Commissioning An Instrument From Julian

The Process of Commissioning An Instrument

Cossmann Violins sells violins, violas and cellos off the workbench directly to customers and on consignment to local violin shops.  But if you have very personalized needs, the best way to assure that you get the instrument that meets all your personal specifications is to invest some time in commissioning an instrument. 

The first step in the commissioning process is a visit to the workshop.  Julian finds that working with the player goes most smoothly when the player has a basic understanding of how their instrument will be made.

Next, Julian arranges to hear the player play their existing instrument in the setting in which they are accustomed to playing.  This helps Julian pose the kinds of questions that help him make construction decisions – what the player likes and doesn’t like about the sound and playability of their current instrument and what they would like in their new instrument.

The model selected is critical to meeting those expectations.  Variables like rib height, arching, length and widths will play a big role in meeting the goal of the player adapting to the new instrument as an extension of their body.  After Julian takes measurements of the current instrument, he identifies several recommended models from which the player can choose.

Once the model has been determined, the player works with Julian to select the wood and general varnish appearance they would like.  Julian has a large reserve of well-cured, European tonewood from which to choose.  He also has a comprehensive archive of high quality photographs of master instruments from which he and the player can identify a wood pattern.  If he does not have in stock a what the player prefers, Julian will work with his network of suppliers to find the desired wood.  

The photograph collection also shows a wide range of varnish colors from which the player can choose.

The key construction-related choices having been made, Julian begins work and provides the player with photographs at key stages.  The player always has the option of visiting the workshop to see the work in progress.

After the instrument is completed, it sits under tension and Julian and accomplished Austin players “play it in”.  When the player takes initial possession, the wood has grown accustomed to string pressure and vibration.  The player spends two weeks playing the instrument -- taking its measure, seeing what it is capable of doing.

At the end of the initial trial period, the player brings the instrument back to Julian and they discuss the player’s observations.  Once Julian has made adjustments to the soundpost, the bridge, the tailpiece, and/or the strings, the player is off again to try the adjusted instrument. 

The adjustment process is repeated until the player is happy that the instrument is what they were looking for as an improvement over what they had been playing.