Handcrafted Instruments by H.J. Lidgate
I have been making violins, violas and cellos entirely by hand for the last twenty years.
I get a particular thrill when, having finished the work of turning blocks of wood into a finished instrument, I hear it played for the first time. It is amazing that such sound can emerge from such an unlikely start.
With each of my instruments I strive to achieve a combination of sound and playing performance to delight player and audience alike by faithfully applying the methods of Antonio Stradivari.
Stradivari developed his own system of thicknessing and tuning front and back plates to achieve the unique sound that his instruments became famed for. His format was either unknown to, or ignored, by mainstream French, German & Italian makers for the next 200 years. It is only from the combined efforts of different researchers throughout the 20th century that the way Stradivari’s instruments work has been better understood in the last 50 years.
Through my own endeavours, with extensive study of published literature and the reference works on Stradivari, and with much practical experience and application, I have arrived at a series of techniques and processes by which I can consistently produce violin family instruments that play beautifully.
Characteristics of my instruments are
- highly responsive and resonant from pp to ff
- even across the strings and playing all the way up the fingerboard
- big & mellow in tone and with plenty of power and colour
I do this by by
- carefully selecting low-density tonewoods of the finest Italian spruce and maple, to produce light, resonant and responsive instruments
- faithfully imitating Stradivari’s ‘Golden’ form – the sizing, shape, arching and thicknessing
- meticulously fine-tuning the finished plates in-line with the published work of Carleen Hutchins, to achieve constructive harmony between front and back plates
- tuning the the neck and fingerboard to match the air resonance of the sound box
- applying a traditional ground-coat to harden the surface of the plates and enhance top-end performance
- applying a traditional oil varnish to give a beautiful, flexible finish that allows the violin to sing
Every instrument is unique and has its own voice and playing qualities – if you are searching for your ideal, I can only invite you to try mine.
Prices from £2,500
My violins are based on the pattern of the ‘Messie’ instrument, attributed to Stradivari by the Hill brothers amongst others, but the subject of ongoing dispute as to it’s true provenance. I recently got my hands on a copy of ‘The Messiah violin: a reliable history?’ by Nicholas Sackman, which whilst not entirely conclusive on the question, is most thoroughly sceptical.
The instrument itself is on public display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and well worth going to see. Genuine or not, it gives a stunning insight into how Stradivari’s instruments looked in their original splendour. The Messiah in pattern and thicknessing is wholly comparable to other renown instruments made by Stradivari during his ‘Golden Period’ of 1700 to 1720, instruments that are widely held as the finest ever made.
With one of my early instruments I worked to match the flambouyant varnish colour of the ‘Messiah’ – sadly nobody wanted to buy it ! Since that time I have been somewhat more conservative in producing instruments finished in muted honey and chestnut tones, and instead focussed my interest and efforts into ensuring that they are each a pleasure to play.
Prices from £3,000
My violas are 16 1/4” long and made to my own pattern, developed from the Brescian style of makers like Gasparo de Salo and Maggini, broad across the upper bouts to help produce rich, powerful and resonant bass tones.
They’ll knock your socks off.
Prices from £6,000
I am especially proud of the cellos that I have made and the very favourable reactions that they receive from those that play them.
Old cellos in good order are hard to find, ones that play well harder still. Accordingly they tend to be expensive.
A new, handmade cello with carefully tuned plates that work in harmony to produce incredible sound, is a sensible and affordable alternative. I have enjoyed success making cellos that are now enjoyed by professional musicians and advanced students, and this is an aspect of my work on which I am very much concentrating.
My cellos are based on a Stradivari pattern at 29 ¾” in length. The fronts are of the best quality spruce originating from the Italian or German Alps and of the lowest available density. This premium quality raw material, naturally highly resonant, is an essential start point for a high quality cello. Whilst highly figured maple makes for an aesthetically attractive back plate, it’s sound quality is inferior to a more even grained substrate, so I tend towards plainer raw material when selecting back plates.
I ensure that all of my new cellos weigh under 3kg – I believe that keeping the weight low is an important contributor to the instruments ultimate performance. It also makes them that much easier for the player to handle and carry, and so is doubly beneficial. Consequently I fit lightweight modern fittings and scrupulously remove every spare gram of material from the body of the instrument.