Time-line of all my violins, violas, cellos, double basses and five-string fiddles:
A Chronology of all my instruments, in reverse order:
The Chronology will continue to change “as time goes by”. (joke) This will be a time-line including all my hand-made instruments in the reverse order of completion. If you see a particular instrument you especially like, Connect with me to discuss how you can try it on approval. All of my instruments are handmade in Oregon.
Instrument #31: Fractional (3/4-size) Oliver Violin
An adult player with small hands approached me at the Marylhurst show last year, about a 3/4-size violin. I had nothing but an older Czechoslovakian instrument at the moment, so I asked for the individual’s contact information, in the event that I could make a new 3/4 violin.
They crisply informed me that they had my information, and that was the end of the conversation. So…all I could do was to go ahead and make the little violin, and hope the same person shows up at the show next year. I reasoned that, even if they do not, there may be a virtuoso student of diminuative stature who needs a high-quality instrument and can’t yet handle a 4/4.
This instrument is made of European maple and spruce, except the neck, which I think is some Red maple I bought from Elon Howe of Newaygo, Michigan, several years ago. It has a big voice, and is very easy to play.
Although I built it in response to a particular individual’s need, it will definitely be “first-come-first-served”! 🙂 Here are the pictures:
Instrument #30: Small (14″) Oliver Viola
This instrument has the same “footprint” or outline, as the Plowden Guarneri model, but the ribs are deeper, and other changes have been introduced, to transform what would have been a very good violin into a surprisingly powerful small viola, perfect for a smaller violist, or someone who wants to be able to easily transition from violin to viola, with zero change in fingering. It is a very gracious, easy-to-play viola, with good, balanced tone across all strings. It is made from Big Leaf Maple harvested less than 10 miles from my home, by the late Terry Howell, who generously gave me the entire log (See Wood Choices–Natural Treasures), and Sitka Spruce, also cut in the Pacific Northwest.
Instrument #29: Orchestral Violin modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu
This instrument is made of European Maple and European Spruce. It is just a shade larger than the original instrument, and is a very powerful player.
Instrument #28: Oliver five-string fiddle
This one was also by request, but not a commissioned instrument…more like an experiment. Cliff Stansell wanted me to try making a fiddle of Oregon Myrtle and Port Orford Cedar. His brother, Les Stansell, is a guitar-maker and wood dealer, and donated the wood for the experiment (Thanks, Les!). The fiddle turned out to play quite well, and continues to improve as it opens up.
Instrument #27: Commissioned Oliver 5-string fiddle (SOLD)
This was a special project, from the beginning, as the customer came to me with the wood, asking if I could build a five-string fiddle out of it. Turned out to be curly Koa, harvested in 1982 or before, as that is when he bought the wood, and had been carting it around with him for over 30 years. It was very difficult wood to work– very demanding of skill and patience. But it worked out well, and plays superbly.
Instrument #26: Oliver 5-String fiddle
I can’t say for sure what kind of maple this is, as the wood was given me by a friend, who has no idea…but the spruce is Sitka. The fiddle is pretty, and sounds great. I made it to the same mold as my other five-string fiddles, but the wood will have to remain a mystery. It has played well from the beginning, but has improved with time.
Front of Oliver Five-string Fiddle in the sunshine.
Instrument #25: Oliver “Long Model” violin
This handmade orchestral violin was made of highly figured European Maple and very fine-grained European spruce. It is a very powerful violin, with superior tone. It was made on a different mold than I have usually used, and is narrower, appearing longer, though it is not appreciably longer than my other violins.
Instrument #24: Oliver 5 string fiddle
This handmade five string bluegrass fiddle is made from Oregon Big Leaf Maple and Sitka Spruce. It has both a one-piece back and a one-piece front. the maple is from the same tree as instruments #19 and #22.
