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If you're looking for the chronicle of Paul Unger's bass project, it's been moved into the archive section. Patrick Tobin's alto violin project can be found by clicking on the appropriate tab, below, right next to our latest project, Gary Smyers four-string contrabass. For those who like big baritones, work on "Barantonio" is chronicled here as well. The FAQ section has been removed temporarily. Much of the information it contained will have to be changed once we work out arrangements with our new supplier.


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Gary Smyers' Bass

Most recent activity is posted on top. To read in chronological order, scroll down to the end and read upward.


[August 8, 2012]

Slapping Coat

back with varnishGary stopped by on his way back from Joel Quarrington's bass camp toward the end of July and got to see the bass completed in the white and with the first ground coats applied. I've been happily, but slowly, painting away ever since, and here's a peek at the varnish about half-done. I hesitated to post this because the color can be deceiving to the eye if one is not familiar with the process. This is not the color I started with, nor will it be the color I end up with.

In the good old days, the Italian makers would hang their white instruments under a canvas tent set up on the tops of their flat-roofed houses and let the sun and air oxidize the wood to a nice golden brown. If I tried that here, I would normally have to bail out the instrument every morning. Although this year has brough an exceptionally dry summer to us, my house doesn't have a flat roof!

The process begins with a sealer coat and then some ground stain followed by a ground coat followed by color coats. Gary has requested a lot of red in his bass, and although it might be a little hard to see here, there is a great amount of red dye in the varnish. On a good, dry day, helped by air conditioning that actually works and accompanied by the roar of two dehumidifiers, I can get at least two full coats applied in one sitting. The bass dries overnight, and the next day is usually spent touching-in missed spots. On a bass, this can take a few hours. Then another overnight period to let the retouching dry, followed the next morning by another couple of coats.

One can only push the process so far. Each coat of varnish softens or sometimes partialy dissolves all the coats underneath, so the longer you work and the more coats you apply, the greater the risk.


[July ??, 2012]

Getting in Gear

bass with tuning gearsHere's another look back in this narrative to an operation I did before the neck setting took place, which is installing the tuning machines. Gary specified Sloane gears with solid brass rollers and the Italian-style wingnut head, but they were out of stock at the time we ordered them. It was a long wait, but finally they arrived. I like to do a full install of the gears while the scroll is in the white. That way all the holes are drilled and there's no opportunity for tools to slip and ruin a varnished peg box.


[July ??, 2012]

Neck Set

Neck setSo here I am, better late than never, with some pictures of the work that didn't get included during the period when I was bringing a new computer on line. The neck set went well, although it is a physically exhausting task since the neck assembly can be awkward to handle. It pays one to get all his ducks in a row, because when there's wet glue in the joint, everything has got to fit and there's no second chance! The neck alignment is one of the critical dimensions to establish at this time so that the fingerboard is centered on the point where the bridge will be. This means that the fingerboard must be tack-glued to the neck during the setting procedure, which makes the assembly even more unwieldy. Because the fine edges of the scroll can get bumped and dented while the maker is focused on other things, I typically put three or four heavy crew socks over the scroll and pegbox to protect it. Since Gary likes red, I chose a sock with red stripes. The set went well, I'm happy to say, and here is the bass resting up afterward.








[July 12, 2012]

Saddle Up and Ride!

Smyers bass with saddleOK, it has been a long time between updates. I had to bring a new computer online which coincided with a big security update at my long-suffering ISP's hub. At the same time, I upgraded my Adobe DreamWeaver, the program I use to maintain this site. And after that, none of my communications with the server site would work! It has taken weeks to straighten it out. Something somewhere (I suspect Windows Firewall, but have absolutely no proof whatsoever) was changing my protocols and default settings behind the scenes, and there were other issues that I, a humble violin maker, would have no way of knowing about. Then, strangely, everything started working again once I re-uploaded almost the entire site. Immediately after that my brand-new camera began to malfunction and only take a few pictures of enormous size before choking. It turned out that my memory chip was defective! As Neville Longbottom famously said in the Harry Potter books, "Why is it always me?"

