The Making of a Historically Informed Bow


Viola D’Amore Bow, Copy of NMM_3470 by Andrew Dipper, 2014, Bow with Clip-in Frog


Dipper Restorations, being museum restoration specialists, sometimes has the opportunity to work with the collection of the National Music Museum on the campus of The University of South Dakota. One of the benefits of this became apparent in a commission we recently received to build a viola d’amore bow.


NMM_3740 Tip

The bow we chose to build was based on bow number 3470 in the Museum’s collection. This very interesting bow is part of the ex-Arne Larson collection. This bow dates from around 1720 and has French or Italian characteristics.

NMM_3470 Slide and Frog

NMM_3470 Slide and Frog

As originally designed it had a clip-in frog, but later a screw-adjustable frog from a different bow was adapted to this stick. The frog shown in the picture is clearly not the original one for this bow, as you can see the slide recess doesn’t fit the matching recess in the bow stick.

NMM_3470_frog_and ferrule

NMM_3470 Frog

The butt end of the stick was cut off and an iron ferrule was added to reinforce cracks in the stick.



Viola D’Amore Bow, Copy of NMM_3470 by Andrew Dipper, 2014, Bow Tip

The bow we built has a snakewood (Piratinera guianensis) stick based on NMM 3470 and frog like one that was originally used on that bow. Viola D’Amore bows are usually considerably longer than violin bows from the same period and have a higher tip. This bow weighs 59.4g and is 71.4cm long.

Viola D'Amore Bow, Andrew Dipper Bow Tip and Mortise

Viola D’Amore Bow, Copy of NMM_3470 by Andrew Dipper, 2014, Bow Tip and Mortice


Stradivari Frog Template

Antonio Stradivari Cello Frog Template

This maple Antonio Stradivari cello frog template is located in the Museo Del Violino in Cremona, Italy. Our frog was made using a copy of another Stradivari template that matched the recess in the NMM_3470 bow.

Andrew Dipper Bow Frog

Viola D’Amore Bow, Copy of NMM_3470 by Andrew Dipper, 2014, Frog Left Face

Andrew made this frog of Sonoran Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota), chosen for its grain and figure which resemble tortoise shell. The new bow plays wonderfully and has an even response over the entire length of the stick.

Andrew Dipper Bow Frog

Viola D’Amore Bow, Copy of NMM_3470 by Andrew Dipper, 2014, Frog Right Face


Andrew Dipper Bow Frog Hair Channel

Viola D’Amore Bow, Copy of NMM_3470 by Andrew Dipper, 2014, Frog Hair Channel

Andrew Dipper Bow Frog

Viola D’Amore Bow, Copy of NMM_3470 by Andrew Dipper, 2014, Oblique View of the Frog


Posted in Uncategorized

The Stradivari Viola D’Amore, pt 1

Front view of viola d'amore

Andrew Dipper DVA257 viola d’amore front

Viola d'amore scroll sideview

Andrew Dipper viola d’amore scroll

Back view of viola d'amore

Andrew Dipper viola d’amore back

In 1976 as part of my work translating Simone Sacconi’s book, The “Secrets” of Stradivari into English I was asked to review the holdings of the Ala Ponzone collection of Stradivarian material in Cremona. This collection consists of the residue of forms and patterns that were once part of the workshop materials of Antonio Stradivari. Included in this material are a number of forms and patterns for viola d’amore type instruments. Some of these are demonstrative of advances in the design of a novel instrument based on the format of a viola d’amore.

Tartini portrate

Giuseppe Tartini holding his viola d’amore and bow

Antonio Stradivari’s new concept of a corner-less viola d’amore was designed after 1700. The first existing paper patterns for the first instrument are dated 1716 when the master was over sixty years old. This flourishing of new designs is interesting since Tartini was active in Northern Italy as solo violinist and director at St. Antonio in Padua (from 1721 through 1723).  Tartini returned to Padua in 1726. Two years later he founded a school of violin playing, which became known as the School of the Nations. A portrait of him at his time exists in which he is shown playing a fourteen stringed viola d’amore. (See illustration.) A second new model was designed, probably by Antonio and Francesco Stradivari in 1727, and yet another in January 1728.  One has to wonder if the impetus of the new designs came from the activity of Tartini and his search for new violin tones and new bowing techniques, an activity for which the viola d’amore would have been a perfect research tool.

