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Ahead forfigures

Luthiers such as Jacob Stainer often surmounted their instruments with elaborately carved heads rather than scrolls. Lloyd McCaffery, a professional wood carver, explains how he developed a modern take on an ancient art form

I am an artist and sculptor who specialises in miniature wood carving and ship models. I have been creating full-time for over 50 years. Along the way I have enjoyed branching out and exploring other types of carving. I have always admired the carved heads on old stringed instruments, so I thought I might make a contribution to the genre.

My first step was to learn as much as possible about bowed stringed instruments. I read all I could about their history and development, and what things luthiers need to take into account - wood choice, tools, techniques, and methods of finishing, for example. I also watched videos on YouTube to get a visual sense of the craftsmanship that goes into this complex subject, my goal being to understand what is important to the maker and, equally, to the player. I realised that whatever I carve cannot interfere with the sound the violin makes - but also that my sculpted head must not get in the way of the player’s technique. A heavy head would be a drag.

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About The Strad

We explore the life of viola pedagogue Karen Tuttle and investigate the potential for Chinese tonewood. Augustin Hadelich takes us through Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in Masterclass and we examine Pablo Casals’s approach to vibrato. Plus Leonidas Kavakos’s Sentimental Work