Custom Violin #32 152

Completed June 2015

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)


This classical violin once again features superb European tonewoods supplied by John Preston at Old World Tonewoods. The hand-rubbed oil varnish finish is lightly antiqued. This is a powerful violin, with as much pure guts as any I've yet made, but it's musically powerful, and not just loud. All ebony accessories, and a full-suspension case. $5,000.

Here's retired Pittsburgh Symphony violinist Richard DiAdamo playing "I Dream of Jeannie" on this violin.

Construction Photos

Construction gets underway with the joining of the plates with hot hide glue. The inside surfaces are sanded smooth, and the plates are sanded close to finished thickness. The ribs are sanded to finished thickness, ripped to width on the bandsaw, and then bent over a series of differently sized heated pipes. Material is also bent to make the linings.

Vertical-grain blocks of spruce are temporarily attached with hot glue onto the corners and ends of the internal form, then cut and sanded to shape. The ribs are glued to the blocks with hot hide glue, beginning with the "C" bouts. The "Cs" are trimmed to match the corner blocks, and the balance of the ribs are glued in place. The edges are leveled and the ribs are sanded to finished height on a level sanding surface. The upper half of the internal form is removed.

Linings are sliced from the strips bent for that purpose, notches are cut in the corner blocks, and the linings are fitted and glued into place. The upper halves of the corner blocks are shaped to flow into the ribs. A washer is used to mark the correct overhang onto the top plate, and it's cut to shape on the bandsaw.

The edge thickness is established on the router table. Excess wood is hogged off with a power plane, and then a duplicating router takes me to my basic rough profile. A jury-rigged overhead router roughly establishes the "scoop" inside the purfling. A groove for the purfling is routed. The purfling is bent with the assistance of a damp paper towel over a hot pipe.

The corners of the purfling channel are cleaned out with a sharp knife. The purfling is glued in place with hot hide glue. Shaping of the outside of the top begins with scrapers and progresses to sandpaper.


Thicknessing holes are drilled from the inside, and the graduation of the top begins. I set up the laptop early on just to make sure I don't accidentally have a low-pitchd top that would quickly become too thin. Weight, thickness, and tap tone are compared as the top is brought to the proper dimensions.

The f-holes are marked and cut. The bass bar is fitted to the top and left oversize as it's glued in place. The bass bar is shaped and sized to return the top to its original tap tone before the f-holes were cut.

The rounding of the edge is completed. Glue is applied to both the top and ribs and allowed to dry. Then the parts are clamped together and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The neck block is reduced in height by about 3/32". The internal form is removed. A neck blank is cut from curly maple. The fingerboard is cut to proper size and fitted to the blank. The scroll and pegbox are laid out onto the blank.

Carving of the neck and scroll begins with the hollowing of the peg box. Then the excess wood from the sides is removed with the bandsaw. Segments are removed from the scroll with a handsaw, then the scroll is refined with chisels and gouges. This process continues until the scroll is complete.

The fluting on the outside of the scroll is formed primarily with scrapers. A rasp is used to roughly shape the neck. The final details are added to the neck and scroll, and it's sanded to perfection.

The back linings are fitted and glued into place. The neck dovetail is cut, and the neck is glued into the dovetail. The shape of the instrument is marked onto the back, and it's cut to size. A router table is used to establish the edge thickness.

Excess wood is removed with a shop-built duplicating router. An overarm router begins to establish the bead along the edge. A Dremel tool is used to cut the purfling recess; the corners are cleaned out with a knife, and the purfling is glued in with hot hide glue. The shape is refined first with scrapers, then with sandpaper.


As with the top, thicknessing holes are drilled to guide the graduation. Wood is first removed with a plane, then with scrapers as the final thickness is approached. Again it's time for laptop, caliper, and scale as I adjust the tap tone, the weight, and the thickness to arrive at a back that is balanced with the top. Hot hide glue is applied to both the back and the ribs and allowed to dry. Then the parts are clamped together and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The instrument is thoroughly sanded, and given a coat of dichromate. This goes on bright yellow, but overnight oxides the wood to a soft brown color that provides a warm base for successive coats of varnish.

The instrument is given a base coat of golden yellow varnish. A second coat is added to intensify the underlying color. A bit of antiquing begins by brushing on very thin coats of red-brown varnish, then wiping it from areas that would be worn from normal use. I continue building color and shading by this same brush-and-wipe procedure. When I've achieved the proper amount of variation, uniform color coats are applied until the entire instrument has reached the right hue. Once clear coats can be applied, sanding can begin to level minute inconsistencies in the finish.

The final clear coat is applied, and the instrument is set aside while the finish cures. The varnish is rubbed out first with pumice, then with rottenstone. An ebony saddle si shaped and glued into place. An ebony nut is fitted to the fingerboard, and the fingerboard and nut are glued to the neck. Tuning pegs and end peg are fitted and installed. The tailpiece, soundpost, and bridge are cut to size, and the strings are tightened for a test fitting. A bit of tweaking, and this one's ready to go.


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