Nobody has improved the violin since the Golden Age of Cremonese making, so I try to get close to the qualities of those instruments.
I use Classic Models and as nearly as possible the Classical Methods, employing European timbers (maple, spruce and willow) which I select for sound not just figure, and an oil varnish which I cook up from Australian amber. This substance looks just like rosin but isn't; it's not Pinus or Picea but probably from the Araucaria family (Norfolk Island, Bunya and Woolamai Pines, indigenous to this country). The amber comes from the opencut coal mines in Yallourn, Victoria, and I can achieve a range of colours from a golden yellow/brown to orange and quite a deep brown with touches of orange. Our climate is variable and harsh, and in summer we may have 40 Deg C+ for 2 or 3 weeks on end followed by frosts in winter, so the varnish must neither soften nor go hard and brittle.
I concentrate on sound first - all the style and technique being employed to that end. I often discuss model and arching with customers, either face-to-face, by phone or by e-mail, which works very well. Arching is important as it, in conjunction with the model selected, largely controls the character of the sound and I find I can "tailor make" the instrument to a degree. It is a very useful guide if the customer can indicate their preferences – which particular players’ sound they admire. This often gives me somewhere to start from.
So far I have made to order almost exclusively but any noncommissioned instruments sell quickly and I seldom have anything in stock for more than a few weeks. I have quite a large list of owners including professional musicians, amateurs, Universities and Orchestras both in Australia and overseas.
Because I was a sculptor, I like to see the evidence of tools that are quite apparent in Guarnerius del Gesu and Gasparo da Salo scrolls and I therefore use quite a bit of freedom in this area myself. I do however like precision in rib building and arching (inside as well as out) both for acoustic and artistic reasons.
So many makers concentrate on symmetry in their instruments but I find that when I copy the proportions and outline of an old Italian violin closely (they are always very slightly asymmetrical and I believe this was done intentionally), I get better results. Acoustic Architects will always avoid perfect symmetry as it causes cancellation of soundwaves.
My instruments are never "antiqued", although I have been asked to do this sometimes. I believe they should wear gracefully and be an honest product.