Musical Instruments

The facilities at the College and knowledge and expertise of our tutors mean the internationally respected musical instrument programme is ideal if your goal is to set up an instrument-making workshop or to work in the trade. This programme is highly acclaimed for the proficiency and expertise of its graduates.

Levels 4 & 5: Foundation Degree (FdA) in Musical Instruments

The Foundation Degree Arts specialising in musical instruments teaches students the skills to enable making stringed instruments, both bowed and plucked including viola da gamba, violin and guitar.

Students are taught skills such as: 

  • Machine setting
  • Woodturning
  • Pigment and varnish making
  • Varnishing
  • Purchase and care of timber/tone woods
  • Early bow making
  • Basic machining
  • Documenting extant instruments
  • Selecting and purchasing materials
  • Instrument repair
  • Decorative and head carving
  • Purfling design
  • Marquetry and motif
  • Setting up
  • Sound adjustment.

Access to industry experts also allows students to develop a range of communication skills including drawing and professional skills for contemporary crafts people, and students have the opportunity to attend events such as the London International Early Music Festival to showcase their instruments and network with sector professionals.

The College has a dynamic and creative music community that attracts students with a passion for music who are ready to channel that interest into skilled instrument making. Yehudi Menuhin, one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century was an early trustee of The Edward James Foundation, the charitable trust that supports the College.

After you graduate and career progression

Foundation degree graduates have gone on to work in the sector, both as employees and self-employed, to further education, and some have established a high profile for their own designs and craftsmanship. Among our accomplished musical instrument alumni some have gained employment with:

  • J & A Beare Ltd, London
  • JP Guivier, London
  • Frederick Chaudiere, Montpellier (France)
  • William Monical & Son, New York
  • Andreas Post, Amsterdam
Making musical instruments in the workshop at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation


Students work in the purpose-built musical instrument making workshop, often collaberating with other disciplines such as metals and clocks. Facilities include:

  • A separate machine shop
  • Varnishing room
  • Analytical laboratory
  • Photography space
  • IT suite
  • Specialist library

The College also has an Art and Conservation Library with thousands of specialist books and journals and specialist databases in the IT suite.

Find out more about the facilities

We provide a high level of practical tuition coupled with an appreciation of unique original instruments, giving our students the freedom to develop as confident makers in their own right. Within our range of teaching, students learn handcraft skills ranging from those used in the Baroque period of viola da gamba construction, traditional violin making, and on through to 19th and 20th century guitar manufacture.

Dr Nicholas Pyall, Subject Leader


Shem Mackey MA

Master Craftsman Tutor

Shem Mackey is a founder member of the British Violin Making Association (BVMA) 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.

Dr Nicholas Pyall

Subject Leader Musical Instruments

Nick makes instruments that are inspired by the Viennese guitars of the early and mid-nineteenth century, including those with extra bass strings, and by mid-twentieth-century North American guitars.  He is currently Subject Leader for the FdA Historic Craft Practices - Musical Instruments.


  • Foundation Degree Arts – Musical Instruments

    If your goal is to set up an instrument-making workshop or to work in the trade, this programme is internationally respected for the high level craftsmanship students attain. Through learning and assessing the historical approach to constructing the viola da gamba, students are equipped with a broad knowledge and ability to assess construction for a wide range of stringed musical instruments.