Making new violins today requires the integration of 18th century ideals with the musical demands of the late 20th century. In our noisy time, it can be difficult to hear the faint voices from the past. In my work, I try every day to think in an 18th century mode even as I am immersed in contemporary musical scenes.
Most players agree that Italian instruments from the late-17th to mid-18th centuries are some of the greatest instruments ever created. Those instruments reflected astonishing advances then, and for today’s musicians and violinmakers alike, they remain as our paradigms.
A challenge that spurred early violinmakers was the moment of opportunity that each new instrument presented them. With each new violin, they could make an individual statement with tone, workmanship, design and style. It is the uniqueness ingrained in each instrument that we find so compelling in the great 17th and 18th century instruments. That spirited freedom, so exuberantly expressed in the 18th century, is precisely what I aspire to achieve at my workbench.
Many of today’s violinmakers are tempted to copy, even to the point of making reproductions, complete with scratches and exactly matched wear patterns imposed upon the wood and varnish. I believe that painstaking efforts to match, step-for-step the great masters, inhibit our ability to discover our own natural gait.
I have found my path by welcoming the influence of the works of the 18th century Cremonese masters into my study and development. Out of a profound respect for this formidable tradition, I began my own journey of designing my own patterns and models by studying the masterpieces. Within the parameters of the classical designs, I seek untapped combinations and possibilities which yield themselves only to those who work with their own designs. For this reason, I prefer to make my own patterns.
The process of making violin family instruments from personal patterns is at once exciting, rewarding, and intimidating. Often, I fear not meeting the standards set down over 200 years ago. It is as though I am on thin ice when I venture into this territory of unproven concepts. Returning to the great historical works for study has deepened my understanding of classical principles and has guided me through the process of deriving new patterns. This is truly a lifelong process for a violinmaker, and one that easily consumes every waking moment.