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Training bursary for musical instrument making

Golsoncott FoundationDeadline: 5pm on Friday 23 February 2024

This training bursary is targeted at trainees and prospective musical instrument making trainees who are experiencing financial hardship. It is sponsored by the Golsoncott Foundation and Jennifer Chen and is one of a suite of awards and bursaries offered by Heritage Crafts to support and celebrate heritage craftspeople.

Apply for up to £4,000 to start training in a musical instrument making craft or to further develop your skills.


 

Musical instrument makingMany people are dissuaded from training in musical instrument making because of the cost, and therefore the make-up of the sector is not truly representative of the mix of backgrounds that make up the UK as a whole. This bursary has been set up to help cover or subsidise the cost of training for someone who would otherwise be prevented from pursuing this career path as a result of the cost.

You could be just starting out on your journey in musical instrument making or at the point where you want to turn a hobby into a career, or you could already be a maker who is looking to further refine your skills.

Musical instrument crafts can include, but are not limited to, the making of complete instruments (such as bagpipes, guitars, steel pans and so on ), or to the specific skills that go into making an instrument (such as strings, valves, keys and so on).

If you are new to a craft and are struggling to find the right training for you, after your own research, please get in touch and we may be able to support. Successful applicants will be supported by the Heritage Crafts team to develop an action plan. We will work with you to monitor progress and support you to achieve your aims.

 

What can this grant be used for?

There are a number of routes to learning a craft skill. Applicants can apply for a grant for any amount up to £4,000 which can cover or contribute towards:

  • the costs of training with a craftsperson;
  • the costs of attending a specialist training course;
  • the costs of attending an accredited training course;
  • undertaking a self-directed programme of training with one or more craftspeople;
  • the cost of specialist tools or materials, books or study materials or low cost travel (no more than 25% of total budget).

The bursary cannot be used for general living expenses, research, promotional activities or anything else. Successful applicants will be supported by the Heritage Crafts team. We will work with to you monitor progress and support you to achieve your aims.

 

How to apply

Please apply by filling out the form below. We will also accept a video application of no more than 15 minutes in length in which you address all of the questions in the form below. You can access a list of questions here.

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 23 February 2024. If you have any questions or need assistance with the application process, please email Tess Osman at tess@heritagecrafts.org.uk.

Assessment, shortlisting and final selection will be carried out by the Heritage Crafts judging team, and interviews will be carried out by Zoom. If you are new to a craft and you would like assistance with finding a trainer, please get in touch and we will do what we can to help.

Luthier Jonathan Hill wins Woodworker of the Year Award 2022

Axminster ToolsLondon based luthier Jonathan Hill has won the inaugural Woodworker of the Year Award sponsored by Axminster Tools, including a £2,000 prize and trophy awarded at a special presentation at the House of Lords on Monday 30 January 2023.

Jonathan HillHeritage Crafts was set up 13 years ago as a national charity to support and safeguard heritage crafts skills, and has become well known for its Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research of its kind to rank traditional crafts in the UK by the likelihood they would survive the next generation.

This new award sponsored by Axminster Tools celebrates a heritage craftsperson who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of woodworking over the past year. It recognises a contribution that is far beyond the ordinary, based on a proven dedication to a particular woodworking skill.

Woodworker of the Year trophy

Woodworker of the Year trophy craved by Sarah Goss

Jonathan is a maker of historic and modern stringed instruments including the viola d’amore, lira da braccio, violin and viola families. Following training at West Dean College, he worked for a master violin maker in Yorkshire, and studied instrument making in Turkey with a master traditional oud maker. Many of Jonathan’s clients are from leading orchestras and ensembles worldwide, including The Kreutzer Quartet, BBC Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Rietveld Ensemble and Musica Alchemica. He is the only maker in the UK specialising in Violas d’amore and has now made more consecutive instruments than any other maker, living and historically.

