Carving a Stradivari Cello Scroll

Sharpen those gouges and get to work! A lot of people ask me how I carve my scrolls so I figured it would be much easier to show you pictures of some steps. This is a Stradivari Cello scroll. Stradivari had a very clean making approach; he would scrape almost to the point where all of his tool marks were removed.
Although I find inspiration in fine old instruments, I myself as a maker, love leaving tool marks behind. I like to think that in 100 years when my new instruments go into a shop for a restoration that they will say see how he left some tool marks behind! It gives each of my instruments personality and it shows that these instruments are truly made with hand tools….
Scroll side view
Cello Neck Block
Cello cut out
Stradivari scroll
Cello fluting
Cello Scroll Back

Stradivari F-holes- 2014 Violin

The amount of steps I go through in order to complete one small step in the making process drives me crazy sometimes! Crazy I tell you! It’s one small step after the next and if the previous step wasn’t executed properly then it will have a ripple effect throwing each step off the slightest bit. So this is why I like to make in my studio at home.
Music in the background helps but proper lighting and a sharp knife will do the trick. Measure 5,000 times and cut once. It never hurts to take a break to let your eyes rest and before coming back to work.

These f-holes are for a Stradivari violin that I am currently making.
f hole 1
Stradivari 2
Stradivari 3
Stradivari 4

Stefano Trabucchi- $11,000

A modern Cremona instrument made in 2003, this Trabucchi really has a brilliant look with a very wide flamed, one-piece back. Not your average modern Italian maker who would focus more on a tight, narrow flamed maple for the back of the instrument.

Trabucchi’s work boasts the knowledge and skill from years of experience as a maker in Italy. Notice how strong the outline of this instrument looks, it is almost masculine in a way that the edges were left so refined and bold.

This violin has a great even tone and is a fine example of a modern Italian masters work.
Stefano Trabucchi 2Stefano Trabucchi 1Stefano Trabucchi 3Stefano Trabucchi 4

Stanley Kiernoziak- $14,000

I don’t blog nearly enough… I hate to admit that it is hard for me to sit in front of my computer when I see my workbench and tools right next to it waiting for the next project! I will try to be better about taking the time to write about some of the fine instruments I have collected so far, key word there is try! So don’t be too hard on me.
Although I am a great fan of fine older instruments I am a realist, not all of us can afford the luxury of a million dollar Stradivari so most of us start with fine copies by modern makers.
One of the better modern Violas I have come across is a Stanley Kiernoziak made in Chicago in 2005. Kiernoziak studied in Poland.

He is known for being very successful with his violas making for the William Harris Lee Company; his number of violas made far exceeds violins and cellos, smart man! Everyone loves a modern viola! Kiernoziak’s instruments are known for their strong projection and warm tonal qualities.

So much so that he was awarded a VSA certificate for tone in the quartet competition. I have seen Kiernoiak’s viola sell for over $17,000. This particular Stanley Kiernoziak viola is a 16” and is one of my favorite modern violas I have in the shop right now, as a maker it is refreshing to find inspiration in a modern instrument.

Make an appointment to stop in and play it!

Kiernoziak Viola 2Kiernoziak Viola 3Kiernoziak Viola 4Kiernoziak Viola 5Kiernoziak Viola 1

Sullivan/Stopka Repair

This year I have been doing an intense repair on a Stopka Viola, which is owned by a client of mine. It came in with an unfortunate sound post crack. We had to remove the top and get the crack glued back together. The crack ran almost the whole length of the viola top, but I was able to get it glued back together quite cleanly. Once the actual crack was glued I was able to get started on the real task, fitting the actual patch. I feathered the original top to less then half of a millimeter! And then continued to fit the patch until it fit perfectly. Tedious and time consuming this is a good example of why I only take on a few intense restorations per year because they really need all of my attention to execute properly. After the patch was fit and glued I could brace my crack with some small cleats and glue the top back on. A few weeks of some careful varnish retouch we were back in business!






2014- Guadagnini Cello

My latest cello build is a 7/8 Guadagnini copy. The original was made in 1743. An important year for the production of early Guagagnini cellos. I know what you are thinking… Why a 7/8 cello!? Honestly, the wood was just small enough that I couldn’t make a full-size cello out of it. And what was I suppose to do? Toss the wood aside and buy more? When you spend the amount of money that Luthiers do then you will work with what you have on most occasions.
So, we have a 7/8 cello. I have been making this instrument over the past few months when I get some extra time at my workbench. Cello making is no small task; I do the same steps as when I make a violin or viola but on a much bigger scale. Needing much more muscles to wrestle with carving the back arching! Needless to say I am exhausted by the time I end up putting my tools down at the end of the day.
Attached are a few pictures of the purfling process as I went about carving the channel and inlaying the actual purfling.

