Book Review: The Art of Violin Making

art of violinThe Art of Violin Making by Chris Johnson and Roy Courtnall, first published in 1999, is a step by step guide for making a violin based on traditional methods with an inside mold.  One of the most popular books on making, its also a great shop reference for the new maker, and my personal go-to book on violin making.

The book’s primary focus is the process of making a violin using traditional (non-power tool) methods.  It has brief overviews on historical and modern makers, tools and sharpening, material selection and glue use, and sound adjustment, but does not delve into detail in this matters.

With about 400 illustrations over 253 pages, including a few color examples of violins from historic makers, and many black and white pictures of the making process, it has plenty of graphic references for the reader.

The book is separated into these sections:

  • Part I The Violin Makers
  • Part II The Maker’s Workshop
  • Part II Violin Construction
  • Sound Adjustment
  • Appendices: Technical terms, Metric/imperial conversion, Suppliers, Collection

Part I The Violin Makers

A 16 page write and color pictures of violins from significant historical and modern makers.  The historical section includes chapters on the Amati Family, Antonio Stradivari, the Guarneri family, and Jacob Stainer.  In the contemporary section there are bios and opinions on violin making from Paul Bowers, Glen Collins, John Dilworth, Roger Hargrave, Patrick Jowett, and Patrick and Andrea Robin-Frandsen.

Part II The Maker’s Workshop

This part of the book focuses on the workshop, tools and materials.  As noted above the method of making in this book focuses on traditional hand-tool focused making of instruments.

This section first touches on the working environment, lighting and humidity control.  Then goes on to document the tools needed for making an instrument by hand (without power tools), breaking them into common woodworking tools and specialized violin making tools.  The specialized tools include a description of each.  A brief section on sharpening follow, as well as short sections on types and selection of materials (such as tonewood).  Lastly this section includes a brief section on hide glue and its use.

Part III Violin Construction

This section comprises the bulk of the book, about 170 pages.  It goes through a step by step process of making a violin utilizing an inside mold right from preparing the mold to varnishing the violin.  Of course there is no substitute for hands on instruction, but this guide is a great aid and reference.  Plenty of illustrations demonstrate the steps, jigs and tools and critical dimensions.

Sound Adjustment

This three page section was written by Gerald Botteley and discusses instrument setup, particularly the bridge and soundpost.


This section contains a list of Technical terms, tables for Metric/imperial conversion, Addresses of materials, tools suppliers and journals, and finally a collections of instruments around the world.