I had a treat recently when both Gary Smyers and Paul Unger stopped by on their way to Joel Quarrington's summer camp. Gary's bass was just about ready to varnish, as I proudly announced to them, but not quite as ready as I'd thought. I realized that I hadn't installed the saddle yet, which can be done after varnishing, but which is better to do beforehand. So that's what I did the last couple of days. The saddle carries the tail cord between the endpin and the tailpiece, so it's really useful. In the last day or two, I've been getting the bass ready for its sealer coat, which is the prelude to ground coating and varnishing. So now I am really ready to varnish. Unless . . . :-)


[April 30, 2012]

The Eyes Have It!

f-hole eyesGary wanted me to be sure to post a picture of this step, so here it is! A bit late in the progression, but nevertheless here! In this picture, if you look closely, you can see the f-holes drawn on the top. Some makers cut the entire f-hole after the top plate is graduated, which makes sense because the wood is thinner and easier to work. I do it a little differently by drilling the eyes with a Forstner bit down to the depth I've chosen for the initial arching thickness of the top at the center. Now I can turn the plate over and plane or gouge out the wood inside the top, and I don't have to check measurements nearly as often. When I expose the pilot hole for the bit at the upper eye location, I know I'm within a millimeter or two of my intended starting thickness.


[April 21, 2012]

Opening Night

opening nightThe top and back plates have been removed from their temporary mounting on the rib garland, which leads us to the point that violin makers call "opening night." I'd be hard pressed to tell you why it's called that because the bass is already open and it isn't night. Minor details. The mould I'd designed especially for this project slipped out without a problem, which is the cause for the little smile on my face in the photo. If basses didn't take so long, and if I had room in the dungeon, and if I had some seasoned maple, it would be theoretically possible for me to start another bass on this mould. My back aches at the thought!

In the luthier's world, this is traditionally considered the halfway point and cause for a glass of wine with dinner. In fact, it's more than halfway. It may come as no surprise that we have a number of halfway points, which come at decreasing intervals as the project nears completion. And we don't always wait for dinner! The next week will be spent doing what needs to be done before closing the body.


[April 15, 2012]

Gluing Back to Ribs

gluing back to ribsWith the back entirely hollowed out, it's time to start the final assembly of the corpus. This is a fairly quick job on a violin, but on a bass it slows down due to the need to warm the wood for a good glue bond. By the time I get the first five or six clamps on, the rest of the body has cookled enough to need reheating, so I generally go in sections. I use locating pins to center the back, but since wood is a mobile substance, I really have to check the overhangs as I go. This gets ever more interesting as the clamps are put on and the entire assembly starts to get heavy, although it never gets as heavy as it was before the plates were hollowed out!


[April 11, 2012]

Hollowing out the back

Hollowing out the backGrunt time, again. The back has been removed from the ribs, flipped over, and hollowed out, a process that is also called "graduating" the plate. I got quite a bit of it done before I remembered to take this picture, but if you've seen one shovelful of wood coming out, you've seen them all. That tiny object you see on the right side of the plate is not an insect, it is actually the small finger plane that I use to go around the edges. We leave a little platform around the perimeter for gluing later; I think you can see it. It's working the interior arching up to this platform that requires a very small plane and a steady hand. It's often easy to think that the largest instrument requires the biggest tools, but for many operations such as purfling miters and the eye of the scroll I use the same size tool I would use on a violin. You don't have to be crazy to make basses, but it helps.


[April 4, 2012]


corpusWith the back and top still tack-glued to the ribs, I can begin connecting the main body arching to the arching at the purfling. You will no doubt observe the care with which I treat this bass at its weightiest. Doesn't every bass maker use genuine Joe Boxer pillows to cushion the work? I've been traveling to conferences and conventions and am a little behind in my photography. The work has progressed farther than shown here. But in the normal course of the work, the next step will be to remove the top and back plates and begin removing excess wood, a painstaking and delicate process we refer to by the genteel term "hogging out."