Global suppliers of woodworking tools and machinery, Axminster Tools has spent 50 years building their family business into the renowned organisation it is today. Working together with makers and creators at all levels, from trade professionals through to craft enthusiasts, their commitment to supporting woodworking skills fits perfectly with the ethos of Heritage Crafts.

Judges for the new award were Alan Styles (Managing Director of Axminster Tools), Sarah Goss (a traditional woodcarver who featured as one of the experts in the recent Prince’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation programme on Sky Arts), and Robin Wood MBE (an internationally respected green woodworker who re-established the craft of pole-lathe bowl turning in the 1990s).

The two other finalists for the 2022 President’s Award were Robin Johnson, who produces tailor-made joinery, furniture and metalwork from his workshop in Hastings, and David Robinson, a self-taught woodcarver with 30 years’ experience and the Master Carvers’ Association’s most recent inductee. Read more about Robin and David here.

Woodworker of the Year finalists 2022

WWotY finalistsHeritage Crafts and Axminster Tools have announced the finalists of the inaugural Woodworker of the Year award, including a woodcarver, a furniture maker and a musical instrument maker.

This new award celebrates a heritage craftsperson who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of woodworking over the past year. It recognises a contribution that is far beyond the ordinary, based on a proven dedication to a particular woodworking skill.

The three finalists for this year’s award are (in alphabetical order):

  • Jonathan Hill – Jonathan is a maker of historic and modern stringed instruments including the viola d’amore, lira da braccio, violin and viola families. Following training at West Dean College, he worked for a master violin maker in Yorkshire, and studied instrument making in Turkey with a master traditional oud maker.
  • Robin Johnson – Robin is produces tailor-made joinery, furniture and metalwork from his workshop in hastings. In the past 12 months he has designed and built the furniture for a Gold Medal winning main garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and been featured on TV shows Kings of the Wood and Salvage Hunters: The Restorers.
  • David Robinson – David is a self-taught woodcarver with 30 years’ experience, and the Master Carver’s Association’s most recent inductee. He works largely with chisels he made himself from old penknives and bits of old Land Rover spring.

The winner will be announced on Monday 30 January at a Winners’ Reception at the House of Lords.

Heritage Crafts is the national charity set up to celebrate and safeguard traditional craft skills as a fundamental part of the UK’s living heritage.

Axminster Tools works together with makers and creators at all levels, from trade professionals through to craft enthusiasts.

Winners of the 2021 Heritage Crafts Awards

Glass engraver Tracey Sheppard has won Maker of the Year in the 2021 Heritage Crafts Awards supported by the Marsh Charitable Trust, which was presented at a prestigious Winners’ Reception at the House of Lords on 2 February 2022, sponsored by Swaine Adeney Brigg.

The result was one of four revealed at the COVID-delayed ceremony hosted by Heritage Crafts Vice Presidents Baroness Garden of Frognal and Lord Cormack. Other recent successes were also celebrated, including seven national honours and the awarding of the second annual President’s Award for Endangered Crafts, set up by Heritage Crafts President HRH The Prince of Wales and won in 2021 by watchmaker Rebecca Struthers.

The Heritage Crafts/Marsh Maker of the Year award was won by glass engraver Tracey Sheppard, who took up glass engraving at evening classes in the 1980s and soon reached the pinnacle of her craft, receiving commissions from Historic Royal Palaces to present to Her Majesty the Queen, and to be part of the Downing Street Collection of engraved glass. She has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Guild of Glass Engravers and is now their President, alongside being Master of the Art Workers Guild.

The Heritage Crafts/Marsh Trainer of the Year award went to Greg Rowland who runs a wheelwrighting workshop in Devon with his father and fellow master-wheelwright Mike. Greg was nominated by his current trainee Sam Phillips who is being trained through the Livery Companies Apprenticeship Scheme as well as a Bench Joinery apprenticeship with Exeter College. As well as training apprentices of his own, Greg was also instrumental in the development of the apprenticeship standard in collaboration with the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights.

