Lingztu Chen

Lingtzu Chen was awarded a work experience with the restorer Iris Carr. Here is her report:

I spent 5 days at Iris Carr’s workshop. On the first day, she provided me with numerous reading materials about restoration, such as removing retouch varnish, crack cleaning, wood darkening etc. I raised questions about the reading materials and discussed them with Iris. She also introduced tools she uses, such as brushes used for retouching. She explained the purpose of each brush and educated me on topics such as the type of glue suitable for cracks and the shape of scrapers. She also introduced how to imitate the texture of wood before a retouching process and thus ensure that the texture approximates the original instrument after colouring.

During my stay, Iris was repairing a cello made by Gaspar Lorenzini. She asked me to help her to replace purfling to the half edging that she had just finished. I initiated this process by drawing a light channel with my purfling marker. In contrast to a new instrument, an old instrument does not have a complete edge. Therefore, I could not identify a starting position for drawing a channel for the purfling. Instead, I had to locate the original purfling position to establish the new channel. And than I cut out the channel and try a piece of purfling in it. To make sure it just slide in without being loose or tight. Finally, I placed a strip of purfling in the channel after ensuring that it was in the right position. The next day, Iris taught me how to produce wood texture and how to colour, and I started retouching.

In addition, I did retouching for peg bushings. Prior to the retouching, Iris provided a demonstration of the appropriate techniques. Specifically, she demonstrated several techniques such as how to evaluate the colour of wood and reflections from different angles. She started colouring the cell layer by layer and explained the sufficient level of dryness required for the brushes used in this process. She adequately explained minor details and supervised me while I executed the process, which was extremely helpful. I have ambivalence about retouching. No fixed process is available for retouching; this is because each cello has a unique colour, wood, and decorative pattern and because each individual has his or her unique colour-mixing process. I believe that I gain knowledge with each retouching experience. She continued to demonstrate several additional aspects of retouching. I put some studs on the front section of a violin. On the final day of my stay, I attempted to fit a piece of wood on a worn edge. Although I did not have sufficient time to complete it, I still benefited considerably from this experience.

How time flies! I enjoyed the 5 days I spent with Iris Carr’s workshop. She has taught so much and given me much knowledge if the practice and technology of restoration. All this has helped me gain a better understanding. Observing her delicate care of each instrument and listening to her amusing stories constituted a pleasant experience. Her passion fostered enthusiasm in the studio and revived my enthusiasm and energy in daily life. She is a great inspiration to me. At the same time, I am working on my first cello and expect to finish it by the end of May. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity the RAB trust has given me and a big thank you to Iris Carr for assisting and taking care of me during my internship.
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Henry Mann

Henry Mann was awarded a work experience at cello specialists Aitchison & Mnatzaganian, here is his report: 

The four days I spent with Robin Aitchison have had a notable impact on my making. The first morning was spent looking into the theory and importance of ebony work. Since we were focusing on cellos in particular, the first few days were devoted to making a fingerboard with a Romberg. The block plane was the tool of choice when it came to shaping, and the method dictated various intricacies and tricks for ease of playing and an overall professional finish.
Likewise the nut and saddle were in keeping with the workshop house style. Based on an old English style the two pieces had their own particularities and were destined to go on a William Ebsworth Hill cello. The fingerboard meanwhile was for one of Robin’s cellos.
The atmosphere in the workshop was very concentrated but always positive. At the end of each day he devoted time to look at my college work or discuss his working methods. The short time in Robin’s workshop has shown me the importance of top quality ebony work. I am very grateful to RAB trust and Robin and everyone in his workshop for the great experience.

Linus Andersson

Linus Andersson was awarded a work experience with Marc Soubeyran. This is what he writes about his experience:

Being with Marc in Ludlow for these three early autumn days made me feel that I took an important step forward in my own making. The time in Marc’s workshop was devoted to set up. I brought one of my new instruments, with set up and everything finished and step by step we looked at it and Marc showed me how it could be improved to the best of standards. Of course I had to improve on each one of the steps, starting with shooting the fingerboard. After that making a new nut, shaping new pegs, fitting a new soundpost and cutting a new bridge. The only thing that could stay as it was was the saddle.
We were talking about different ways of doing things, to put his methods in perspective. I asked Marc all sorts of questions about the acoustic aspects of the set up, especially while cutting the new bridge, and he gave me as generously as to any of my other questions his thoughts on this. But we were clear about the purpose of this set up – it was to have a very good ground to start from, from which I then could start doing my adjustments.
After the day’s work we continued the discussions into the evenings. I was also happy to discover that Marc is a viol maker. Beside the very interesting stories about how under Dietrich Kessler’s supervision in the 1980s he was investigating and discovering the possibilities of using a bent front, he also gave me some valuable advice for the viol project I have been planning for this autumn.

BVMA Restoration workshop - Julian Page

Julian Page was the recipient of an award to cover the costs of attending the 2017 Restoration Course run by the BVMA at West Dean College. This is the first time that the Trust has made an award for this course, and Julian was chosen due to his particular skill and interest in restoration.

For several months I have been undertaking a major restoration of a Milanese violin from the 1730s. The instrument has been devastated by woodworm, so that has been the issue confronting me at every turn and why I chose to take it to the BVMA Restoration Course at West Dean.

It was enormously helpful to be able to discuss different approaches with the expert tutors and with the other students. I needed to find a way to double ribs so fragile it was hard to know how to hold them. After some experimentation I found it was possible to glue them varnish side down to a plastic-faced counterform using gelatin as a glue; this gave just enough adhesion to allow me to work on the back of the rib, but could be melted with luke-warm water without taking the varnish with it.

