The Running Viola

December 19, 2017
in News

It’s not every day that someone breaks the Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon run by someone dressed as a musical instrument.













Later this year, in the Birmingham International Marathon, the same runner, Alistair Rutherford, became the fastest full marathon runner dressed as a musical instrument, his time of 3 hours, 20 minutes and 33 seconds beating the previous record, set by a human cowbell, by a breath-taking 54 minutes.

Alistair’s outfit was made from lightweight Plastazote foam and came complete with a striking headpiece that mimics the shape of the viola’s neck and pegbox.

Alistair, a performance student at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, was raising funds for ARCO, a joint UK-South African project which delivers weekly Skype lessons to young musicians in South Africa.

As well as providing transformative music education activities, Birmingham Conservatoire staff and students – including Alistair – have been acting as role models for vulnerable youngsters living in Soweto, a Johannesburg township deeply affected by poverty and crime.

Student smashes second world record with musical outfit











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From the Showroom: Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

December 12, 2017
in News

The world (or the string playing part of it) is divided into two halves, one which is passionate about their latest rosin and one which thinks rosin is a small something that sits in a pocket in your case, gets wiped on your bow every other day or so but has no further role in your musical life.

Years ago, I learnt the hard way that rosin can make a huge difference. I’d finished a big restoration on a client’s violin and we were both pleased with the sound. But 6 months later, he came back, his violin now sounding scratchy and thin.










Worried about what had gone wrong, I picked up my workshop bow and had a play. It sounded lovely.

But when we played the same violin with his bow, I immediately heard why he was worried. Inside his case was a cheap rosin, packaged in the same coloured wrapper as his old Hill rosin. Someone at a rehearsal must have accidentally swapped them. A quick clean of his bow hair and a new rosin, and my client was happy again.

When I went to the recent Viola Congress I was keen to find out more about the latest rosin sensation, Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin.










Handcrafted in Australia for violin, viola and cello, Leatherwood has two different start-up recipes per instrument, “Crisp” and “Supple”.  And Leatherwood can make your own special blend, depending on how much attack, traction, clarity or texture you want.

We have sample rosins to help you decide what works best for you.

Leatherwood is starting to make quite a stir, gaining endorsements from world-famous fiddler Mark O’Connor, and a growing array of Classical soloists, and picking up some excellent reviews internationally. People keep saying it has solved playing issues they have been battling for years.















Mark O’Connor, fiddle player extraordinaire

Warning! It’s not cheap. But then, we can spend the same money, without thinking twice, on a new set of strings or even just one string. And the rosin will last much longer.

Think of it as a gift – to your favourite player or to yourself.

Happy Christmas,


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Concert Review: the Auckland Chamber Orchestra

December 4, 2017
in News

Peter Scholes and the ACO have a well-established reputation for performing little known works by famous composers, famous works by less well-known composers, almost-unheard works by completely obscure composers and everything in between.











Last Sunday’s final concert for 2017 was no exception. Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, with its gloriously transparent harmonics which placed schoolgirl harpist Ning Chiang in a well-deserved spotlight, was instantly recognisable, though I confess I had never witnessed it in performance.

But the most extraordinary sounds of the evening were created, if not always written down verbatim, in Concerto for Bassoon and Lower Strings by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina, a colleague of Schnittke.

Under a soaring and often plaintive bassoon, four cellists and three double bassists created a remarkable palette of sounds ranging from floating glissandi to dense groaning chords. While the score contains many specific notes, other sections make symbolic suggestions only, allowing the players some creative freedom without letting them completely off the leash.


















A page from Concerto for Bassoon and Lower Strings by Sofia Gubaidulina

Jacques Ibert’s humorous Capriccio gave the upper strings, elegantly led by Andrew Beer, the opportunity to open as well as close the concert.


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Auckland Trio: Festive Season Concerts 2017

November 29, 2017
in News

The Auckland Trio will be heralding the start of the festive season with an imaginative combination of Mozart, tangos and Celtic tunes. For those of us who have become traffic-weary, the programme will be repeated at three separate venues across the city.

