There is a certain ambiguity of copying antique instruments that gave me some thoughts. The aim of imitating these old fellows is to obtain a natural look, something that has a story to tell, something fashionable and exciting, and having the pleasure of looking at it and discovering something curious every single time. So how can you get something natural by coping, wouldn’t that be the exact contrary of being natural? “Be an actor,” Gregg once said. I think after studying and observing the old instruments, you get a feeling of how they used to work and what their approach was. You observe the tool marks, and try to imagine how they used them. Their methods were certainly not time wasting. Now if you have all this in your mind and reproduce the tools and the shapes they probably used, I believe it flows just naturally…
Now how far can and do I want to go in copying? When does your personality stroke the other personality? First of all, you want to have a healthy instrument, so functionality goes over beauty and sometimes beauty goes over copying, that is when your personality comes in. When I was doing the pegbox, we wanted to get the spirit of the shapes, but at the same time the stability and functionality of a new violin so that it can last for hundreds of years.
Another thing I was struggling with was the final shaping and the finishing surface. How much is too much? Which tool marks are a pleasure to see under the varnish and which not, how much smoothing would allow me to get a natural look without loosing my shape? What would look rough? What boring? Trying to follow a logical way of what would be aging over time. And because you are working on several pieces separately, you could sometimes forget that all these pieces will melt together as one in the end and want to match harmonically.
I had the feeling one wrong movement and all the spirit would be lost…but sometimes you just have to take the risk!