About my instruments, and a little about lutherie and my philosophy, May 2015.
The instruments I make are carefully assembled as individual projects and inspired by the those used in the music I've been into. The ideal is to seek out exceptional examples of these instruments to work from, making detailed measurements, drawings and other observations to try to develop a thorough understanding of what exactly makes that instrument work.
Though the visual appeal and decorative elements of an instrument have little to do with how it performs, it's an important part of my work. I prefer simplicity in decoration but see every shape, color and grain pattern as important. I strive to make an instrument that is both aesthetically pleasing ...and exceptional in its performance.
Working mostly as self taught until some formal studies of historical bowed instrument making techniques in England in the mid 90s, I work largely with hand tools and traditional instrument building techniques. The woods I use are chosen first for their acoustic potential but also for their aesthetic qualities... they are well aged and sometimes 'conditioned', much of my current stash is 30-40 years old or older. Assembly is done with hot hide glue in a humidity controlled environment.
My instruments are now finished either in a hand applied oil varnish, french polished or both. Established thinking, from an acoustic point of view, says the thinner the finish, the better for sound quality. It's difficult to surpass a correctly applied french polished finish for both it's depth, shine and it's ability to be applied thinly and evenly. Oil varnish has a special luster and can be applied thinly as well. A quick search on line shows they are both highly regarded finishes for high end instruments and often, an expensive upgrade. Also important for me is that they are either non toxic or are very low in toxicity to work with, compared to nitrocellulose lacquer.
My instrument making is animated by the belief that there are "ideal" designs that make sounds we innately want to hear, more or less expressed in certain designs and models of instruments, which are the culmination of knowledge from many hands and minds, over time ...that an instruments particular acoustic appeal is the result of the accumulation of many small insights, combined with occasional larger ones, and that have evolved, refined and established that designs important elements.
Also important to the designs development were the needs of musicians for new capabilities for evolving musical styles and the general progress of different technologies, ....the evolution of strings from gut to metal being an obvious example of the latter.
In the end, there are interesting questions; do we like the qualities of a particular instrument because it pleases some innate "ideal" and/or that it reflects our natural hearing curve and other "psycho-acoustic" needs? Or is it because we have heard it so many times, live and through recordings, that only that particular design, of that instrument, which performs in that particular way, sounds right? My guess ....is some of each.