The Clerkenwell Post, November 2015
In November, The Clerkenwell Post published Violin Solo, my story about violin-maker Andreas Hudelmayer who was also featured in my recent book Makers of East London.
Clerkenwell is full of craftspeople, but perhaps one of the more unusual is Andreas Hudelmayer – a luthier, or maker of stringed instruments based at Crafts Central. Katie Treggiden finds out how exactly a violin is made.
Hudelmayer uses the classical Italian method to hand-make violins, violas and cellos in his workshop perched above Clerkenwell’s rooftops. “I’m right on the Green overlooking a historic court building,” he says, adding that with clients all over the world, it’s important for him to be accessible, making Clerkenwell the perfect location.
Hudelmayer has played the cello since he was eight and planned to study music, but also enjoyed woodwork. “I suddenly had the idea of combining the two to become a violin maker. I had no idea what was involved, but I had a few years to find out.”
A dedicated student, Hudelmayer painstakingly made his own set of ‘f-hole cutters’ – tools used to create the sound-holes in the front of a violin that resemble an ∫ and a reversed ∫. His hard work paid off and he now has an international clientele of professional musicians.
When clients commission an instrument, the first decision is the model. Most models date back to 17th or 18th century Italy. “Understanding the differences and finding the right combinations of outline, archings, thicknessing, and f-hole placement is a life-long task,” says Hudelmayer.
Hudelmayer starts by cutting out the back and front of the violin. The back is made from two pieces of maple, planed flat and glued together with such accuracy that you can’t see the join. He cuts thin ribs for the sides, bends them over hot steam, and builds them into a flexible structure around a mould. Then he carves the ‘arching’ out of the outside and the ‘hollowing’ out of the inside back plates using gouges and planes. “The precise shape is important to how the violin will sound,” he says. “I do use templates, but a lot of it is done by eye.” He tunes them by tapping the back to listen to the sound and using a computer to analyse it.
Next, he carves the scroll using a chisel, and uses the f-hole cutters he made at college to make the ‘f-holes’ in the scroll. Then he varnishes and antiques the instruments. “I enjoy that part,” he says. “The varnish really brings out the ‘flames’ – the grain of the wood.” Finally, he adds the sound post and bridge and makes them playable. The whole process takes about two months for each instrument.
“It is all about attention to detail and making the elements work together,” Hudelmayer says. “Subtle changes make every violin different. I’m really proud that my instruments are out there making people happy. There is a lot of satisfaction in making a musical instrument, but the biggest satisfaction is in hearing a really good musician playing it.”