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.


Michael Sheridan

Michael was awarded the equipment to begin acoustic analysis and a day at J & A Beare to discuss acoustics with Andrea Ortona and get feedback on a couple of his instruments. He writes: 

I bought a measurement microphone and USB interface with the award. I will also purchase software once I have a better understanding of the analysis and the available products.
I have obtained spectra of modes I, II and V of my 4th violin and checked them to tap tones, altered the modes to match standard target frequencies and seen the associated changes to the spectra. I investigated the change to the spectra during f-hole cutting, fluting and bass bar fitting. I am getting a much better feel for relative impact of these actions on the free plates. I have also looked at the higher-frequency changes during these actions. Given the understood limitations of any free-plate analysis my next step is to build a rig for complete instruments. I also plan to improve my method of impact so I can factor the amplitude of response by impact force and therefore compare my readings to other violins.
My day at J & A Beare was a great experience. Mark Robinson gave feedback on my making, looking at many details such as golden period purfling and fluting and antiquing. Andrea discussed the acoustic analyses he has carried out over past decades and we looked at what I have done to date and where to go in the future. We discussed a project to measure instrument stiffnesses which we have been developing since then. I also had time to look over and make notes on some beautiful instruments. Many thanks to everyone at J & A Beare and RAB Trust!

Drew Evans

Thanks to the RAB Trust I was lucky enough to be awarded a combination of the book ‘1520-1724 Liutai In Brescia’ along with a workshop placement with Helen Michetschläger in Sale, Manchester. The book allowed me to get to grips with an area of making that had already piqued my interest and provided a wealth of information that also informed me on aspects of design and proportion that came in useful later in the year whilst beginning work on a project to reconstruct a 17th century Bass Violin from measurements.

In October 2015 I made my way to Helen’s workshop for 5 days taking with me some existing work in the form of a new viola and a recently completed viola. Whilst there it’s safe to say I learned a great deal, and as someone setting out to become a self-employed maker it was incredibly useful to learn from Helen who is a well established and highly respected maker.

Wasting little time we hit the ground running and began with overhauling the viola I had completed, evaluating and improving the neck shape and taking the opportunity to experiment with some new methods of colouring and finishing the neck.
From here we moved onto arching and hollowing the plates I had brought along, using scrub planes to complete the bulk of the work – the planes were entirely new tools for me – and employing a completely new method of fixing and holding the workpiece. This showed me a completely different approach to what I had previously been taught and one that I have both modified an incorporated into my own workshop, vastly improving my efficiency.
The week ended with the purfling channels being cut into the completed plates and a new bridge for the viola which was completed just in the nick of time to make the run to the train home.
Amidst the work we managed to discuss several points of interest around being a self employed maker which proved at least as valuable as what was learned at the bench.

In 2016 I was again given an award: both the British Violin book and also the funds to purchase a new set of peg fitting tools. The book was a vital component of what is now an ongoing research project into early instruments that was started with the construction of an English Bass Violin and is set to continue with other more unusual offerings. The tools were an essential part of my toolkit which I had not yet been able to afford and essentially allowed me to begin my own workshop straight out of school, which is where I find myself now having settled for the moment in my hometown of Newark.

Neal Hepplestone

Neal Hepplestone has sent the following lines and the photos of one of the beautiful double basses he made:

I was awarded the British Violin book in my finally year at the Newark School of Violin Making, I have found the resource to be a fantastic collection of information about past and present violin makers from Britain. I have found it to be invaluable to my research into the history of making and was especially interested in the sections regarding early double basses. There is limited information about this specific subject so it was great to be able to read about it and compare the work of the makers as well as the other instruments that they made. Currently, I am working in Sheffield, making new double basses which I intend to focus on and establish myself in this area. I am also working part time for a couple of excellent double bass restorers which has given me the opportunity to work on fantastic instruments and has provided me great learning experiences.

Kit Wensley

Kit writes of his award:

For my second instrument I was given the 1691 7 string bass by Michel Colichon as a model. It has a five piece bent front, would be built off the back and has a carved head and painted motif for decoration. What ‘purfling’ exists is also painted. Initially, my main concern was the head and painting, as I had absolutely no experience with either. When the time came, though, both proceeded well and it was the front that caused me the most problems. It seemed to take an age for me to truly comprehend the angles each stave must be planed at. Still, the end result was pleasing, and the varnish, which we made from scratch, highlights the contrast between the walnut of the back and ribs and the spruce of the front. The boxwood pegs, another troublesome area for me, seem satisfactory, if somewhat simplistic. My thanks to the fine tutors at West Dean for helping me through this challenging but rewarding process, and to the RAB Trust for funding the purchase to those vital tools you never think you need until you need them.

Felipe Ruano

Felipe was awarded work experience with Edinburgh-based Neil Ertz in 2015. Felipe writes:

“During my workshop experience with Neil I made the purfling in both plates, the back arching and almost finish the belly arching. I enjoyed a lot learning how to recreate the character of the Guarneri del Gesu purfling, trying to make it looknatural. During the time I was in his workshop there was time to talk about different aspects of violin making like antiquing, set up or ideas of construction. 

The pictures are of my first antiqued violin and my first violoncello da spalla. This violoncello da spalla is very special to me because I was involve in a big project of research. I have created this model around the string length and body stop. I tried to make a Cremonese character for it but finally all the important decisions were based on the acoustics results.”

Robert Crooks

During his final year at Newark, Robert was awarded a copy of the book ‘The British Violin”. He is currently setting up his workshop and plans to use the book as inspiration for making a copy of a Henry Jaye viol.

