and linings inside the viola. Even though the instrument was 238 years old, the inside was fairly clean.  The viola is now back with the Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces, which provides music for military and Government of Canada events.  Together with a French violin made in 1723 they are probably some of the oldest pieces of equipment in use with the Canadian Armed Forces.

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    About

    Guy Harrison Violin Maker
    792 Gladstone Avenue
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1R 6X9
    Tel: 613 569 4803

    1997 Silver medal for viola in the Mittenwald International Violin Making Competition, Germany.

    2010 Bronze medal for violin in the Mittenwald International Violin Making Competition, Germany.

    2014 Workmanship award for violin in the Mittenwald International Violin Making Competition, Germany.

    2016 Silver Workmanship medal for cello in the VSA Violin Making Competition, USA.

    Member of the American Federation of Violin & Bow Makers and Violin Society of America.

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