Becoming a Stradivari 101

By: KarenFri, 06/30/2017
Becoming a Stradivari 101

Ever since a visit to violin maker Johan Jacobs in Middelburg, I’ve become interested in violin construction. I had always wanted to build my own violin, but Johan Jacobs told me that to become truly skilled, one should complete a four-year full-time course at a school in Cremona or Wales. Quite the commitment!

Luckily, since I’m mainly occupied with my job at Stingray, I found a weekend course in the east of the Netherlands. Programming our 4K TV channel Festival 4K and classical audio channels allows me to put into practice my expertise as a musicologist in a truly inspiring environment.

Building a violin is now something I do as a sideline. Although becoming a truly skilled violin maker is the ultimate goal, I will be happy to build at least one decent-sounding instrument.

The first lesson was a reality check. I play the violin and am knowledgeable about its construction, but I’ve never held any woodworking tools. I’m definitely not one of those “undiscovered talents”.

I soon realized that our teacher was there to answer our questions, not to give step-by-step instructions. Our first assignment was to saw a wooden shelf into halves. Everyone sat there, not knowing what to do. I asked my classmate: “Did you bring a saw?” to which he answered, “No, did you?” We found a saw and managed thanks to a team effort. Hooray!

The next step was to use our block plane to straighten the top of each shelf with exact 90 degrees corners. Easier said than done!

If you look at the photo, you’ll see that there’s still space between the two shelves. I had to make sure that they would fit together perfectly. This was a new challenge since it takes experience to use the block plane. Moreover, the shelf that serves as the back of the violin is made of maple, a type of wood that is particularly dense and hard to shape.

It took a full day of planning after which the shelf was still not straight. With a bit of help from my teacher (read: he planned the entire shelf for me), I was finally ready to glue the parts together. The result: two shelves from which I will create the front and back of my violin. I’m proud as punch!

Although it promises to be a long process, I am enjoying every second of it and will have a customized violin as result. I realize this violin will not produce the best sound ever but I already have a second project in mind: building and learning to play a viola. It’s amazing to have a passion and to be able to put it in practice.

If, like me, you are passionate about the violin and looking for inspiration – whatever your creative pursuits – check out our classical music television channel Stingray Brava at!


By Karen van der Stal

Music Programmer, Stingray Festival 4K

Netherlands office