Varnish Restoration on a fine Carl Becker Cello

Carl Becker is probably the finest American maker of the 20th Century …and his Cellos are among the best of his creations. This fine example dates from the 1930’s and has all the defining characteristics …especially his luminous,transparent reddish-orange varnish.

This cello is owned and played by a wonderful player/teacher in the area who comes from Chicago ….the land of generations of Beckers. The dramatic wear pattern is a testimony to both the close-up physicality of playing the Cello colliding with the delicacy of Becker’s varnish.

It was pleasure to be entrusted with this delicate repair (which consisted of restoration over the entire instrument)… the building up of layers of color and vanish .. doing your best to give the Cello what it deserves. Its a reminder that old instruments are now a collaborative effort; stretching from the maker, through all the hands in the past, to the hands of the present.IMG_2312


Stunning Sebastian Vuilluame violin

This stunning  back is from a violin by Sebastian Vuilluame…. and shows the hand of his protoge and successor Nestor Audinot. Sebastian is the nephew of the great J.B. Vuilluame… and , interestingly, married the daughter of Dominique Peccatte. This is very much in the tradition of French makers and dealers….where the illustrious head of the shop often doesn’t actually make the instrument. Typically there are  number of craftsmen involved with the finest instruments made by the premier artisans…with sometimes ( as in JB Vuilluame’s case) the master varnishing the finer instruments. Nestor Audinot was the premier worker for S Vuilluame, and even eventually took over the shop upon the death of S. Vuilluame.

I am proud to offer this crisp, stylish violin for sale.


Collin-Mezin cello




Beautiful cello by Chas JB Collin-Mezin 1870’s cello that is offered for saleIMG_1713IMG_1714IMG_1715. One of the finest French luthiers of the late 19th /early 20th century….he blends supreme control and exactitude  with the warmth and patina of the old world…. truly a special cello to consider

5 string conversion

IMG_1630Fun project converting an older German cello that belongs to Derek Barnes of the Philadelphia Orchestra into a 5 string cello …. with a high E. I removed the old fingerboard and replaced it with a wider one that flared subtly outward from the neck to allow as much playing surface to space the strings…. along with a new top nut. Here is a shot of the Baroque bridge being roughed out… and me tentatively working out the overall and individual spacing for playability. Derek had a clever idea of drilling an extra hole in the A peg to accept the E string. By adjusting the amount of tail of the E string pulling through the peg you could tune both strings quite close to pitch and then use fine tuners from there…. much easier than bushing all 4 peg holes and reaming out 5 new ones!

Fascinating to hear the whole other world a cello can produce when the sound leaves the A string and soars into the unknown reaches of the E string!

David Bromberg’s collection

IMG_1233Always enjoyable to meet with David …we’ve collaborated on some restoration projects over the years…. and here we are standing with his impressive collection of American violins. His collection is going to be part of the Library of Congress and he has asked me to set up/adjust and make them all they can be as they enter this prestigious institution. It will be fascinating to get to know all these instruments ….and I’ve found that the best way to do this is through the time spent  working on them…. and there should be plenty of that.

Dramatic cello back

This dramatic cello is a mid 19th century Italian instrument by Andrea Postachinni… and is part of the gorgeous sound that is the Philadelphia Orchestra.It is always inspiring to work on such a bold, artistic instrument. It does make me smile though, thinkingIMG_1187 of what reaction I might get if I made an instrument with wood such as this and submitted it to a competition….. I have a distinct feeling that I would be ridiculed…. which is a shame in that we are missing some of the essence of the great string instruments of Italy. The sense of daring … the personality … the sense of making a magical,musical instrument….not with sterile competence …but as if its a matter of life and death ….thats what I think is the most moving aspect of Italian instrument making….

Another interesting quirk of this instrument and its maker is the center seam area… you can see from the shadow that the center seam comes up to a rather hard ridge line , rather than the usual rounded arching ( I’ve also seen this on his violins)…I’m not sure if he does this for acoustical reasons ( like added mass changing the tone/sound) or maybe he does it to add more gluing surface to the center seam ( for strength/durability)….or maybe he was just trained this way….another instance of individual personality that fascinates the discriminating admirer….

