I had a fair amount of positive feedback on two particular instruments at the Maryhurst show: a “1735 Plowden” Guarneri model violin, and a 14″ Oliver viola that has pretty amazing sound. So I decided to see if I could repeat the successes, and am building a new one of each model.
1735 Plowden Guarneri model
This is a very powerful instrument, pretty classic Guarneri style and sound. I took my measurements from the Strad poster and technical drawings, and copied the archings from there, as well. The first one had a rich powerful tone from the day it was first strung up and playing. So, I hope the second try at the same instrument will be even better.
This one (like the first one, and, like the original) is European maple (one-piece back) and European spruce. I am using willow for blocks and linings. I am always impressed with the difference in how the European wood handles under the knife, gouge or plane. I have been told by all my mentors and teachers that, at least for violins, the European Maple is definitely superior in terms of tone. I am going to take their word for it…they are all very experienced makers who really ought to know. They did say, however, for violas, cellos, and basses, that domestic woods seem to work fine. Must have something to do with the higher-frequency sound or something like that. Although, that last five-string fiddle I made, of Myrtle and Port Orford Cedar, has very good high end tone, as well as good low notes…so I don’t know why one is better than another. The Myrtle is definitely harder, heavier wood…maybe that helped.
14-inch Oliver Viola
This will actually be off the same mold as the Guarneri violin (a duplicate of it), so it will have exactly the same “footprint”, but the arching and graduations, as well as the rib-height and other differences will definitely make it a viola, not a violin with viola strings. It is comparatively easy to make a large viola that sounds great, but much more difficult to make a very satifactory small viola. Fortunately, I fell into (quite by accident) an arching pattern that worked very well, and later had it confirmed by one of my teachers, so I had early (accidental) success with small violas, and have gotten better as I learned to understand what was happening with them.
I like the viola sound, and I am big enough to play my largest viola model (16-1/2 Guarneri model) comfortably, but I can see where a professional player could encounter some problems holding his/her arm out at that distance for hours of practice or orchestral performance. So, the small violas have a special attraction in terms of comfort…and if they can sound comparable to a larger instrument, so much the better. I also make a 14-7/8″ viola, but the 14″ viola is the smallest I have made.
This one is Big Leaf maple and Sitka spruce. Willow linings, same as the other new instrument.
I will be attempting to complete the two new instruments side by side, step by step, so that whatever stage I am at in one will be where I am on the other, as well (give or take an hour or two.) We’ll see how that plays out.
I’ll post pictures in a few days.
Thanks for reading.
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