The Monteverdi violins

Making the violins
by George Stoppani

The ribs are bent from flat strips of maple. The end and corner blocks are lightly glued to the mould. The ribs are bent to shape on a hot iron and glued to the blocks, starting with the waist. When the ribs are all in place, the linings, made of willow like the blocks, are fitted. The original had an unusual way of fitting the linings against the blocks. They are notched into the block from the bout side rather than set into a channel from the waist side.

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All photos on this page: George Stoppani.

The back and front were carved from chunks of maple and spruce respectively. They were roughed out first and allowed to settle before flattening the underside and completing the shaping. The bass bar is fitted after the f-holes have been cut and the graduation complete. A little extra wood is left round the outline, which is only finalised after the belly has been glued to the ribs.

The neck and scroll are carved in stages. First the profile is sawn and smoothed. Next, saw kerfs are made to facilitate removing wood from the peg-box cheeks and the volutes. When this is complete the flutes are sunk round the back of the peg-box and round the head and the peg-box can be hollowed out.

When the neck and scroll are finished the ribs are removed from the mould and the neck glued and nailed in place, after which the back can be glued to the ribs, also with an allowance to be trimmed later.


The neck was not shaped yet, to assist in holding a vice. The belly was then glued on, and the purfling (made of pear wood dyed black and poplar for the white strip) was inlaid. The fingerboard was made and fitted and then it was strung up to see if there were any problems.

All was OK … the edges were shaped and the neck smoothed. Varnishing was the next step. A ground layer, made up of very fine mineral particles in a pine resin and linseed oil varnish, was applied, followed by a few very thin coats of the same varnish but with added resin dyed with madder. The temporary pegs were replaced with the final ones, and adjustments to bridge and soundpost made the violins ready to show to Oliver and Catherine. Needless to say, the strings were “Real Guts”. Equal tension was the only option, which put the g string at a diameter just over 2mm. Before I delivered them, I went back to the RNCM to see how the copies looked and sounded compared to the original.

The legendary yellowish colour of the Amatis can be very difficult to emulate, and I had been concerned that I had not managed to get the colour anything like the original. When laid side by side the colour was much nearer than I had thought. Also, in spite of the radically different set-ups, my copies clearly had some tonal features in common with the original which, in spite of being over 400 years old, has a brilliant, immediate sound. There is much myth about Amati tone. They are often said to be gentle in tone and only suitable for chamber music. This is absolutely not true. I believe that they were originally very powerful with depth on the g string and a piercing but clear and beautiful e string, the middle range having interesting colours.

I took the new violins to London for a road test session with Oliver and Catherine. After some minor adjustments, we all felt that they were ready for the first concert. I was able to go to this concert: the Monteverdi Vespers with the Gabrieli Consort & Players at Christ Church, Spitalfields. Of course, all the efforts towards historical accuracy in the instruments would count for nothing without musicians of a high calibre and a serious commitment to understanding the performance practices of the time. I was not disappointed. Paul McCreesh has devoted his career to this end and has sought to work with musicians who share his passion. I find no work more satisfying than this type of collaboration.
All images on this page are by George Stoppani

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