HANS PLUHAR looks at making a copy of the head of the 'Viotti' Stradivari

I am not a copyist in my work as a maker, but I still find that by replicating older instruments one learns a great deal about style. Here's the process I went through to imitate the scroll of the 'Viotti' Stradivari, using the information provided on the poster that came with the March issue of The Strad. It is one thing to look at a nice scroll and understand how it works, but quite another actually to make one. The 'Viotti' poster is a fine place to start, because it provides a useful set of measurements and good photos. Technically speaking, successful copying comes down to measurements, for the most part. They are the foundation upon which the craftsman builds, using his or her eyes and hands to make all the subtle curves work to form a sculpture.
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Sketch for scroll template   Sawing out the template
[1] I first draw the outlines of the pegbox and volute in order to make a template. I only use the measurements of the bass side of the scroll, as The Strad's poster shows this side.

On some tracing paper I draw a rectangular box with the basic measurements: 106.3mm for the length from the bottom end of the pegbox to the top of the head and 50.5mm for the width, to which I add about 2mm to allow for the fact that the head leans slightly backwards in relation to the neck plane. Then I draw a line from the top to mark the 38.4mm height of the head.

Continuing in this manner, I create the complete framework of the pegbox and scroll. The lettered measurements, shown in my drawing above, are derived by subtracting the relevant horizontal and vertical measurements.

For example, for measurement A, I subtract 30.8mm from 50.5mm, equalling 19.7mm. (The remaining measurements are: B=12.5mm, C=7.9mm, D=6.6mm, E=7.5mm, F=7.1mm, G=5.3mm, H=3.95mm, I=2.7mm).
  [2] I place the drawing over the pegbox outline given in the poster. It fits very well and I copy the outlines. For the volute, I place the template over the photo, which is quite close to the original scroll size, and draw the curves using the boxes to fit them in. This way I make sure I donīt copy any distortions possibly produced by the camera angle or reprinting. In this case The Strad's photo showed the position of the eye slightly towards the right in relation to my sketch.

It is also useful to have a look at the original scroll templates left by Stradivari as shown in Stewart Pollens's The Violin Forms of Antonio Stradivari. I notice in particular how beautifully the pegbox curve turns into the throat, a miniature version of the back curve of the head, a detail I have neglected in the past.

Once the drawing is completed, I copy the lines on to a piece of rib by poking through tiny pinpricks. I saw out my template with the fret saw and finish it off with knifes and files. In order not to end up with a bigger scroll, I make everything a couple of tenths of a millimetre smaller to allow for the thickness of the scribe line.