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Compiled by Megan Westberg


Éric Gagné
Montréal, Canada

Award-winning bow maker Éric Gagné began his career working for Blaise Emmelin in France before moving to Brussels to work for Pierre Guillaume at “Maison Bernard.” Gagné then shared a workshop with Isabelle Wilbaux in Montréal for eight years, before establishing his own workshop in Sherbrooke, where he makes his bows. He also collaborates with the workshop of Wilder and Davis, for whom he restores bows from throughout Canada. Gagné is a member of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers and the Entente Internationale des Luthiers et Archetiers. He is also a founding member of the Maker’s Forum, an organization dedicated to the promotion of Canadian contemporary violin and bow makers.

Which historical maker has had the most influence on your own work?

I don’t have only one historical maker that influences my work, but I would say it would be a group of makers: the early French makers—from the mid-18th to the end of 19th century.

What is it about these makers’ work that particularly appeals to you?

The early French makers were creative. They were searching for what would become the modern bow, as we know it today. And they did find it! In brief, they wrote the history of bow making. At that time, the modern bow just found itself and settled. The makers found the right length, the correct weight, the balance—in brief, the right proportions of a modern bow. All this came with a specific focus: producing the best sound possible for each musician.
We can clearly see and hear in their work that they were collaborating and closely
working with good musicians to give them what they wanted. I could feel that on each bow that I’ve seen and heard from this period.

How would you describe the qualities in these makers’ work that you seek to emulate in your own?

Aesthetically, I like the fact that they were always searching for the perfection of shapes, volumes, and proportions, with their own strong personalities. When you look at these bows, you see the proof of it. Tonally—and this is what drives me the most at the bench—they were creating a bow that fulfills all the needs of the musician and his instrument. In general, the bows from that period are very good sounding bows.

How are those qualities achieved?

By being as devoted as possible to the making of each bow, and by learning something after each one of them is made. In short, experience and passion.

What would you consider the most stunning example from this period?

Being a bow lover, I think it’s complicated for me to choose one example by only one maker. I find something amazing in a lot of bows, especially with the old French masters’. There is the perfection of craftsmanship of F.X. Tourte; the refinement, elegance, and sound of a François Nicolas Voirin bow; the distinguished personality of an Étienne Pajeot or a Persoit bow. I also like the bows made in collaboration between Tourte the father and his son F.X. Tourte: These bows have something special. There are also Jacob Eury’s shielded heel bows that completely amaze me . . . and those bows play! I also think of Joseph Martin, Pierre Simon, Maire—I could continue for a long time. They all have something special in their work that stuns me.

What would you say defines your own style, outside the bounds of this influence?

Making a bow and having your own pattern is like growing as a person: You follow what you think is your ideal, then you take and reject elements. You absorb everything that you hear and everything that you do. That is what defines your own personality and your own pattern. I take a little drop of every bow I know and that I’ve seen—of course, some drops are bigger than others! But the ultimate step after all that thinking is the adventure of making the right tool for the right musician. This is where I integrate all that influences me. The smallest detail can be pushed to its best. Not only aesthetically but of course sound-wise. My goal as a bow maker is to see the relaxed body of a musician when he tries a bow, and the stars in his eyes revealing the satisfaction of his ears.

How do you achieve a balance between historical standards and 21st-century innovation?

I had the opportunity to see a lot of bows, and I follow the same or similar working methods to the historical makers. Also, I work by the philosophy or intention of the French makers. But I can use and enjoy better hand tools than what was possible at that time—one part of the balance is there. Also, we now know more about the materials we are using: how to deal with them, how to qualify them, which kind of wood makes what kind of sound.

We benefit from the experience of all the old French makers, who made bows before us. You take the good things, you leave the bad. And finally, we have a significant advantage compared to our ancestors. Distance is no longer a constraint. Today we live in a world linked by communication and exchanges. Sharing knowledge and technique with the community is easy. This is what makes society evolve: sharing, learning, sharing what we learned, and so on. That brings innovation.