Dramatic fall leads to a painstaking repair

img_1025img_1026img_0971img_0984img_0985img_1002img_0966This nice Italian violin from the 1940’s hit the floor from shoulder height….causing the neck to erupt at the button are and the center seam of the back to open up. (There were also cracks on the top and ribs which I restored but won’t be part of this post)

The button is a very delicate spot….at once, stressed by the string tension pull on the neck and compromised by the purfling channel which cuts through almost half the thickness at that area. It looked like this violin hah been repaired here in the past … but not patched to span the weak area of the purfling channel cut. So its no wonder that it erupted….

The first step is to carefully remove the back and free the damaged button from the top block.img_0980 Once the button is carefully re-assembled and precisely glued back t the back a cast is made of the upper back to aid in the delicate cutting of a channel to fit the patch and eventually glue it in without distorting things.

Once the maple patch is fit and glued in the channel ( which has been worked down gently to 2 mm thick) it is planed flush with the platform that will be glued to the top block.img_1013

Once the back is re-glued to the ribs and the neck reset …. the only evidence of the accident is the the sliver of the patch existing as a layer between the button and the neck stock…. until with patient varnish restoration everything disappears…the only slight reservation in this instance are the lines on each side of the button repair that are from the previous repair that can’t be removed …. also on the side photo of the upper rib ….there is a 2″ crack in the mid part between neck and the rib miter …coming up diagonally from the back ….see if you can see it

Mr Moennig was quite a master of varnish touch up and restoration …and working with him has had a life long effect. You learned by doing the wood work and handing it to him to restore the varnish ( all the while carefully examining my work!). Eventually you were able to do the whole repair and then hand to him to cast his eye over it….an eye that was very at home with looking at the finest instruments and the finest restoration….just the eye you want looking at your work

Pristine Vuilluame viola

img_0688img_0693img_0694img_0699This dramatically beautiful viola is by the great J B Vuilluame made in Paris in 1847 and is opus #1773. It bears the handwritten number 47 on the interior  ( the upper back) surrounded by an ornament. It is a Strad inspired instrument that is a quite rare example both because of its perfect condition … but also its small size at 396 mm ( just over 15 1/2″).

It is owned and played by a man who studied with the great William Primrose as a young, ambitious player. He eventually dedicated himself to becoming a world class chemist… but still plays this inspiring instrument daily….at an unimaginably early hour for a nightowl like me!

Vuilluame is clearly the greatest maker of the 19th century outside of Italy. He has the most intimate knowledge  and collection of instruments of the great masters of Cremona….and he puts it to great use. This lovely viola captures Strad’s powerful, ruggedly beautiful turns of the scroll….and the delicate grace of the F hole. The viola bears an original “wear” pattern on the back … beautifully executed by someone who has seen the natural effects of time and use on instruments that are played as well as cherished.

Everything about this fine instrument and player speaks of deep time….he has owned /played/cherished it for 50 years…and I see it yearly to keep it at its finest…. in addition to all the things I will (carefully!) do ….this year I will cut a new bridge for it…. the last one lasted 50 years! …. so I am thinking thoughts about deep time while I cut this bridge…..

Cello neck graft

IMG_0124 2A talented player who studies with Jeff Solow at Temple had an accident with a cello that she had purchased from me a number of years ago. When the cello hit the ground the scroll sheared offIMG_0063…and the long ordeal of the cello neck graft was on. The first step is to remove the scroll from the neck and prepare it to accept the graft. The peg box is carved out at flat angles that will provide the maximum gluing surface to ensure a lasting bond. Next step is to fashion the graft out of similar flamed maple as the cello. Using templates the neck is band sawed roughly then cleaned up by  hand … with the upper part a series of angles corresponding to the prepared scroll. The scroll is then fit downward with some tension and the graft is carefully worked to let the scroll continue downward until its completely fits  ( using a chalk transfer)on all surfaces at the desired spot right at the top edge of the fingerboard.IMG_0452 Once glued the pegbox is carved out and the neck is roughly shaped and made ready to set into the corpus of the instrument.

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