Shop Talk with Luthier Daniel Arlig

What’s your favorite part of the process of making an instrument—what day to you most look forward to?

One of the most exciting days in the process of making an instrument is Day 1. That is the day (or sometimes several days) before the actual woodworking begins. There are always many questions to consider and many decisions that will be made throughout the process of making an instrument. However, the decisions made before starting construction are most important. Before starting, it is vital to know the end goals. Each decision will shape the final instrument.


The start of the process is always different and can include many variables. What model am I going to make? Perhaps I have an order for a viola of a particular size. That could mean a new design to be drawn up using one of several design systems. Perhaps I want to make something based on a historical instrument and I might start by making templates from photos, tracings, and measurements I have available. If it is a model I have made before, in what ways do I want to make this instrument “better” or different? What do I need to do to accomplish that? I keep fairly detailed records on my instruments. I will spend some time looking over my notes from previous instruments. There is always something I want to improve, change, or just try to do differently. I must admit I have not yet made the perfect violin, viola, or cello.

Then, there is picking out the wood! The end goals and model will influence this choice—the wood selection helps me achieve the final acoustic and aesthetic goals. The combination of model and wood will impact decisions regarding final shape of the arching and thicknesses. Once all those things are determined, then it is time to put the plans into production—turn on the glue pot, and start making some wood chips and shavings!

Daniel Arlig, luthier