As I work on this current violin build I will continue to give updates on my progress! Or at least I will try to force myself to sit down and write a blog every week or two…
This build has been quite challenging, it is hard to match perfection that was built so long ago. This instrument is just a few months shy of being 300 years old! So take that into consideration when seeing pictures of the original!
Attached are photos of the f-holes being carved, I always have an extra sharp knife when planning my attack on the f-holes. Stradivarius f-holes are extremely precisely cut and lay on the instrument beautifully. I draw on one f-hole at a time letting them lay just right before finalizing both f-holes to make sure that they are straight and I have all of my proper measurements according to the original.
I always carve about 95% and make myself walk away from the work. This allows me to return with a fresh set of eyes, seeing things that I would have never saw if I continued to stare at the f-holes trying to finish in one sitting… Enjoy!
My latest violin build is another Stradivari copy… I know, surprise, surprise!
But he really was ahead of his time. The craftsmanship that you see in his work is truly incredible! And as a modern violin maker it is truly inspiring. I was fortunate enough to see a handful of Stradivari violins and get to study them first hand.
When you are up close and personal with an authentic Stradivarius violin it is almost an out of body experience!
For this violin I decided to copy the famous “Messiah” Stradivari. It is in truly remarkable condition for its age! Made in Stradivari’s “Golden Period” in 1716. It is one of the more famous Stradivarius violins in existence!
It is in near mint condition, making it ideal for a modern maker such as myself to copy, showing little to no signs of wear! I am having a lot of fun on this custom violin build, I am anxious to hear it once it is set up…
It should have a bright, powerful tone that can power through to the back of a concert hall!
Over the years I have slowly started to organize the workshop at Fegley Violin Shop. I will admit it wasn’t one of my easier tasks, but it was however extremely rewarding.
I can imagine Jim looking down and saying, “Where is all of my stuff! I had everything exactly where I wanted it!” But I know he would be proud of how far I have come and where I want to take it in the future.
I still have quite a bit of work to do to get the shop exactly where I want it, but I can say that I put a huge dent in the organizing aspect and I look forward to tackling more projects as the years go by.
Most people don’t realize that I never had the opportunity to meet Jim Fegley, when he passed away I was only in the 8th grade! And needless to say back then I didn’t even know there was a life outside of a Jr. High classroom!
I wish we could have spent some time together, I am sure we would have shared many laughs and violin making stories! I look forward to carrying on his Legacy well into the future and passing along the Fegley name.
Of course it is always a treat to get a fine old Italian fiddle in the shop to gawk at and obsess over, but it is a real treat when I get a modern masters violin in the workshop to do some repair work to. My latest project was a gorgeous 1989 David Burgess violin.
Burgess has not only won more competitions than any living violin maker, but any violin maker in history! His instruments are absolutely beautiful and it was my honor to repair the damaged varnish on this Burgess violin!
One of my close clients called me and asked about a ‘damaged’ Burgess violin, he had my attention to say the very least! He continued to tell me that while he was ‘cleaning’ his violin some of his varnish was stripped away on one of the violins upper ribs.
I thought no big deal, until I saw that the varnish had been completely wiped away down to bare wood! Needless to say I had my work cut out for me, but I was pleased with the results and enjoyed getting to spend time with a modern masterpiece.
The importance of well-placed F-holes… Every player has seen the instrument where the top is heavily damaged where the bridge is placed. Worn down from years of players moving the bridge back and forth over and over again.
This is why I take so much time making sure my F-holes are laid out properly to insure that the stop length for the bridge is precisely where I want it to be to produce the best potential sound.
Now this is not easily done because you need to insure that you took all of the necessary steps in the construction process. The arching is key to well-placed F-holes. If the arching isn’t shaped consistently on each side of the instrument it will appear as if the F-holes were not properly laid out. I take plenty of time making sure my arching has a mirror effect, meaning that both sides of the instrument are carved the same way so they mimic one another.
Then when I start to do my necessary measurements for F-hole placement, the F-holes lay on without trouble!
That is only half the battle, carving the F-holes with sharp tools is the real challenge!
Violins are all the same, right? From the outside world I can see why all violins look the same!
But when you are a maker or a player you appreciate the beauty that instruments have to offer! This instrument wasn’t worth a terrible amount, it was a German violin made back in the late 1800’s and belonged to a good client of mine whose Grandfather use to play it in bars in Germany!
We decided to go ahead and repair the ‘wing’ of the f-hole. It wasn’t a very labor-intensive job, but it had its difficulties. Wood selection is one of the hardest things to do, how am I suppose to make a piece a spruce look 200 years old?
Then on top of that match 200-year-old varnish with the normal wear and tear… I found a piece of old spruce and was able to repair the damaged f-hole.
Another violin was saved and I am happy to say that the great-granddaughter is now enjoying the violin that lived a long life in Germany making it’s way to the USA!
My latest viola build is a copy of one of the most known members of the Guarneri family; Andrea Guarneri. Andrea along with several other great makers apprenticed directly with the great Nicolo Amati.
Among those that apprenticed with Amati Guarneri held true to the Amati tradition. Andrea adopted his maters model so masterfully that some of this works are indistinguishable from his teacher’s. In general Guarneri’s work is somewhat freer and less exact then his master’s, but are nonetheless of a fantastic build. His smaller violas are regarded as some of the best-known violas left in existence today.
There are only 8 surviving examples still around today!
Andrea Guarneri shared his making knowledge with his two sons who assisted him from 1690 on. His sons went on to have their own celebrated careers; they were Giuseppe ‘filius Andrea’ and Pietro of Mantua.
I am loving this latest viola build. I haven’t made a Guarneri viola since my schooling at NBSS.
The viola is slightly larger than 16″ and puts out a huge sound!
Hermann Todt made this violin specifically for William Lewis & Son of Chicago in 1929. Todt was a violin maker from Markneukirchen. This violin was made with exceptional wood for the maker. The top spruce is very even with tight grain, while the maple has a deep medium width flame.
It is branded on both the back plate near the button. And on the inside of the back plate above the William Lewis & Son label.
The William Lewis & Son was a Chicago based music store that specialized in violins and bows. William E. Lewis the founder, was the son of a cellist and he became a violinist. At the age of 8 English critics elected him as a musical prodigy. The family moved to America in 1850.
The William Lewis & Son firm was established in 1874 and lasted 80 long years building a nice collection of instruments including Stradivarius, Guarneri, Montagnana, Storioni, Rugeri, Guadagnini and many more fine instruments made by old masters.
I always seem to grow attached to my instruments as I build them, how could I not? I spend so much time focusing on every little detail that I get so use to having them around and working on them! But this violin is going to be hard for me to see go off to a new home.
This violin means a lot to me because I made this after James Fegley. Although I was never lucky enough to meet Jim, I am fortunate because I wouldn’t have any of this without him.
He started Fegley’s well before I was alive and I think he would be proud that I am carrying on the Fegley name.
This is a Stradivari copy that I made over the last few months. It has a mostly original James Fegley scroll that he started to carve and never finished.
Making this violin truly one of a kind. Normally I would have just kept the scroll but I thought it would mean a lot more to be completed and go on to enjoy making music. So “King James” will forever live on to make music!