This first dated instrument had a body length of 372 mm and was reminiscent of earlier forms of instruments from the  Brescian school. The necks of these instruments, for which there are multiple patterns, were finished in a simple volute that terminated in a shield-shaped finial. This shield volute applied to bowed instruments is a particular Stradivarian concept and diverges from the normal classic spiral volute of the violin. Some other instrument makers such as Gaspar Bourbon from Brussels used this same design detail but its use was restricted to pochettes, mandolins and soprano lutes. It can occasionally be seen on instruments by the Milanese and Nuremberg makers and was copied much later by the Viennese.

Stradivari sons viola d'amore

Stradivari’s sons, viola d’amore

The late Stradivari violas d’amore are usually designated as twelve strings models, six metal wire strings running under the fingerboard and six plain gut and over-spun gut strings running on the fingerboard, whereas the earlier models often only have ten peg holes designated and may have been divided unequally with only four sympathetic strings. The tailpiece was attached, violin style, to a tail button inserted in the end-block, and the wire strings were probably attached to the saddle area or perhaps to wire hooks on the underside of the tailpiece. If these wire hooks were used, the attachment of the tailpiece was achieved with a wire loop in order to keep the tuning of the under-strings stable, which it would not be with a tail-gut of natural gut. In rare circumstances, as with the viola d’amore made by the sons of Stradivari in 1727[1], the tailpiece was attached in the English manner by a wooden post which ran through a square hole in its lower end.

Charles Beare viola d'amore

Stradivari viola d’amore altered in the 18th century into violin form. The pegbox altered and corners added.

A notable characteristic of these Stradivari corner-less instruments is that during construction, the ribs, which were usually 5cm high, were pinned to the internal form at the waist position and the two little holes caused by the pins were subsequently filled with a small disc of  maple about 2 mm in diameter. The reason for this pinning procedure was the lack of corner blocks, which ordinarily hold the waist of the instrument to the internal form. The pinning was usually done with a gut thread that was tightened by way of a small block that held a hand tightened tapered peg. This filled pin hole at the waist of the instrument can be seen in the two surviving instruments of this type. One of these violas, in the collection of Charles Beare, is illustrated in S. Sacconi’s book[2]. The other was once owned and played by Joshua Bell. Both of these instruments originally had a rib height of 50 mm but this was cut down in order to make them conform to violin family dimensions. The pin in these cut down ribs is usually 2.5cm from the upper edge.

Pegbox with dividing wall

Stradivari pegbox with center dividing wall (ex-Gibson viola d’amore)

The chamfers of the shield volute were darkened with ink in a manner similar to Stradivari’s later violins, which must have given these instruments a somewhat funereal look when they were new. This ink lining can be seen perfectly in the head of a viola d’amore which is in the collection of the Paris Conservatoire. This peg head has the unusual feature that the peg-box has a dividing wall running down its center, either to enable the wire under-strings to be kept separate from the gut playing strings, or to allow more pegs to be placed in a smaller pattern of peg-box. This feature is sometimes found on the instruments with sympathetic strings known as Baritone viols.

It is strange to think that Antonio Stradivari, who was responsible in part for the design of the modern violin, should have designed other types of instruments of which there are few traces left. It seems logical that his genius, when applied to other instruments should have produced superb instruments but we have only small scraps of paper to identify the instruments that were in the design process or for which samples only had been produced.

The paper patterns that make up the accoutrements used in the construction of the instrument encode various details about the construction of the instrument. The significant patterns for the viola d’amore that I made were two paper body outlines and several paper outlines of necks and scrolls. What intrigued me about the design was that it was a forward looking concept that seemed to come out of the early part of the nineteenth century instead of the eighteenth.  The corner-less design reminiscent of the instruments of Chanot and the neck patterns with shield scrolls similar to Viennese work of the 1800s led me to think that these forms represented a truly novel departure from the normal Stradivarian concept and were a specific attempt to create a new market for an innovative form of instrument.

To be continued…

[2] The Secrets of Stradivari, page 226, Figs 161. 162.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Stradivari Viola D’Amore, pt 2

The first question I had to ask concerning these paper patterns was regarding their authenticity. Were they actual material from the Stradivari shop, or were they additions to the collection from later makers such as Bergonzi, Guadagnini or Ceruti?