[March 18, 2012]


purfling installedThe present step is the installation of purfling, the black-white-black band of wood that is inlaid around the perimeter of the top and the back. It's a little hard to see in the photo because of the strong lighting that occurred on one of our rare sunny days when I took the picture. But if you look at this picture and the one immediately below, the difference should be obvious. The purfling is all that remains from an earlier period of instrument construction when decorative inlays were common, along with other ornamentation such as lion heads, paintings on the body, gilt lettering on the ribs, bas-relief carving in the corners, and so forth. Purfling the instrument (the word is used as both noun and verb in the craft) survives because it is the most refined, elegant, yet simple, reduction of the practice, and because the purfling also serves to bind the edges in such a way as to resist cracking along the grain from the upper and lowermost portions of the body. In earlier times, purfling could also be used to identify the region where the instrument was built based on the type of wood that was used, the widths of individual strips, and the type of stain used on the black strips. Today, some makers use carbon-fiber purfling, which has characteristics similar to the "whalebone" (baleen) strips used for purfling in the low countries of Europe several centuries ago.


[March 8, 2012]

Completed Edge Overhangs

edhes overhangs doneThe edge overhangs are now brought down to their final dimensions. As I struggled to lift the assembly to the bench top, I was grateful for the several ounces in weight reduction caused by completing the process. :-) The edges of the overhang are diminished until they are parallel with the rib assembly and with each other. For the time being, the edges are left square to resist the inevitable little nicks and dings still possible in future steps. My apologies for the high contrast in light and dark in the photo, but we were undergoing one of our rare environmental catastrophes in my part of New York State-- a sunny day! Next step; purfling!


[February 29, 2012]

Reducing Edge Overhang

Reducing edge overhangHappy Leap Day to all. Here's another photo of the latest leap in Gary's bass. The top and the back plates have been tacked into position on the ribs, and the time has come to reduce the edge overhangs to their final dimension. This gets a little critical due to the way it influences where the purfling will be let in. Everything has to be in the right relationship so that the purfling miters lie correctly in the corners. The difficulty here is that the top and back are still at full thickness underneath, so this entire assembly now weighs somewhere around sixty or seventy pounds and is very awkward to handle. This argues for repositioning the bass as little as possible at a time when I have to work around the entire perimeter and move it a lot. In this photo, I've got one side of it gently held in the clamp of my large Ulmia bench while preventing damage by resting the body on a genuine Joe Boxer pillow from our late, lamented K-Mart store. Other pillows would work as well, I think. :-) With the clamp acting as my third hand, I'll work around the edges both on the top and back until they are nearly correct. Then I'll grunt the entire assembly, now a few ounces lighter, back on top of the bench, and finish using a technique called "draw filing" with a spaced file. Here also you get to see for the first time a genuine bass-like object with ribs, top, and back where they will be in the finished instrument. Don't worry, though. I'll be taking it all apart soon.


[February 23, 2012]

Perimeter Shelf

Making perimeter shelfA very large amount of work has occurred between this picture and the one previous to it, but I didn't take any pictures. Yes, I know. Break out the wet noodle! The arching on both the top and the back has been made up to the point that I can do the work shown in the photo, and that is making a flat "shelf" around the perimeter of the body outline. This shelf, here shown on the spruce top, brings the edge thicknesses very nearly to final dimension, while it also prepares a surface for putting in the purfling. Later, the edgework and the plate arching will have to be connected, which is why the final arching isn't done at this point. Also, the outline will not be brought to final dimensions until the plates are tacked to the rib structure. The shelf is an excellent step to be done by a machine, if one specialized in basses and had a lot of room to set up tables devoted to special operations. I do it the good old-fashioned way using planes, rasps and a thickness caliper.


