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This post featured in Strings Magazine, May 2015

Opening up an old instrument you never know what you will find; players may know that their instrument has a lot of old cracks but they usually have little idea of what it looks like on the inside. While for a collector the ideal may be an instrument in “as new” condition, decay is inevitable and there is a certain beauty in the repair work itself: functional and aesthetic decisions have been made, the restoration could be the carefully orchestrated work of a single master or it may be the more random accumulation of quick fixes by many hands over many years; new work overlays old, age melds and mellows all.

Here are some of the more eye catching repairs that have passed through the shop.


Harlequin cleats. This cello top was restored at one go with the craftsman’s style showing through strongly. The repairs on this top almost appear as a composition; the insistent repetition of the diamond cleat gives a unity and rhythm, punctuated by semicircles and bold diagonal slashes.



Bass rib repair a la Mondrian. This fine collection of cleats on a double bass rib is the accumulated work of many repairers over many years. They used different materials for their patches but their shared devotion to the rectangle ties it together.



Most restorers, including me, incline towards symmetry, uniformity and geometry, however some are deliciously free of these conventions. While tidiness and control make a more credible repair, the organic shaped patches in this Tononi cello somehow seem to enhance the flavor of the instrument. The overall effect reminds me of Klee or Nagouchi.


On the outside of the instrument most repairers strive to hide their work, the most accomplished leave no apparent sign that they have been there, replacement corners and edges skillfully blended in may be virtually undetectable. On the other hand, a button gets a lot of wear and abuse and an accumulation of successive bouts of damage and visible repair can lead to unique features that the maker never imagined and can become a distinguishing feature of a particular fiddle. Here are a few favorite examples from a collection on my website