robyn sullivan violins

hand-made violins, violas, and cellos

May I present, Opus #9


From beginning to end this one took about 18months but it’s finally varnished, set up and playable.  If I do say so myself, it sounds lovely.

Some background on Opus #9: it was my graduation exam instrument from the Chicago School of Violin Making (  I made the viola in its entirety and set it up without varnish in the span of 6 weeks.  It’s a 16 3/8” Gofriller-Lee model.  After I successfully graduated from CSVM the viola proceeded to sit in a case for over a year.  This past summer I finally pulled varnish materials together, mixed up some varnish and applied about 28 coats (most of those coats applied with one hand) onto the formerly white instrument.  After letting the varnish dry for probably not long enough because I’m impatient like that I finally set it up, played it, and declared it done this afternoon.

Why am I calling it Opus #9?  Because it’s my 9th completed instrument.  I made Opus #1 back in 2004 when I was apprenticing under Geoffery Ovington ( as my senior project in college.  I then proceeded to not make any instruments until I started attending the Chicago School of Violin Making.  What can I say, I was too busy hitting the wall that is post-college reality and then waiting tables to make enough money to move to Chicago and pay for the violin making school there.

At the Chicago School it is required that a student make a minimum of 7 instruments to graduate.  The student has to make some instruments specifically; at least 3 violins and 1 viola and the other three are the student’s choice.

Call me an overachiever but I made 8 instruments while in school, 3 regular violins, a baroque violin, 3 violas, 1 cello, and parts of an upright bass.  The upright bass was a school-wide project and I helped because I knew that I would never be crazy enough to attempt one on my own.  I strongly hold by that statement now because I managed to throw out my back while planing down the thickness on one of the ribs.  I did not enjoy the experience of throwing out my back and I have no desire to repeat it.  The other parts of the bass I helped with (linings, joining and arching the spruce plate) were fun, challenging and excessively time consuming.

Opus #2 thru #8 were all made in the Chicago School.  These were made under the supervision of the wonderful, intelligent, beautiful and amazingly patient teachers, with school supplied wood and other materials.  Opus’ #2 thru #8 also have the school label inside of them which I signed.  Opus #9 I did make at the school but without supervision and with all my own materials.  It doesn’t have a label yet because I haven’t gotten the right kind of archival paper to print them out on.  It’s on my to-do list.

I have designed my labels, it has my logo (look to the top left corner of this web page and you’ll see it- the robin sitting on top of the scroll) as well as my name, year, and Opus #.  I’ve decided not to put a city on the labels just because I have no idea where I’ll end up next.  Since 2004 I’ve called 7 different addresses in 6 different states home and something tells me my traveling days are not over yet.

Now that Opus #9 is done, #10 is on its way….


1 Comment

    Very nice work Robyn. I’m always amazed by your skills and craftsmanship, and I think it’s absolutely amazing that you have such a passion for instrument making. I smiled the entire time I read your blog entry. Keep up the stellar work, and I look forward to reading more about your creations in the future.

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