This article was first published in The Strad June 2007

My Space


THE MAIN ADVANTAGE TO MY WORKSHOP IS ITS LOCATION. It is very close to the Barbican Centre and LSO St Luke’s concert hall so it’s handy for musicians to drop into between rehearsals. It also has large windows which let in plenty of light. I do the majority of my work at the bench on the right of the picture, where you can see the cello I’m working on at the moment. I use the other bench for heavier work such as planing. I’m preparing the cello’s neck block there and the scroll will be carved out of the wood in the vice. The finished violin hanging between the windows is my newest instrument: it’s about ten days old, and is in its ‘playing in’ phase, during which I adjust it every few days. It’s due to be collected in a couple of weeks. In violins this new the sound is changing constantly, so I don’t want to risk handing it to a customer only for them to need to bring it in five days later for a soundpost adjustment. That’s why I hang on to them for a little bit. It also gives me a chance to show a brand new instrument to any potential new customers. Beneath the violin is a drawing given to me by the son of the woman whose cello I’m making. I think he was inspired by the commission – it’s a picture of a ‘cello machine’. I spotted the Beethoven painting in Munich and just thought I needed to have it on my wall. Just above my main bench is a large pine cone that I found on a walk in Kew Gardens. I thought for a little while about how I could make it useful and I now use it to store fractional-sized violin bridges.My standard-size bridges are mounted on the wall above it. As space is at a premium I use the wall for storage of accessoriesand tools as far as possible. The microphone is to help me with sound adjustment. I use it because memory of sound can be quite subjective. I make a recording of my instruments’ sound, take measurements of their parts as I’m making them and store all this in a computer database. Then I can compare the instrument I’m currently making to all those I’ve made before. The records are like their fingerprints. This allows me to see exactly how my work is evolving. I have recently bought some new high-tech analysis equipment, that is sitting on the window shelf beside the computer. I am still learning how to use it all. One of my new tools is an impact hammer: you use it to give a little knock to the side of the bridge and it excites all the frequencies and makes a sound. The mike records the sound and the impact hammer measures exactly how hard it knocks the bridge. Then the computer correlates one with the other to find out how efficient the violin is for the frequency range. At some point I will also be able to do modal analysis using these tools. Out of the shot is my homemade UV cabinet. After applying each coat of varnish to an instrument I put it in there for a day. I also use UV before varnishing to tan the wood. If you’re lucky and live in a sunny country, you can hang instruments up outside to dry, but there are too many traffic fumes in central London, so this is the way I do it. Also out of view are my radio and CD player, important for people who work by themselves all day. I have got nice neighbours here and sometimes we just knock at each other’s doors and ask if they fancy a coffee. In this building, which is full of studios, everyone is in the same position, shut in a room, concentrating on something small. A bit of contact helps you to stay sane. Interview by Catherine Payne