Dutch School of Violin Making
A different kind of school
The workshop actually started life, around 1900, as a rural primary school with two classrooms, but “School” in this connection is of course not to be understood as a sombre building wherein the teaching is delivered to obedient classes, according to strict rules. In this case “School” refers to a coherent method, adopted by a palpable group, open to constant improvement, giving well above average results.
One of the points of departure of the School is that, if we still consider classical Italian violin making the universal benchmark, there is no getting around profound research into their ways of working. May sound a gratuitous observation, but perhaps less so if we realize that modern violin making, almost all of it essentially rooted in the 19th century German tradition, makes us easily forget how little we actually know about the classical makers. Many modern makers live in the reassuring perception that they are part of an unbroken tradition, a tradition that, alas, forgot to hand us down only a few secrets.
As a consequence we try to work with the means that we may reasonably suppose were at the disposal of classical makers too. And if we do not, at least try to realize why not. The band-saw for instance is not only a replacement of the cheap labour they had from apprentices, it is much better at sawing at right angles for one. But the moment you try to do all the sawing by hand, you realize that it is not only a question of time, but foremost of dexterity. If you turn to the old instruments, armed with this insight, you easily see where the initial sawing had been a little less than perfect. At the same time: nobody seems to have bothered.
So, trying to learn how to saw properly by hand, enhances ones understanding of classical methods. The general idea being that working this way will eventually shed light on all sorts of hitherto dimly understood aspects of the classical Italian school. For instance, although not banned, power-tools and modern abrasives are being used restrictively, computer not at all, varnish is of the simple oil-and-resin-based, homemade, slow drying kind, pre-shaped parts being out of the question. May seem somewhat museum like, but, as an attempt at living history, see it as a useful means to an end.
In the wake of the foregoing it will not come as a surprise that we have developed a few unorthodox ways of working, as to the order of things, tool handling, etc. They stem partly from the research into historical methods, partly from my teaching experience, looking for the most reliable way to arrive at encouraging results. Now we come to speak of it, lack of previous woodworking experience doesn’t seem at all to be an obstacle to making nice violins; lack of patience is.
Violins, but almost all other members of the string instrument family are being made here, including the baroque cousins: viola, cello, double bass, violone (big old ones from around 1600, as well as cello like ones from 1650 onwards), viola d’amore and violoncello da spalla (Bach’s “shouldercello”, for which he composed i.a. the 6 Suites). Notably absent are gamba’s and the baryton.
But, the real advantage within the method of the School is with string players. The more you know about playing, the better you will be able to fully realize the potential inherent in your instrument by our technique of voicing (learn more about voicing from the third long article below “The last Secret of Stradivari III, Voicing the Violin”). The warmest of invitations therefore are extended to string players, to learn violin making with us and so revive what in classical Cremona has been normal violin making routine.