New Cello – in our Ottawa workshop.

Posted on | April 29, 2009 | 1 Comment|

Pictured on the bench is the Stradivari model cello my assistant and I are making. Inside the sides have been reinforced with cloth.


Stradivari reinforced the sides of his cellos with linen cloth. The sides on our cello are made from poplar which Stradivari also used. It’s a softer wood than maple and is sensible to reinforce them as he did. The linen patches are glued in with hide glue and once dry are very strong and light. The fabric I used was fine quality Irish linen.

Now the front is ready to be glued to the sides and then I’ll fit the neck.

Landolfi (Milan 18th C.) violin repair

Posted on | April 14, 2009 | 2 Comments|

Below is a violin by Carlo Fernando Landolfi from 18th Century Milan. It was brought into the shop for restoration.







The peg box had been fitted with plastic peg bushings by another violin shop. Traditionally when the peg holes are badly worn, the holes are filled with wood and fresh holes are redrilled. In this case the plastic peg bushing has caused the neck graft and old repairs to come apart. I suspect there was a conflict between the wooden scroll expanding and shrinking with the seasons and the rigid plastic.


An old repair on the side of the peg box had come loose. After discussing with the owner, we decided to redo the old repair to give much needed strength to the pegbox.





The old repair was removed and new wood was fitted in. When fitting the new piece of maple, I avoided removing any more original wood other than what was necessary .




landolfi3-233x3003 After varnish retouching was complete, new peg holes were reamed for the pegs. The scroll may need a new neck graft, but for the time being it seems stable. The violin is now in use everyday.

Years ago I had photographed this violin before the plastic bushings were done by the violin dealer. It was very useful for the owner and I to be able to compare what had actually broken loose over that time.

Note: This Landolfi violin is now part of the University of Ottawa Instrument Collection.  Visit: here for more information.


The Leading Note Foundation

Posted on | March 30, 2009 | No Comments|

A great music program started recently in Ottawa has been the Leading Note Foundation

The program gives children from low-income communities the opportunity to learn and make music together. Lessons are provided by volunteers. Instruments have been donated by the public and violin shops. We donated a student cello and violin.

Many of the donated instruments and bows needed to be brought into good playing condition. My assistant, together with two other luthiers and a bow maker helped put many of the instruments into working order for the young players.


Charline (right) sets up instruments- September 2008.

For information on this wonderful program and how to help go to The Leading Note Foundation

For more information on our workshop visit


New neck graft

Posted on | March 15, 2009 | 2 Comments|

While making a copy of Yehudi Menuhin’s Guarneri Del Gesu violin, my assistant and I have also been making a cello. It’s inspired by the ‘Castlebarco’ 1699 Stradivari cello at the Library of Congress and the ‘Servais’ 1701 Stradivari cello at the Smithsonian. Both are in Washington D.C., which I visited a few years ago.


Our cello back and sides are in poplar wood like a number of Stradivari’s cellos. And the scroll is carved from pearwood, which is a good solid hardwood for the pegs to fit into. Both poplar and pearwood are plain in appearance and match well together.

To have a beautifully figured maple neck, which I personally prefer, I grafted the plain pearwood scroll onto a maple neck- in the same style as the Stradivari cellos.

The method of grafting I used though is new. It’s a technique I heard about at a meeting of the American Federation of Violin & Bow Makers.

The traditional method cuts wood from the front of the peg box to accept the new neck graft. With good varnish retouching this can be made completely invisible- but as the decades pass the joint often begins to appear as an ugly joint line.

The new technique removes nothing away from the front of the peg box and the new neck graft is hidden within the walls of the pegbox and covered beneath the top nut. It will make varnishing around the scroll much easier on our cello. This method would also be useful when fitting the first neck graft to an old instrument, to save as much original wood and varnish as possible.


On right: the maple neck graft is glued into the pearwood scroll. Next the pegbox will be carved out and the scroll finished.

Ottawa Violin teacher and a commission?

Posted on | March 1, 2009 | 1 Comment|

For instruments, bows, repairs and restoration – 613 569 4803

792 Gladstone Avenue, Ottawa, K1R 6X9


This week I had a parent come into the shop. She wanted to know how much she could sell her daughter’s violin for. It was poorly re-varnished, had a replacement front, and badly repaired cracks in the scroll, sides and back.

I said the value was very low. The parent had paid $6000 for the violin, some of which she had borrowed from her parents. When buying this violin she had been recommended by the violin teacher to only visit one particular violin dealer.

In this case I wondered if the teacher had received a “teacher commission” because I couldn’t understand why anyone would recommend this instrument.

For those parents and students who don’t know, some dealers and violin makers offer some string teachers a commission (some might call it a kickback) if a student purchases an instrument from them. The amount is often around 10 to 20% of the sale price. The student is not told about the payment.


What’s sad in the rather typical case above, is the family probably asked for the teacher’s help in the selection process because they wanted an independent opinion. With a secret payment, this valuable objective opinion is lost and the teacher is selling almost in partnership with the violin dealer. The teacher may have been tempted to recommend a more expensive instrument and not the best sounding or recommended buying from the dealer paying the commission rather than other good shops who were not.

If you are a student or a parent of a young player it might be worth asking if your teacher sometimes accepts commissions. If they do, they still might be a wonderful teacher, but you might want to find someone else to help you with your instrument selection.

It’s worth noting, that many generous teachers in Ottawa spend a lot of time helping their students find a good instrument or bow. Parents can pay the teacher directly for this extra time and service which is completely fair and I would encourage this.

