Alexandre Turmel concert

Posted on | August 21, 2013 | No Comments|


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.


(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.)


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|


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!


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.

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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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