« The eye sees,
the hand makes. »
In my opinion, this is the spirit with which one must approach quartet instrument making.
The process is comprised of two consecutive phases.
Violin making, like many other crafts, very much relies on its history, and the various fabrication techniques used today date back to the 16th century. It is therefore absolutely necessary to know and master this heritage, as it will guide the violin maker throughout the making of an instrument. During the first phase, violin maker and musician work together to better define the type of sound he or she is looking for. The model’s design and the type of wood to be used are chosen with extreme care, as both these parameters greatly affect the instrument’s sound.
Then comes the manufacturing phase.
Violin making is an essentially empirical craft. While factual knowledge can help us organize our work and acquire the right reflexes, when the time comes to cut the wood, we must rely on a sort of sensorial library, composed of past experiences with previous instruments. We must be attentive to the spruce front and maple back as we work them, free the energy saved up during the first phase of the process, and trust our intuition.
It would be misguided to oppose ancient and modern instruments. Some of the most beautiful ancient violins are an almost endless source of inspiration for modern-day violin makers, as they display amazing woodworking and magnificent varnish. Nonetheless, they only serve as guides as we make our own contribution to the history of violin making. Indeed, what would be the point in merely copying their archings and thickness, when many have been reworked by later violin makers or simply distorted with time ? I find it way more interesting to understand how they are built, and use that knowledge to come up with new techniques.
Let’s not forget that the instruments we admire so much originate from very active workshops, which employed many craftsmen and apprentices. Genius violin makers such as Stradivari or Vuillaume probably could not have acquired such high skills or fame without their dedicated work.
Workshops can no longer operate in such a way. Nonetheless, we can derive inspiration from the atmosphere that must have reigned in those workshops, where craft, innovation and curiosity were constantly encouraged. More and more musicians are choosing modern violin making, and, as I have now been working on it for several years, I am happy to see it has finally gained the legitimacy it deserves.