I am delighted to begin a new series of interviews of international modern violin makers. First in line is Ludivine Brouillet. I first met Ludivine when we started studying together at The Newark School of Violin Making. She made quite an impression on me, with her cute French accent, her bubbly personality and her zest for life. Her absolute passion and dedication to violin making oozed from every fibre of her being. Wherever she went she carried with her her lively sense of humour, an admirable maturity and a fierce independence. Her thirst for knowledge was insatiable and so I am not surprised to read her answers below....
I asked Ludivine to begin by writing a short three line paragraph introducing herself...
I graduated from the Newark Violin Making School of Newark in England in June 2020. In view of the covid situation it was quite a struggle to find jobs available around Europe, and I was therefore grateful to be offered work in Amsterdam in July working for two different Violin Makers. With them I learnt a huge amount about all types of restoration as well as setting up instruments. This experience really developed my liking for restoration, which is a problem solving activity, requiring you to think through all the processes involved, and helping you to develop a better management of and skills with your tools.
Since January 2021, I am now working in The Hague for a maker and help him making a violoncello Da Spalla as well as baroque violins. I am also hoping to start working in another workshop in Amsterdam one day a week to develop my set up skills to the next level.
What characterises your journey into the world of violin making?
Well I can say that I had to push many doors and talk to many professionals to get where I am now. It takes a lot of time to become accomplished, and I don’t think any violin makers find themselves good enough, so it is a long journey. This is only the beginning! So I would say that patience and consistent perseverance as well as hard work would describe my personal journey.
What is your favourite part of the making process?
I really enjoy the arching process. And it is very interesting to see how different makers approach this step in such completely different ways. I personally like to make a good and symmetric arching using some accurate measurements and templates which would be scraped perfectly to get a very smooth touch.
But some other makers don’t bother with such a strict process and don’t use templates or scrapers and do all this step only by the feeling of it and by eye. And I am very interested in seeing what others do and why. Because at the end of the day, it is only a difference of perspective what is right or wrong for someone else.
What is your least favourite part of the making process?
I would say the bass bar. It is still difficult for me first to fit it perfectly straight, compare it to the arching of the inside of the instrument, and also to choose which method to fit it. Some Violin Makers wouldn’t want any kind of pressure on the bass bar, some would put some in some places. The position of it can also be tricky to choose from one method to another.
What was the last instrument you made?
The last instrument I made is my test instrument for the end of my studies in Newark. It still need to be varnished since I didn’t find the time since arriving in the Netherlands. But the last playable instrument I made is my cello which I am very happy about and it is still available for sale in the Netherlands!
Which modern violin maker do you admire most?
They are many violin makers who I admire and of course who I look up to. Like many I really like to see what Iris Carr does even before she did start posting her work on social media. I really love to see her immaculate restoration and how open she is to sharing her knowledge. Also let’s not forget how difficult is is to be a recognised woman in the trade, so this needs to change!
I really like to follow what Jacob van Der Lippe posts as well. His videos about sharpening are very interesting and he has a lot of tips.
Noémie Viaud, Piotr Pielaszek, Gabor Draskoczy and David Leonard / Léa Trombert workshops' all really inspire me. They are all such good makers and it makes me want to be more rigorous in my making.
Which maker or which specific violin has inspired you the most?
Well we had to study Antonio Stradivari for 4 years, so I can’t say that this maker didn’t inspire me. And so far I didn’t dare make an instrument which isn’t inspired / copied by Stradivarius, because there is still so much to learn from him.
I also very much enjoy looking at French school instrument making because of how neat the work they produced was. I personally like Miremont and Lupot in how they varnished their instruments, and the craftsmanship is quite amazing to look at; boringly perfect as some persons would say.
What do you think are the secrets to success in modern making?
I would say that the only “secret” would be to listen to each other and collaborate as professionals. To listen to an older professional, what he tried on which model, what kind of varnish, thickness, bass bar, f hole carving, arching, set up. It is I think very important to be the one to listen to what the others do and take notes, try it out ourselves and then see how to adjust it to what works the best for each of us.
