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.

Toronto Star – “Contemporary violins upstage a Stradivarius”

Posted on | January 17, 2012 | No Comments|

A study by Claudia Fritz comparing contemporary violins with Cremonese violins has been featured in various magazines and newspapers recently.  Journalist Ross Oakland from The Toronto Star called our workshop while putting together two articles published in their Sunday paper.





The first article focuses on the psychoacoustic study by Claudia Fritz.

Link to first Toronto Star article

The second article explores the value and prices of old instruments.

Link to second Toronto Star article

Emmanuel Begin bows

Posted on | January 3, 2012 | 18 Comments|

When customers are trying different instruments in our shop, they often take out their own bow to use.  It makes sense for customers to use a bow they know well when trying to choose a violin. But my heart sinks if their bow is a very poor quality stick or missing half of it’s hair and in rough shape!

A good quality well made bow makes such a difference to the sound of a good instrument.  Now I always have a selection of new and old bows for players to use when choosing an instrument and we sell the bows as well.  Many of our clients already have a few fine bows tucked in their cases. While other musicians are looking for a bow to compliment their new instrument from us.

In the last few months we’ve sold several bows by bow maker Emmanuel Begin. Emmanuel is the son of Montreal bow maker Louis Begin. After working with his father, Emmanuel continued his training in France with Yannick Le Canu and has now returned to Montreal. Both professional players and students have enjoyed the beautiful sound they can produce and how well they feel to play.  Violinist Mark Fewer talks about his new Emmanuel Begin bow purchased through us in this interview on (link)


Emmanuel Begin’s silver mounted bows are priced at $4800.

Update:  Emmanuel Begin won 3 gold medals (for violin bow, viola bow & cello bow) at the 2016 VSA International Violin and Bow Making Competition in Cleveland, USA.


Workshop Viola

Posted on | December 28, 2011 | No Comments|

We’re enjoying a break over the holiday period and the workshop opens again January 3rd.

Just before Christmas I took the photo below of my assistant, Charline Dequincey, doing the finishing touches on her next viola.  The viola is based on a 17th Century instrument by Maggini.  I found several pieces of great maple that were very close in appearance to the original viola.


I’m looking forward to hear how Charline’s viola sounds and I’ll start varnishing my version of the Maggini model viola in the new year.

Guarneri Del Gesu copies.

Posted on | December 1, 2011 | 3 Comments|

Two of my customers were very kind and brought their ‘Harrison’ violins to my shop for me to play and compare. They were based on the same violin- the Guarneri Del Gesu, 1742, ‘Lord Wilton’ , once owned by Yehudi Menuhin.  One of the violins was completed in 2010 and the other was finished just a few weeks ago.


Having two of my violins of the same model in the workshop at the same time is unusual. It gave me the chance to compare and see in which ways they were different or similar.

Throughout the year as I complete violins in the shop, I adjust each instrument to have them sounding their best. As part of that process I think about the sound of previous violins I’ve made, other instruments I like and good Cremonese violins I’ve heard and played.

So when completing a violin  I often ask myself – is it better than the last one? A subjective question at best and even more so if the previous violin is sold and gone.

In this case the violins actually sounded very similar when listening a few meters away.  The recent violin was  finished a few weeks ago and sounded very good already.  The older 2010 violin had a slightly smoother sound and feel while playing it.   It will be interesting to see how they compare in a year from now when both violins have been played extensively.




Above:  The back and front of the most recent violin.

Tanning wood before varnishing

Posted on | September 18, 2011 | 1 Comment|

In the workshop I use UV lights to tan my instruments before varnishing and we also use UV light to dry the varnish on the instruments.  Last week I was replacing some old bulbs in my UV light box.

At the light supply shop the owner was interested why I needed these UV lights.  After talking for sometime about violin making & varnishes he thought he could provide a better UV  light for tanning the wood and offered to run a test for me.  This was a man very passionate about lights bulbs!

So we tested how different types of light tan the wood before varnishing. I made up two sample pieces of spruce and covered part of each piece with aluminum foil. The wood under the foil would remain untanned and would be a record of how the wood looked before any UV light.  The rest would be tanned under the different UV lights.


He took a 250 watt mercury bulb, modified it by removing an outer glass covering to increase the level of UVA and UVB. (Probably something left to an expert.)


The bulb used 110 volts in a basic set-up in the basement of his light shop. I ran the same test with my standard UV lights.




The result below was very interesting. The piece of wood on the left was in my UV light box. It did change somewhat but not a great deal. The wood on the right was under his light and is clearly tanned a light brown colour.  I’m now experimenting further with this new light.












I did end up replacing some of the older lights in my light box, which is where all this started.  I’ve recently learnt, concerning the UV tubes I have, that their light output reduces by half after 4000 hours of use.  So I’ll probably replace the tubes every 1 -2 years  to be sure they’re working at their best and say hi to the guys at the light shop.

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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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