Helen Michetschläger
Helen Michetschläger
Manchester, UK

Viola maker Helen Michetschläger’s career spans over 40 years and 300 instruments. She is particularly sought-after for commissions, working closely with the player to produce a perfect fit, both physically and musically. Michetschläger is also an accomplished writer and lecturer, who authored a book about the varnish expertise of the late Koen Padding. She writes regularly for string-related publications and has presented lectures at the Newark Lutherie Seminars and British Violin Making Association conferences.

Which historical maker has had the most influence on your own work?

Gasparo da Salò

What is it about this maker’s work that particularly appeals to you?

I have always had a strong interest in violas, and that drew me to the Brescian makers (Gasparo and his pupil Paolo Maggini), because of the way that their instruments work for the players in terms of quality of sound and playability. They are truly designed as violas rather than enlarged violins. And I love the incredible freedom and spontaneity with which they are made; even though the craftsmanship is by modern terms rough and lacking in symmetry, you can always see a strong structure behind the work.

How would you describe the qualities in this maker’s work that you seek to emulate in your own?

What I appreciate about the Brescian sound is the way that it unites a rich, warm darkness with real projection. A lot of violas either have projection with limited quality, or a warm rich sound with insufficient focus. The best Gasparos have it all. Aesthetically, I like the freedom of working fast and fluently, with a strong idea in my head of what I am aiming for.

How are those qualities achieved?

It’s all in the arching. Strong, robust shapes that run straight to the edge without the recurve you see in Cremonese instruments. Violas are different animals from violins, and Gasparo’s work demonstrates this beautifully.

What would you consider the most stunning example of this maker’s work?

In 2008 there was an exhibition of the work of all the Brescian makers held in their hometown. One of the Gasparo violas was a stand-out instrument for me; it made my heart sing. It’s the best of his tenor violas that I’ve seen; fantastic choice of wood, wonderfully free in execution. I especially loved the f-holes, which are quite different from each other, but related—they face each other like people in conversation, one speaking, the other listening. The character of the maker shines through over four centuries.

What would you say defines your own style, outside the bounds of this maker’s influence?

My violas are very influenced by Gasparo’s work, but with their own direction. I take the proportions of what are mostly quite large violas and rescale them to smaller sizes, usually 15 ½ inches to 16 ½ inches body length. I recreate the full arching shapes on the front by the technique I have developed for steam-bending the spruce. I like to keep the fundamentals of Gasparo’s work in terms of arching shapes, proportions, and lack of symmetry, but given my nature and background, the work is a little neater.


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How do you achieve a balance between historical standards and 21st-century innovation?

The lives of contemporary musicians are increasingly busy and the repertoire ever more challenging, so I attempt to distill all that I can learn from the historical instruments I admire the most, and adapt that whenever possible to make the instruments as physically comfortable and responsive as possible. I’m happy to be flexible in terms of developing new techniques and models in my work if I think that will make for a better sounding instrument.

Guy-RabutGuy Rabut
New York City

Guy Rabut began his studies at the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he graduated in 1978. After five years working for the firm of Jacques Français in New York City under master restorer René Morel, Rabut established his own shop in New York City, dividing his time between making and restoring instruments. In 1992, with the opening of a workshop in Carnegie Hall, he began to focus exclusively on creating new violins, violas, and cellos. As Rabut celebrates his 40th year in New York, he continues this dedication to making new instruments and working with musicians from around the world at his shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Which historical maker has had the most influence on your own work?

As a violin maker in the 20th and 21st century, I look to the foundation of violin making in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries for my primary inspiration, namely the makers of the Amati school of Cremona. That said, describing the totality of my work would not be complete without including the inspiration and direct influence of makers from the schools of Venice and Brescia, as well.

What is it about these makers’ work that particularly appeals to you?

In North America, for the most part, we don’t have the benefit of family violin-
making dynasties or the unbroken
violin-making tradition that often exists in regions of Europe, so we must find our own mentors to guide our development and to inspire us. Not being encumbered with a family or a distinctive national tradition gives us the freedom to seek out the work that inspires us the most. For me it seemed logical and also most beneficial to look back to the place and the makers where violin making began, hence the Amati family of Cremona.

