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David Gusset Studio
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1611 Lincoln Street
Eugene, Oregon, USA
Hours by appointment
violin, cello, viola, David Gusset, David Gussett, violoncello, stringed instruments,Stradivari, Stradivarius, Cremona, Guarneri, Guarnerius, instrument maker, history, Italian, Amati,AFVBM, violin varnish, design, luthier, making
ARTISTRY OF THE MAKER
Violin making is an often forgotten or overlooked art, yet indispensable to the expression and preservation of great works of music. Since its earliest beginnings, the violin has been an embodiment of the highest ideals of art. Violin making is more than a craft, and entails much more than the mere construction of a violin. Many areas of expertise must be mastered. The maker performs the skills of:
WOOD SCULPTOR. Among wood craftsmen, violin making is looked upon with a certain amount of awe and mystery. It is envied for its delicate carving and direct ties to past traditions and methods. The amount of skill, knowledge and discipline one must first attain, gives rise to the myth of unknowable secrets.
ARCHITECT and ENGINEER. Instrument design and construction is dependent only on its curved lines and surfaces, which are carved and bent for optimum lightness, strength and flexibility. Knowledge of materials and an ability to sense the strengths and weaknesses of a given piece of wood, is essential. The design, architecture and choice of wood all determine the ultimate potential of the finished work.
TOOL MAKER. The violin maker makes and maintains the condition of many specialized tools. Knives, plane irons, chisels and gouges must be kept razor sharp. Other tools, such as scrapers, require sharpened edges rolled over with a burnisher.
ACOUSTICIAN. The maker relies on memory and instinct, searching to improve the sound of each new instrument through slight controlled variations in model, architecture or dimensions. When played upon, the diminutive violin (weighing less than a pound) can be capable of filling the farthest corner of a large concert hall with sound, and conveying music of fiery emotion or subtle nuance to every listener. Good acoustic properties of a violin relate to more than just volume. Loudness under a player's ear is not indicative of an instrument with good "carrying power". The complexity and richness of overtones or harmonics is what gives carrying power and sweetness to a good violin. Each instrument possesses a unique voice, different from any other, created by the predominance of its own particular spectrum and abundance of overtones.
MUSICIAN. The maker must develop an ear and a vocabulary for sound to better understand the musician's needs. It is necessary to play well enough to make and hear subtle tonal adjustments. One must have the player's perspective to achieve proper set up and adjustment of the neck, fingerboard, strings, pegs, bridge, etc---the parts of an instrument with which the player has closest involvement.
VARNISH MAKER. Preparation of varnish involves purifying, sun-bleaching and bodying oils; grinding, cooking and mixing resins and preparing color lakes.
ART RESTORER. Fine violin restoration not only employs many of the ethics and techniques of fine art restoration, but also requires the various skills of the maker and specialized techniques developed over the past 200 years. The opportunity of studying the works of the old masters first hand, allows one to analyze the successes (and shortcomings) of individual works, and to observe how each maker or school of makers from the past approached the various aspects of making.
MERCHANT. Peer recognition is gratifying, but the maker must also be a merchant of his/her own products. Makers have the opportunity to work directly with their clientele, often on a commission basis. A special, long term symbiotic relationship exists between a maker and player or collector. Working together they choose a design that will meet the specified needs of the player. After the work is purchased and in the hands of the musician, the maker remains available to periodically carry out necessary maintenance and adjustments.
LEARNING THE TRADE
The fine art of violin making is a lifelong learning experience. Although much is acquired through diligence and self reflection, the initial stage involves formal education. A two to four year apprenticeship in the shop of a master or at a violin making school helps one acquire the rudimentary skills of a journeyman. An additional two to four years in the shop of a master are necessary before establishing ones own independent shop. Further education comes from the study of historic instruments, from feedback from musicians or from open exchange of information and techniques with colleagues during meetings and seminars sponsored by professional organizations. The two professional organizations or guilds dedicated to the preservation and advancement of the art of making and restoration are the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers and l'Entente Internationale des Maitres Luthiers et Archetiers d'Art. Membership is restricted to those who have met strict requirements and have demonstrated their abilities.
THE MAKING THIS SECTION UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Violin form with willow blocks temporarily attached. The blocks are carved away to allow the gluing of ribs
Finished Rib Structure
Spruce and Maple Wood prepared and seasoned for violin making
Spruce and Maple "Plates" joined and flattened
Outline of rib structure transferred to plates
The sawed outline of a back plate
The initial arching is done with the long handled gouge. click image for detail
The arch of the top plate is refined with the finger planes.
After scraping the exterior arching smooth, the plate is reversed and held by a cradle while the interior is scooped out with the gouge and planes. The F-holes are laid out and cut with circle cutters, saw and knife.
After the wood has seasoned and is finally ready to be used, the wedge is split or sawn in half again along the radius. The surfaces that were once the outer edges are planed off and joined together producing a rooftop-like shape. This shape is the beginning of the spruce top or maple back. The arching or convexity of the top and back plates is produced by carving with gouges and small rounded planes called finger or thumb planes, and is finished with rounded metal scrapers and polished with dried horsetail (equisetum or "scouring rush", a common plant found mostly around streambeds). Notably, sandpaper is not used for several reasons. It indiscriminately rounds off the definition of delicately carved details and tends to dig deeper in the softer areas of a piece of wood, leaving an uneven surface. It also leaves behind surface scratches and clogged wood pores.
Thin laminations of poplar and dyed pear wood for making purfling
Finished purfling strips before bending
PURFLING (inlay). The Cremonese Italians traditionally used poplar and pear woods for the purfling. A sandwich was made of two layers of black dyed pearwood with a layer of undyed white poplar glued in between. The sandwich, roughly 1.2 to 1.5 millimeters thick, was then cut into strips about two millimeters in width and inlaid around the borders of the front and back to the depth of two millimeters. Purfling serves to strengthen the delicate edgework and frame the outline aesthetically.
Chiseling out the groove for inlaying the purfling (photo by Abel Yau) click image for detail
RIBS. The maple ribs (or sides) are chosen to match the wood of the back. They are prepared with a scraper to the thickness of approximately 1 millimeter. The ribs are bent to conform to the shape of the form with the aid of a metal strap pulled around a hot cylindrical iron. They are glued to the spruce of willow blocks, and the whole rib structure is reinforced with spruce or willow linings.