Day Four, SCVMW

Today began with purfling. I cleaned up the edge of my top plate and ran a purfling rout 4mm in from there. The corners are always tricky, especially in spruce, and they require deft knife work. It’s also important to get the tip equidistant from the three sides of the corner, and you need the right curve, and so on and so forth… My miters turned out OK, and I’m happy with the points of this purfling. Keep in mind that del Gesu didn’t do the fancy, long points that Stradivari and Amati used.

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I used this modified compass that Michael Darnton made to scribe the corner purfling before cutting the corner routs. Violin makers have to make a lot of their own tools, and sometimes they can get pretty creative!
Here is a finished corner rout that I cut with my knife and purfling pick.
Here is a finished corner rout that I cut with my knife and purfling pick.
Here is some detail on a couple of the corners. I'm pretty happy with the result, though there's always room for improvement!
Here is some detail on a couple of the corners with the purfling inlaid. I’m pretty happy with the result, though there’s always room for improvement!
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A close-up of one of my corners.

Bartruff taught me to do purfling very late in the process. The reason for this is that sometimes you have to adjust the edge a little bit, and if so, then the purfling won’t look right if it had been installed early. However, just about everybody at the workshop does purfling very early, before any final arching, because adjustments to the purfling channel can alter the arch shape… and Michael Darnton believes the arch to be one of the most critical aspects of the violin.

Purfling took me all of the morning and into the afternoon. The only other thing I did was to hand out a few band-aids (thanks, Jodi!).

In the afternoon, I spent some time teaching a neighboring violin maker how to use the computer to design arching templates. I suspect he found it a little bewildering; technology isn’t usually a forte among this demographic, although there are a few who are quite adept at computers as well as violins.

After the computer exercises, I decided to take a little break and visit the bow making workshop to see what they were up to in those quarters. I remember Will Bartruff telling me that he had once done a couple of bows, and he said it was hard work. Violin makers don’t often make bows. A bow maker is called an archetier, and he or she is at least a part-time jeweler when making a bow (as one of the participants pointed out to me). The frog of a violin really is jewelry, and it is quite an involved process to make one.

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Here are the tools of a bow maker. Much of what you see here is being used to make an ebony frog. Those little pieces are more complicated than you might think!

You know those little rings and such that you see on a bow? Many of those things have to be forged or shaped from raw silver or abalone by the bow maker as part of the process of making a bow. It’s not like they come in different sizes at the hobby store, and you pick the one you want to put on. I was quite impressed with the amount of workmanship that goes into a hand-made bow. I understand why they can get so expensive.

I made the acquaintance of a few of the archetiers. One of them is learning to play cello and is making his own bow. He gave me some good advice about learning an instrument: More than simply getting a good instructor, he said, it’s important to find a local group or orchestra that will let you play along.

He related the story of when his little community orchestra was invited to play at a book signing for a title on the subject of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. One of the champions from that winning team (now an old man) was in attendance and seated in the front row, so this new acquaintance of mine knew he had to play as best he could in spite of being a beginner at the instrument. After the event, they all received some genuine compliments from that gentleman and his wife. That sort of experience makes more of a difference than simply sitting at home to practice alone. And that is some wisdom from a bow-maker.

The bow making workshop
The bow making workshop

I had a very curious experience this evening.  I have been working from a pattern for a 1742 Guarneri del Gesu violin. Those of you who follow violins at all know that del Gesu is often regarded in esteem as highly as Stradivari himself. Indeed, there have been times when the del Gesu violins have commanded the highest prices of any violins on the planet.

Now, one of the gentlemen who works right next to my bench is a certain Dr. Sloan. This evening he approached me to see how my work was coming along and to look at my corner purflings. He looked at my pattern and noticed that it was a 1742 del Gesu. I told him a little bit about it, and he said, “Well, I shall get it out and play it for you.”

How about that? There it was, my del Gesu in all of its original glory! It was the ex-Segelman del Gesu, now the Sloan del Gesu (for some thirty years, I am told).

The Sloan del Gesu, being held by one of the violin makers at the work shop.
The Sloan del Gesu, being held by one of the violin makers at the workshop.

As it turns out, I only had the pattern for the ribs and plate outline. I planned on using the ex-Henry Wall ff-holes and scroll patterns that Will Bartruff drew up for me. Now I have pictures of the ff-holes and the scroll on the actual instrument. What a day.

Oh, but it doesn’t end there. It turns out that Dr. Sloan owns more than just the del Gesu. Yes, there is a genuine Strad in his collection as well:

That's ME holding the Jackson Stradivarius.
That’s ME holding the Jackson Stradivarius.

I had the opportunity to listen to both of these legendary instruments, and even to play on them if I wished (with a $30,000 Tourte bow, no less). Alas, I do not play the violin (yet), and so the best I could do was to look and to listen. At least I had the wits to snap a few photos.

So now I’ve perused a couple of Strads and a del Gesu on this little trip of mine. It’s a little bit surreal and unexpected.

Anyway, I finished the day working out the top long arch, which is trickier than the back arch; and also starting on the back purfling rout of my newly-appreciated del Gesu. Here is how I ended my day today:

This is my top plate, all purfled up and ready to arch.
This is my top plate, all purfled up and ready for final arching.


This is where I ended with my back plate. I still need to cut the corner routs and put the purfling in.
This is where I ended with my back plate. I still need to cut the corner routs and put the purfling in. I love the maple I got for this violin; it’s almost quilted!

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