Six Old Italian and six new violins – Blind tests.

Posted on | April 14, 2014 | No Comments|

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The recently publicized  “Soloist evaluations of six Old Italian and six new violins” has kept my email inbox busy for a few days now.  With media headlines such as “Stradivarius Strung Out” or “Stradivari surprise…” the old vs. new blind tests have grabbed people’s interest.

Here is the actual study itself for those interested:

PDF file:  soloist-evaluations-of-six-old-italian-and-six-new-violins

(Above photo from our workshop – Antonio Stradivari violin)

Opus Concerts – Sandy Hill, Ottawa.

Posted on | November 24, 2013 | No Comments|

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This Sunday, piantist Frédéric Lacroix, violinist Christian Vachon and cellist Peter Rapson will perform Beethoven’s Opus 1, a set of three piano trios written in 1793. Christian Vachon performs on a violin I made, copied after the 1693 Stradivari from the National Music Museum in South Dakota. I look forward to hear these three fine musicians in the inaugural performance of the Opus Concert Series.

The concert begins at 3pm, Sunday, December 1st, at All Saints Anglican Church, in Sandy Hill, Ottawa.

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‘Ole Bull’ Guarneri copy

Posted on | October 24, 2013 | No Comments|

In September I finished the violin pictured below for a member of Canada’s National Art Centre Orchestra. It was based on the Guarneri violin, made in 1744 in Cremona and played by Norwegein violinist Ole Bull. The wood for the back of this violin was made from an old piece of maple that I was fortunate to find at the workshop of a retiring violin maker. He was kind enough to let me look through all his wood and this was one of the pieces I bought.

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Note: The shape of my copy was constructed around a form I used previously to make a classic 1742 Guarneri model. To create the new outline for the ‘Ole Bull’ violin and in particular the squarish shape of the upper and lower bouts – I carved the corner blocks proud of the form so the ribs wouldn’t follow my form but followed the shape of the original ‘Ole bull’ violin that I was aiming for. It was a practical approach to make a new violin design, without making a new form and a technique that perhaps Guarneri himself could have used.

Milanese violin at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Music.

Posted on | September 26, 2013 | 1 Comment|

Today the Ottawa Citizen newspaper published an article on a violin made in Milan during the 18th Century by Carlo Fernando Landolfi. It was generously left to the University of Ottawa by the late Sally Benson (violinist with the NACO). The violin is now being used by the professor of violin, Yehonatan Berick, at the Faculty of Music.

For the Ottawa Citizen article – click here

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Above is the violin by Carlo Fernando Landolfi from the Ottawa University collection. (photo from our studio)

In 2009 I restored the scroll of this violin as part of our work to maintain the violin for Sally Benson. Some old repairs on the sides of the scroll had begun to come apart. I replaced the previous inlay repair work with new wood. (for details on the repair click here)

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I’m pleased to see this fine sounding violin being played again and I’m sure it well give great service to Yehonatan Berick.

Alexandre Turmel concert

Posted on | August 21, 2013 | No Comments|

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This Friday violinist Alexandre Turmel is giving a concert with George Harris on flute. The program begins with a Mozart flute concerto and a Mozart violin concerto. The second half includes a new double concerto for flute and violin by George Harris.

Alexandre was taught by Christian Vachon for two years at the Conservatoire de musique in Gatineau, Quebec and has continued to study at the Conservatoire, now with Alexandre Da Costa. He has been a member of the Ottawa Youth Orchestra for three years and last season was Concertmaster of the orchestra. He has also performed with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, the Gatineau Symphony Orchestra and the Thirteen String Ensemble.

Alexandre performs on a violin I made in 2001, which he purchased this year. The violin is based on Stradivari, which was my standard model until 2010.

Concert details:

7:30pm Friday, 23rd August

Shenkman Arts Centre,  245 Centrum Boulevard

$10 advance tickets, $15 at the door.

Chamber Music Concerts – Ottawa

Posted on | August 19, 2013 | No Comments|

Each summer Ottawa is fortunate to have the wonderful Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, which has grown to be the largest chamber music festival in the world. The festival contacted me in July to borrow a viola and a violin for two visiting musicians.  This was arranged with the assistance of local players, who both owned instruments I made and generously they agreed to lend their instruments.

Martin Beaver  (violinist with the Tokyo String Quartet) played on the Harrison viola loaned by Nancy Illman. With violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and cellist Roman Borys they performed Serenade in C major by Ernst von Dohnányi.

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(After the concert from left to right, Nancy Illman, Martin Beaver and myself)

A few days later the Paris based Zodiac trio needed an extra violin for a work by Bartók. Local violinist Rick Carpenter agreed to lend his violin – a recent copy I made of Pinchas Zukerman’s violin. Both Martin Beaver and Vanessa Mollard of the Zodiac trio borrowed instruments due to the difficulty of traveling by plane with two instruments.  (Martin Beaver also performed in the festival on his own violin)

An interesting feature of Chamberfest was the ‘Rising Stars’ concert, featuring talented young musicians.  Violist Jonah Poplove, pictured below, played a viola made in our workshop by my assistant. After his concert we were pleased that he decided to purchase the viola from us. (photo below Copyright © Sean Done Courtesy of Ottawa Chamber Music Society.)

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Finally we were asked to lend a bow to a member of the ‘Lemon Bucket Orchestra’. One of the violinist had broken his bow, which apparently happens quite often in their ensemble. So they called to borrow a very cheap bow. After some rummaging about in the workshop I found the perfect bow to lend. It did the job for his performance and survived in one piece as well!