The Heritage Crafts/Marsh Trainee of the Year award went to violin maker Niam Chauhan. Niam is studying at the Newark School of Violin Making, but began learning violin maintenance from the age of 13, before starting an informal apprenticeship with the late luthier and clock-maker John Bedingfield at the age of 16. Violin maker Melvin Goldsmith said: “[During my 30 years as a professional violin maker,] I have had some excellent students of the craft visit my workshop but of them all Niam is the outstanding example.”

The Heritage Crafts/Marsh Volunteer of the Year award
went to violin maker Colin Garrett, who has been a member of the British Violin Making Association for over 20 years and in that time has served many roles including Chairman and BVMA Enterprises Secretary. For the last 18 years he has also been Treasurer of the Rowan Armour Brown Trust, a charity that helps supports student luthiers with financial grants, wood distribution and work experience placements. He is also Treasurer of Luthiers Sans Frontiers, a charity that offers free training to some of the poorest countries in the world.

 

Finalists

The finalists were as follows:

Heritage Crafts/Marsh Maker of the Year

  • Fabian Bush – boat builder
  • Rachel Frost – hat maker
  • Tracey Sheppard – glass engraver

Heritage Crafts/Marsh Trainer of the Year

  • Deborah Carré – shoemaker
  • Delyth Done – blacksmith
  • Kevin Millward – potter
  • Greg Rowland – wheelwright

Heritage Crafts/Marsh Trainee of the Year

  • Kieren Berry – papermaker
  • Niam Chauhan – violin maker
  • Francis Lloyd-Jones – potter
  • Anna Olafsson – hand engraver

Heritage Crafts/Marsh Volunteer of the Year

  • Colin Garrett – British Violin Making Association
  • Jane Kerr – Wooden Boatbuilders Trade Association
  • Debbie Richardson – Braid Society

 

The next round of nominations open on 1 March 2022.

Stringed instrument making

Currently viable crafts

 

Stringed instrument making

 

The making of stringed instruments, also known as ‘luthiery’.

This craft uses exotic hardwoods – please read our ethical sourcing statement.

 

Status Currently viable
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 16th century

 

History

Bowed stringed instrument making, more commonly violin making encompasses all members of the violin family, including violas, violoncellos, double basses and their bows. Owing to the survivability of these instruments over hundreds of years, an important part of the craft community is violin restoration. Generally speaking it is expected that a restorer will have trained as a violin maker in the first place, in order to understand how the instruments are constructed, and many practitioners do both. Restorers naturally fit within the definition of ‘violin maker’ and there is no meaningful distinction between the two disciplines among the craft community.

Because of the relatively late mass-popularity of the guitar in the 20th century, popular designs for contemporary making are based around automated processes of manufacture, so that even genuinely hand made guitars are nevertheless informed by production processes that do not exist in the consideration of older bowed instruments. Although there is an affinity between the two crafts, it seems prudent to consider them separately.

Instrument making in the UK has ancient roots, the earliest British-made instruments that survive are the Sutton Hoo Lyre made in the 6th-7th century, and the 14th century Warwick Castle Citole from the 14th century, one of the most significant masterpieces of medieval European decorative art. It is, in other words as strong a part of the fabric of British society as any other element of art and culture. In the sixteenth-century Henry VIII became a significant patron of music, bringing both musicians and instrument makers to London from all over Renaissance Europe, establishing an independent British school that rivalled Renaissance centres such as Venice and Brescia. The Bassano family came to London from Venice in 1538 as makers and musicians of all kinds of instruments and were given the living quarters of the Charterhouse as their lodgings and workplace as part of significant royal patronage making wind and string instruments, that in turn were purchased by royal and ducal courts throughsisout Europe as part of international diplomatic trade. John Rose, an Englishman working in an Anglo-Venetian tradition established his workshop under Royal patronage at Bridewell Palace and by the 1560s his instruments were ‘famed as moche in Italy as in his native contery’.

