Tuesday, October 26, 2010

L'Alto Vernis

After overcoming a significant mental block about commencing the varnishing process, I am preparing to put on the final coat of colour. to Viola No. 3 (Pictured are the 5 coats of coloured varnish, there are 3 to 4 process before this and two coats of clear to finish.)

Varnish has a big impact on the way people respond to the completed instrument - its colour, figure and finish. But varnishing is a bugger. There's no other way to put it. Quick drying oil varnish is hand applied to the instrument with badger hair brushes. When I say 'quick', I mean almost instantaneous. You basically get one shot at it. Any attempt to retouch a dodgy stroke simply makes a mess of it. The colour of the instrument is all in the varnish. It begins with the application of a ground of yellow, then to browns and brown/red mixes. Each layer enriches the instrument's colour and each gets increasingly harder to apply.

In a good varnish I like strong colour but maintaining good transparency to make the most of the highly figured maple, creating a three dimensional effect.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


It's been another long time between posts, I'm sure you've been missing me terribly. However, as I am constantly being reminded, everything in this business takes a long time.

My pernambuco baguettes arrived from the US last week. This endangered wood is only available because it is reclaimed from floorboards, fence posts etc in Brazil. Ordered from the Government approved registered pernambuco dealer in Brazil three months ago, they had to sit in New York awaiting inspection by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for two months before being released. They arrived in Australia complete with a permit from the "Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora" to be held up at Australian Customs for a fortnight. It was not the authenticity or provenance that the Oz Customs were concerned about, but how much GST to charge. Such a frustrating process. Luckily the dealer sent extra baguettes, in this wondrous array of tones, to compensate for the delay. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to include the four bass sticks, which are the items I really need to get started on, so here we go again. Like I said, nothing in my business happens quickly.

With the completion of all my Churchill Fellowship commitments - the report handed in, speech made etc., I was given this medallion by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Thanks Winston, or should I say " Merci!" (although he isn't looking too happy about it, is he? )

Since I got back from France, full of the joys of bow making, two instrument commissions presented themselves. The first is for a smallish viola, my version of a Guadagnini, seen here with the first coat of coloured varnish. Now comes the tricky part of applying the darker colours. The viola was played by the owner in the white and was greatly appreciated for its tone, quick response and ergonomics.

This white violin, minus the neck which I am still making, is my trusted Guarneri 'del Gesu' model. This one should be ready to try in the white shortly. It's my violin number 12.

Now back to my recently acquired new skills. This is a partially finished bass frog, awaiting the pernambuco stick. Made from ebony, Sterling silver and mother of pearl, this is for my first bow commission from my long suffering mentor and double bass teacher. Hopefully his patience will soon be rewarded.