By Basia Jefferson, London Press Service. First published 10th Sep 2003
Make Your Own Baroque Violin
IF YOU are a fan of the rich, velvety sounds of baroque music and the beautiful, often bizarre instruments on which the music is played, then you might be interested to know that you can now own one of those rare musical pieces – and you can make it yourself from an amazingly crafted kit.
The Renaissance Workshop Company (RWC) is the world’s largest specialist manufacturer of medieval, renaissance and baroque musical instruments and instrument kits, all based on existing originals or relevant iconography and are handmade by a team of experienced craftsmen/women in Bradford, England.
The RWC, founded by Jonathan Askey in 1999, has established a strong export base to Europe, Japan and the United States. The company uses state-of-the-art woodworking machinery and was initially set up with a 10,000 pounds sterling investment grant from the Department of Trade And Industry (DTI) Smart award scheme that supports innovation in industry.
Each kit (instruments to choose from include harps, spinets, timbrels, bagpipes, harpsichords and lutes) can be made to suit a personal budget and spare time. You can start from zero and follow detailed step-by-step instructions to guide you through the construction process. There’s also an online technical helpline and, if time is of the essence, the RWC can part-assemble an instrument or, if you really want to, you can buy the finished instrument.
Although the instruments are sold to aficionados, as well as what Jonathan Askey describes as “musically inclined doctors and dentists who are all frustrated craftsmen”, the company has saved many of these rare and some relatively unknown instruments from extinction. It even organises kit-building courses, designed to be as much fun as they are instructive, and will help you decide which is the best kit.
Because it is such a niche market, the company has decided to diversify by embracing more modern musical instruments steeped in tradition and targeting the hugely popular folk music scene, the first being the concertina.
Hard-up musicians also benefit from the company’s kits. The concertina will be on the market in about six months at a cost of about 400 pounds sterling, in comparison to a 1,500 pounds model.
The company, which employs four full-time employees, has an annual turnover of about 250,000 pounds, with at least 60 per cent coming from overseas sales.
Askey is keen for the Renaissance Workshop Company to attend exhibitions or festivals in countries where interest in the kits has been shown. He added: “There is nothing like the confidence gained by the general public by actually meeting the people who will buy from us.”
One of the company’s key decisions was to spend a great part of the DTI’s grant on an instruction manual, something that would be crucial to those who had never put anything together from kit form before, never mind a complicated baroque musical instrument.
For example, each beautifully crafted ottavino spinet, which dates from around 1595 and can be seen in London’s Victoria And Albert Museum, is hand-built using the best materials. The inner casework is plantation-grown mahogany with all the mouldings cut exactly as the original and the soundboard is planked from selected Swiss pine.
The jacks are made from beech with holly tongues and have traditional hog bristle springs. Both jacks and keys are weighted with the latter guided in a traditional slotted register. An attractive gold design is applied to the keywell to complement the nymphs at either end. Finally, strung in soft iron and brass, the finished instrument comes complete with a lightweight carrying case and 12 months warranty.
An instruction manual to build the ottavino is about 80 pounds sterling, the kit costs 560 pounds, and to buy a finished instrument is 2,495 pounds. Thus, you are not only buying a work of art, and a work of art that you have helped create, you’ve also been able to take part in your own piece of baroque and roll.