Throughout modern history, stringed instrument making has followed musical culture in general, and although the most famous centres of stringed instrument making were in Italy, demand for instruments in Britain followed the general theme of musical culture. In the late sixteenth-century, up until the 1720s English performers on the viola da gamba were the most famous in Europe, and English viols became the most sought after to the point that German and French and even Italian makers largely replicated the English tradition of making up until the end of the eighteenth century. In the case of violin making, the sheer richness of musical culture through the centuries with composers such as Handel and Haydn coming to England means that an internationally renowned group of musicians constantly brought the very best instruments with them. The result is that English makers have always competed with the very highest European standards and in turn has produced a very compelling tradition of its own. Robert Cuthbert and Thomas Urquhart in the late seventeenth-century astutely copied Cremonese violins by the Amati family in order to provide instruments that were compelling within circles of the court of Charles II, and Daniel Parker by the 1710-20 period was the only maker in Europe to emulate Stradivari during Stradivari’s lifetime. These traditions set the scene for the centuries up to the modern day, and the constant interaction with antique Cremonese instruments (the Cremonese tradition died in the 1740s) means that the upper end of the British tradition has always produced some of the most compelling instruments in professional musical use.

British violin making of the eighteenth-century up to the modern day has consistently produced a small number of instrument makers ranking amongst the most respected internationally. However, given the British traditions for amateur music making in the eighteenth century, many instrument makers in Britain worked towards this economy instead. By the end of the nineteenth-century rising living standards amongst the working classes led to a huge expansion of the number of amateur makers applying their manufacturing and engineering skills to the craft of violin making. The result is that for the few top-class professionally made instruments, there are dozens of other instruments that were either never intended for professional use, or made from rudimentary instructions, such as Edward Heron-Allen’s Violin Making as it is and was, which influence the overall reputation of British making, as opposed to that of other countries where there were fewer makers all producing instruments to high professional standards.

In recent years professional training in violin making has come from the London College of Furniture (which has undergone several identities, latterly London Metropolitan University), The Welsh School of Violin Making, and Leeds College of Music, but these programs have all closed down. South Thames College (formerly Merton College) provides a course that is focussed on instrument repair, West Dean College has a small program focused on preserving the English tradition of viola da gamba making, and Newark School of Violin Making is the principal training ground for professional violin makers with a student body coming from many parts of the world. Since the 1970s British courses have attracted a large number of foreign students with significant contingents from France and Germany. As a result, British influence in the violin making world is disproportionately high, with many leading makers from around the world owing their training to this country. It is also important to appreciate that general repair and maintenance of violins produced at all levels can only be achieved successfully by repairers who fully understand the principles of violin making. As a result, the importance of violin making in Britain lies not only in the craft for its own sake, but for the way that it enables musical education and musical culture more generally. In the case of guitar making, the same principles apply. In both cases, and the specialist skills to setup and maintain violins or guitars are essential for musical culture, even if for a craftsman whose job is to maintain and repair manufactured goods.

 

Techniques

Techniques for stringed instrument making is highly specialised and very different from furniture making and carpentry in general. Skill in bending wood to make the sides of the instruments is very specific, whilst the craftsman has to develop a sculptural eye to work with the curves of the back and the belly, as well as specific knowledge of the acoustic properties of wood in order to create the best outcome for each instrument. Strict engineering principles are required in the process of ‘setup’, providing the factors that make the instrument playable. Lastly, the chemistry involved in producing varnishes that have the correct properties and that do not interfere with the acoustic potential of the instrument form a significant part of the violin maker’s skill. The limitations of many instruments made in the early twentieth-century from a more engineering-orientated approach to violin making emphasises the extent to which the ‘art’ and ‘science’ of making plays a role in producing an excellent instrument over the simple following of an engineering blue-print. For these reasons it does not necessarily follow that a good woodworker can turn their hand to instrument making and expect highly professional results, and a long process of specific training is required to become a proficient instrument maker. Today some makers work towards developing an instinct based on experience of examining, hearing and handling successful old instruments of the past, while other schools of thought place value on highly advanced acoustical testing and experimentation. Tools used today are invariably familiar to the surviving tools from Stradivari’s workshop from the late seventeenth century, and his continuity of style from his precursors suggests that the majority of tool skills involved in violin making are fundamentally unchanged over a 500 year period.