Julian Page

I was offered a placement with Philip Ihle in London, and carved a scroll in the style of Stradivari. Philip asked me to think about form following function, and suggested I start by excavating the pegbox; this was something I’d always done at the end, but it became clear very quickly that there are several important advantages: there is as yet no carving to damage, the block is easier to hold, and it allows you to be fairly brutal when chopping out the waste (which is quicker). It was interesting having to visualise the finished shape so that the floor of the pegbox flowed appropriately, reminding me of painting negative shapes.

Philip cuts the chamfer early on and gets its trajectory right; its width can then be fine-tuned as you continue to carve the volute and cut the fluting. Again, this was very different to my previous experience and I found the process much easier to control. It made me realise that you have to question everything: there are lots of different ways to do the same job so you have to experiment to find the one that gives you the results you want in the shortest time.

We talked a lot about what were the critical things to get right, and about aesthetic considerations. It was a fascinating and absorbing week and I keep finding more ways in which it has helped me. Philip made me very welcome and was a thoughtful and patient mentor, and I am extremely grateful to him and to the RAB Trust for having given me this opportunity.

Hanna Stumpfl

Hanna was awarded a work experience placement with Jonathan Woolston in Cambridge. She writes:

During my seven days at Jonathan Woolston’s workshop I wanted to finish a restoration project that I had been pursuing over the whole year. Before I came to Jonathan I had already fitted two new cheek patches to an old German scroll as the old ones had to be removed. What was still missing was an edge repair that should be replaced with better fitting wood and a neck graft.
Jonathan taught me a lot about matching wood and what to look for – especially in maple, where it is crucial to match the medullary rays as exactly as possible. I also learnt a lot about necks – how to position them on old instruments, how to get a neck graft fitting 100% and how to find the bumps and wobbles that keep the two pieces of wood from fitting. During the fitting process Jonathan also taught me how to judge if the scroll is central to the graft and the benefits of having a fingerboard spot glued on when cutting the pegbox.
I feel a lot more confident now in my understanding of necks, as I also did a neck reset on another violin on which I had already done a neck graft before I came to the work experience.
I also realised how important it is to assess a repair or restoration instrument properly before even starting the work, checking the bass bar position and how it relates to the rest of the instrument.
I really enjoyed working with Jonathan as he is not just an immensely good violin maker and restorer with a lot of understanding of how to get the best sound out of each instrument, but he can also explain why he does things the way he does. Which I find especially important in restoration where there are so many options to choose from when you are trying to solve a problem – for me the most important thing when choosing a certain technique/solution is to know how the physics and/or ethics behind it back up the technique/solution and I feel like I’ve gained a lot more understanding about certain aspects now.

Michael Donnerstag

Mike writes of his award of work experience:

I spent a very enjoyable day with Stephen Thomson, bow maker, who runs a business named ‘The Bow Business’ in a centre for artists and craftspeople in Deptford, London. We started the day discussing his background and training that led him into making and restoring bows for string instruments. I brought along a bass bow that needed re-hairing with a mixture of black and white hair. Together we removed the original hair, selected new hair, made new wedges and undertook the re-hair from start to finish. I asked many questions along the way and Stephen was happy to pass on the benefit of his experience in the trade.
After lunch we made a new pearl eye to replace a missing eye in a bow frog. It was very interesting to see the variety of materials used for this and find out how they are prepared to match the original as closely as possible, while ensuring that the patina of the ebony frog is untouched. Finally, Stephen showed me how an imitation whalebone lapping is applied to a Hill-style bow. All in all, Stephen’s open, friendly approach and his vast knowledge of the subject made it a very positive experience.
The knot must be in the perfect position!

The knot must be in the perfect position!

Alberto Dolce


Alberto was awarded a work experience placement with Jonathan Woolston in Cambridge, which took place in February 2016. He writes:


During the workshop experience I worked on a violin set up. After assessing the instrument I made a new fingerboard and top nut, then I made a new soundpost and a new bridge. Jonathan followed me in the whole process and we discussed how to approach the instrument, what needed to be done in order to improve the set up. In a set up nothing can be taken for granted, every component being in the right place carrying out their function, everything works as a whole.

I really enjoy working with accuracy and analyse all the details. In the workshop there was time also for many interesting discussions about different aspects of the trade. I have learned many new techniques and Jonathan also showed me some of his instruments that motivated me to start an antiqued instrument. This experience made me more confident with the work I undertake.”

The photographs show a recent violin by Alberto based on an Antonio Gragnani of 1780.

More recently, Alberto was awarded a visit to the London auctions in the company of experienced dealer and restorer Geoff Denyer. Alberto writes:

“It was very interesting to visit the auctions and to learn about recognition of instruments.

I had the chance to look at and to study several fine violins and cellos and with the guide of Geoff I learnt about details typical of the makers and characteristics of the construction methods. It was useful to closely look at a few violins (dated from 1700 to 1760) of the Gagliano family, checking for the similarities between them. Focusing on instruments of the same origin helped in order to use a comparative method in spotting the similarities.

Similarly, I looked at violins from the Florentine school including a violin and a viola by the Carcassi brothers and a violin by G.B. Gabrielli. The analysis involves not only trying to understand tools and techniques used by the maker and wood/material choice, but an important part is looking at the varnish, if signs of the original are still present. Looking at old fine instruments is inspiring and challenging at the same time. It tests and trains the visual and mnemonic knowledge. It is surely a great motivation to better understand different aspects of violin making.
Violin inspired by Gragnani 

Violin inspired by Gragnani