[February 16, 2012]


clamped linersAfter the excess length of the ribs is trimmed back and the corners are brought to final dimension and angle, the first set of inner liners is glued on. The function of the liners is twofold. During construction, the liners help protect the vulnerable edges of the ribs by making them stronger and less likely to suffer damage. Once the glue dries, the liners will be planed flush with the top edge of the ribs. This will provide the surface area required to hold the plates to the ribs in the finished instrument. Since only the top surface of the liners needs to be full width, the liners are beveled to reduce weight and keep the ribs flexible. It's impossible to remove the mould once the liners are in, so at this point only back liners are glued in. A second set of liners for the top will be installed once the mould is removed from rib structure. My lining clamps were purchased from the hobby section of a local hardware store. I like them because they have swiveling jaw pads. Of course, the color has nothing to do with the function of the clamps, but it does make an interesting effect when strong sunlight strikes the work.


[February 7, 2012]

Time for Some Ribs!

clamping ribs to blocksHaving at last secured the blocks to the mould and having spent quite a bit of time shaping them, the fun part begins; bending the ribs and gluing them to the blocks. Now the purpose of the buttresses becomes clear. Getting a good fit of the ribs to the mould can feel at times like wrestling an octopus, so having the clamps and shaped counterforms (called "cauls" by the British) is like having a third hand when you really, really need one. Or two. You can see that the upper and lower ribs fly long where they are attached at the corner blocks. The ribs in the center do the same, so they are put on first, after which the excess is trimmed away and the remainder is feathered smoothly into the curves on the blocks. The second step is gluing on the four remaining rib sections. With violins and violas, I typically do them all at once. The bass mould and all the parts start getting heavy and unwieldy, and it gets difficult to work around so many clamps. I find it best to glue both ribs to the lower block and one complete rib to the upper corner and top block on the first day. On the second day, the lower ribs get glued to the corners blocks and the other upper rib gets completely attached. It was a three-day job this time around. As an experiment, the buttressed mould has worked out quite well. It's a keeper, and I'll use it again for the next bass, if I live through this one.


[February 2, 2012]

Around the Block

Clamping corner blocksThe buttressed mould took a while to finish, partly due to the problems of finding unwarped plywood. I finally managed to progress by using the old woodworker's trick of gluing and screwing the strips in reverse relationship to each other so that all the warpages cancelled each other out. Here you can see the completed mould on risers that position it in the center of the blocks. All the blocks are shown as well, with three of the four corner blocks actually being clamped to the mould when the picture was taken. The blocks will remain in place, held by a small dab of glue, once the clamps are removed. The work is performed, very carefully, I might add, atop a thick sheet of sandblasted glass to ensure that the bottoms of the blocks all lie in the same plane. For those with sharp eyes, the pins at either end of the mould are used to align the metal template when it is needed.


[January 25, 2012]

Ooooh, That's What It Is!

Smyers bass installing buttressesMystery semi-solved. The piece of plywood with the holes (see previous entry) begins the mould around whichthe bass ribs will be constructed. On the original photo, the penciled-in outline of the bass template was visible upon close inspection, but apparently the lower resolution I uploaded for the Internet made it impossible to discern. Sorry if it drove you bonkers. In the previous picture, the view is from what is now the smaller end of the bass. You can see the rectangular holes cut in the mold to facilitate handling and to provide a place for clamp feet, but notice that the corners of the cutouts are rounded. That's where the holes from the previous picture are located. In this photo, I'm installing rib buttresses at critical points. These will ensure that the ribs are perpendicular to the mould and parallel to each other. This becomes a bit of a critical job for the largest instruments, so I need to trade away some lightness and ease of handling to ensure accuracy. It also helps to have a perfectly flat surface to work on, or at least one that's perfect enough!


[January 18, 2012]

What Is it?

