Roger's blog about the Painted Violin

Roger's blog about the Painted Violin

OK, so we have finished another instrument, it has been a long gestation, at times lurching forwards and at other times a slow and contradictory muddle. 

The wood which at first seemed the liveliest, quickest and best we had known, slowly seemed to change, losing immediacy, and all the while this was going on, we were having thoughts about the sound we would like finally to achieve, and which parts of the sound spectrum might need a little extra kick or persuasion. In my experience, for what it is worth, this is all very normal for everything to be fluid. In fact, I deliberately try to keep everything fluid and open for as long as possible. We fall in and out of love with the new instrument struggling to be born. Sometimes it’s lively and speaking to you, sometimes silent and unresponsive - but all the while suggesting different approaches to set up. When the time has finally arrived to put pegs, tailpiece and strings on this latest masterpiece, where do we turn? How do we think about the best way forward?

We probably have an intuition or a feeling for whether we have made a delicate, Seraphin like feminine instrument or a Montagnana oozing masculinity and demanding to be noticed. The violin, if that is what we are making, will either be a modern type of instrument or in a baroque style and this will be the first steer for the kind of fittings that we choose. There are certainly designs for pegs and tailpieces which strongly hint at an earlier style. It might be that we associate historic instruments with ornamentation; a walk around the viols and Hardanger fiddles, which was one of my favourite displays in the Victoria and Albert Museum, will show many examples of early, fantastical design and are sure to be an inspiration (I’m showing my age here, most of the instruments have gone to the Horniman museum). 

I have recent experience of having to decide which kind of pegs are appropriate for a particular instrument because I have been revisiting a violin which I completed in my youth. The Painted Violin. I can now see that these pegs, which at the time seemed good and suitable to me, were actually rather devoid of imagination. I think in fact I was rather influenced by what I was able to achieve at the time, using my brother’s lathe in a cold and dusty shed - but they were what I subsequently discovered is rather like a standard Vatelot peg, comfortable, concave face and elegant outlines. I ornamented these pegs with nickel silver pips which are of no value or merit - it was the only shiny metal I had lying around!


Original ‘dusty shed’ pegs.                                  New style ‘F’ pegs.

Finding these pegs now to be heavy and unsuitable for a baroque violin, especially one with so much ornamentation, I decided to use one of our recent peg designs which is historically true and is also delicate, both in appearance and in feel. These pegs have a flat face which contributes to their being light in appearance and slim to hold, our Style F, see picture. Generally, the nature of the face is quite a big consideration, pegs are either flat, concave, convex or occasionally doubly-curved which really has a big impact on the overall appearance. Often a concave grip can be the most positive in the fingers and certainly we find these very often suitable for cellos.  

In this case of my Painted violin the tailpiece was not up for replacement because it was so carefully matched to the original style of the fingerboard, but in other cases the tailpiece will be considered very carefully as replaceable in its own right and very much involved in respect of sound.  

We have spent time realigning the peg holes and changing the bottom saddle. I made the violin in 1987 when I was very new to making and now find that I don’t agree with myself about many details of the process, but this is true of life also, no doubt!

The painted violin will shortly be in the hands of Lucy Russell, Historical Violin Professor, and concert performer, I am extremely excited and privileged that she will be playing it.