Instrument # 23: 16-1/2″ Oliver model Lion-head viola
This instrument is made of Oregon Big Leaf maple and Sitka spruce, except for the head, which I carved out of Hard Rock maple. It has a really big voice, and is easy to play. Incidentally, this viola is made from the same back-billet as was instrument #7 (violin), years ago. (You can look at the back of each and see the similarity.) I got the billet from Tepper Tonewoods, and saw that it was large enough for a viola and a matching violin. Couldn’t resist. 🙂
Instrument # 22: modelled after the 1712 “Davidov” Stradivarius Cello
This instrument is made of Oregon Bigleaf Maple and Sitka Spruce. It has a one-piece, heavily flamed back, moderately flamed sides (from the same billet as the back) and heavily flamed neck (different billet). The sound is full and open…it has a big voice and is very easy to play. It has been “test-driven” by several professionals, with very good reviews.
Instrument # 21: a violin modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu.
This instrument is handmade of European maple and spruce. I slanted the curl the opposite direction from the original…other than that, it was an attempt to emulate the look of the original. It has been played by a couple of professionals who really like it. It does not have the “new” sound with which most of my instruments begin life. It had a mature voice from the second day it was set-up. A very good violin.
Instrument #20: an Oliver 15-5/8″ viola.
This instrument is off the same mold as instrument #9, but had a little flatter arching, and a fuller scroll, but a narrow neck, making it very playable. The wood for the back and sides is actually from the same billet as #9, as well, so they are really sister instruments.
Instrument #19: an Oliver 5-string fiddle. (SOLD)
This instrument is the first I have made from the log pictured in the “wood choices” blog post. It looks and sounds wonderful. I am posting these photos for the moment, but better ones are coming. Five-string fiddles seem to be rapidly gaining in popularity and demand. I hope to build many more 5 string bluegrass fiddles in the future.
Instrument #18: a 16-1/2″ viola:
This large viola is modeled after Henry Lanini’s “Viola Normale Moderne” pattern, which in turn is closely modeled after the Andreas Guarneri “Conte Vitale”, but with slightly enlarged lower bouts.
This instrument is made from the same billet of Bigleaf maple from which my #2 viola (instrument #4) was made. There was enough in that billet to make a two-piece back and a one-piece back. This is the one-piece back. It differs also in that, for viola #2, I painstakingly followed the details of the Lanini pattern, including the “cello-style” scroll. This time I have switched to a “violin-style” scroll, for lower weight and less damping. The neck is a little more slender as well, making this a very playable instrument, but with the same huge sound that the earlier one had. It is very responsive…a fiddler picked it up at a recent show, and was cranking out fast fiddle tunes on it. It stood up to the test very well, and sounded superb.
At the Marylhurst University show, an accomplished violist played it, and stopped after a few notes, to inquire whether this was really a new instrument. I assured her that it was brand-new, less than one month old. She said “..it sounds like an old viola!”
Instrument # 17: An Oliver Five-String Fiddle (or five-string violin) SOLD
This was my first attempt at a 5-string fiddle. An experienced and popular professional fiddler (Cliff Stansell) from a Southern Oregon band (the Pistol River Trio) had asked about them, so I decided to build one. It plays remarkably well…it is well-balanced, and all, but I am not used to the flatter bridge shape that fiddlers like, so it is difficult for me to get used to it. Other than that, I’m happy with it. As it turned out, it was loved by everyone who played it, and Cliff ultimately bought it. Now we are both happy. 🙂
I made the ribs deeper: 34mm at the end block, tapering to 32mm at the neck block. I also made the pegbox longer to accommodate the extra peg, and deepened the bass-bar to about 17mm, for more support on the lower strings. The archings are just a little higher than my usual, as well, but not out of the ordinary. The back is maple of uncertain origin, the sides and neck are Red Maple from Elon Howe, in Newaygo, Michigan. The belly is Sitka spruce. Not sure where I got the spruce, but it is quite dense. I usually do not use wood that dense for the belly. Turned out well, though.
Instrument #16: A Davidov-model Cello:
This instrument is modeled after the 1712 Stradivarius instrument known as the Davidov, which is currently played by Yo Yo Ma.
