Other workshops

Posted on | November 14, 2015 | No Comments|

Our violin making workshop depends on many other businesses for materials and tools from around the world. In September I was in Italy and Germany selecting wood for future instruments. As well for example, I order violin parts from England or violin cases from the US or France.

I also rely on local businesses no further than 3 km from my workshop. I thought it might be nice to highlight some of these local people and businesses that have been very helpful to our workshop.

General Grinding & Machine Works at 22 Irving Ave, Ottawa, K1Y 1Z4          Tel: 613-729-3011

This metal working workshop has helped make tools for the workshop. Mostly with welding steel parts for tools.  They also have a complete machine shop with lathes, milling machines and more.

Machine Shop

Vince Electric at 335 Catherine St, Ottawa, K1R 5T4  Tel: 613-230-0853

Vince is a friendly guy and loves to help people. He has repaired some tools for us over the years including my bandsaw’s electric motor and our bending irons (for bending the sides of violins into shape). He’s also made some electric tools for us.  With a wide range of parts available he can either repair an electric item or make something from scratch. (he can help with small welding too)

Vince Electric

Buchanan Lighting  www.buchananlighting.ca

Buchanan Lighting supplies us with the UV lights to dry our varnish. We use an oil based varnish which requires light to dry and artificial light is more dependable than Canadian sunshine! The owner of Buchanan Lighting is very knowledgeable and passionate about the lights he sells.

Centrepoint Library – Imagespace

This particular library branch offers laser cutting and 3D printing. The cost of laser cutting is free. For 3D printing the cost is only for the amount of plastic material used.  I’ve just started to use their laser cutting machine to make some workshop templates.  I think it has great potential as a useful service for many amateur and professional craftspeople in Ottawa.  This library space is 10km from my workshop.

Laser cutting

I should mention that Lee Valley Tools is also a local Ottawa company. Both my assistant and I use tools from their ‘Vertias’ line of fine woodworking tools.

Finally our workshop relies on our local hardware store just down the street  – Preston Hardware. As well as a our neighbourhood cafe –  Pressed Cafe !



Treefest Concert – Lansdowne Park

Posted on | September 26, 2015 | No Comments|

Title Concert: Sunday Oct. 4th, 2-4pm

Cadanza String Duo: Cello & Violin


On Sunday, October 4th, from 2-4pm, an event organized by Tree Fest Ottawa will feature the Cadenza String Duo.  Violinist Christian Vachon and cellist Greg Weeks both perform on a instruments made in our workshop based on Stradivari models.

The Cadenza String Duo are performing in conjunction with a photography exhibit called ‘PhotoSynthesis’ which is centred around the value of trees in our environment, culture and their uses.

My craft is profiled as part of the exhibit with photopraghs of my workshop by Faris Ahmed. (the photo exhibit is now open and runs until Oct. 12th)

Location:  PhotoSynthesis Photography Exhibit, Civic Garden, by the Horticulture building, Lansdowne Park



















New 16″ viola

Posted on | September 23, 2015 | No Comments|

This month I started making a new viola for a member of the National Art Centre Orchestra.  We talked together about what kind of viola he was looking for and agreed on a comfortable 16″ size, based on the violas by Andrea Guarneri from the late 17th Century. The original design is slightly larger at 16 3/8″, so I scaled it down to 16″.  The Andrea Guarneri viola is a fairly wide model and is an acoustically forgiving design that accommodates these types of changes very well.


Above shows the design of the viola drawn out on paper with a ruler and compass, together with a poster of the original Guarneri viola.  (for more information on the drawing techniques -see Francois Denis’s website) From this drawing I made my templates and form, which I’m now using to make the sides of the instrument.

Next the client and I worked together to decide the string length (length of the strings from the bridge to the nut) and also the neck and fingerboard dimensions.  He has fairly large fingers and so the neck won’t be as narrow as my usual viola neck. We wanted to make the viola as comfortable as possible for his left hand. All these custom elements and the freedom to adapt designs are some reasons I really enjoy making violas.



Stradivari tools – iron planes

Posted on | March 27, 2015 | 6 Comments|






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.

Scrapers 6

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.












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.


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.


















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.

Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 2.03.53 PM





‘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.









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.


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.


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.


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:


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




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

VLN back5

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.

donnie's violin









Above is Donnie’s Harrison violin.

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    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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