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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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 eHow.com

Posted on | July 30, 2011 | 1 Comment|

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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.

“Stradivarius.org 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: www.ehow.com 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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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(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|

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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.

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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.

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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)

3D Print of a Ruggeri violin scroll

Posted on | January 25, 2011 | 4 Comments|

One of the important tools I use in the workshop are casts taken from great antique instruments. Our collection includes old style casts made from Plaster of Paris and more modern and durable plastic resin casts. We use these at the bench as a reference or inspiration while copying an instrument while the actual instrument is back with it’s owner.

There are many ways to make casts off an instrument and while it is a safe procedure there is a lot of handling of the instrument. Many private owners of historic instruments or museums are hesitant to have this done.

An alternative technique we have been exploring is 3D laser scanning and 3D printing.  A while ago we scanned a violin by Francesco Ruggeri (from Cremona, Italy, 1672)  at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa.  The scanner collected data off the surface of the violin in the X, Y and Z  axis to form a virtual 3D computer model. With the data from the scan I had a solid 3D print made of the scroll. (shown below)

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At the moment I’m organizing the 3D printing of the body of the Ruggeri violin.  From the 3D print I can take measurements, make templates and study to make a copy. I look forward to see how this technology can be futher incorporated into our workshop.

Violin and viola repairs & restorations in Ottawa

Posted on | September 30, 2010 | 4 Comments|

For inquires regarding adjustments, repairs and restoration, please call 613 569 4803.


With the start of the new academic year and concert season, it’s been a busy time in the workshop.  On the restoration front, we’ve had some interesting instruments come in for repair. Photographed below are some of the instruments we have now for repair work.

Elophen Poirson violin, Lyon, 1910.

Antonio Stradivari violin, 1700.

Hill viola,  London, 1810.

Stefano Scarampella violin,  Mantua, 1900

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Meanwhile I am making a fourth violin based on the Guarneri, ‘Lord Wilton’ 1742. This model seems very popular with players with it’s compact size and large rich sound. Once I complete this violin I’ll begin making two Stradivari model cellos for clients. Going from the spontaneous style of Guarneri Del Gesu to the very clean work of Stradivari will be challenging.  But it’s these challenges and continuing to study great instruments like the Stradivari violin above that make my work so fascinating year after year.



Mittenwald Competition Germany 2010

Posted on | July 17, 2010 | 2 Comments|

In May I entered the International Mittenwald Violin Making Competition. This competition is held every four years and attracted 175 violin makers from around the world. The instruments are judged on sound and workmanship by an international panel of  judges.

The violin I entered won bronze medal.  (both pictured below)

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The violin was my usual Stradivari model developed over many years.  I took what I felt were the best elements of Stradivari’s work and tried to produce an overall balanced and spontaneous visual impression. Also the workmanship was directed towards with a beautiful strong projecting sound and easy playability.   The violin was finished with an evenly coloured varnish with no shading or antiquing to fit within the rules of the competition.

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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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