This post originally appeared on the ‘fiddlefish.com’ blog. It’s here for archival purposes only.
I had a chance late Friday to walk over to the luthier in town here, Frederic Berthod. He was excited to practice his English with me. I must have interrupted an intense brainstorming session he was having about del Gesu as only after one minute of introducing ourselves we were leafing through his enormous book looking for the dimensions for del Gesu’s ‘canon’ violin. We had a long pow-wow about many things, but most interesting was getting a grasp on del Gesu’s approach. Frederic was confused at how Strads get all this fanfare on how perfectly proportional they are, when in reality ‘They are like Picassos.’ I seemed to catch on what he was saying and recalled that like the human face, Strads are slightly wonky. There is a lot of a-symmetry going on with them; maybe this explains why we consider them so fetching. In contrast, it seemed that del Gesu’s symmetry really was unmatched. Frederic had a completed violin rib structure in his hands — a violin basically without the front and back — and went on to say that by slightly squishing or pulling the ribs of the violin before it had a back or front, del Gesu was able to play around quite a bit with the length and various widths of his masterpieces. A little bit of investigating showed some pretty extreme swings between the measurements between del Gesu’s masterpieces like the ‘cannon,’ the ‘ex-kreisler,’ the ‘king’ etc.
Frederic was pretty fanatical about his latest embarkment — to copy the ‘diable’ del Gesu. I told him that my del Gesu / Gregg Alf copy sitting in my case was on loan for the competition for which I was in town, and he insisted he had to take a look. He was impressed. I don’t recall having noticed this before, but Frederic noticed that there was a smell in the fiddle and he said it’s a natural pesticide put in by Gregg to fend against molds and bugs. This was news to me. He was pointing out the color of the insides and how the yellow-ish color was due to this application, when a very surprising grey ball scooted past our eyes. ‘A mouse!’, he exclaimed. We spent the last few minutes that afternoon trying patiently to locate and remove the fuzzy ball (just an aggregate of dust that can accumulate in violins) with a couple of tools from his workbench.