By Francis Kuttner | From the March-April 2021 issue of Strings magazine

Do you remember when you were in kindergarten and your teacher taught you how to glue popsicle sticks together, perhaps even making your very own paste glue and somehow binding the two sticks with a rubber band, a weight, or a clothes peg? I do. There was this marvelous feeling when somehow two pieces had become one. And I felt it when I took off that little clamp.


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Planing a one-meter-long, two-inch-wide ribbon off the gluing edge of a seasoned maple cello back and watching it float down to your feet can be immensely satisfying. Unfortunately, while joining a cello back, this never happens. But taking off the clamps after successfully gluing the two halves in a perfect book-matched joint really sends me. It’s one piece!


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For some makers, the heating and bending of one-millimeter-thin ribs (you can see light through them!) so that they snugly fit around the violin form is a joy… until you accidentally touch the sizzling bending iron. Ouch. But when I unravel my clamping system that securely glues the ribs to their blocks, I get my first glimpse of the outline of my violin—its skeleton so to speak. Nice!

Carving the arching of the top and the back is a job I look forward to. Pushing my favorite, freshly honed gouge through dry wood as chips fly can be exhilarating. After about three hours it becomes less so. And then you have to scoop out the inside. Now come the tricky parts: the F-holes to be positioned and cut, the thicknesses made just right, and the bass bar fitted correctly. You are ready to glue. First the back to the rib assembly, then the label (also fun!), and finally the top goes on.

And now comes my favorite part. 

I take off the spool clamps (60 or so if it’s a cello), and, voila! It’s a box! A musical box that I immediately thump with my middle knuckle, listening to its first percussive note. As satisfying as eating that popsicle so many years ago.