Musical instrument making – Renaissance or Baroque viols with Renate Fink

Musical instrument making

Ref: SMI12348

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About this course

Musical instrument making:
You will work in small groups (SMI12346–SMI12349 ) , 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

Increase your knowledge and extend your skills in the making of musical instruments by traditional methods. The outcome of this course is guided by your individual projects and goals.

For beginners, this course offers the opportunity to experience the sense of satisfaction of making a musical instrument from scratch. Instruction is given in the principles of making, assembling and setting up your chosen instrument – either a medieval bowed rebec or renaissance treble viol. The model you make is decided on with the tutor. The intention is that you will be able to complete one of these instruments over the nine-days, but, depending on your level of ability, this is not always possible. A more complex bowed instrument will certainly take more than one course to complete. Prior woodworking experience, though not necessary, is an advantage.

For those with previous instrument making experience, instruction is given in the principles of making, assembling and setting up a Viola da Gamba, or work on one already started with the tutor. If starting a new instrument, the model is decided on in agreement with the tutor – please note a Viola da Gamba will require attendance of three or four courses to complete.

Materials and techniques covered are as appropriate to individual requirements. You will work in wood (spruce, maple, ebony and fruit woods).  General techniques covered during making the instruments are: planing, filing, sawing, gluing, with more specialist techniques of bending, carving and inlaying, introduced when necessary.

Teaching is generally on a one-to-one basis, catering for the student’s 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.

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 clear by 3.30pm.


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:

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 materials and information relating to this or inform the tutor of what you need. As the tutor lives in Germany, you will need to purchase your own timber and materials to bring to the course, once you have discussed your requirements with her.

If you play a musical instrument, please bring it with you for informal music making in the evenings.

Although students on this course are asked to obtain most of their own materials/timber, if the tutor does obtain any additional items, this cost should be paid to her before the end of the course, by cash or cheque, in addition to any materials that students may have purchased individually.

Viola da Gamba, treble/tenor/bass # (D)(C) £150/£260/£250–350
Viola d'Amore # (D) £200
Violone # (D) from £550

Level of Ability: (D) advanced, (C) intermediate

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.

Please note, it is not possible to complete instruments marked # in one nine-day course. You may need to participate in more than two 9-day courses to complete your instrument.

The following is a basic list. It is not definitive, so you should bring as many tools as you think you will need. Please remember that if you don’t have any specific tools on the list, most basic tools can be borrowed at the College. 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.

Some woodworking tools are provided by the College, including: a variety of planes, gauges, mallets, face sander, lathes, drills, etc. However, numbers are limited, so you should ideally bring your own, if you have them, to include the following (please remember that all personal tools should be clearly marked with your name.):

300mm steel rule (e.g. Rabone Chesterman)
*½ round file or rasp (Swiss hand cut recommend)
Flat file or rasp
Fret saw and blades
60 ½ small plane (block plane)
4½ smoothing plane
*Scalpel knife and blades (or violin maker’s knife)
Clamps – any size (some G and sash clamps are available)
Gauges and chisels
Cabinet scrapers – assorted sizes and shapes
Gentlemen's back saw
Gluepot (old saucepan)
Clean jars
*Double-sided tape and Sellotape
*Flat board
A piece of carpet or cloth to protect work
Cork tile to line clamping blocks/protect work from clamps

(* 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).

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.


Renate Fink

Renate Fink trained at the London College of Furniture, later London Guildhall University as a maker of early fretted instruments. She worked for several violin shops in England and on the continent before setting up her own business. She has been teaching at West Dean since 1998. Renate is a member of the British Violinmaking Association.


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

Courses of interest

Further study

If your goal is to set-up an instrument making workshop or to work in the trade, our Foundation Degree in Musical Instruments is internationally respected for the high-level craftmanship skills students attain. It encompasses the whole field of stringed musical instruments. Find out more

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