How would you describe the qualities in these makers’ work that you seek to emulate in your own?

Because the birthplace of the violin happened in Cremona in the 16th century, the essence of violin (and viola and cello) sound was born there as well. Keeping this in mind, it is important to remember that over the last 500 years, preferences for different types of sound have varied from what we think of as violin sound today. There are some fundamental principals however, both in terms of design and acoustics that have always served to allow instruments to look and perform well. Many of the instruments of the Amati school embody these qualities. It is also important to add that so much of the sound of any instrument is what the player brings to the instrument. Ultimately, the “sound” of any given instrument is the result of the successful collaboration between the player and the maker.

How are those qualities achieved?

The design of the instruments of the violin family are wonderfully elegant and efficient structures. Since they were born in the Baroque time, aesthetically they reflect their era. Stylistically, the best instruments from the Amati school represent a high degree of refinement and elegance. Structurally there are variations between the various makers, but in many ways there are more similarities than differences. Arching certainly varies somewhat but with thicknesses, there is always the question as to how original they are to the maker. Because much of what makes the sound of the violin as we hear it today is due to the set up and the more mechanical aspects of how the instrument functions, that portion of the equation must be considered at least as much as the shape of the instrument and the arching and graduations. Credit here must be given to the countless violin makers who have dedicated their careers to adjusting and setting up and restoring these great instruments over the years so that we can continue to enjoy them today. 

What would you consider the most stunning example of these makers’ work?

As a parent might say, it is impossible to choose only one. There have been many wonderful instruments, made by a variety of makers that have inspired me for a variety of reasons. Some have particular aesthetic qualities that I have adopted in my own work and some are just particularly fine examples of the craft, where the choice of wood and the craftsmanship have come together to create a harmonious whole.

What would you say defines your own style, outside the bounds of a historical maker’s influence?

I have modeled most of my work after the great makers that I feel represent the best of the Classical period. Since violin making is a traditional craft born in the 16th century, it is important to me to respect and to continue that great tradition with work grounded on Classical principles, while exploring the freedoms that do exist within an interpretive discipline to put my personal stamp on the instruments that I create.

I enjoy the variety that working from different aesthetic points of view and even different acoustical ideas affords. One simple example of this is my dedication to following the two major schools of viola making, that of Brescia and that of Cremona. The models and arching of these two schools are distinctive and bring their characteristic voice to the instruments. I find that certain musicians are attracted to one or the other, but neither is superior. Every ice cream shop needs a variety of flavors to satisfy the variety of patrons—and they are all delicious!

How do you achieve a balance between historical standards and 21st-century innovation?

21st-century innovation is really the continuation of 19th- and 20th-century innovation. I would characterize it as more a process of evolution rather than innovation, as it has been a steady and incremental process from the time of the classical makers until today. The changes in string materials and design have had a fundamental effect on that process. The development of the modern bow is another important factor in that story, in addition to all of the incremental changes in set up that have occurred, from neck configurations to bridge design and neck measurements. The modern luthier must balance his or her knowledge and understanding of how the instrument functions with the desires of the musician and the requirements of each performing situation to bring the instrument into optimal functionality. This task has never really changed from the time of the first violin makers. Only the needs and requirements have evolved over time as musical tastes and acoustical settings have changed.

William-Adam-Mackay

William Adam Mackay
Berriedale, Caithness, Scottish Highlands

William Adam Mackay has been making, repairing, and setting up instruments in the Caithness area for over 20 years. He spent three years studying at the Newark School of Violin Making in Nottinghamshire, honing what he had learned up to that point and soaking up as much information as he could on violin and double-bass making in particular. In 2011, he returned to Caithness to establish his workshop, where he makes new instruments as well as offering a variety of lutherie services. He specializes in double-bass making and is a member of the BVMS.

Which historical maker has had the most influence on your own work?