The answer to this is complicated and it does seem that Stradivari’s use of the shield volute for bowed instruments was a design first, even if it was used some years later by Guarneri del Gesu on his small pochette  and by Bergonzi on  a viol. There is of course  the possibility that the  templates represent instruments that were planned but never made. This idea though is not justifiable since there are a number of wooden forms in Paris at the Cité de la Musique that seem to be from the Stradivari workshop that show wear consistent with them having been used multiple times for the construction of instruments. There are also two extant instruments from the workshop of Stradivari that correspond to the corner-less body outlines of these templates and there is a neck of a viola d’amore  in the Cité de la Musique (E.484) that has some of the characteristics of the paper patterns including a form that is unusually short for the number of pegs that it must carry. (See illustration.) There is another instrument in the Yale University Hill house collection by Bergonzi that also has a corner-less outline as does a viola d’amore by the Cremonese maker Lorenzo Storione that is probably a copy of an original Stradivari instrument.

Stradivari Mandolin Scroll Patterns With Shield-Shaped Finials Similar to the Viola D'Amore

Stradivari mandolin scroll patterns with shield-shaped finials

The first stage of the process was to review the original templates in Cremona and determine if the paper on them was from the 16 or 1700’s. Secondly to look for compass point impressions, pin holes, inked indications, impressed lines and other features. This done, it was determined that the patterns for the viola d’amore’s came for a period after 1700. Furthermore, the distribution of peg-holes on the neck and peg-box design seemed to indicate that the few existing templates were from a more extensive series that had been dispersed or discarded, since there were indications on them of changes such as varied peg positions that indicated a progression of ideas over time.

Stradivari viola d'amore geometry

Stradivari viola d’amore geometry analyzed from the original drawing

Based on my own research I believe that when the Stradivari shop started the design work for a new instrument they would commence with a calculation based on the projected string length and tuning of the instrument. A certain string length would require a certain body length and air volume and so on.  In turn they would design the construction so that the instrument’s equipoise fell on a certain position. The calculation of this equipoise determined the principal width dimensions of the instrument, which was arrived at through a simple geometric scheme. For the viola d’amore, which differed slightly in its construction from the violin, the inside length of the sound box was divided into three parts. Then with a series of compass arcs an equilateral triangle 1/3 of the body length per side was constructed in the bridge area of the plan. A circle drawn relative to the area of this triangle determined the width of the instrument at its waist and the exact placement of the eyes of the ffs. We are very lucky in this respect that the Museo del Violino (Cremona’s violin museum) still has the construction drawings for the ff-hole placement of one of the viola d’amores. In the drawing, which has my construction overlaid on it, there are a couple of different placements for the eyes of the ffs, one drawn by Antonio for an earlier ten string model of the instrument and another rendered by Francesco for a later twelve string design.  (See illustration.) In the later model the eyes of the ffs marked B have been placed closer to the outline of the instrument in order to allow extra room for the wider bridge. This practice of placing the ffs close to the outline was common with Francesco’s work on violins, especially after 1727. Francesco’s placement of the bridge for the instrument is also slightly higher than his father’s, presumably to keep the combined tension of the strings similar to the longer string length of the ‘A’ version of the viola d’amore. We find a similar construction for the central bridge area in most of the Stradivari instruments. A further interesting design change proposed was the lengthening of the lower end of the instrument to increase the air volume and therefore the tonal response of the added lower string.

Stradivari viola d'amore Dipper model

Stradivari viola d’amore original paper pattern

The paper patterns were part of the material for each design in the Stradivari shop and they were usually kept together in paper envelopes that signified the model, form MB, etc, or in rare cases also the client for whom the instrument was destined.

Francesco Stradivari viola d'amore bridge original paper pattern

Francesco Stradivari viola d’amore bridge original paper pattern

For example, the original paper packets which held the forms (C. M. C. # 602-631) have, in a number of instances, the names of  the institutions or persons for whom the commissions were carried out. Some of these read: VDG (viola da gamba), GDF 1687, P, T, S, B, FN, + , SL, CV, PG, P 1705 Marchese Carbonelli di Mantova[1] VDM. 12.1716 (viola d’amore) and mandolino coristo. The envelope for the small Stradivari mandolino, contains the inscription Per St. Stefano. St. Stefano is one of the parish churches of Cremona.

