When handcrafting the finest instruments, selection of materials is very important. Whenever possible, I hand select my wood from dealers in Germany, who have large warehouses in which they allow me to roam and look through every single piece of wood they have to offer. The flamed maple (used for the back, neck, and sides) they sell is sourced from Eastern Europe – Slovakia, Romania, and Bosnia. I’ve also bought wood directly from dealers in Slovakia and Romania, very close to the source. 

Maple tonewood stacked for drying.

I use Engelmann spruce from trees my mentor, David Caron, cut down in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho in the 1970s. I’ve also purchased spruce sourced in Italy.

The wood is already dried at least several years before purchasing and continues to age until it’s ready to become an instrument, after at least 15 years.

Cello varnish drying in the New Mexico sun.

I use a terpene resin-based varnish – aerated turpentine is cooked down to a resin, which is then cooked with linseed oil. I cook my own, a potentially dangerous and explosive process which must be done very carefully. Cooking takes just a few hours but aerating the turpentine to cook into a resin can take six months or more.

Each instrument receives 10-12 thin coats of varnish, each coat requiring about one week of strong sunlight to cure before the next coat is applied. This means the varnishing process can take 3-6 months, depending on the time of year. I have, however, recently built a UV cabinet to aid in this process. I still use the sun to dry my instruments, but now I can keep the process going even when the weather isn’t cooperative.