Summertime, Cellotime, Cat

At the end of May, I'll load up all my tools, the cello, and my cat, and set out for Grand Rapids. I'll be spending June and July working with Kevin and Matt at Grand Rapids Violins, and hopefully meeting the young musicians who acquired my instruments from the shop last year. I love visiting and working with friends. It's a nice change of pace and a ton of fun. Raven is coming with me, and this will be her first long-distance car trip. I've been car training her, and she's doing very well, even if she does meow every 3 minutes. 

Here's a teaser photo of the cello. I'll have it here in Salt Lake through the end of May, and then she goes to Grand Rapids. 


Good news on the cello front: the 'Fat Baby Strad' is finished in the white! It is happily spinning away in the lightbox. Both the cello and the PG violin that I am currently antiquing will be arriving at Grand Rapids Violins early next year. 

For my next cello I'm contemplating a gorgeous poplar back and ribs that I picked up from my friend Chris Jacoby. The density of this back is less than maple, but with careful planning and graduations, this won't matter. The model will once again be the Fat Baby Strad.

Glamour shots: 





This past summer was an absolute blast. I drove home to Oregon for a much-needed vacation and had a great time in Oberlin at the Violin Makers Workshop. 

Back in Salt Lake work has continued on the latest cello. The box is closed and ready for purfling, and the scroll now has its dowel and carbon rod. I treated myself to a new Bosch Colt router, the perfect tool for cutting the groove for the carbon rod. (Also the perfect tool for all those dados...that's another project/story.) I've also just finished my new light board. When I moved last year I had to scrap my light box for the second time. So much effort goes into building light boxes that I swore my next setup would be collapsible and portable. I can move this one by myself and varnish anywhere! 

Speaking of varnish, here is an Azure Alexander in progress. It has a few more color coats to go.

Woodshavings and Summer Plans

A few people have seen the latest cello rib structure and asked about the model. I've started calling it a fat baby Strad as a joke, and now it's stuck. It's not really that petite. The body length is close to 74 centimeters. I'll be taking the back plate and scroll with me to Oberlin this year. The arching and scroll carving, along with the latest Jacoby/Alexander violin, will keep me plenty busy. I'll be stopping over in Auburn for a couple of days to visit the Jacoby family, and then Chris and I will drive on to Ohio. 

I previously joined and sawed out a spruce plate for this cello, but decided that it wasn't quite the right fit, so I started working on a new spruce plate today. So far this billet is working like a dream. Here is a pile of shavings to prove it!

Home Stretch!

I've played the cello for most of my life, which only compounds the anticipation to get this new cello set up. I still remember the very first sound (a pluck of the C string) from the first cello I made. It'll all be done this weekend, and Samantha will be taking portraits in a week. Then the cello gets packed up and shipped off to Michigan the next day. Surely this is what it feels like to send your children off to Kindergarten. It's leaving! I can finally sleep! Wait, I want to play more Bach! 

When it comes to cello I just can't help myself, so I've started another. It's a new model based on the large "Cristiani" Stradivari but reduced by Harry Mairson of Brandeis University. Harry wrote a computer program that creates instrument forms using the Denis method. For this model, he drew the Cristiani with a stop length of 400, shorter than the original but much more manageable for players. Harry generously printed a set of these drawings for me, and last summer a few Oberliners sorted out the details to have collapsible molds made on a CNC machine. 

Here is my mold assembled with 1/2" plywood spacers and bolted together. It has just enough clearance on the top and back for the linings of the rib structure. I'll likely make the rib structure, join and rough out the plates, and then let it sit until I finish up the violins that I'm currently making. 


The cello has all of its varnish as of yesterday. Now it will dry for a few more days in the lightbox before polishing with pumice. As you can see in the photo below the varnish has a beautiful variety of texture, partly from the process and partly from the woodworking. There are some very small pin holes that are absolutely gorgeous, and I'm very keen to retain as much of that as possible. After the pumice the cello will go back in a lightbox for a few more days before it can be setup and played. Exciting! 

Varnishing and Photography

The cello was wrapped up a few weeks ago, and has been happily tanning in a friend's light box. Varnish always looks better over wood that has a nice tan instead of freshly worked, and the preferred way to do that is with lots of UV light. Natural sunlight is ideal. In order to get 6 months of tan in the span of a few winter weeks many makers will build light boxes with standard black light bulbs. The effect can be very impressive. Here is a photo of the last violin I tanned with a white violin for comparison. 

I took a short break after finishing the cello, and now I'm back to working on the violins that are in progress. This morning was spent having portraits taken of my latest violin, the same one shown in the above picture. Photographing varnish can be very tricky, with shadows and reflections causing all sorts of problems. I met a wonderful photographer while having my portrait taken for the school's new website, and she took some wonderful pictures of the violin. They will be uploaded soon! 

Cello Party

Work on the cello is moving along at a good pace. I've fallen into "retirement mode" and lost touch of time, working until 2am and sometimes not even knowing the day of the week. I'll take that as a good measure of productivity, and a side effect of giving up coffee.

This wonderful vacation is coming to an end with school starting in a few days. My goal is to have the cello box closed before then, and it looks like that will wrap up today and tomorrow. All that remains is to remove the mold, shape the blocks, and seal the inside. 

Here are some photos of the cello from this week. On the left is a freshly glue-sized corner block, and on the right is the bassbar in place. 

Shop visit at Triangle Strings

Some very good friends, The Azures, are hosting me this week here in Raleigh. Kari and I just spent two weeks as roommates at Oberlin and then drove back from Ohio. Now I'm spending four days at Triangle Strings, hanging out with even more friends (a mini school reunion), and learning their setup methods. Today was all about making soundposts from scratch. For something so precise, it is very relaxing. 

Ryan Hayes has written a great article on this process. Check it out here

Another great year in Oberlin

We just wrapped up two weeks of fun at Oberlin, and I'm already looking forward to next year. There are so many great ideas flying around in my brain right now. I tried to write everything down, but I'm realizing that transcription to paper doesn't really matter so much. Learning to understand what you see is far more important than reading about what you thought you saw.  When I was a student my notes were a mess, snippets of what I thought I was seeing in an instrument that I didn't understand how to view. That changed as I began to really see things. Now my instrument notes are references to other things I've seen, like an index of my experiences.