The group’s core members, violinist Elena Abramova and viola player Greg McGarity, are no strangers to Auckland audiences. For these concerts they are teaming up with cellist James Yoo to explore the realm between classical music and other genres.

One of Mozart’s last great chamber works, the Divertimento for String Trio K.563 will occupy the first half of each concert, after which Greg McGarity will switch between his customary viola and a classical guitar for the group’s own unique arrangements of Piazzola and Celtic music.














1st December 7.30pm
Highwic Historic House
40 Gillies Ave, Newmarket – entrance off Mortimer Pass

9th December 4.00pm
St. Francis Anglican Church
96 Park Rd

10th December 4.00pm
The Rose Centre
School Rd

All three concerts can be booked on Eventfinda , or you can buy tickets at the door.

$20 adults, $10 seniors/students, children free.


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Bob Berg, pioneer of carbon fibre bows

October 3, 2017
in News

Carbon fibre bows are a truly ecological development in the violin family world. While excellent work is being done to create sustainable sources for pernambuco, the traditional  wood used for bow making, the emergence of carbon fibre as a viable alternative has taken some of the pressure off this threatened Brazilian rainforest tree.


While carbon fibre technology is now being used all across the globe to make a wide range of qualities and styles of bow, it is little known, outside New Zealand, that some of the pioneering research and development work was done here in Wellington by Robert Berg, a US-born double bass player in the NZSO.

In a nice exchange of skills and nationalities, Bob Berg, on returning to the US, passed this knowledge on to New Zealand-born Michael Duff.
















Duff developed it further and built Berg Bows into a world leader in carbon fibre bow making from his workshop close to Indiana University, gaining feedback from some of the world’s finest string players, including Janos Starker, Joseph Gingold, Ruggiero Ricci and Rostislav Dubinsky.





While Bob Berg was still in New Zealand, he made a significant number of bows, many of which are still in the hands of professional players here. These regularly come into our workshops, and from time to time, we are lucky enough to be asked to sell them on.

While the finish of the heads isn’t as elegant as the modern Berg bows, neither is the price! And the performance of the bows, overall, is excellent, making them a great buy for advanced students and young professional players.



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Too wet or too dry?

September 18, 2017
in News

Right now, wet and damp and cold are very much on all our minds. When will it stop raining? And what effect does the climate have on our instruments?









Most stringed Instruments survive well in Auckland’s temperate climate if they’re being played often – taken out of their cases and exposed to body warmth, fresh air and ambient temperatures. While we Aucklanders lament our lack of central heating and air conditioning, its absence does rule out excessive dryness, one of the major threats to any wooden object.

Wood normally absorbs a certain amount of moisture from the air, but when the air is dry, the wood can dry out too, and shrink. Which means your precious violin, viola, cello or double bass can crack, usually up or down from an “f” hole.









This is a particularly dangerous problem if you’re on an aeroplane for any length of time, where the average humidity is well below safe levels, at less than 20%.

A safe level for wooden musical instruments is between 50% and 60%, so you can see what the problem is. Increasing the humidity inside the closed case is key, and there are several brands of humidifiers commercially available, including Dampits – most of them look like big green worms!






But too much moisture can also be a problem, especially if you are not playing your instrument often and you have left it in a cold, damp part of the house. Water dissolves animal glue, the glue used to assemble all the 70-plus parts your instrument is made of. And with damp comes mould. If mould gets into the glue, it doesn’t just soften it, it can destroy its ability to hold your instrument together.








Keep the violin and its case away from the southern end of your house, and avoid any cupboards, wardrobes or “under-the-bed” storage areas close to “outside” walls – those where the outside world, cold, bleak and wet, is just on the other side of the wall.

Check the instrument regularly, and if you are not going to play it for a while, lower the string tension by at least a semitone, if not more. The main thing is to keep enough pressure to hold the bridge and the soundpost in place, but release enough tension to keep the strain on vulnerable parts of the instrument low.


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The Viola Congress.

