When making a new violin I spend time choosing the model based on materials, aesthetic consideration, and desired tonal qualities and playability.
Each of my instruments is handmade in the tradition of the Cremonese masters. Although I am fascinated by the works of Stradivari and Guarneri ‘Del Gesu’ among others, I prefer not to copy existing instruments as is the common practice, but instead to make new instruments from inside molds I have designed in the Italian tradition.
To produce the instruments, I select the finest traditional materials. Most of my handpicked wood is of European origin, although I am not opposed to using North American materials if I feel they are of excellent quality. The wood used has a big impact on the tone of the instrument and, although I prefer flashier looking maple, I would rather make an instrument out of acoustically sound wood that was less attractive.
I use several models drawn from a system of proportional design that I have developed. These, for the most part, are geometric copies of molds used by Stradivari, Amati, and Guarneri ‘Del Gesu’ among others, although some are entirely original designs. These range in size from grand pattern Strads to smaller ‘Del Gesu’s and have a tonal palette ranging from warm and colorful to rich and powerful.
Particular attention goes into the arching and graduations of my instruments. These aspects of modeling play a critical role in determining the tonal qualities of the instrument. I consider strength, flexibility, tap tones, weight, thickness, mass distribution and balance during this process, using each to manipulate the acoustics of the instrument.
The external woodwork, although important aesthetically, does not play a big role in tone production. This tool work gives me a chance to enhance the visual character of the instrument. Although I often make instruments based on the works of Stradivari, I prefer making in the style of Guarneri ‘Del Gesu’ whose works are full of character and spontaneity in a way that is often absent in Stradivari’s instruments.
My varnish is applied by hand in two or more coats brushed or patted onto the instrument and allowed to dry in sunlight or an ultraviolet light box. The varnish is composed of linseed oil, oxidized resins such as larch and spruce, and is sometimes pigmented with various traditional pigments. This simple, visually stunning varnish is close to what the Cremonese masters were using. Before varnish is applied, the wood is treated with a ground coat or sealer. This first coat can consist of protein, mineral, varnish, drying oil, or a mix of two or more of these. I usually use an emulsion ground of my own recipe that I can manipulate to get desired visual effects. The ground is also important acoustically, sealing the outer surface of the wood without allowing accessive amounts of varnish to soak into the wood and dampen vibrations.
The last step is to set up the violin. As a violinist, I pay particular care in making sure that my instruments are comfortable and ergonomic for the player. I adjust instruments to suit players’ needs. The total feel of the instrument can be quite personal, and I understand that each musician requires an instrument set up to their own needs.
"Jordan Hess....[is] One of the bright young talents of the violin making world. Definitely a person to watch on the circuit!"
-Michael Strauss 9/20/2014