Buying wood in Europe

Posted on | March 28, 2013 | 1 Comment|


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)


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.


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!


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.


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



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.











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.

New CD – Bolero ‘Prochaine Station’

Posted on | January 2, 2013 | No Comments|

A new CD by the Montreal-based trio ‘Bolero‘ was released in the fall last year and we’ve enjoyed listening to it many times in the workshop. Titled ‘Prochaine Station’ , it ranges from arrangements of contemporary music to tango, klezmer and jazz genres.

The group features Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh on violin, Sonya Matoussova on cello and guitarist Adam Shugar. Ms. Hardy-Kavanagh performs on a violin (Stradivari model) I made in 2002 which is heard throughout the recording.


This energetic and charming album by three talented Canadian musicians can be ordered online here:

New Year

Posted on | December 24, 2012 | 1 Comment|

The workshop is now closed for 2012 and opens again on January 2nd 2013

We’ve had a great year, with wonderful instruments and clients coming into our workshop.  A few of the interesting instruments we saw surprisingly came out of storage from the Canadian government. My assistant is now restoring a French violin and English viola from their collection.  Next year these 18th Century instruments may be heard during official government functions in Ottawa.

It was also a successful year for making new instruments, with every instrument that we produced in 2012 now with their new owners.

Thank you to all our supportive musician friends!


Above: the scroll from a viola by Guy Harrison made in 2012.

New Norteño CD

Posted on | September 7, 2012 | No Comments|


dscn1174cThe superb ensemble  Norteño have released their third CD ~ Cato’s Life. This album features music composed by Pierre-Paul Provencher, who also performs on the bandonéon (accordion) with the group. Norteño works within the world of “tango nuevo” (new tango), a genre created by the great Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla.


Violinist Christian Vachon is a member of Norteño and performs on a 2010 Guy Harrison violin, shown left.   His violin is a copy of a 1693 Stradivari violin.  The CD is available in our workshop and through iTunes (link).

Norteño’s website

Varnish – Italian violin

Posted on | July 9, 2012 | No Comments|

The photo below is from an Italian violin made in Milan during the middle of the 18th Century.  It’s in our workshop for some major restoration work. On the back the varnish had worn away to show two distinct layers of varnish.  I took this close up photo showing some of the worn and chipped varnishes.

Across large areas of the back, the varnish has worn down to what appeared to be just wood. There may be remnants of original varnish or a sealing coat soaked into the wood but to the naked eye it appears to be just polished wood. Together with many marks and scratches,  it’s been polished over by violin restorers with thin layers of ‘french polish’. (typically a shellac/resin varnish)

Over the wood, there is a pale, almost clear lower layer of varnish. A likely purpose of this layer would have been to seal the wood before applying the next much darker coloured varnish. Without the pale varnish the coloured varnish would soak into the wood. It could then stain the violin in a patchy, uneven and generally unattractive way.


The final coat is the orange brown coloured varnish which has been applied over the lower varnish. It appears to have gently worn away from the surface over the past two and half centuries, in contrast to the lower layer of varnish which has chipped off from the wood.

Perhaps the coloured varnish was a softer and less brittle varnish? Or perhaps the lower clear varnish didn’t strongly adhere to the surface of the wood and therefore had a tendency to chip off over the years. Either way, it was interesting to see these two layers of varnish still visible, though now only clearly seen on the back of the violin.  Overall the look of the worn varnish is now quite beautiful and the ability of these classic Italian varnishes to age gracefully through daily use over the centuries I feel is one of their most pleasing characteristics.

Exhibition in New Orleans- May 13th (workshop closing for a week)

Posted on | April 27, 2012 | No Comments|

In May our workshop will be closed for one week from May 8th and opening again on May 15th.

During that week, I’ll be in New Orleans for the biennial meeting of the American Federation of Violin & Bow Makers. Together with interesting lectures on various aspects of violin expertise, the meeting will include an instrument exhibit centered around the Amati Family Workshop and their early imitators.

On Sunday, May 13th from 1:00 to 5:00 there will be a public exhibition of instruments and bows made by AFVBM members at the Hotel Monteleone. (214 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana)













The “Players Meet Makers” events take place at each AFVBM General Meeting.  It is free and open to the public and allows local string players the opportunity to try some of these great contemporary instruments and bows.  I’ll be presenting two violins for players to try.

At the same time my assistant will be in Paris visiting the musical instrument trade show – Musicora.  We’re both looking forward to see some great instruments and catching up with friends and colleagues.

Copy of a viola by Giovanni Paolo Maggini

Posted on | February 25, 2012 | 1 Comment|

This week I finished an instrument modeled after a viola by G.P. Maggini. The original was made in Brescia, Italy, during the early part of the 17th Century. The construction methods I used were similar to the methods my assistant used on her Brescian viola.


The back is carved from one piece of maple. (cut on the slab) The high full arching shape, which is not discernible in the photos, is combined with a deep fluting around the edge.  I had good casts of the back and front of the original viola which was a great help in capturing the arching of the original in my copy.


This viola was made for a violist looking for a darker sound than his current instrument. One of the reasons I chose the Maggini viola as my model was because the Brescian violas are renowned for their darker sound.  Though the ‘dark Brescian  sound’ may be a slight cliche, my copy certainly has the rich and darker sound that I was looking for.

Pierre Martel Cello

Posted on | January 30, 2012 | 2 Comments|

Last year a local music organization gave me a cello as a thank you for volunteer work I had done over the past few years. This small size cello was made by Canadian violin maker, Pierre Martel in 1879. He worked in L’Assomption, Quebec, about 40 km north of Montreal.

The cello needs some restoration and when we have some spare moments this year we will restore it to playable condition. Today I dusted it off and took some photographs as a first step before starting the repairs.


Once the cello is complete and adjusted to sound it’s best, we intend to loan it to young cellists in need of a good small cello.










Above: The back (and sides) appear to be made from well figured Canadian/North American maple.

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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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