August 29, 2017
in News

In a few days, I will be heading down to Wellington for the 44th International Viola Congress, one of the most keenly anticipated events on this year’s string playing calendar.

The Congress promises an amazing range of events from high-profile concerts to masterclasses, lectures, panel discussions, lecture recitals and a massed viola performance featuring pieces with names like I Am Lost Without My Beautiful Viola!





Gillian Ansell

Local viola players include the indefatigable Donald Maurice and the New Zealand String Quartet’s Gillian Ansell, while the star-studded international line-up includes Roger Myers, Roger Benedict and Anna Serova, who will feature in “The Three Altos”, a high-profile public concert with the NZSO.







I’m really looking forward to rubbing shoulders with my fellow luthiers, old friends who are coming from as far afield as Australia, and meeting up again with that fabulous community of viola players, the heart and soul of any classical ensemble.

If you can’t get down to Wellington, come to our showroom and play on some of the violas we have here. We have instruments by some of New Zealand’s best viola makers on display, and some fine sounding student instruments as well.

When: September 1st-5th  2017

Where: Wellington, St Andrews on the Terrace and other venues

Tickets: Visit the Congress website


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Robert Issell, 1938-2017

August 23, 2017
in News

Bob was a lovely, generous man and an excellent violinist, who enriched our musical life, both here in Auckland and in England, where the bulk of his professional orchestral career took place.


My first impressions of Bob came early: I was a young, self-doubting student playing my first professional orchestral gigs in the Symphonia of Auckland, the precursor of the Auckland Philharmonia; Bob was the leader of the orchestra, genial, gifted and effortlessly skilled.

Very soon after, he left for London to try his luck as a free-lance musician, and soon proved his abilities by scoring a full-time position first with the LSO and then with the orchestra he revered the most in the world, the Royal Philharmonic. And there he remained until the mid-1990’s, when serious ill-health brought him back to live in New Zealand. After his recovery in 2000, he devoted himself to teaching, a path he embraced with characteristic enthusiasm and commitment.

Bob was a man of many talents – he was also a passionate fisherman and the founder of a successful advertising agency, as well as a much-loved father, grandfather and great grandfather. The last 17 years felt, to him and those close to him, like an unexpected gift, every day a bonus to be lived fully and well.



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Meet the maker: Peter Madill

July 28, 2017
in News














Peter was my apprentice master, back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Nowadays, there’s a much more open attitude towards sharing information and experience, but in those days, instrument making skills and information were jealously guarded – no one was going to share their precious secrets.

Add in the fact that NZ makers were isolated on a small group of islands lost at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and it’s no surprise that most of our luthiers were forced to “invent the wheel”, many of them achieving superb results – people from violin makers Edward Burr and Ian Sweetman, to harp maker Kim Webby and harpsichord and forte piano maker Paul Downey.

Peter was no exception. He started off as a cabinet maker of enviable precision and discipline, making guitars at night – sometimes all night. A move to Auckland in 1973 brought him commissions from Split Enz players Phil Judd, Mike Chunn and Wally Wilkinson. His own battle to learn drove him to teach and mentor younger makers like me.

And a wave of excitement about Early Music, around the time I started my apprenticeship with him, led him into making rebecs (a three stringed bowed instrument), violas da gamba (a beautiful tenor viol was photographed by Brian Brake for Craft New Zealand) and a lute for the American virtuoso Karl Herreshoff – a magnificent and highly complex instrument with a neck extension rather like a theorbo, that lost Peter a lot of sleep.

Pete has always been a keen folk musician, with a NZ wide reputation.












Early in my apprenticeship we formed a country-bluegrass-harmony group called Gentle Annie. As the band evolved, I got excited about playing a five-string violin. And Pete got excited about making one for me. Once again, we had to nut out – almost from scratch – how to make it work, both acoustically and physically.

The result was great! And I had huge fun with it, once I got used to hurtling over to the G string and finding a viola-pitched C string there instead.



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From the Showroom: two 5-string violins by Peter Madill

July 25, 2017
in News

Some years ago, I reluctantly sold my beloved Peter Madill 5-string violin to a keen young fiddle player who took it overseas with her. Imagine my delight when it finally came home again!