Talk at the NAC Young Artist Program

Posted on | July 24, 2013 | No Comments|

Each summer the National Arts Centre  presents the Young Artist Program.  Young musicians from around the world come to Ottawa for chamber music coaching, masterclasses and recitals with Pinchas Zukerman and an internationally-renowned faculty.  Chatting with students who visited our workshop, it’s certainly clear they have an inspiring time here.

We were asked by the NAC to give a one hour ‘Question and Answer’ session for the string players regarding their instruments.  Some of the young students have rare expensive instruments, while others are playing on modest factory instruments. But many of the issues for maintaining them are the same.

We were welcomed to Perez Hall at Ottawa University by Allyson Rogers, administrator for the Summer Music Institute. To get things started, I gave a brief talk on soundpost adjustment. I often adjust the sound of instruments in the workshop for clients. Some players seem to have an instinctive understanding of how to work with a luthier while adjusting their instrument. While others, even experienced older professional musicians, seem lost how the process can work for them.

Developing a good working relationship between a luthier and musician became a running theme during the Q & A session.  The students asked interesting questions regarding their instruments – from issues involved with traveling with their instruments, to maintenance and repair techniques. It was useful to have my assistant with me, as we went back and forth discussing various problems and different solutions.  The same as we do in the workshop everyday. Perhaps we also gave an idea how violin makers can work successfully together as well.

Buying wood in Europe

Posted on | March 28, 2013 | 1 Comment|

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Last week I was in Germany and North Italy buying spruce and maple for the next few years of violin making.  A colleague and I first visited the wood dealer  Bachmann in Italy, where we bought spruce. In their store room they had hundreds of pieces of spruce which was carefully organized. Every piece of wood was numbered on the end, giving the year it was cut and a number for the actual tree. (see below)

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This saved us a huge amount of time and though the store room was unheated, it was great to look through all this wood. Once we found a ‘tree’ that we liked, we could go through that section and make our final choice.

The next day we visited Mittenwald in Germany and bought maple for the violin backs, sides and necks and some extra spruce too.  The two wood dealers we visited in Mittenwald were not so carefully organized.  We searched through stacks of wood (some pictured below) to find the pieces we liked. We were then careful to restack the wood more or less as we found them. They don’t appreciate violin makers visiting and leaving their wood in a complete mess!  By visiting different wood dealers I was pleased to find an excellent stock of maple and spruce for my next instruments.

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A few criteria we were using to choose, for example the spruce, were:

Density – we measured the volume and weighed the wood to calculate the density. We were generally looking for lighter wood.

Correctly cut – Some wood is split from the logs and this guarantees that the fiber of the wood runs straight through the length of each piece of wood.  The wood we were buying was sawn, which is a more efficient way to cut up the logs.  But we had to check that the ‘split’ was running straight through each piece. If it’s not cut correctly, the wood will effectively be weaker among other issues.

The grains in the wood – This is a matter of taste and each maker will have different ideas on this. I copy certain old Italian instruments and so I was looking for a width and type of grain that was close to the original instruments I copy.

A great deal more could be written on choosing spruce or maple but above are a few of the basic criteria we were looking for. As we searched through hundreds of pieces of wood, we tried to set high standards and were often rejecting 98% to 99% of what we saw.  On the other hand during our trip we ate well and enjoyed 99% of the tasty food we found.  If only seaching for good wood was so easy!

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Peter Dawson Violins closing

Posted on | February 27, 2013 | 5 Comments|

As many local string players know, after decades in business, Ottawa violin shop Peter Dawson Violins is closing in March. When the owner Kurtis Aelick decided to close the shop, he asked me to look through the instruments and assist him with his collection.

Kurtis and I have been good colleagues for some years and I was pleased to help him. As a result he has trusted with me with all the finer full size instruments, some of which had been kept in storage for many years. My assistant is updating these instruments to good condition and we are now selling them for Kurtis. The price range begins at $2000 to $5000 and going up to $18,000.

The list of available instruments in our shop includes:

2 German workshop violins, circa 1900
Leon Bernardel, 1943, Paris, France
Michele DeLuccia, 1983, Italy/USA
Georg Winterling, 1919, Hamburg, Germany
Alexander Hume, 1926, London, England
Thomas Perry, circa 1800, Dublin, Ireland
Michael Kun, 1984, Ottawa, Canada

A German Viola, 16 3/8″, circa 1900

A German cello, circa 1900
A German cello, circa 1870

Also 2 violin bows by W.E.Hill & Sons, 1930-40, London, England.

Please free feel to call (613-569-4803) to make an appointment to try any of these instruments or bows.

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Michael Kun Violin

Posted on | January 30, 2013 | 2 Comments|

The violin shown below was made by Michael Kun in 1984 and is available now in our workshop.  Michael is the son of the late Joseph Kun, a violin and bow maker who worked in Ottawa Canada from 1968 to 1996.  Joseph Kun also developed the ‘Kun’ shoulder rest which is still used by violinists around the world

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The workmanship of this violin, done with a personal style, especially in the scroll and f’holes,  is very similar to a typical Joseph Kun violin and reflects Michael’s training with his father.

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As a comparison, pictured above is a Joseph Kun from 1982 and on the right is the Michael Kun from 1984.  No doubt the same template was used for both f’holes.

Though the varnish on this Michael Kun violin has a warmer colour, softer texture and is more appealing than his father’s varnish.

Interested clients may call 613 569 4803 to arrange an appointment to try this violin.

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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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