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Meet the Maker: Donald Warnock

Meet the Maker: Donald Warnock

by Cyndy Burton

Originally published in American Lutherie #26, 1991 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Are you working entirely by yourself now?

Yes. I have had many people in my shop over the years, one fellow for three years. My main teaching efforts consisted of my sojourn at Boston University where I taught the general concepts required to design and make plucked and bowed instruments for early music performance. That was two days a week for upwards of ten years. (See p. 16 for a description of that program.)

What kinds of projects are you working on right now?

To a large extent my workaday occupation is in filling orders that were placed a year and a half to two years ago. I try to finish instruments in almost the exact same order in which they are accepted. At the moment I am working on two undersized 7-string French bass viols I’ve designed to meet the size and proportion requirements of two customers. They are specifically for French music for two bass viols, but will also be used in conjunction with other instruments. These are a matched pair, and are intended for use in halls of restricted size. The fact that they are small is more for the convenience of the players. Ordinarily the French viol was a little larger than the later English concert bass, although it seems probable that the French Baroque players preferred English instruments renecked to suit their basically lute-style technique. Such instruments set the standard for tonal characteristics. And it’s interesting that the French, in the case of viols, repeated what they’d done with the harpsichord, namely took the Flemish harpsichords and adapted them to their own musical usage.

I have another standard bass I’m working on that will be patterned on the Smithsonian Barak Norman. And I have four tenor viols: two will have back, sides, and neck of maple and two will be figured pear. I just finished a treble and a tenor shortly before I left for this convention and also received an order for a treble.

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A Friendly Interview with Donald Warnock

A Friendly Interview with Donald Warnock

by David B. Sheppard

previously published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly 8 #2, 1980



Could you say something about when and how you happened to get into instrument building? How did you choose early instruments as opposed to making copies of Martin guitars?

My interest in musical instruments came through a generalized association of the guitar with good times and nice sounds. It was the typical instrument when I was growing up. I was always charmed by the possibilities and the actuality of the guitar as a music making machine. As I grew up, I became interested in the fine arts and spent a lot of time studying and practicing as a painter. However, I found that I didn’t really want to pursue a career as a fine artist because I wasn’t much interested in promoting my work or producing a consistent body of work. What I like to do is stand in front of an easel and explore visual possibilities. That was getting me nowhere as far as establishing myself as a self-sustaining individual. I did other things for awhile, among which was restoration of prints, drawings and paintings. I was fascinated with ancient methods and the incredible results that were possible when a tradition which was extremely practical in the decorative and the visual dine arts was handed down from master to apprentice. The ease with which materials could be manipulated in an artistic way always intrigued me. This kind of exploration, although I didn’t pursue it fully in painting, has turned out to be very useful in certain aspects of instrument making such as varnishing, carving or the designing of decorative elements.

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This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

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