One Post to Another

One of the joys of having your children learn a musical instrument is having to discover things about the instrument.

For example, the cello has a little piece of wood that isn’t visible unless you’re actively peering inside the hollow chamber through the f-holes (yep, that’s what they’re called!). It’s called the sound post, and it apparently plays (pun intended) a very important role.

I learnt how not to change the strings on the cello thanks to that little post. Long story short, unlike on a guitar, you NEVER change them all at once.  I should have done a search before I set about changing the strings – mistake number 1 listed on the first google search would have given me the insight I needed.

But of course I didn’t, so I had to take it to a luthier to get the sound post reset. I got three references from my son’s cello tutor, & the first one  responded immediately to my plea for help.

It was the best decision to go to this luthier.

Not because the post was reset & the cello sounds better than before (it does!)

But because I met a master craftsman.

In the short time it took him to put the post back in its precise place, I learnt that John started making violins & cellos when he was in his forties, an accidental hobby he got involved in because of his son’s broken violin. I learnt that John’s parents were violinists, & his sister was a pianist. Unlike his family’s musical inclinations, John loved the smell of wood, & working with it. John claims not to be a very good string instrument player.

John said it takes him over 120 hours to make a violin, and over 300 hours to make a cello! I learnt a little about John’s family, his family name & the journey of discovering his ancestry – which is not Dutch, despite his Dutch-sounding name.

In the shed were several violins, violas & a couple of cellos in various stages of construction or repair, & several blocks of wood that he was patiently waiting  for to mature, along with tools I’ve never seen before. The smell of wood & varnish & history & knowledge in the little shed was literally breathtaking.

I learnt why the master luthiers obsess about a particular kind of grain in the wood (I’d heard this before), & the effect the distance between the grains has on tonal quality of the instrument (I’d never heard that before).

John is a wonderful conversationalist, & has an easy laugh. There was an old  framed picture hanging over his workbench – and when I asked, John told me about Asmira Woodward-Page. The violin she was holding in the picture, with John fondly looking on, was one of John’s creations: the first prize at a Sydney Eisteddfod quite a few years ago.

I asked permission to take a picture of the violin he is making; and while I did, I also learned about one of his heroes, Arthur E Smith,  Australia’s foremost violin makers- and it was one of Smith’s original 1947 designs that was coming to life in John’s little shed. If his memory serves him right, John has made more cellos than Smith (10 vs 3), & is well on his way to Smith’s 200 (John’s made 172!)

John is 82. He may be retired, but his enthusiasm for his craft & the instruments he makes & repairs is infectious. I learnt why my son’s cello, while a reasonable instrument, was probably causing much playing discomfort for my ten-year old son.

So infectious that he generously invited my son & I to return to John’s shed in a couple of weeks, to get a little more love and care for his cello – and a lot more education for me – from the master craftsman.

A little piece of wood called the sound post led me to this blog post 🙂

PS: Check out John’s website here.

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