Where would you like to be in ten years time?
I don’t know yet. With my very good friend Finn Trucco we would like to bring together the knowledge we collected along our adventures apart from each other and make a workshop where we would make and restore instruments.
What is your most often used tool and why?
I use my pencils a lot. Good pencils with the right thickness are essentials to mark precisely where to mark where to work.
Otherwise I use my knives and apron planes a lot for repairs and set up. We used to work a lot with our files in school but I don’t use them really much anymore.
We currently have two of Ludivine's violins for sale at Stamford Strings. Contact us for more details or to arrange a trial.
the story of The lady blunt strad, 1721
The Lady Blunt, is an historically important violin, made in Antonio Stradivari’s workshop in the Piazza San Domenico, Cremona. The violin, which has appeared at auction twice in its life, fetching world record prices on both occasions, is celebrating its tercentenary this year. Made in 1721, it is just about one of the last violins from Stradivari’s ‘Golden Period’.
Like the Messiah, which can today be viewed at The Ashmoleum Museum in Oxford, the Lady Blunt violin is in almost mint condition, appearing much as it did when it left the collection of the world-renowned Parisian violin maker and dealer Jean Baptiste Vuillaume in 1864.
Vuillaume had restored the violin after acquiring it in Spain, where it had languished, forgotten in an attic for 100 years. It was then sold to Lady Anne Blunt, granddaughter of Lord Byron. She owned the violin for 30 years before selling it to WE Hill and Son of London, who sold it on to the famous collector Baron Johann Knoop in 1896. The violin passed through Hills’ shop two more times in the early 20th century, before being bought by Richard Bennett, another important collector. Upon his death in 1930, the violin was purchased by Henry Werro of Switzerland. In 1959 it came to London again before going to the collector Sam Bloomfield.
In 1971 Yehudi Menuhin gave a rare performance on the violin, at the time it was put into auction at Sotheby’s, where it sold to Robin Loh of Singapore for what was at the time a world record price of £85,500. To us this now seems a mere snip! In 2008 The Nippon Foundation purchased the violin but sold it again in 2011 through the Tarisio auction house for £9.8m, with the proceeds nobly going to the victims of the tsunami.
As part of the tercentenary celebrations, The Sound Post Ltd commissioned the well-known violin maker Xue Ping HU of Beijing to make ten replica copies of the Lady Blunt which are being sold as Single Limited Edition pieces, with a certificate of authenticity. Stamford Strings is privileged and excited to have obtained the Number One violin of the Ten, which we are proud to present for sale! This instrument is truly one of a kind and is a pleasure to play. Not only is it beautifully and expertly made but it has a spectacular tone, depth of sound, and uniquely compelling voice.
We are excited and privileged to be offering for sal No. 1 of only 10 Limited Edition copies of The Lady Blunt, commissioned by The Sound Post Ltd to celebrate the original instrument's tercentenary year.
Contact us immediately for more details about this one-off instrument.
PS. We have included below a cute drawing of the instrument with it's approximate 1971 sale value taken from a little book we have called 'Antiques and Their Values: Musical Instruments' which was discovered at an Antiques Fair here in Stamford a few years ago
Making a violin begins with selecting the wood. You need a surprising number of different pieces, and these all need to be sourced from specialist suppliers. All of the different pieces of wood in a violin have an important role to play, and each impacts upon and interacts with the other in a very finely tuned and complex way.
From time to time every bow needs some maintenance. It has surprised me to see how much wear and tear bows and instruments suffer, but thankfully there is much that can be done to reverse the process. When a player brings in a bow and says it needs a rehair, it it usually well over due and other maintenance is often required as well. The level of skill and attention to detail required is often not understood or appreciated. In this post, I am offering a window into my world and hope you will learn something interesting about this fascinating art of bow restoration.