Cello Outline
Cello Purfling1
Cello Purfling
Cello Purfling Corner
Cello Purfling Corner 2

2014- Stradivari Viola

This past year I have been copying a Stradivari Viola from 1672 known as the ‘Mahler’. It is the first of the 10 Stradivari Violas to be in existence today. While Stradivari made a couple thousand instruments he rarely made violas. There is going to be a Stradivari Viola being auctioned off this year and it is set to start the bidding around $45 million.

I can’t say that my prices will ever reach such a tremendous amount, but it gives me something to look up to as a maker. These instruments are high-end art, which is playable. You cannot take your Picasso off the wall and try to get enjoyment from playing it!
Times have changed and there are quite a few adjustments that I made to my Viola when I was drawing up the blue prints. I copied one side of the outline and mirror imaged it to have a very symmetrical final product. It is almost like drawing half of a heart on a piece of paper when we were kids and folding the piece of paper in half before we cut it out to make a perfectly symmetrical heart, make sense?

I also removed the ‘wings’ from the sides of the scroll, exactly how you see cello scrolls today. It makes playing for the musician slightly more difficult; I also took the original scroll size and reduced it by about 15-20%. Again I did this strictly for the playability factor. I am almost done with my final scraping and rounding of the edges before this Viola gets to spend some time outside tanning.

Check back to see the finished product being varnished!

Viola edging

Viola Purfling Channel

Viola purfling

F-hole Carved

Stradivari F-hole

Stradivari Purfling

Scroll Fluting

Luthier Stick Up!

A few months ago, I finished building a pair of instruments; a Guadagnini viola named “Bonnie” and a Del Gesu’ violin named “Clyde”. I know, quite clever pairing such a historical couple such as Bonnie and Clyde, just seemed like the perfect way to carry on the names of my latest instruments. “Bonnie” quickly found a home replacing my first viola with a local Reading Symphony player while I got to spend a little more time with “Clyde” which I still am trying to find the right home for at the moment. I have had plenty of dealers offer to sell my instruments for much more than my current asking price in little old Reading, Pennsylvania. But I still can’t see myself boxing up my instruments and shipping them off to a big city where I might be able to seek a higher price. I guess I am more than slightly attached to my instruments as I spend countless hours at my workbench refining every single detail. I like to find the right player to care for my instruments, call me selfish but I love being able to maintain and see my instruments on a yearly basis, watching them grow together as one with the player. I love making new instruments for all shapes and sizes but I especially enjoy making for the younger generation as they tend to show so much potential and growth as they get older and the player and the instrument really do begin to grow as one.
All this to say, my job as a Luthier is only half complete without the player. So I will admit that I will continue to be selfish with my handmade instruments and find the right home for each and every one…
Viola PurflingViola PurflingViolaIMG_3651Viola F-holesViola VarnishViola Varnish Antique

Stradivari Cello Copy

Cello-Varnish In 2012, a young cellist who was going off to music school approached me about making a custom cello just for him. He had his heart set on one of my handmade instruments after playing on a Stradivari cello I had previously built. What I like most about making an instrument for a specific person is I can translate much of their personality into their custom instrument. We decided on another Stradivari model cello for him. Although a Stradivari cello can be quite stubborn during the break-in period, the more you use the instrument, the more it gives back. It boasts a very strong sound allowing the sound to carry well into the back of the concert hall. I am lucky to be able to watch him and my cello grow together throughout his career as a Cellist and wish them the best of luck along their journey together! See below a short quote from him only a few short months playing on it…
Cellist“Well the cello has really become something quite fantastic! It has developed an incredibly lush sound that can be shaped to reflect a wide variety of emotions. It can project just as much or more than any other cello I’ve come across. It also sounds really great playing softer phrases, and when muted can be utterly heart breaking (in the really good cello sense of the phrase).”

“It is also very physically beautiful. When I walk on stage for a recital, the first thing people notice is how the cello looks. It is great because they see the cello and expect something beautiful even before I play a single note!”

“Thanks again for this fantastic instrument!”

Cello-2Cello-Scroll5Cello-Varnish 2