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.

N. Vuillaume Cello – Ottawa NACO

Posted on | August 30, 2011 | No Comments|

Last week I was invited to the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa to an event welcoming a new cello to the ‘Zukerman Musical Instrument Foundation’. The foundation works to acquire instruments for strings players of the NAC orchestra. The atmosphere in the rehearsal room was upbeat as Harold and Merle Jones of Ottawa, who were donating the cello, were thanked by music director Pinchas Zukerman. Principal cellist of the NAC Orchestra, Amanda Forsyth also played and demonstrated the cello for everyone in the room.


(photo taken by Sabine Gibbins from the Ottawa East EMC newspaper)

The donated cello was made in the workshop of Nicolas Vuillaume in Mirecourt, France around the mid 19th Century. Nicolas Vuillaume was a younger brother of the famous Jean Baptiste Vuillaume. He was born in 1800 in Mirecourt and most likely trained with his father. After which he further trained with his older brother Jean Baptiste in Paris then returned to Mirecourt to open his own workshop.


The cello needed some cleaning and extra work to update the set up for use in the orchestra. It was brought straight to our workshop. The fingerboard and bridge had been replaced in an 18th to 19th Century style for period performances, within the last twenty years.  This type of set-up wouldn’t suit the NAC orchestra. The very short fingerboard alone would limit how high a cellist could play and the repertoire he or she could perform.   We’ll begin making a longer modern fingerboard, new bridge and soundpost for the N.Vuillaume this week.

Violin making article on

Posted on | July 30, 2011 | 1 Comment|





My good colleague Kim Tipper in British Columbia and I were interviewed for this article on violin making. The writer nicely outlines some of the issues of making a fine violin today and comparing contemporary violins with older instruments.

Though there are a few errors, for example.

“ reports that da Salo crafted double basses and violas that were considered the foundation for Italian violins” Not true. Credit today goes to  Andrea Amati for the early design of the violin, viola and cello. 

Link: feature making-violin

Summer in the workshop

Posted on | July 22, 2011 | 1 Comment|

For the next two weeks my assistant, Charline Dequincey, is taking a well earned vacation. We still have restoration  work waiting to be done.  For a few years I’ve had an old French cello in storage needing repair.  I wanted it playable to present to clients looking for a good cello.

So it was fortunate that luthier Kathleen Thomas from Toronto was available to fill in for a few weeks and start work on restoring this particular cello.


Often when an instrument has been dormant for 50 years or over a hundred years there are many common repairs that need to be done. These can include a new bridge, soundpost, pegs and often more lengthy repairs.  In this case, along with other work, we will remove the neck and refit it at a correct angle for modern set-up.

Kathleen’s repair work will ensure we have the best possible sound from this old cello and the client will have a reliable instrument once it’s sold.

Different contruction methods.

Posted on | June 30, 2011 | 3 Comments|

In the workshop, I’ve been busy varnishing a Stradivari model cello and another Guarneri violin on order.  My assistant in the next room is making a copy of a viola made by G.P. Maggini in Brescia from the early 1600’s.

The work of Stradivari and Guarneri vary in many ways but the construction methods used were most likely very similar. Both makers worked in Cremona with their houses on the same street using methods developed earlier by the Amati family. In Brescia, just 50km away from Cremona,  the makers had their own tradition and methods of making instruments.  So I wanted to have the Maggini model viola made using a different method than the violin and cello – not just a Brescian style viola made in a Cremonese way.


A key element of the Cremonese method is the internal form. Above are the sides of my next Guarneri copy. The sides were built around an internal form. Once the sides are complete, the form is removed to be used for the next violin. This gives some consistency to the  shape and dimensions of each violin.

As a contrast the Maggini viola was most likely built with no form. So the method we used began with carving the outside and inside of the back and gluing the sides directly to the back. (see 2 photos below)


Once the sides were finished, they were traced onto the wood for the front. The front was carved and glued to the sides, closing the box, leaving only the final edges and purfling to finish.  Maggini may have used this method and judging from the asymmetry in the shape of his instruments he didn’t use an internal form.


(Though it has been proposed that Maggini may have used a small form to make the C’bout ribs because the consistent shape and size of middle bout seen on his violins and violas. We did experiment with this as well.)

The aim in using methods that the original makers may have used is to capture the feel of the original instrument, both in appearance and sound.  It’s also interesting to test the theories of construction methods proposed by my colleagues to see how they work in practice and raise our own level of expertise.

Stradivari Cello – Smithsonian

Posted on | February 19, 2011 | 1 Comment|


This week I flew to Washington to visit the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress.   Both museums have great collections of string instruments and in  particular I went to see the Stradivari ‘Servais’ cello from 1701. I already had some information on the ‘Servais’.  The purpose of this trip was to gather more information, measurements, take detailed photos to use while making my cellos.

I measured the thicknesses of the front, back and sides and recorded the arching shapes and various measurements on the body and scroll. Museum curator Kenneth Slowik was very kind and gave me a wonderful room with great natural light to work and take photos. My aim with the photos was not to take the standard shots but to focus on details of varnish wear and the sculptural qualities of this instrument. Below are a couple of photos I took of the Stradivari cello.


The fluting is beautifully carved right around under the scroll with a sharp central spine. And the turns around the eye show typical straight tool marks.


The photo above shows a portion of the back:  Some of the varnish here had developed a very delicate craquelure. This texture appeared only on a few areas of the back and sides.

Over at the Library of Congress I studied the Guarneri violin once played by Fritz Kreisler.  Also I couldn’t leave Washington without looking over the stunning ‘Betts’ Stradivari violin before heading back to Ottawa to complete the cello on the bench. (thank you to Library of Congress curator Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford)

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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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