The bow which is being rehaired here is a viola bow of reasonable quality, with a silver ferrule, whalebone lapping and good quality leather grip.
(at the bottom of the post there is a glossary of terms used)
After first examining the bow for any damage, potential problems or idiosyncrasies, the first task of the luthier is to carefully take the bow apart. This is not always easy, depending on how the bow was made or how it was previously rehaired. The only part of the process that should involve glue is the insertion of the spreader wedge into the ferrule. Sometimes other parts of the bow have been glued together which makes the job of taking them apart time consuming and risks damaging the bow. The art of a luthier includes respect for their colleagues who may have to take part the work again at a later date, and respect for the integrity and longevity of the bow itself.
If the ferrule or slide are tightly fitting, then there are ways to remove them. The ferrule can be placed in a small vice, flanked with cork to protect it, and the frog gently prised off with a side to side movement. The slide can be removed using a rubber band or double sided tape.
This particular viola bow came apart easily as it had been well made and well maintained. A prayer of grateful thanks was offered up to the previous luthier who’s bench it happened to come across.
Before replacing the hair in the bow, the parts of the bow need to be cleaned with appropriate materials.
For the stick of the bow, I use my homemade violin polish. It is non abrasive but effective and has a lovely smell, due to its secret ingredient....if a bow stick is thoroughly coated in old rosin then a more abrasive cleaner and a different method are needed.
I clean the thumb leather using a leather cleanser from RaceGlaze.
If the lapping is made from silver then a small dab of silver polish can be applied to clean it bearing in mind the gaps between the lapping and ensuring not to get the liquid between these.
the thin end of the wedge
After cleaning, the wedges are prepared for the rehair.
All the wedges are trapezoids of various sizes and can be cut using the same method. This is difficult to get the hang of and takes a lot of practice. I started by measuring the depth of the mortise with a stick or caliper but now I’m more experienced I can just assess this by eye. It is essential to use a sharp chisel and cut with the grain for the facing side of the wedge which will face the tip for the tip wedge and the screw for the frog wedge. The wedges need to be almost an exact fit, but not quite as they need to allow room for the hair at the top end (tip) and the bottom end (frog) of the mortise and their mustn’t be too much pressure on the sides of the mortise at the tip end as this can break the stick, so tiny gaps need to be left on either side of the mortise.
The wedge for the tip and the frog are made of maple wood and the wedge for the ferrule is made of willow or poplar.
The photo to the left demonstrates what the piece of wood looks like before I start cutting and on the right the photo shows me checking the wedge for fit as I go along, removing little by little until the final shape is reached. I like to start at the tip end, but some luthiers start at the frog end.
the frog and the spreader
This sounds like a name of a quirky pub, but these are more wedges, cut in the same way as the tip wedge but to very different dimensions. The frog wedge is the easiest to cut, to my mind, and the spreader wedge is the hardest. This is because it needs a few very minor extra slithers with the chisel in exactly the right place to ensure the hair spreads properly. Also, because the mortise is so slender, the height of the wedge is small and also tapers toward the inside, which is difficult to get right.
the hairy bit
Hairy in more ways than one, this part of the process is the do or die part. Selecting the hair is no big deal, as long as you get the right amount for the right bow, be it violin, viola or cello. Tying the first knot is okay too. The key is to get the string under tension and master a slick process of winding it around the hair catching the end underneath as you go. Tying it super tight is essential. Sometimes it’s not tight enough and you have to do it again but at this stage this is ok because you haven’t cut the hair to length yet. Tying the knot at the other end is the hair raising bit....
But before that, the knot must be secured by burning off the ends dipped in rosin, as shown in the first and second photos on the left....this is really fun for me, as a non smoker with no other occasion in life when I need to use a lighter.
When the hair is inserted into the tip you find out whether your wedge is really as good a fit as you thought. Sometimes it needs some adjustment to fit the hair in. You can see from the third the left what the tip will look like when you’ve got both the knotted hair and the wedge in.