It has good tone, a big voice, and seems pretty playable. I’m not a cellist, but all the amateur and professional cellists who have played it have liked it: They said the set-up was good, the sound was great, and that it is very easy to play…but beyond that I can only say it seems good to me. 🙂
Instrument #15: A Dolphin inspired violin, (2011)
This one is kind of special. An elderly man I met had bought wood many years ago (Bigleaf maple and Sitka spruce– no idea where he got them), hoping to build a violin. He finally became aware that it simply was not going to happen, and when he heard that I am a maker, he gave me the wood, so that he could at least have the satisfaction of knowing the violin was made. As it turned out, he had lost the neck billet, and the wood for the corpus was a tad narrow, so I had to add “wings” in the lower bouts, making it a four-piece back. It is visible, but not objectionable, nor even particularly rare. And he is happy. So I’m happy, too. The violin plays well, and has good tone. If I remember correctly, the wood was 45 years old when I got it.
Instrument #14: A 16″ Oliver viola.
Front is Engelmann spruce from Tepper Tonewood. Back is Michigan Red maple from Elon Howe. Big viola sound. Spirit varnish.
Instrument #13: A “Milanollo-inspired” violin. (2011)
This instrument is built on the same mold as #10, but is Big Leaf maple and Sitka spruce, both from Tepper Tonewoods, as opposed to the Red maple and Sitka of #10. The look is different, but the sound is very similar. This one, like #10, is a real player-pleaser.
Instrument #12: A 14-7/8″ Brian viola:
Modeled loosely after Gasparó da Saló 1580 (2010)
This viola was in response to a complaint that my other violas were too large, and that most 15″ violas did not sound very good. The viola seems to have overcome both of those problems…It sounds very good, it is not much bigger than a violin, and it’s pretty. The belly is Engelmann spruce from Tepper Tonewoods, Back, neck and ribs are Bigleaf maple from the same source. The purfling weave is the only part that is really copied from da Saló’s viola.
Here’s what it looks like in comparison to #11 and a violin (#7):
Instrument #11: A 16-1/2″ Oliver viola, (2010)
This viola design came about because I was told that a 16-1/4″ viola was the most commonly demanded size–and I had no such design–but it turned out larger than I intended, so I simply have two 16-1/2″ designs.
I deliberately made it wide and deep, hoping that this would produce a big voice. Don’t know if that was a valid theory or not, but the viola does have a big strong voice. The belly is Sitka spruce, from John Tepper, of Tepper Tonewoods, in Shady Cove, OR. The back, neck and ribs are Michigan Red Maple, from Elon Howe, of Newaygo, Michigan.
Spirit varnish again.
Instrument #10: A Milanollo-inspired violin, (2009) (SOLD)
This one is built in the French tradition (flush, one-piece inside mold), under the instruction of Paul Schuback. None of the errors can be blamed on him… he has an eagle’s eyes, and misses nothing. But my skills are just beginning to grow, under his generous tutelage, so there are some glitches…I hope to become a decent maker before Paul retires.
This is built of Michigan Red Maple, bought from Elon Howe, of Michigan, and Sitka Spruce, from John Tepper, of Oregon. I used spirit varnish under Paul’s guidance.
This plays the best of all, so far, I think (as of 2009). And it has far fewer errors than before, so Paul’s teaching is paying off. I must press on, and continue to grow. This one was sold to a player in Boston, who loves it.
Instrument #9: A 15-3/4” Oliver viola, (2008)
This was inspired partially by Lanini—but it is my own design, so I named it the “Oliver”—and all the viola designs I come up with will bear that title, but with different size designations. Oliver is my middle name, and that of my Dad and Granddad. When my Dad was young, he was called Oliver, to avoid confusion, as his Dad was called Chester, or Chet. This is the first “Oliver” to join the family in a long while.
The one-piece back is of curly maple (species unknown, but probably Red Maple, same as the #2 instrument and the #20 instrument) from Crosscut Hardwoods. The belly is of Englemann spruce, from John Tepper. The sides are of Bigleaf maple from another hardwood store, while the neck is Bigleaf maple from John Tepper, again. The blocks are willow, which I cut and dried, from a local tree, after a storm. This has the highest arching I have ever made on a viola, so it is somewhat experimental in nature. It turned out to have a really big voice—very rich and deep. It was sold to a young man in Boston, who loved it, but was too busy to play it, so I bought it back from him.