Bass mould beginsHere's something for all of you to puzzle over as I continue working on Gary's bass. I'll give you a hint and an explanation, the latter first. The photo obviously shows . . . something. My wife has borrowed my still camera, so I have to take stills with my videocam, which has a fisheye lens. The universe is not distorted, but the edges of the picture are. The hint is that this object, which you see clamped to my bench, really and actually has something to do with this project. Perhaps if you look very, very closely, you can figure out what that is. OK, here's another hint-- it's not a pinball machine table. :-)


[December 9, 2011]

Bob's Big, Bad, Bold, Beautiful Bass Back

Joined bass backWell, OK, it's actually Gary's back. Here's an image of the back glued together and in the process of being planed flat. I found one small stress crack, but I was able to plane it out. My luthier friend, Francis Morris, happened to be visiting and assisted me in the operation. An extra pair of hands ensured a perfect joint. Thanks, Francis! I bought a piece of cabinet-grade plywood to use for the mold, but it warped badly within a few days of coming into the shop and I had to buy another. It's clamped to the bench so that it can't warp until I use it. The local steel shop informed me that my aluminum sheet material had finally arrived, so last week I picked that up as well. It's also warped, but I can't wait for another three months. I can live with the curve because the material does lie flat on the plywood.


[October 24, 2011]

Join Me at the Table

Joined tableIt's been interesting around here in recent weeks. After several tropical storms and a time-out for damage repair, I now find it harder than usual to find materials for assembly. For example, I had to wait for suitable hardwood veneer plywood to make the new form for Gary's bass, and the steel fabricator where I buy .o32" aluminum sheet for the body template has been out of stock because they are waiting longer between orders. It's the economy, stupid. Still, there's lots to do, so I have been slowly preparing and amassing parts. I took a picture of the top plate right after I glued it yesterday. When the top and back are in this state, the Brits call it a "table." Pretty good name, actually. If this piece were horizontal and held up by four legs, two people could sit opposite each other and have plenty of room for silverware, saucers, and condiments. This seems to be a very nice piece of wood. If you look closely, you can see some figure (called "bear claw") perpendicular to the center joint. Hours to date: about 40.


[July 11, 2011]

A Block Off the Old Chip

Head block of willowGary Smyers has commissioned a bass on the model I designed for Paul Unger, only this one will be a four-stringer and a little bit shorter to give certainty to the requested 39" string length. This project is not due to start until mid-September or immediately after the Altobin is finished, but I am in the process of aquiring all the raw materials. I thought you might like to see one of those arcane little secrets about bass construction, which is beginning on this bass with the head block. This block is made from willow I cut myself in Upstate New York in 1978. The piece in the photo will be the head block into which the neck of the bass will be mortised and glued, so it has to be done right. When you look at a violin family instrument with all its graceful curves, you wouldn't think there could possibly be a straight line in it. But there are lots of them. The head block must be a perfectly rectangular piece with all adjacent planes at exact right angles to each other. This means that no matter which side of the block I place down on the flat stone surface, a machinist's square placed next to it must fit perfectly. Elapsed time to date: 10 hours





Patrick Tobin's Alto Violin


[September 20, 2011]

Ready to Close

Corpus with labelThe mold is out and the liners are in, and after the label I'll be ready to close the box. Hmm. I see that I actually have the label in, so I guess I'm ready to button things up. The back and top of this alto have matched modes two and five, and the patterns look fabulous. It's been a while since I've had one with this good a tuning.



[September 9, 2011]

That Technicolor Moment . . .

back glued to ribsGot a break in the flooding caused here by the remnants of a hurricane, so I used it to put the back on. Nothing new or unusual to report on this phase of the process, it's just that everyone likes to see the assembly held together by the technicolor clamps many of us use now.