I find Gasparo Bertolotti, or Gasparo da Salò as he was better known, an interesting and important luthier. There was also a connection through his family to the Italian world of glass. For a while, one of the part-time jobs that supported my lutherie was in an art-glass studio, and I enjoyed listening to some of the artists lecture on the history of glass making and could see many parallels between these skilled trades.

The work of the Brescian makers played an important part in the development of the violin family of instruments that led to the Golden Period of the Cremonese violin makers at the beginning of the 18th century.
Having a strong interest in double-bass instruments in particular, I see Gasparo da Salò as the main figure behind what we still recognize as the double-bass instrument.

What is it about this maker’s work that particularly appeals to you?

Da Salò’s work was known for its powerful tone and quick response. It is important to create a dynamically responsive instrument that will project. That instrument must also convey all the emotional qualities the musician wants to express in a piece of music efficiently, with all the tone of a hand-crafted instrument created with the knowledge of tone woods that, in the case of a double bass, may have taken 200–300 years to grow large enough to yield suitable timber before the felling and seasoning. It’s such an interesting process to see it from this perspective rather than being hung up on the cloak-and-dagger world of big business.

How would you describe the qualities in this maker’s work that you seek to emulate in your own?

In looking at the work of the Brescian makers, there is an instinctive approach to the making that I admire. Without doubt, many of them were skilled crafts people, and I don’t think anyone could question the skill and understanding that Gasparo da Salò had for his trade. The emphasis seems to give priority to the fact that it is a musical instrument and a tool in many ways, even though some of his instruments were ornately decorated with purfling or sported fine carvings on the scroll. Fine workmanship is important to me, though slight asymmetry or the remains of a well-executed tool mark appeal to me also.

How are those qualities achieved?


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One of the most important factors in creating a responsive instrument with a real tone would have to be the material thicknesses, particularly in the top and back plates, though arching style or whether the instrument has a carved (arched) back or flat back also will affect the tone. Thickness of rib wood and mass of various parts are important as well and the end goal is to have every part of the instrument resonate efficiently with every other part, giving a frequency response suitable for the instrument. The size of the body on an acoustic instrument plays a large part in giving suitable frequency response. 

What would you consider the most stunning example of this maker’s work?

I’m not certain I have a particular favorite example of Gasparo’s work. I admire the outline of his violins. The violin of Neil Gow, the famous Scottish composer of violin tunes, apparently was made by Gasparo da Salò—I wonder how it found its way to be hanging on a wall in a colonel’s house in Edinburgh. There is a finesse in Gasparo’s work that’s perhaps more evident in the well-preserved examples and still there in the outline of his double bass, though the large bodies seem brutish compared to the violin and viola—the long pointed corners demonstrate this. It would have been amazing to see his double basses when they were fresh instruments. I also really like the f-holes; there’s something quite relaxed about them. The carving of his scrolls don’t express the perfection of work such as can be found on a Stradivari violin, but are everything they need to be and human, beautiful in their own way.

What would you say defines your own style, outside the bounds of a historical maker’s influence?

Within my own making as a Scottish violin maker and also a double-bass maker, I see myself as carrying on those traditions with respect to the area I come from and the characteristics attributed to the makers of this country whilst absolutely acknowledging and appreciating where these skills were perfected by the masters of the craft centuries ago. The British School of Bass Making—no doubt more commonly known as the English School of Bass Making due to the lack of a double bass ever being made in Scotland (ha ha)—owes a lot to the Brescian makers with its large bodies and often quite short, strong-looking scrolls. I have a real liking for the simplicity of the viol outline that was often used by British makers. It was seeing James Briggs basses in David Rattray’s book Violin Making in Scotland that had a huge effect on me. Briggs was possibly one of the only bass makers to have been based in Scotland.

After that initial interest, I looked further into the English bass makers and suspected that William Tarr was a very influential maker, which was later confirmed. Not only did James Briggs work for Tarr, James Cole, who also used the large viol outline, also did. My next two basses planned will be a large-body outline influenced by William Tarr’s violin outline, though with a carved back of poplar wood. Poplar was sometimes used in place of sycamore or maple for back and sides by the Italian luthiers, so although it was not as common, it’s not a huge departure from the traditional woods. And I am also starting another viol model bass that will be slightly reduced in the upper bout to be more manageable to players of smaller stature. I am basing my models on proven designs, but over time want these designs to evolve to have something of my own style in them.

