Musical instrument making

Musical instrument making – violins, violas and cellos with Nigel Melfi

Ref: SMI09575

Suitable for all

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2 places available

About this course

Musical instrument making:
You will work in small groups (SMI09572–SMI09575), with an experienced maker as your tutor, selecting an instrument from the range offered according to your interests and woodworking experience. 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. Please note many instruments take more than nine days to complete.

Course Description

Tuition is given in the principles of making, assembling and setting up the instrument, violin, viola or cello, or allowing you to complete one of these instruments already in progress or start a new one. 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 may take several courses, depending on the instrument selected and your woodworking experience.

West Dean College has run musical instrument making courses for more than 40 years. This nine-day and supplementary five-day courses can provide an insight into full-time study on the College's FdA Historic Craft Practices - Musical Instruments.


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, 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
  • If you are new to the course, 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 materials required. Alternatively if you are bringing a part-made instrument, bring 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:
  • This is not a definitive list so you should bring as many tools as you think you will need. 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.
  • Rabone Chesterman 300mm steel rule
  • *½ round file or rasp, (Swiss hand cut recommended)
  • Flat file or rasp
  • Small engineers 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 makers knife
  • Scriber
  • Flat needle file
  • 1/2 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, 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 shoes (not sandals).

Available to buy

Available from shop:

  • List items to buy from shop
  • 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 before the end of the course, by cash or cheque, in addition to any materials that students 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 other variables. 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 instruments marked # in one nine-day course.

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.

"Having an opportunity for specialist learning at a high level and learning with an excellent teacher with people who have become friends."

Jayne, 2019


Nigel Melfi

Nigel Melfi is a Newark School trained Violin maker of approximately sixteen years. During this time, he has made a number of violins, violas and two cellos, which are currently played by a number of talented musicians around the country. He can usually be found at the BVMA 'Makers Day' in London, where he will sometimes display some of his recent work. In 2018, Nigel took part in the Cremona 'Trienalle' Violin Making Competition, where both his instruments, a violin and viola, did well. He teaches at Newark now.


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

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