[September 8,2011]


alto with f-holes cutRolling right along now after cutting the f-holes. Apologies for the distorted perspective, but this a low-budget operation here. :-) This top, which is the fourth one for Patrick's alto (a long story, folks), has proved to be quite a remarkable piece of wood. Usually any relationship between the tap tones of the top disappear once the f-holes are completely cut. That's because about half the grains in the top are severed. On this top, however, the tones have persisted throughout the process, so I'm getting exceited to know what kind of sound this instrument will produce when it's finished. Things will move pretty fast now; the bass bar will go in shortly, and after it is tuned I get to take the mold out of the body assembly and glue the top on. This will be another interesting exercise. I'll explain later.


[September 4,2011]

The Eyes Have It!

Top with f-hole eyes cutThe top and back are off the mold and have been graduated to their final thicknesses. The outline of the f-hole has been drawn on the outside, but it's interesting to look from the inside at this point because I work on f-holes a little differently than most other makers. While the plate is still at full thickness, I carefully drill the eyes from the outside using a Forstner bit, but I don't go all the way through. I stop at the depth I have chosen for my initial working thickness, then flip the plate over and begin removing wood from the inside. When I see the eyes appear, I know I've reached that thickness, and I stop. It's a little trick I learned from my teacher, Karl Roy, who learned it from his Uncle. It saves a fair amount of time, and I have learned that the presence of the holes does not complicate the plate-tuning process as long as they are not connected.


[August 11, 2011]


Rough back with purflingSomewhat belatedly, for reasons I will explain later, the top and back (shown here) have received their purfling inlays. Purfling is thought to be a holdover from the time when everyday objects were ornately decorated with carvings, gilt work, paintings, and inlays. Much inlay work was done on the fingerboards and tailpieces of baroque violins. The body itself was mostly spared, although additional inlay work can be found on instruments of Maggini and a few others. Purfling survives today because it has been reduced to its essential use as a minimal outline that beautifully accents the violin's shape, and because it functions as a practice that helps contain cracking from the edge inward, especially on the top.


[July 21, 2011]

In the (purfling) Groove

alto back with purfling grooveWork proceeds apace, and I thought you might like to have a look at the back with the purfling groove cut. Of course, the edge overhangs and corners have been brought to their final dimensions first. The picture also reveals a very lovely back made of European maple at least 30 years old. The blemishes in the center are superficial, mostly dirt and some yellowing caused by age, but all of that will come out when the final arching is done.


[July 17, 2011]

Tack a Back

Tacking on the backThe pieces for the top and back, which are roughly brought to an alto shape, are now tack-glued to the rib garland. The overhanging edges will be brought to their final dimensions while on the garland. I discovered a blemish in the top, which you can see on the right half, lower bout, of the top plate lying on the bench next to the rib assembly. This little bit of twig was not visible from either side of the wood when I started. It nust have been broken off the tree very early, and the tree just grew up around it. The spruce is an exceptionally nice piece of Englemann that we cut in Wyoming in 1980, and it has a wonderful, clear ring. I'm thinking that most of the blemish will come out of the final arching.


Tobin alto garland[July 10, 2011]

The Altobin

My friend, Patrick, has commissioned me to make him an alto violin with a specific string length for his hand. I'm calling it the "al-tobin," so we can play with his name and the name of the instrument. We're really too clever for out own good, aren't we? This picture shows the rib garland almost complete except for the rib extensions at the corner joints. The liners are glued in and beveled. This alto is going to be made entirely by hand. No electric-powered machine work. This project started with new templates and molds since the desired size did not match up with any of the other altos I've made.






December 9, 2009
Work on "Barantonio" Finally Resumes.