How do you achieve a balance between historical standards and 21st-century innovation?

Many of the techniques used in my workshop come directly from historic methods partly because I feel it’s important to continue the hand skills and keep the knowledge alive, but it’s also more practical in some ways being a one-man, independent luthier. There may be a few technological short cuts that would be relevant to my workshop practices, but I do get something out of having an absolute hands-on connection with each instrument. One area of requirement amongst musicians is the standardizing of various measurements, with string lengths and various proportions to give correct stops as reference points. Elevation at bridge. Over-stand height and such things. Many of the older instruments could be a little off with nothing set in stone, though the science of it is probably better understood amongst contemporary makers, science, or continual trial and error—perhaps it amounts to the same thing. 

Something else that could be considered a modern issue is the authentic reproduction of an acoustic tone at volume. I have spent years experimenting with various pickups, pre-amps, and microphone systems, though it really is a whole other can of worms best left for the moment.

Matthew-R.-Wehling

Matthew R. Wehling
Northfield, Minnesota

Trained in France under two masters from the Ouchard bow-making school (Benoît Rolland and Georges Tepho), Matthew R. Wehling established his own shop in 2001. His honors include five gold medals from the Violin Society of America, as well as being one of the few Americans to win the Etienne Vatelot City of Paris Competition (first place, cello bow; second place, violin bow, 2011).

Which historical maker has had the most influence on your own work?

François Xavier Tourte

What is it about this maker’s work that particularly appeals to you?

All modern bow making (post 1800) comes back to Tourte. No matter what era you are interested in, you can always find the influence of his original genius.

How would you describe the qualities in this maker’s work that you seek to emulate in your own?

When his bows are in the hands of good musicians, they are able to color the tone in ways that are difficult to achieve with most modern bows. Aesthetically, the combination of power and precision are stunning, even more so when you consider the speed with which he was working, that he was inventing it as he progressed, and the rustic lighting conditions in which he would have been working.

How are those qualities achieved?

Bows underwent a revolution around 1860 when Voirin changed the heights of the head and frog, the taper of the bows, and the overall camber scheme in order to fulfill the changing needs of his clientele. These ideas have largely continued, particularly in mass-produced bows. When making a bow inspired by Tourte, I go back to Tourte’s vision of how a bow should work and his original structural concepts that achieved this.

What would you consider the most stunning example of this maker’s work?

I love a bow of his that is the first example in the F.X. Tourte section of the seminal book Les Archets Francais by Etienne Vatelot (1976). This bow is from just before Tourte had it all figured out and before he changed his style by creating the classic “hatchet” head. The striking perfection of the head was obviously a model for Voirin when he remade the concept of a bow around 1860. I was fortunate enough to have this very bow in my shop for a number of months at one point.

What would you say defines your own style, outside the bounds of a historical maker’s influence?

What defines my modern bows is an attempt to bring a stylistic coherence by using large curves. Wherever there is a choice between a sharp angle or a curve, I choose a curve as large as can be made without falling over the edge of world into caricature. (Goya said, “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters”—take heed, modern makers!) When making a bow based on this era of Tourte’s work, I have to tone down the curves a little bit.

When making a bow that will be in the style of Tourte, there is always a question of whether to make it a little more modern. Early Tourtes tend to be a little light, 54–58 grams, with their balance shifted more to the head than 21st-century players are used to. One needs to work with the client to decide to what extent the bow should combine modern sensibilities with the master’s original intent.

How do you achieve a balance between historical standards and 21st-century innovation?

It is always a question. Can one really improve on Tourte? There are small things to make the bow a bit more durable, but when I am making a bow based on this early Tourte bow (which is about 30 percent of my output), the biggest challenge can be to not try to “improve” what is already perfect!