Thursday, May 12, 2011

Strings in Spring

Nice weather finally arrives in Michigan!

With Spring finally here for good, I knew I had to be outside as much as possible before the mosquitoes arrive. My focus in the shop recently has been preparing a lecture on trends in violinmaking, which I'll be delivering in Prague at the end of this month.

About two weeks ago, a deadline was announced for submitting my abstract for the paper. What's an abstract? Thanks to the Internet, and an emergency Google mission, I learned that an abstract is usually the last thing one writes. Yikes. It was time to reverse engineer a summary for something still being written!


. A Renaissance is underway in the craft of Violin Making. Scientific advance in the study of Master-instruments is making more information available to more makers than ever before. This technical and specifications rich data is bringing a marked improvement to the average quality of both artisan-made instruments and to those mass-produced with low-cost labor. In this review, Gregg Alf shares a vision for how master-makers of today can keep up with these trends by combining the technical ‘treasure trove’ of our times with a return to some more aesthetic traditions of our craft.

It was such a nice day, we thought it would be nice to photograph a violin amongst the flowering trees around the shop. We have a flowering pear tree in the front yard and a very old Japanese maple tree that Joseph Curtin and I planted back in 1985 to commemorate the founding of Curtin & Alf.

There is a magical space underneath the awning of red leaves of the maple that my children like to hide-out in. With some creativity and a little rigging, we were able to take some lovely pictures of a violin suspended under this canopy. I thought it a nice touch, capturing the maple back under an old maple tree.

The violin we chose to photograph is the first instrument made by my long time assistant, Walter Mahoney. One of the challenges of training apprentices is that they usually have violinmaking dreams of their own ...and eventually leave to pursue them. While I'm very happy for the success that many of my students have found, I am also most grateful to have had in Walt an assistant who still feels content supporting my studios after more than twenty years! Finally, and with a little encouragement, Walt felt motivated to complete an instrument of his own. As you can see, it came out beautifully!

This violin is based on the LaFont Guarneri del Gesu. The "LaFont" is one of Guarneri's last instrument and, like other late Guarneri instruments, is known for it's exceptional tonal qualities. Walt's interpretation is made with a two piece back, quarter cut from strongly flamed curly maple.

The top of the violin is made from two pieces of book-matched spruce which is quite narrow between the f-holes but broadens to the flanks. Walt left the varnish natural, with very little antiquing. Our varnish is made with the resin from spruce trees that is oxidized and mixed with linseed or walnut oil. The violin seemed so at home resting back amongst the blossoms.



  1. Wow! I agree that the instruments look much at home near the trees and in the blossoms. How fun to learn this was Walt's first violin! Congratulations on its appearance. 20 years is a long time to wait for your first 'baby'!

  2. Shannon!! How nice to hear from you. And you were there too when we planted that Japanese Maple. I have a photo somewhere ...and guess who was holding the shovel!

    Joseph I and I feel so appreciative for all you contributed to our early years in Michigan.


    Gregg Alf