Now that one end is secure, the rest of the hair needs to be given a good soaking, so out comes my shallow pie dish, hair gets dunked in, and I’m off to dunk some biscuits in a cuppa while I wait....
the HAIRDRESSING bit
Combing out the hair reminds me of Sunday evenings sitting by the fire when my Mum used to run a comb through my wet hair. An impatient or rough technique is not appropriate here as the hair is fragile and all knots must be removed, starting at the cut end and working upwards. I start with a wide tooth comb and then switch to a fine tooth comb such as a nit comb, when the biggest tangles have been removed. The hair needs to stay wet throughout so if it takes too long, it just needs to be dunked back in for a moment,
When the hair is completely knot free, I run the comb through it a final time, taking care to line it up with the mortise in the frog end of the stick, and pulling it gently to judge the length. The hair is pinched together with one hand while the other hand takes the string in preparation for the second and fateful knot. If this one gets tied too short then the hair is doomed and The Hairy Bit needs to be started again.
A small but important action is needed after tying the knot but before inserting this end of the hair into the mortise, and this is something that to start with I used to continually forget to do, in my anticipation of finishing what was at first an agonisingly difficult process. Slipping the ferrule into the hair....it simply cannot be done at any other point and if it only dawns on you that you haven’t done it once you’ve put the frog wedge in. You just have to take that out again, which can cause enough damage to the wedge to mean a recut. It also needs to be put on the right way round. The edge of the ferrule closest to the frog can be sharp, and would end up cutting the hair when the spreader wedge is inserted. The end of the ferrule which faces the tip of the bow should have a chamfered and filed edge. As well as forgetting to put the ferrule on entirely I have also put it on the wrong way round before and then cut the hair with the sharp edge while inserting the spreader, a most disheartening turn of events which involves starting again from the beginning of The Hairy Bit.
I’ve now created a checklist for the whole rehair process to prevent unforced errors like these ones.
Needless to say extra time is taken to assess and judge where the knot needs to be tied. The hair needs to be neither too short nor too long. Just right is when the hair can be tightened the right amount for playing and loosened the right amount to relieve the pressure on the stick for storage. I’m relieved when this part if successfully over, but the proof is in the pudding and in this case the pudding is not served until the spreader wedge is in, which is the next stage....
the happy medium
The moment of truth comes ever closer now, as the knot is inserted into the frog mortise, followed by the wedge, and then the slider is carefully eased back into place, before slipping the ferrule down the length of the hair and onto the end of the frog,
It’s time for the slightly messy bit, with the application of just the right amount of glue onto the spreader wedge; another step in this journey which requires a careful judgment between one excess and another - the happy medium. Glue is not my happy medium. I am much happier with a knife or chisel than with any sticky substances, however, I am learning to be a bit more dexterous and not get glue all over myself or my bench, I use Titebond for this bit, as it has the right strength required without taking too long or too short a time to dry. Superglue is frowned upon. It is too strong, too difficult to manage and impossible to remove if you misplace it. It also dries too quickly.
I insert the spreader wedge into the gap inside the ferrule and push the free end of the wedge against the bench to push it as far in as it will naturally go. If it sticks out a little, then the excess can be very carefully cut away with a round ended chisel, but It is best to cut the wedge to exactly the right size before inserting it as any cuts that are made once it is in place are very risky. It would be too easy to slip and cut the hair.
Once the spreader wedge is in place a bit of patience is needed before inserting the screw and tightening up the bow to see if the length is correct. The glue needs to dry and the hair needs to be completely dry. Because of all the natural breaaks in the rehair process, other jobs can be dipped in and out of or even two rehairs tackled at once (this is a bit too much pain for me in one day!).
Alternatively, having daughters that need picking up or dropping off places is another way to pass the time while waiting to see if your work was in vain or not...
On this occasion, I am happy to report that this viola, with a new lease of life, is now ready to be played with again.
If you've got to the end of this post, then well-done and thanks for reading about my rehair journey.