The often-delayed second baritone of my third-generation series is finally back on the bench. Due to a medical crisis and subsequent death in the family, this instrument has been hanging on a hook since February of 2009, just a few weeks short of being ready for varnish. I name most of my instruments for ease of reference while they are under construction. "Barantonio" is a combination of "baritone" and of "Antonio." The first is to recognize its place in the New Family, and the second is a reference to to the great Antonio Stradivari, whose early models of large cellos, such as the "Servais," heavily influenced this design. Here's a picture of the scroll button when I was finishing it.


baritone violin miter[February 14, 2010]

I don't get much chance to work on the baritone these days. Pity, because it is just four or five hours away from being ready to varnish. Here's the lower treble corner and f-hole eye. Both still a little rough in this picture, but enough to convey the idea.



[January 5, 2011]

Ready to Varnish

baritone ready to varnishAfter innumerable delays, poor Barantonio is finally getting some attention. As the Unger bass drew closer to being ready to varnish, I realized that with a few days' work on the baritone, I could varnish them both at the same time. This maximizes my shop effort because all other work must stop while I'm varnishing to keep wood dust off the fresh varnish.

logo for Cyberchute web hosting services

Cyberchute Web Hosting is the server that runs this site and our sister site, Octavivo! It is owned by Tim Trott, a long-time supporter of the New Violin Family. Tim's company is small, but the service we get from him is enormous. You might save a buck or two a month by going with one of the massive services, but the first time you have a problem on Tim's site, you'll understand what good, quick, and personal service means.



The Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble is one of the musical treasures in the lakes region of Upstate New York. Roberta Crawford, a founding member of the FLCE and a longtime friend of mine, has owned two of my standard violas and has played them exclusively over the last eleven years. If you are ever in this part of the country, check out the FLCE web page for concert and recital notices. You owe it to yourself to hear this group.




These are difficult times for small non-profits struggling to gain or maintain a financial foothold. Jane Hexter's company, which is local to my area, provides a great deal of information and support with classes, newsletters, blog, and a wonderfully upbeat attitude toward helping you achieve your goals.


This is the site for the Guild of American Luthiers, America's premier organization for makers of fretted and plucked instruments of all kinds. You'll also find some interesting violin articles in back issues of their excellent quarterly, American Lutherie.


The Hutchins Consort is the first and oldest performing group in the country to play exclusively on instruments of the violin octet. They're an extraordinary bunch of musicians, not to mention really good folks. Check out their site for their active performing schedule and some interesting CDs.


Website of the New Violin Family, with lots of interesting information about the octet. CDs are available for sale, and free downloads of back issues of their newsletter, the Violin Octet, on the publications page.


Paul UngerPaul Unger, jazz, symphonic, and chamber music bass player, owns the world's only short-scale, five-string, violin-shaped contrabass tuned in fifths. And it's one of mine! Paul is a great advocate of fifths tuning, and his site has interesting audio and video clips. Highly recommended, esepcially if you are a bassist.




This is a link for my friend and fellow violin maker, Joris Wouters, who lives and works in Belgium. In addition to conventional violins, Joris makes octet instruments, too. He is a good photographer, and his site is very interesting. If you live in Europe and want to see and hear octet violins, give Joris a call.







Grigory Sedukhk was he first major violinist to use the treble violin as a solo instrument, and he has raised it to a virtuoso level. Sedukh, who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, has finally put together a web site where you can learn more about him in his own words.









updated: January 8, 2013

Plate Tuning: An Introduction:

The Singing Woods Violin Shop is pleased to offer three weekend workshops designed to introduce luthiers to the fundamentals of free-plate tuning as developed by Dr. Carleen M. Hutchins. Participants should have some experience in basic violin making, but no previous experience in violin acoustics is needed. This is an introductory course, and all three sessions cover the same material. Enrollment is limited to six students per class. Longer and more advanced classes are in the planning stage.

Weekend Class Dates (Level I sessions):

March 22, 23, 24, 2013

April 26, 27, 28, 2013

Friday: . . . . Class mixer from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. First lecture is at 7:00 p.m.
Saturday: . . Class begins at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. Second lecture, practical work.
Sunday: . . . Class begins at 1o:00 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. Practical work.