Envelope for the sound holes

Envelope for the sound holes

Bridge drawing

Viola d’amore bridge from Andrew Dipper’s translation of Librem Segreti de Buttegha

In the case of the viola d’amore of the corner-less pattern the templates that exist in Cremona include: (1) the body outline, with indications of the blocks, ff hole eyes, and rib height; (2) the neck with indications of peg placement peg-box width and neck width; (3) a model of the bridge indicating the bridge height and height of the under-stings and bridge width; (4) a small shield indicating the shape of the scroll finial. I could not get access to the collection to search for the ff hole patterns but I was able to use copies of the patterns that were recorded by me in 1977, and which had enough information to design an appropriate ff hole model. I received a great deal of help from Sig. Andrea Mosconi who gave me copies of the 1/1 photographs of the relevant paper patterns.

To be continued…

Posted in Uncategorized

The Stradivari Viola D’Amore, pt 3

Andrew Dipper Viola D'Amore Front

Andrew Dipper Viola D’Amore Front

I started building the instrument in 2001, but because of the restoration demands of the workshop it was not finished until 2008. The wood for the instrument came from three sources. For the belly I chose a very old piece of Baltic spruce that came from England. It was once part of a cupboard shelf in an eighteenth century house. I chose it because of its age and for its perfect grain. The bird’s-eye maple for the back and ribs came from a fifty year old board from the USA, donated by the composer Carol Barnett, whose father had collected it many years ago. The neck was carved in apple wood because it is strong enough to take the pressure of the peg arrangement in the three wall peg box of the viola d’amore without cracking between the closely spaced holes of the central wall. The first step in the whole process was making the mould and working out the exact procedure that the Stradivari workshop had used for the assembly of these instruments. To aid in the making process I remade a tool called a platen, which is an apparatus separate but integral to the mould. This is used to both facilitate the construction of the instrument and aid the correct inclination of the neck and its alignment. With a corner-less form the waist of the instrument has to be pulled tight to the mould with the aid of a gut string that passes through a hole in the center of each rib face. The viola d’amore ribs were constructed on the mould and then placed on the platen once the neck was nailed in place, as was the practice in the 1700’s. Once the neck was aligned the back was glued in place and fixed there with the aid of two small fruitwood pins. In this system once the back is glued in place it fixes everything rigid according to plan. Previous to the back being glued in place the sound bars were attached to it together with the post plate. Since the viola was made in the USA I chose a barring scheme used by Joachim Tielke. This scheme uses an oval spruce post plate whose grain is in line with the grain of the back of the instrument. It has stiffening tabs that radiate out from it making it more stable in the North American climate than the transverse design usually used by viol makers. This ordinary form post plate tends to block the summer and winter movement of the back, which leads to instability, distortion and cracking.

Andrew Dipper Viola D'Amore back

Andrew Dipper Viola D’Amore back

The construction was fairly easy and the only problem was deciding on the plate thicknesses and their graduations. In the end I chose the early Stradivari scheme where the center of the belly has a marginally thicker strip running the uninterrupted length of the belly between the ff holes. The fingerboard was made from ebony veneered maple and the tailpiece from ebony veneered apple wood.

I also decided at this point since the neck was wide enough for six strings that I would reassign the strings so that six playing strings would run over the fingerboard and four sympathetic would run under the fingerboard.  Finally I analyzed the bridge model that was part of the original set of Stradivari papers and realized that it too was designed using a proportional scheme that uses the intersection of a nine division base line with a seven division vertical line. (See illustration.)  I hand-turned the pegs, using an original Italian model in rosewood with bone rings and pips.

The instrument was displayed in Cremona  in 2008 for the exhibition “E furono liutai in Cremona. Dal Rinascimento al Romanticismo.  It was enthusiastically received by the Cremonese makers who were fascinated by the possibilities inherent in the design.

The sound of the instrument was very successful.  Its playing characteristics are a full, rich, reedy tone, with the underlying Stradivari sizzle that makes his instruments so characteristic.

Andrew Dipper

Posted in Uncategorized