I used spirit varnish, again…
Instrument #8: A Dolphin-inspired violin, (2008)
This violin is made of Big Leaf “quilted” Maple, and Sitka Spruce, both from hardwood stores. The maple was just too pretty to pass up, so I had to try a fiddle made of it. Spirit varnish again…I hope to master this process under Paul Schuback’s tutelage. It has a pretty bright tone. I expect it will find a home, soon.
Instrument #7: Another “Dolphin-inspired violin”,
(labeled 2006, but not varnished until 2008)
This violin has a grafted scroll– my first experiment with that procedure. It turned out to be a very satisfactory job, and I am pleased with the results.
This instrument is made of Bigleaf Maple and Englemann Spruce, bought from Tepper Tonewoods. I got a big enough piece of maple to make a matching viola to go along with the violin, but did not make the viola until years later: it is the Lion-head (16-1/2″) viola; my #23 instrument. I used spirit varnish on this one…my first try at this process.
Hear Instrument #7 play! Daniel Forster playing Celtic tunes…
Instrument #6: A 7/8-size “William Tarr-inspired Bass”, (2007) (see photo essay on TalkBass)
This instrument was my first double bass (also called “upright bass”, “string bass”, and “stand up bass”), as well as my first commissioned instrument, and was built for Jacob Beaty, for the cost of materials, as I was not even sure I could build a good bass. It turned out well, and has been played by a number of professional bassists, who were very pleased with the response, playability and tone. The wood is Big leaf Maple and Englemann Spruce, both from John Tepper of “Tepper Tonewoods”, in Shady Cove, Oregon. The plan called for a flat back, but I arched it.
Jacob liked the idea of an inlaid fleur-de-lis, so I did that inlay in abalone shell.
I used the book and plans I got from Peter Chandler, of Ontario, Canada. He was a big help to me, and, sadly, died just before the instrument was complete. I had really wanted him to see the finished work. He’s another friend I will surely miss.
The bass was professionally appraised at $12,000 USD, which was a shock to me, though gratifying, of course. I think I can build them better now, so who knows? Perhaps I have found a niche. At any rate, Jacob got a great bass, and is very happy.
The youngster in the photo is Jacob Beaty, for whom the bass was built. He is grown, now, but still playing the bass.
Instrument #5: A “Milanollo-inspired” violin (14-inch viola, as it turned out), (2005)
Michael Darnton had suggested that I buy a copy of “The Art of Violin Making”, and a copy of the Strad-poster of the Milanollo, a 1728 Stradivarius instrument, and use the two together, to upgrade my skills. This was an attempt to do so. I still tended to get in a hurry, being impatient to “get it done”, and cause a lot of errors that way.
This one was constantly accused of sounding like a viola, too… I still had not mastered the archings (though I did manage to shorten the corners a bit), so, when I learned enough to know what I had done wrong on the archings, I re-strung the instrument as a 14″ viola, and it turned out to be an excellent little viola. I used oil varnish, and attempted an “antique” look. The wood is supposedly “European Maple and Spruce”, but I got it off e-Bay, so who knows…?
The few professionals who have played this viola (after I re-christened it a viola, and strung it as such) have been astonished at its open sound and responsiveness and power. I’m pretty tickled with it too. 🙂
Instrument #4: A Lanini-inspired viola, (2004)
This design was also received from Michael Klein, who got it from Victor Gardner (aka Vittore Giardinieri—evidently his given name), who apparently got it from Henry Lanini. I later discovered that this pattern closely follows the “Conte Vitale” viola by Andrea Guarneri. All Mr. Lanini changed, evidently, were the lower bouts (he enlarged them).
This viola was my best instrument to date, and everyone who played it loved the tone…but at 420mm on the body (caliper measurement), it was a little large for some people. I used Bigleaf Maple and Englemann Spruce, with oil varnish, lightly antiqued.
