Behind the scenes: Repairing violins can be more than restoring function to a damaged fiddle, it can be art
Players may know that their violin, viola, cello, or double bass has a lot of old, repaired cracks, but they usually have little idea of what it looks like on the inside. While the ideal for a collector may be an instrument in “as-new” condition, decay is inevitable, and there’s a certain beauty in the repair work itself.
Functional and aesthetic decisions were made in the repair process, and the restoration could be the carefully orchestrated work of a single master, or it may be a more random accumulation of quick fixes by many hands over many years—new work overlays old, as age melds and mellows all.
Here is a look at some of the more eye-catching repairs that have passed through my shop and given me a deeper appreciation for the beauty that can be found in violin repair.
This cello top was restored at one go with the craftsman’s style showing through strongly.
The repairs on this top almost appear as a composition—the insistent repetition of the diamond cleat gives unity and rhythm to the repairs, punctuated by semicircles and bold diagonal slashes.
An Organic Touch
Most restorers, including me, incline toward symmetry, uniformity, and geometry. However, some restorers are deliciously free of these conventions.
While tidiness and control make a more credible repair, the organic-shaped patches in this antique Tononi cello seem to enhance the flavor of the instrument.
The overall effect reminds me of Paul Klee’s paintings or Isamu Noguchi’s sculptures.
Embracing the Repair
Repairers usually strive to hide their work on the outside of the instrument.
The most accomplished leave no apparent sign that they have been there, skillfully blending in replacement corners and edges that may be virtually undetectable.
The button, on the other hand, receives a lot of wear and abuse and the accumulation of damage and visible repair can lead to unique features that the maker never imagined—and can become a distinguishing feature of a particular fiddle.
Here are a few favorites that channel kintsugi, a Japanese concept that treats repair as part of the artwork’s history.
Bass rib repair à la Mondrian:
A fine collection of cleats on a double-bass rib is the accumulated work of many repairers over many years.
They used different materials for their patches but their shared devotion to the rectangle ties it together.
Andrew Carruthers makes and restores violins in Santa Rosa, California. One of his Ruggieri-model cellos recently won a silver medal for tone at the 2014 Violin Society of America competition in Indianapolis.