By one of those bizarre twists of coincidence, I had a call shortly after that from the maker, Peter Madill, to say he’d decided, after several decades, to revisit the whole concept, and would I like to hang one of the results in our showroom?

Having the two violins side by side is fascinating. The one Pete made in 1981 has a nice long pegbox, with plenty of room to turn the pegs, a neck wide enough to finger double stops cleanly, and ‘f’ holes carved in Pete’s trademark “Amati” style, so different from the standard Stradivari ‘f’s we’re used to seeing.













The new violin has the same long pegbox and wide neck, but Pete has transformed the head into an elegant curl – an open plan scroll with viola da gamba overtones.














Pete has also taken another nod towards the viol with his widely spaced and strongly angled ‘f’ holes.



















The two violins have slightly different tonal characteristics, but share a rich and resonant sound, with a ready response. Thomastik Vision 5-string violin C strings boost firmness and fullness at the lower end.

Because both violins have been constructed internally to allow for a wider bridge, the result is much more successful than converting a standard 4-string instrument into a 5-string version.

And – especially for the improvising musician, the extra string is a real stimulus, whether you’re playing blues, jazz, country or rock.

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Hang onto your hats – if you’re not already waving them in applause!

June 28, 2017
in News

New Zealand is once more punching above its weight in the international competition stakes.










Past Waikato University cello student Santiago Cañón-Valencia not only reached the finals of the Queen Elisabeth International Cello Competition, he came third, an almost unimaginable result for a 21 year old born in Columbia and trained in New Zealand.

Since its first beginnings, the Queen Elisabeth has been considered one of the world’s most challenging and prestigious competitions for instrumentalists, on a par with the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. David Oistrakh won the very first competition, back in 1937, Leonid Kogan the second.

Santiago’s achievement may not get as much publicity as Team New Zealand winning the America’s Cup, but for many musicians, it carries almost the same weight.



Wellington-born Benjamin Baker has also come third at a major event, in this case our own Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

At the age of 8, Benjamin was talent-scouted by Nigel Kennedy and moved with his family to England, to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School. The only Kiwi violinist in the initial selection of 16 players for the Michael Hill, chosen from 140 applicants, Benjamin was thrilled to return to New Zealand once again. In the final round, he played the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

In 2014, Benjamin turned heads as part of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “Allegro” season, performing virtuoso violin music on stage as part of the ballet “Les Lutins”.

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Cath’s fortieth anniversary!

June 19, 2017
in News

It’s 1977, first thing on Tuesday morning right after Queen’s Birthday Weekend. I climb two long flights of steep wooden stairs to the top floor of the old Browns Mill Building in Durham Lane. The stairs are familiar – there’s a violin workshop up there, and I’ve only recently graduated as a violin performance student.

But today I’m nervous; today’s the day I’m starting my violin making apprenticeship.














(Photo David Nalden)


I would be working for Peter Madill and my apprenticeship was the only one on offer in New Zealand , and would be for a long time to come.








(Photo Bill Nichol)


Here I am, not long after I started, earnestly adjusting something or other (a purfling cutter perhaps), and with my coffee mug perilously close to the edge of the bench!

That’s something I HAVE learnt not to do, in the intervening 40 years! Coffee mugs go to the back of the bench, where they’re less likely to get swept onto the floor by a passing scroll or errant elbow.

So what drew me into a life of wood chips and thumb planes and varnish and horse hair?

My Uni violin teacher, David Nalden, lent me the perfect chinrest – and then he wanted it back. What to do? I carved a fairly decent copy out of a hunk of rimu, ending up with something beautiful and useful that I’d made all by myself. Magic! After years of creating notes that would fade into the air and disappear, I had something I could hold in my hand, to show for all my hours of work.

I was hooked!
















(Photo Cath Newhook)


And forty years later, I’m still hooked!


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Strings Strings Strings

March 29, 2017
in News

To kick-start the year, we have implemented a new string pricing policy that is more in line with current string pricing trends.

