Welcome to my recently established workshop in Ojai, California.
I began my training in 1976 at the Newark School of Violin Making in England. It was a wonderful experience where the seed of inquiry was planted. Being in the same class as some of today's leading authorities on string instruments (Roger Hargrave, John Dilworth, Julie Reed Yeboah, Joseph Thrift, Malcolm Siddall and Anne Houssay) the atmosphere was one of intense passion for the wonders of violin making.
My interest and passion for string instruments was initiated by my godfather Joe Sack. As described in an audiobook I wrote, The Morning Light - never passes us by available from the website or alternatively click here to listen.
Joe was a fine cellist and music critic of the well known Rand Daily Mail.
He used to arrange chamber music gatherings at his home and I as a five year old would come to those evening soirées in my pajamas to listen to the wonderful visiting soloists that came out to South Africa in the 1960's.
He was very knowledgeable about fine old instruments (owning a David Tecchler cello) and enthralled me with his playing, sharing his insights as to the different tonal characteristics of each cello that he played on.
With my first cello having begun lessons with Joe.
Photo below taken on a visit to Joe a couple of weeks before he passed away at age 93.
Video below played on a cello that I made dedicated to Joe - commissioned by Linda and Laurence Rosenberg.
My Career: After leaving Newark I chose to specialize entirely on the making of new instruments and have been fortunate enough to have sold my instruments all over the world. (USA, Canada, England, Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Namibia and South Africa.)
The most rewarding part of my career has been all the wonderful friends I have made. Nearly all my commissioned instruments have involved the musician, sharing in the whole process, choosing a name, personal set-up preferences, etc. I sometimes feel as if they are right there in the workshop (even if our only correspondence has been at the other end of the world via e-mail), as every instrument somehow turns out to have the quality of sound they desire. This is still a great mystery to me, as working more by feel than science one can not analyze this logically.
My Model: The model I am using developed more by circumstance than choice. On returning from Europe I found all my moulds and templates were missing from my box of tools. (Someone had obviously taken a liking to them thinking it might be a good idea to make a violin). So my only option was to draw my outlines from scratch. My earlier models resembled Brescian instruments and slowly over the years have come closer to the Cremonese school.
I keep changing the finer details as my insight advances. This is all done with tonal qualities in mind. I do keep detailed records of all the instruments I have made: arching heights, thickness, weights, etc. So as I look back over the years I might like the lower register on a violin made 15 years ago and compare it with one of similar qualities made 5 years ago, to see if there are any corresponding measurements and apply the correlation to my current instrument. This has all been possible as I have maintained the same "system" for making all my instruments.
For the final finishing I make modifications specifically for each piece of wood, taking into consideration the density and tonal characteristics. I find it very difficult to sell an instrument that I myself am not totally happy with. (Not comparing to other instruments but in the framework of my own capabilities.)
Varnish: Varnish: I have taken many hours off from my regular workshop time to further my research, realizing that to get close to Cremonese instruments is only possible using 17th century materials.
This led me on a wonderful adventure: constructing a primitive distilling plant, making traditional Indian Yellow (collecting urine from cows fed on mango leaves), contacting Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens about " Weld" and going into the mountains in search of this plant, stopping on the highway at night to pick an aloe leaf.
After all this research I am now using a varnish made entirely from authentic materials, using an organic golden primer which I make myself. For the actual varnish, this I too cook myself which is made from sun thickened Walnut oil, Strasbourg turpentine with small amounts of Mastic. For color, I prefer on my latest instruments several different madder and sandalwood lakes all being hand ground into the varnish on a slab of glass.
My varnish has a soft 'waxy' appearance, which is not over polished and has a lovely texture - I achieve this by leaving the surface without extensive rubbing down.
Sound adjustments: I always get so excited when finishing an instrument I can hardly contain myself! It is akin to meeting someone new for the first time, gradually unraveling the veil of form to their essence.
I spend many hours adjusting my instruments trying different bridges and soundpost positions which is so absorbing. First to that of brilliance, then to that of warmth and finally marrying them up together whilst still maintaining an ease of playing.
I myself am an amateur cellist so have a fair understanding of string player's needs, however, for final adjustments I always collaborate with leading players.
Trying out a viola to get a sense of the clarity, projection and true character as heard in a concert hall.
Purchasing one of my instruments: I am delighted when musicians become involved in the violin making process and I encourage my customers to visit my workshop and follow the progress or alternatively I email them photographs as I go along. If I don't have any instruments available at the time of your inquiry, I will advise you of the waiting period to commission one.
As we live in a global economy with fluctuating exchange rates and musicians around the world have differing incomes, the pricing of my instruments is not straightforward.
I have always tried to accommodate these differences and offer musicians an interest free payment plan, should they feel this would be easier for them. This is usually spread over the period of one to three years. For those with limited funds available, I do sometimes have access to philanthropists who might be willing to assist you. Please e-mail me for my latest price list.
Conclusion: I sincerely hope I have expressed myself adequately. Should you wish to contact me, feel free, as I welcome any chat about violins and violin making.
Phone: 805- 4039475 Back to the top
Trio excerpts on my instrumens