 

Local forms

Violins, violas, cellos and double basses are all made to traditions that are directly related to Northern Italian renaissance ideals that spread to Britain in the sixteenth century, but historically makers have asserted their own individuality to the point that epochs and regional styles are recognisable, as well as characteristics that allow identification of an individual maker. Each area of the UK would have had its own identity, although styles and models are now international.

The viola da gamba, though an Italian concept, developed in Spain from the Vihuela da Mano and Vihuela da Arco and in England in the mid-sixteenth century, possibly in musical response to the Reformation, and continued to play a strong part in English music up until the early eighteenth century. There are approximately 300 surviving instruments from this period, more than half of which are in museums. In order to preserve the tradition pursued by England’s greatest composers of the Renaissance and early baroque, these instruments continue to be copied in support of the early music movement. The importance of the stringed instrument course at West Dean College for preserving this tradition is extremely high.

There is a high risk to all instrument making for the Early Music market, because of a loss of courses that have a focus on them. In particular, the former London College of Furniture. In the 1970s and 1980s Britain led the way in terms of the Early Music movement, and resultantly saw a boom in demand for these instruments, which has subsided in recent years although a strong core tradition exists. Although it may be argued that violin or guitar making provides the basic craft training to produce these instruments, coupled with scholarly articles and museum specimens for reference, the tradition of experience and knowledge necessary to make functioning instruments is at grave risk.

Guitar making largely aspires to Spanish and American models of instruments that have now become an internationally important standard, meanwhile British schools of violin making largely follow the Italian – specifically Cremonese – styles of the early eighteenth century. Nevertheless, in both instances the importance of the craft existing within larger musical communities in Britain is very important, both in terms of how the craft of instrument making benefits musical performance and creativity in general, and how this provides the much needed skills of repair and maintenance for many thousands of professional and amateur musicians.

 

Sub-crafts

Sub-crafts

  • violin making (currently viable)
  • viola making (currently viable)
  • violoncello making (currently viable)
  • double bass making (currently viable)
  • viola de gamba making (currently viable)
  • guitar making (currently viable) – there has never been much of a history of guitar making in the UK, at least not for the past 100 years. Classical guitar making (and subsequently steel string) probably only dates back to the 1940s. In the 1970s there were only a handful of self-taught guitar makers; today there are over a hundred. Many makers today have studied at college but have not been trained in a commercial setting. College is often only the starting point of a long learning process, and some people leave college without the full set of skills needed to make guitars – the proper training tends to start once someone is in full time work. There is not nearly enough work for the quantity of college graduates – and even with hundreds of thousands of guitars, there isn’t a need for a great number of ‘guitar techs’.

Allied crafts

  • string making
  • hair dressing (bow hair)
  • varnish making
  • wood specialists

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Many practitioners work alone (challenging)
  • Training issues: College is only the starting point of a long learning process, and most people leave college without the full set of skills needed to make stringed instruments – the proper training starts once someone is in full time work, and it is essential that a college graduate gets a job alongside an experienced maker
  • Training issues: The seventeenth/eighteenth century method of making instruments is no longer taught in any of the UK colleges
  • Training issues: The numbers of students required to make courses in colleges financially viable means that courses have either closed, or are taking on too many students which has a detrimental effect on the quality of the training.
  • Dilution of skills: There are almost too many makers and it is hard to know their quality
  • Dilution of skills: Repair work is the bread and butter work of violin making and what sustains the craft, but repair and making are quite different
  • Training issues: The cost of taking on an apprentice is prohibitive, especially when most makers are sole traders

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

Other information

Some practitioners combine making with restoration and dealing in antique instruments

 

References