As well as offering you an unusually wide range of strings at competitive prices, we also provide excellent service, from expert advice on which string will suit your instrument through to a full string fitting service, to ensure your valuable strings are well-lubricated and won’t get damaged by faulty nut and bridge slots.









We don’t charge for advice or fitting, if you buy your strings from us. And ask us about our generous student and teacher discounts.



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Farewell and good luck to Jesbery

February 27, 2017
in News

We have absolutely enjoyed our year-long association with cellist Jesbery Hartono, whose rising career as a performer has delighted us throughout 2016. In August, Jesbery was invited by the cellist Ramón Jaffé to attend an international cello master class in Schwetzingen-Worms, Germany, a great honour for her, as most participants were required to audition for a place. She returned to New Zealand to fulfil an internship with the APO cello section.She is now moving on from The Stringed Instrument Company to take up further playing and teaching openings, and we wish her all the very, very best.
















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Players’ notebook: Silent practice – Getting up to speed

February 20, 2017
in News

Sylvie’s arrival in the workshop (see above) has made me think again about how we learn things, and how the brain retains and reinforces what we do. Sylvie is a highly trained violin maker, but it’s a good ten years since she last worked in a violin workshop.

Amazingly, her mind and body remember all her old skills, but she just has to bring herself “up to speed” , in exactly the same way a string player would need to do with their instrument, after a gap in playing – by starting slowly, paying close attention to the correct way of doing things, and letting her old dexterity gradually re-establish itself in the right context.

Practising a new piece of music is a very parallel process! Somehow we have to bridge the gap between how we play it the first time (badly!), and how we want to play it in the end (as well as possible!). Of course we want to play it perfectly, up-to-speed on Day One. And it is so easy just to plunge in and charge through the piece, ignoring all the mistakes.

But those mistakes we make on that first run through have been learnt. If you play the wrong thing, the brain neurons form pathways to capture that experience. Which is why it’s so hard to eradicate those early mistakes. The neurons don’t know they’ve captured something bad. Some other part of the brain knows it, though – the part that then tells you off every time you repeat that mistake!

The key is in preparing the mind, and letting it show you the right speed to start practising the piece.












Here’s a quote from a great article in Strings Magazine

“Put your instrument in playing position, place your finger on the string on the first note, place your bow on the right string—and don’t move …  Imaginatively see, hear, and feel the passage as you mentally place each finger on each note. When you have found the fastest speed at which you can [mentally] visualize the whole passage without error, you’ve found [the right starting] tempo.”

And if your mum is yelling at you from the kitchen because she can’t hear you playing, you can truthfully tell her you’re doing your “silent practice”.











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New Year – New Blood

February 15, 2017
in News

New blood – welcome to Sylvie Raynaud

We are delighted to welcome French luthier Sylvie Raynaud, a new addition to our internationally trained workshop team! Meeting Sylvie was one of those wonderful, serendipitous events that you usually only come across in Hollywood movies – those moments where you say to yourself: “this would never happen in real life”.

















Ten years ago, Sylvie left violin making to focus on yoga and meditation teaching, and on raising her three girls. Leaving her tools in Mexico, she brought her young family to Auckland, never imagining that one day she would lose her way en route to visiting a friend and find herself outside The Stringed Instrument Company, in Charles St, Mt Eden. Excited by a glimpse of her old life, she came in to say hello … and the rest, as they say is history. Reunited with her tools once again, she is already a vital part of our workshop life.

On a more prosaic note, Sylvie was born and grew up in France, trained at the renowned Cremona International Violin Making School, and did further training in Paris before working for ten years in Italy and Mexico with her Mexican violin maker husband. She is fluent in English, French, Italian and Spanish, and plays violin and an extraordinary Indian instrument, the Sarangi.


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    Auckland's violin family specialists. We have an excellent showroom of quality instruments, strings, and accessories, and a wide range of violins, violas, cellos, and bows for sale and hire. We also offer expert restoration, repairs, bow rehairs and valuations.
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