I am extremely grateful to the RAB Trust for sponsoring me to go on this course, and for all the other help they have given me.
— Julian Page

Steve McLeish

In my second year at South Thames College I was awarded work experience at Philip Brown Violins and £350 towards tools. I am currently working on a group of violins based on the 1709 'Viotti ex-Bruce' by Stradivari. The big advantage of choosing this model is the fact that it is on display in the Museum of the Royal Academy of Music, allowing me the opportunity to take my work along to the museum and compare its progress against the benchmark of the original. I used the money I received from the RAB Trust to buy a bending iron and thicknessing calipers and this has made a huge difference to the amount of work I am now able to complete at home.  


I was very excited to have the chance to do work experience at Philip Brown Violins in Newbury.  During my week there I carried out set-up work on a range of instruments, including bridge fitting, soundposts and top nut reshaping.  As I ultimately want  to specialise in repair work, this placement gave me invaluable experience of life in a busy and thriving violin shop. I would like to thank Kathrin and Philip for providing advice and support during my week and to the RAB Trust for organising this fantastic opportunity.

Alejandro Gomez

My workshop experience took place at Vermont Violins, USA.

This experience has been very important and it has had a big impact on my future as a luthier. Firstly because I have learnt a lot about lutherie; not only theory but also about how big the tradition of lutherie is, and the importance of preserving it.

There I was trained by James Banicki. He is a maker from Chicago who has worked as a restorer in some of the oldest and most important workshops in America. 80% of my work at Vermont Violins was with instruments from their rental programme. These instruments needed new setups, so I did a lot of set up. Also, many of them needed all kinds of repairs which had to be fast and precise, so James gave me a lot of new ideas about new ways to make quality repairs easier and faster.

In addition, I was working restoring old instruments. I repaired an old instrument from America, repairing cracks and a neck reset. There in the shop they produce some new instruments and I took part in one of these, and I learnt from James many different ways that could be more effective and easy.
There in Vermont I worked many hours and very hard, and with a lot of different instruments. Before going there I didn´t feel very self-confident about being able to work  so hard to a good standard, but once I have finished I have to say that I was able to do it, and that cheered me up to carry on with the lutherie, feeling more confident and believing in my own skills so that I can make any instrument sound good. I just need time, hard work and creativity.

 Replaced edge before retouch

Replaced edge before retouch

Maja Kallen

The week I spent in Helen Michetschläger's workshop has been a very constructive, helpful and affirming experience.


I arrived with the front and back of the 1625 Girolamo Amati viola that I'm currently working on rough arched and purfled, and the aim to work on the fluting, finish both archings, design f-holes and start hollowing by the end of the week.


On the first day, using Helen's scrub planes (which seem to be a revelation for every student who comes to work with her) I managed quite quickly to establish a fluent – even though overall still too high – arching shape reflecting the slightly modified arch of the original instrument. Modified in that I purposely didn't take the points where the curves change from concave to convex quite as far in as it shows on the CT scans featured in the Scrollavezza & Zanrè book that I used for reference, and left the back about 2mm higher.

Prior to cutting the fluting Helen and I examined the pictures in the book. It sometimes is puzzling how your eyes can deceive you by assuming instead of absorbing details and so it was very helpful to look at these pictures together. We found that the high point of the edge is taken relatively far out (at least 2/3 between purfling and edge), that it is very deep, but falling and rising very slowly.

After cutting the fluting I spent a fair amount of time connecting fluting and arching where again the eyes of an experienced maker helped a lot to discover flats and to develop a better eye for fluent shapes myself.


Once both plates had had their final scraping and were all smooth I designed f-holes in order to fit a sound post through them later (the f-holes have a width of 5.5mm on the original). For them to keep the style of the Girolamo Amati F-hole I then had to elongate them, too, and I think I managed to create a acceptable compromise by superimposing bits of tracing paper onto each other which each had half of the f-hole drawn on and by looking at other Girolamo Amati or Brothers Amati F-holes.


The final design was then made into an inside F-hole template which I had never tried before to find out about its advantages and disadvantages compared to an outside template.


I finished the week by cutting the F-hole fluting and hollowing the back to almost finished thicknesses. Again, starting off using the scrub planes allowed me to work efficiently and safely.


During the week I was able to watch Helen work on a viola herself and I could discover a few differences in the way she carried out certain steps in the making process and discover little tricks that make work quicker or safer, that prevent problems or promise superior results.


I felt that I could identify with her rhythmic, consistent and focused way of working. That, her sincere manner and conversations about different techniques, different makers, team projects as well as personal life made the time with Helen a very reassuring experience for me.

Julian Page

I have decided to specialise in restoration, so I was very fortunate to be given the chance to spend a week working with Iris Carr. I took a violin I've been working on and Iris talked me through how best to tackle its many problems, which include extensive worm damage, a pegbox with dangerously thin walls and floor due to a previous graft, cracks and plate subsidence secondary to worm channels.

Iris was very generous with her time and introduced me to many materials and techniques that were new to me: we made a cast of the back of the pegbox using car body filler, with 25 micron foil as a separator, which has the advantage over plaster that you can add filler where the cast has a dip, as well as scrape high points. The back of the pegbox was so thin that I was able to correct the cast and steam the wood to restore its shape, prior to building up its thickness. I also corrected a cast of a violin plate Iris was working on, and we made a positive cast from it to assess progress.

It was a fascinating and enjoyable week and I am very grateful to Iris for all her help, and to the RAB Trust for making it possible.