In my business I have never paid teachers to recommend my work. Every student who has bought an instrument from me can be confident that no commissions were paid or added to the sale price.

I hope this information is helpful to parents and students when looking to buy an instrument or bow in Ottawa or anywhere else in North America.

Soundpost patch – Italian violin by A. Gavatelli

Posted on | February 15, 2009 | 3 Comments|


The owner of this violin had been trying to shine up her violin with a cleaning solution, which are sold in small bottles by many violin shops in Canada. Overtime the rosin and sticky residue left by the cleaner had built up a thick dirty layer over the front of her violin.

I don’t recommend or sell any of these cleaning products. A soft cloth is the best thing to wipe rosin off your instrument, together with periodic cleaning by a professional luthier. (See for a trained luthier near you)

My assistant spent 2 hours cleaning the front and discovered a soundpost crack. (a crack under the bridge and over the soundpost)

To prevent the crack becoming worse and effecting the sound, we recommended to repair and reinforce the crack.

To begin my workshop made a cast in plaster of the front before removing it from the sides. (below)


The front was removed and the crack cleaned and glued. Using a template the position of the reinforcement inside was decided on and the spruce patch prepared.


The patch was inlaid into the front. The ‘patch bed’ was carved out and carefully scraped to a perfectly smooth shape. The depth of the patch bed was 2/3 of the of the original thickness of the front, leaving 1mm spare. The plaster cast supported the front during all this delicate work.


The new spruce patch was fitted using the ‘chalk fitting’ technique. Chalk is applied to the patch bed and the patch is gently pressed into the place. Where the patch touches the patch bed it leaves chalk marks on the patch and indicates where wood needs to be cut away. My assistant removed wood from the new spruce patch until the chalk showed a perfect fit. fitting-patch1

The small upright supports at either end of the patch are there to locate the patch in the same position every time.patch-in-bed1

The patch was glued and clamped. Next it was trimmed down close to the level of the front


The patch was carefully scraped to blend level with the original. Since the original thickness of the front was good we made the patch the same.


This completed the internal work of reinforcing the crack. Some varnish work on the outside was needed. The crack was sealed with varnish and filled to make the crack completely invisible. Below shows a close up of the thin stripe of varnish applied to the crack waiting to dry, before final finishing.

This repair will prevent the crack from opening up in the future.



Viola da Gamba CD-Mikko Perkola.

Posted on | February 12, 2009 | 1 Comment|

Last year this CD came out and I sold a number of copies in my shop. Now I just received another batch of CDs! The recording features Finnish Gamba player Mikko Perkola. He is performing on a Viola da Gamba I made 10 years ago while living in Toronto.

It was a copy of a 17th Century French 7 string instrument. One of three Gambas I made at that time.


18th Century violin case

Posted on | February 5, 2009 | 7 Comments|


A colleague was looking to sell this old double violin case and bought it into the workshop.

It was made for two 7/8 size violins probably around 1800 or earlier. There was no padding inside, just lined in thin blue felt. The outside was covered in leather with metal studs and fitted with a solid brass lock and handle. The case weighed several kilos! It was not designed for a busy modern musician. Rather it was more of a safe storage place for violins or for traveling perhaps by horse and coach.

Since it was only made for 7/8 size violins I really couldn’t justify buying it. Though it was interesting to see and reminded me how much lighter and safer modern cases have become!




Tourte Le Jeune – bow making

Posted on | January 29, 2009 | 2 Comments|

While at a conference last year in Portland, Oregon I ordered this book, which arrived a few weeks ago. It is a catalogue of an exhibition on bows made by Francois Xaviar Tourte. The exhibition was held in London, England in 2008 and focused on Tourte, the founder of modern bow making.


I didn’t have time with all my travels to go to England and see this exhibition, so the book was the next best thing. For those interested in bows and the history of bow making I would very much recommend this new book.

It’s fascinating to see the different designs of heads and frogs. Some of which were clearly copied or offered great inspiration to later bow makers such as James Tubbs, Dominique Peccatte, and as mentioned in the book, Samuel Allen working for W.E. Hill.


Available from:

Adjusting a bridge on a viola.

Posted on | January 21, 2009 | No Comments|

This week I have been adjusting a viola I made last year. The sound was too much in the treble range for my taste and I wanted to bring more bass across all four strings. To achieve that I’m adjusting the bridge together with other changes to the viola.


With traditional methods I look at the quality of wood, thickness, height and overall cutting of bridge. Now with my laptop and a ‘Piezo sensor’ I’m able to check the tuning or frequency of the bridge. In the other words the overall brightness or mellowness of the bridge.


Above is the set-up I use. The bridge is held gently by the feet in a heavy vice to reduce extraneous vibrations. The sensor is resting against the upper edge of the bridge. The opposite edge is plucked. The sensor together with the computer software registers the frequency.


The top screen shows the ‘volume’. The lower screen shows the frequency and the various peaks that make up the sound. The tallest main peak is the one I’m interested in – and it showed a fairly high frequency of over 3000 Hz.

By carving wood away from the bridge I’m able to raise or lower the frequency of the bridge. In this case , I plan to remove a touch of wood from the waist of the bridge to lower the frequency and therefore reduce the overall brightness of the viola.

Recently on another occasion, working on a violin, this technique helped me decide that the bridge was in fact just fine and so I focused my attention and adjustments elsewhere.

(In setting up my bridge tuning rig I assisted by a select and generous group of North American violin making 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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