That’s Dr. William Sloane, in the background, below, playing this viola—I am on the back left, playing my #3 violin, while Sam Compton and Anya Shoennege are playing Dr. Sloane’s 1714 Strad, and 1742 del Gesu—Cajun music, as I recall… Sam died not too long after this was taken…I really miss him…big heart, warm soul.
This one was sold to Joshua Wright, and was played in a college orchestra in Oregon. He is very happy with it, as are his teachers and directors. I hope to make many more violas to this design.
Instrument #3: A “Dolphin-inspired” violin (2004)
This violin is modeled (supposedly) after the Dolphin, a 1714 Stradivarius instrument. I have never seen the Dolphin, and have only seen small, poor-quality photographs. The teacher (Michael Klein, of Grants Pass, Oregon) who guided me through this instrument gave me the patterns, and they were given to him by someone else. Who knows whether they are accurate in any respect…but that is what it is supposed to be. Jake Jelley directed me to Mike, as well as to Ed Campbell before him. Both were a big help.
Here is part of the back— the inlay was actually to hide a repair necessitated by my error.
And the front:
The back is Carpathian Maple, bought from Ed Campbell, of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania; the front is Englemann Spruce, bought from Michael Klein. The neck is Big Leaf Maple, also from Mike Klein, and the ribs are Big Leaf Maple bought from a hardwood store. (Quite a patchwork. ) I used oil varnish, and attempted an “antique” look..
I did not get my archings quite right, and was told by many players, “This sounds like a viola…” Michael Darnton later told me that my archings were more similar to what a viola should be, as opposed to a violin, which may explain all the comments. However, it has been played by a variety of professionals who all liked it. Sam Compton, a very experienced player, really liked this fiddle, and played it a lot at Michael Darnton’s workshop in Claremont, California, in 2006. I surely miss him….he died in 2007.
Instrument #2: a “Strobelesque” violin.
Partway through the first lutherie attempt, I had gotten hold of the very helpful series of books by Henry Strobel. None of what I did can be blamed on him, however, because I am constantly guilty of not quite following the directions. (I am getting better about this, and have adopted the motto, “Keep to the path until you have learned the territory—then begin to explore!”—but I still haven’t completely reformed in this area.) Anyway, though I began this violin with his pattern, the result cannot be blamed on Mr. Strobel.
This violin plays better, and has a louder voice…better wood, better construction…not sure what else. I was still making many mistakes, especially in arching and corners. The one-piece back and the sides are maple—probably Red Maple back and Bigleaf sides and neck—and the belly is Sitka spruce. I used oil varnish. The plank of curly maple I bought for the back was big enough for three instruments; instruments #9 and #20 (both 15-3/4″ violas) were the other two made from this billet.
Since this was my first attempt at a violin, I will probably just keep it, rather than sell it. It sounds good, looks OK, and I play it regularly, but it is pretty amateurish in most respects.
Instrument #1: 15” Brian viola, completed 2001
This was my first attempt at lutherie, and was made specifically for my youngest son, Brian, who, though he promptly quit playing viola, did go on to learn guitar, and guitar-making. I am told he is beginning to play the viola again, intermittently– there still is hope. :-))
The back and ribs are maple of an unknown variety (Bigleaf, almost certainly), gotten from a hardwood store. The belly is Englemann spruce, from the same source. The neck is from a downed Bigleaf maple near our house at the time (2000-01). Jake Jelley, a luthier friend from Vancouver, Washington, was a big encouragement to me during the making of this viola—without him I might not have completed it.
The inlay is abalone shell—I was not aware at the time that “real luthiers” don’t do this, and I was copying a design from my great-great-grandfather’s fiddle—a cheap, cottage-industry violin of German origin (near Mittenwald, I am told, prior to 1900). It is pretty, and I still like it—I just don’t do that any more. Same with the heavy “ripple-effect”. I liked it, but was told later that it is frowned upon.
It has a fairly soft voice, and many, many marks of the amateur, but it is pretty.