Stringed Musical Instruments

Featured images

Making Stringed Musical Instruments

The Making Stringed Musical Instruments programme will prepare you for a career in instrument making, as a restorer and repairer. West Dean is the only institution in the world with an historical approach to design of the viola da gamba and other Baroque stringed instruments. These include violins, violas, cellos, viola d’amore, baryton and baroque bows, dependent on level of progression. The emphasis is on the viola da gamba. Past students have gained employment with top companies such as JP Guivier, London and William Monical & Son, New York.

You will have your own workbench in the purpose-built and dedicated workshop, storage for your tools and access to a machine shop and varnishing room. You will participate in tutorials, have supervised projects which include basic skills to progress to making your first instrument. You will develop skills in machine setting, woodturning, varnishing, care of timber/tone-wood, learn purling design and motif as well as sound adjustment. You will also attend specialist auctions, learn historical and theoretical influences, restoration and repair techniques.

ProgrammeTutor: Shem Mackey MA

Associate Tutor: David Simmons BA BSc

Please view the link below which is a press release from the QAA where they talk about the publication of the first REO reports and mention West Dean as their first example of good practice.

West Dean College Diploma - 2 Year Programme

Programme Content

All students work together in the workshop and are given tutorials and supervised projects specific to their individual development skills and programme of study. The emphasis of the course is on making the viola da gamba but students may opt to make instruments of the violin family
once they have progressed to a good level on the course.

Practical Work

You will learn basic tool skills and progress on to preparing and constructing a first instrument. Over the duration of your progress of study you will develop your skills such as machine setting; woodturning; varnishing; care of timber/tone-wood; bow rehairing; basic metalworking machining; documenting extant instruments; selecting and purchasing materials; restoration and repair; purfling design and
motif; setting up and sound adjustment.

Instrument Design, History and Playing

You will attend lectures and tutorials, visit specialist collections and go on study tours as you develop your knowledge and understanding of historical and theoretical influences that affect design, construction, care, restoration and repair techniques.

Exhibition of work

You will attend events such as the Greenwich International Early Music Exhibition where you will assist with the department’s stand representing yourself as a craftsman and promoting the College.

Specialist Facilities

The programme is delivered in the purposebuilt and dedicated workshop which benefits from excellent natural and artificial light. You
will have your own workbench, and storage for personal tools and equipment. Specialist facilities include a separate machine shop, a
varnishing room.

Entry Requirements

A good standard of general education combined with woodworking, cabinet-making or relevant musical skills and a proven interest in musical

“During my time on the course, I have benefited from historical and pracical lectures from experts in the craft, visits to important European collections to see and examine original instruments in the presence of established experts in the field and hands-on experience in building these instruments.”
Joe Lotito, Stringed Musical Instruments”

Professional Development Diploma

Students wishing to carry out a Professional Development Diploma in their chosen subject should have considerable experience in a relevant industry or successful completion of a relevant diploma or degree and the submission of a project proposal and /or research project.

Entry Requirements

Successful completion of the two year West Dean College Diploma and the submission of a project proposal and research
project. Or the equivalent level of study to second year of undergraduate and significant interest in musical instrument-making.

Further Information


Shem Mackey MA

Shem Mackey has a Higher Diploma from the London College of Furniture and a Masters Degree in Musical Instrument Making (London Metropolitan University). He is a founder member of the British Violin Making Association and founder editor of its newsletter. His research into instrument construction has been published in The Strad, Early Music and various publications of the BVMA and Viola da Gamba Society. Shem is a specialist in early bowed instruments, viola da gamba and instruments with sympathetic strings.

Associate Tutor

David Simmons BA BSc

David began his woodworking career in 1971 working with craftsmen boatbuilders. By 1980 he had opened his own workshop and as a keen guitarist started researching to build his own instrument. In 1988 he enrolled on the OND/HND National Diploma course in Musical Instrument making and specialised in early bowed fretted instruments, and progressed to the newly validated degree in Music Technology, focusing on the Viola da gamba and Baroque cello. In the years since, David has maintained his own workshop making and repairing; Lutes, Guitars, Vihuela, Viola da gamba and other bowed and plucked instruments.


Past students have gained employment with J & A Beare Ltd and J P Guivier, both in London, William Monical & Son, Staten Island, New York.

For student profiles please click here


Application forms and further information on how to apply click here. An admissions panel, including a programme tutor, will consider your application and if you fulfil the entry requirements you will be invited to visit West Dean for an interview and practical test with the programme tutor and another senior member of academic staff.

Telephone: +44 (0)1243 818291

How to Find Us

Find us - West Dean aerial view

West Dean College and Gardens are situated in South East England, six miles north of the historic city of Chichester and 12 miles from the south coast.

Find out more
Related information

Download or Request a Brochure

Download or Request a Brochure

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali