This week I have been working on making new models, or patterns that I base my instruments on. I have decided to make a quartet of Guarneri instruments. The cello will be a Joseph Guarneri ‘Filius Andrea’, the viola an Andrea Guarneri, and the two violins will be in the style of Joseph Guarneri ‘Del Jesu’. I thought it would be interesting to see how the family style progressed, from the grandfather to the father to the son. I have never made four instruments together with the intention of them being a cohesive whole before and the prospect is exciting.
Making a new model is somewhat of an event for most violinmakers. Most violinmakers have a few models they make, usually a couple of instruments based on different makers and perhaps models varying in size for instance- a 16” inch viola and a 16 1/2” or 17″ inch model. This is very traditional, probably because musicians still come in all sizes today as in Stradivari’s time. Makers need to work with players to find an instrument that works for their body and playing style, so having a few arrows in your quiver is appropriate.
Once you pick the model you wish to make, there are many decisions that still need to be made. Will you copy the asymmetry of the particular instrument? Is this an aberration or was this a consistent feature of the makers style? What about measurements, will you redesign the instrument to fit “normal” standards of string length and body size? These and a hundred other details all need to be carefully considered before the work can begin in earnest.
So I make visits to the local copy shop with tracings of instrument outlines and ruler in hand and try to explain to them that a difference in size of 1/8” just will not fly. From the very accurate copies I make templates by hand out of plastic. ( I use plastic because I can shape it with my woodworking tools and it is fairly dimensionally stable over time.) Then I will use the templates to make the mold that the ribs will be bent around. Once this process is finished I will be able to use these templates and forms for years. One good reason for going to all the trouble of making them perfect.
Amid all the details, I am excited about this quartet. I have picked the wood that will become the instruments, with an eye for how they will go together. This wood is spectacular, three of the four instruments will have one-piece backs. Sometime soon I will get to dive into the real work and trade in my plastic dust for wood shavings.