Schedule: There is much introductory material to go over in a basic class. We anticipate about 60% of the time in the intoductory sessions will be spent in bench work. Lectures and demonstrations will encompass basic acoustical principals and terms, the setup and use of electronic equipment, the main vibrating modes of free plates, and the places to remove wood for each mode.

Tools and Equipment to Bring:
* finger planes, inlcuding a large size for rapid removal of wood, with standard and toothed blades
* sharpened scrapers
* lead pencil(s) with eraser(s)
* violin-maker's thickness calipers
* plastic ruler (300 mm or longer) clear and flexible preferred
* small tape measure 400 mm or longer
* shop apron (optional)
* flexible protective gloves with pads (optional (to protect from blisters))
* hearing protectors (muffs work best)
* violin plate holding form recommended--otherwise bring a small pillow

Participants should provide one or more top plates (without bass bar or ff-holes) and one or more back plates left thick in preparation for final graduation and tuning. Plate edges should be at final dimension and purfling should be in. Violins and violas only, please; we don't have enough room to accommodate anything larger.

We will cover the electronic equipment used in this process, but you don't need to bring your own. A plate-tuning table will be available in a room separate from the work room. Students are encouraged to observe others graduate their plates.

For the basic class, it is important that the plates be thick, and that the top have no bass bar or f-holes. If you don't have white plates at the stage needed, I have made arrangements with a Chinese supplier to make sets of top and back plates finished on the outside and heavy and uncut on the inside. A set (one top and one back) will be available for $125. Please let me know at least three months before the class if you would like to reserve a set. You may optionally order a matching rib garland and scroll with your set (at an extra charge). This will allow you to make a complete violin that you can either play or sell later.

Board and Lodging: Each participant is responsible for their own room and meals. The workshop location is only ten minutes from downtown Ithaca where there are several low-cost motels available. For those who prefer a B&B, we can recommend several that are relatively close by.

Safety and Security: While plate-tuning is not normally considered a lethal activity, you will be required to sign a release holding us harmless from any damage you might do to yourself while in class. :-) No smoking, please.

A $50 non-refundable deposit is due 30 days before the start of your session. I am obliged to collect 8% NY State sales tax on goods and services sold or performed in New York State.

Robert J. Spear, luthier, student of Carleen Hutchins. Learn more by clicking the "about us" link, above.

Dr. John Greenly, research physicist, Cornell University (and a darn good musician, too!)

For More Information:
email Bob

Additional information will be posted soon, including dates for our one-week-long summer session(s).



Summer Schedule


::ASTA in March, 2012

Plans are in the works for yours truly to make an appearance at the American String Teachers Association convention at Atlanta, Georgia in March, 2012. In addition to some special basses, we'll also be showing everything from our new ergonomic violas to some of the NewViolin Family instruments. We're also working on a video display and a sound display so you can listen to the instruments on a set of headphones. I'll be accompanied by my violinist friend, Bill Hurley, so please stop by and see us.


:: NVFO 2012

With the final concerts of the 2011summer behind us, I'm pleased to announce that the Singing Woods Violin Shop will again supply New Family violins for the 2012 series of concerts. Tentative dates will be posted on our Octavivo site. There are openings in this all-volunteer group for players on all octet instruments, but participants will need to live locally as the ensemble only rehearses once each week.

:: Paul Unger Comments on His New Bass

"Bob, I've had one of the best mornings of my life.  I just spent the last hour SIGHT READING the first Bach Cello Suite! I've been waiting 25 years to be able to do that on the bass. What an amazing difference it makes to have a high "e" string that sounds GOOD and balanced with the rest of the bass. With this bass I could read the suite in the lower positions where it was meant to be played. I could also perform all of the chords and open strings that Bach intended - the bass was ringing all over the place!

My wife tells me this bass is the most powerful one I've ever practiced with in the house. She said there wasn't a spot she could go to get away from its sound. I can't wait to hear what it does in a concert hall."