Musical instrument making – violins, violas and cellos with Colin Cross

Ref: SMI32995

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About this course

Musical instrument making:
You will work in small groups (SMI32992–SMI32995), with an experienced maker as your tutor, selecting an instrument from the range offered according to your interests and experience in fine woodworking. Instrument options include some which are suitable for complete beginners. Instruction is given in the principles of making, assembling and finishing the instrument, allowing you to start a new project or complete one already in progress. The tutor will contact you to discuss your choice and the materials required. Most instruments take more than one nine-day course to complete. This depends on the complexity of your instrument, your skill level in fine woodworking and ability to continue at home beween courses.

Please contact the Bookings Office to book a place on this course.

Course Description

Learn the principles of making, assembling and setting up your instrument - a violin, viola or cello - or complete one of these instruments already in progress. During the course, you should increase your knowledge and extend your skills in the making of musical instruments by traditional methods. The outcome is guided by individual projects and goals.

Teaching is generally on a one-to-one basis, catering for individual needs and dictated by previous experience, knowledge and ability. There are group demonstrations, where appropriate. As the course takes place in a large workshop, adjacent to the other courses in this series, interaction with fellow students and other tutors also plays a valuable role in the learning process.

To complete an instrument in this area will take attendance on several courses, depending on the instrument selected and your experience in fine woodworking and skills. It is recommended that you discuss this with your tutor when you are contacted about materials.

West Dean College has run musical instrument making courses for more than 40 years. This nine-day course and supplementary five-day courses run in the Short Course Programme for amateur makers. It can provide an insight for those considering applying for full-time study on the College’s Foundation Degree in Arts – Musical Instruments.

TIMETABLE VARIATION: teaching ends at 12.30pm on the final day and the workshop is to be cleared by 3.30pm. On other days workshops are available to students from 8.30am-9pm each day.


Arrival day

Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential to arrive by 6.45pm

6.45pm Welcome followed by dinner (included)
8.00-9.00pm First teaching session, attendance is essential

Daily timetable

9.15-5.00pm Classes (lunch included)
From 6.30pm Dinner (included)

Evening working – Students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor’s permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

9.15am-12.30pm Classes (lunch included). Workshops must be cleared by 3.30pm.

Residential students to vacate rooms by10am.

Course Materials

What students need to bring

  • As soon as you receive confirmation of your place, please tell us which instrument you wish to work on by emailing [email protected]
  • If you are new to the course, please give details of your past experience in instrument making and woodworking. We will pass this information to the tutor who will contact you to discuss this and the materials required. Alternatively, if you are bringing a part-made instrument, please bring the materials and information relating to this or inform the tutor of what you need.
  • If you play a musical instrument, please bring it with you for informal music making in the evenings.
  • Tools:
  • Some woodworking tools are provided by the College, including: a variety of planes, gouges, mallets, face sander, lathes, drills, etc. However, numbers are limited, so you should ideally bring your own if you have them. Diamond sharpening stones are also available for use throughout the course. Certain specialised tools may be borrowed from tutors, together with all necessary jigs, moulds and patterns.
  • Please bring as many tools as you think you will need, and discuss with your tutor if you are unsure which to bring. The list below is not a definitive one:
  • Rabone Chesterman 300mm steel rule
  • 6” flat file (‘0’ cut)
  • 8” half round file (‘0’ cut)
  • 8” crossing file (‘0’ cut)
  • 6” half round rasp (Swiss hand cut recommended)*
  • Small engineer’s set square (3”)
  • (60 ½) small low angle block plane (Rider, Veritas or Lie Nielsen)
  • Scalpel knife and blades*, Swan Morton no. 15 blade or violin maker’s knife
  • Scriber
  • Flat needle file
  • Half round needle file
  • Chisels, 3/8 & 5/8
  • Cabinet scrapers – assorted sizes and shapes
  • Gentlemen's back saw
  • Strong clothes pegs (20–30)
  • Pencils, B and HB*
  • Rubber
  • Apron
  • Tool bag or box
  • A selection of gouges, best purchased after discussion at your first course
  • A piece of carpet or cloth to protect work
  • Cork tile to line clamping blocks/protect work from clamps
  • Please remember that all personal tools should be clearly marked with your name.
  • (* The College Shop may have a few of these items, but please don't rely on it. If you have queries on which tools you need, please ask the tutor.)
  • Please remember to bring clothing which is safe and suitable for the workshop. It is also essential that you wear stout covered footwear (not sandals).

Available to buy

  • Available from tutor:
  • On this course, the tutor can obtain most of the materials for those beginning an instrument. This charge should be paid to him directly before the end of the course, by cash or bank transfer, in addition to any materials that you may have purchased individually.
  • Violin # £120–200
  • Viola # £120–200
  • Cello # £400–700
  • The approximate timber costs listed are to give a guide only, and final costs will depend on individual choice of timber and increases in timber costs. Costs of strings, pegs, reeds and other accessories are not included. Please discuss this when the tutor contacts you about your requirements.
  • Students should be aware that it is not possible to complete any of this group of instruments in one nine-day course. You will to need to participate in more than two 9-day courses to complete your instrument.

Additional information

Please note: Humidity levels in the workshop are variable to dry; whilst the College has addressed this, some factors are beyond our control, therefore instruments are brought and left in the workshop at your own risk. Each tutor will take a half-day break, in rotation with the other tutors, to be decided during the week. They will discuss suitable work for that session with you, if you wish to continue working. Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio. This includes stout covered footwear, i.e. no open-toes or sandals, and safety boots, if specified.


Colin Cross

Colin Cross has over thirty years’ experience as a violin maker. He trained at Newark under Wilfred Saunders and Patrick Jowett. In recent years, he has been head of workshop at Stringer’s in London and run his own violin-making business in Kent. He has made and sold over 150 instruments.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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