Guadagnini Model c.1755
Robin has been making successful copies of a 1755 Guadagnini cello for many years, thanks to the generosity of its owner who has given him extensive access to the original instrument. Through careful wood selection and intensive study of the original’s arching, thicknessing and varnish, Robin’s copies come very close to re-creating the distinctive tone and appearance of the original instrument.
Guadagnini made cellos with a back length of just 711mm. Whilst his cellos are played by a number of soloists, some players find them excessively small. To accommodate taller cellists, Robin often makes a 2% enlarged version with a back length of 733mm, as well as the 711mm model.
The original instrument has a fiery orange varnish and Robin has been able to reproduce this colour in his instruments to great satisfaction. Robin is also happy to adapt varnish colouration to suit the taste of the player. All Robin’s instruments are antiqued and patinated to closely resemble the original.
Guadagnini cellos have a very quick response, due to their size. The tone colour is complex and the cello has a very beautiful A string sound. The enlarged model has more depth of tone in the lower registers than the original model. The short string length is liberating for the player, making the cello more manageable and facilitating greater virtuosity. Guadagninis are favoured by soloists such as Natalie Clein, David Geringas, Pieter Wispelwey and Maxine Neuman. We would recommend listening to their recordings to gain an insight into the tonal potential of Guadagnini cellos.
Guadagnini’s cello model can be seen as the final destination of the classical Italian school of cello making on a long journey from the very large scale instruments made circa 1650 to Guadagnini’s small cellos circa 1750. This journey was a response both to continuing developments in string making and to the more virtuosic cello repertoire. For much of his working life G B Guadagnini was the greatest surviving violin maker in the world and had the benefit of exposure to earlier masters’ work and a close relationship with the influential Italian cellist Carlo Ferrari who had a damaged leg and needed a comfortable instrument. We can imagine Ferrari’s brief: “Give me something comfortable and manageable with maximum complexity of tone colour, good projection and quick response.” Guadagnini’s response was to design an incredibly efficient model, a reasonably broad but short cello with a quick response due to its light weight and an arching which was designed to allow maximum vibration from every square inch of its diminutive front.
Dimensions of an enlarged Guadagnini model (measured over the arch)
Length of front (plate only): 735mm
Width of upper bout: 353mm
Width of middle bout: 258mm
Width of lower bout: 438mm
Height of front arch (including edge thickness of the plate) 30mm
Length of back (plate only): 733mm
Width of upper bout: 340mm
Width of middle bout: 254mm
Width of lower bout: 428mm
Height of back arch (including edge thickness of the plate): 34mm
Depth of ribs: 115mm at top block; 117mm at bottom block
Testimonial by the owner of the original 1755 Guadagnini
‘I own a 1755 Guadagnini cello which I play professionally. Around the time I first met Robin I was considering getting a copy made of my Guadagnini because I didn’t want to take it abroad or to use it in open air concerts.
My existing second instrument wasn’t a good substitute because it had a bigger stop than the Guadagnini, making it very difficult to move between the two instruments. I liked Robin’s ethos of making and I had been impressed by one of his earlier instruments belonging to a colleague, so I asked him to make the copy.
When Robin’s copy was ready to try (in 2002) he made it clear that there was no pressure to buy it, which was very reassuring. I found it easy and comfortable to play, beautiful to look at and light in weight. It was a very close copy of the original and Robin had been very careful about the height of the strings and the curvature of the bridge, which made it very comfortable to play. All those qualities made it right for me to buy it without hesitation.
This 2002 cello has matured with time. The tone over all the strings is very even and it has a good response on gut and metal strings. Another excellent quality is that I can produce my own sound with the cello. It isn’t a ‘what you see is what you get’ instrument; you can use it to create your own cello sound.
My 2002 cello was Robin’s first Guadagnini copy and he has since made many further copies. I have tried several of these over the years and realised that Robin was making better and better cellos as time went by, so I decided to commission another copy in 2008.
The 2008 copy reflects Robin’s development as a maker. It has a more mature sound than the 2002 cello and is more responsive. In the same way as the 2002 cello it has a very even tone over all the strings, and it is also responsive when it is played quietly, so I would say it offers everything I need. I find that it mirrors the qualities of the original Guadagnini in that it is quite brilliant on A string but deep on the bottom strings. Robin has captured the essence of the Guadagnini sound in an amazing way.
Robin is a very good luthier and is helpful, attentive and sensitive to his customers. He has a supportive after care service, so if there is ever any problem he is very approachable and will always see you as soon as possible.’
Testimonial by cellist Joe Davies
‘I was looking for a new cello and had tried many antique and modern instruments before playing Robin’s Guadagnini. Some of these I had taken away for extended loans. Having played on a modern cello for several years beforehand, I was aware of their many advantages (particularly their value for money, and their versatility) and was expecting to buy another. However, my main criterion for purchase was quality, and Robin’s cello seemed leagues ahead in this respect. It took me little time to decide on commissioning my own.
I was struck by the speed and subtlety of response that the Guadagnini offered. It also had a complex tone which I found a refreshing change to that of the Stradavari copy I was playing previously. The instrument was very comfortable to play, and I’ve realised since that this is partly due to some of Robin’s innovations in design. It was a cello with its own characteristic voice that allowed the player great control; in short, it was responsive without being passive.
The cello was in great shape before fitting the acoustical straps; they were not correctives, but the icing on the cake! That said, they can also make a remarkable difference to the sound, often exceeding expectations. The great appeal of them is that they offer players the chance to personalise, and to experiment freely with their instruments (because the changes they make can easily be reversed). The changes were quite specific from strap to strap: one gave greater brilliance to the upper register, one greater depth to the C-string and so on. They can affect the cello’s physical profile as well as its sound, reducing resistance or removing a wolf tone, for instance.
The finished cello (both Robin and I agreed) was even better than the model I tried earlier in the year. People tend to assume that modern cellos take a long time to ‘play in’ – and doubtless they improve over time – but I felt comfortable performing on the cello right from the outset.
The cello is wonderfully balanced: the tone quality is rich but well blended across its entire range; it is able to project above orchestras without being forced, but can also produce exceptionally quiet pianissimo. From this very stable core, it offers a wide range of timbres which it produces with instantaneous response.
After the first few months, I felt that the cello had fully ‘settled down’, and that I had adjusted to it. The qualities I had admired initially seem to have become more pronounced, without their character changing.
It is very versatile, and has been used for Bach, Berio, Beethoven and Carter. Robin has even said that it would happily support a baroque set-up.
Audiences comment on the quality of the instrument very frequently. Recently a group of Polish luthiers were particularly impressed, and professional cellists have been fulsome in their praise.’ Joe Davies
Recordings of Joe Davies playing his Guadagnini copy can be accessed at https://soundcloud.com/joseph-davies-15 The pieces recorded here are: J S Bach: Andante, from Sonata No. 2 in D Major for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord and Britten: Fuga, from Cello Suite No. 1, Op. 72.
You can also watch a YouTube video of Joe Davies and Fiona Robertson playing the first movement of the Kodaly duo for violin and cello:
If you would like more information about Robin’s Guadagnini copies please contact us. You might also like to read G.B. Guadagnini – his life and cello making in our Articles section.
Four Guadagninis: the original instrument is on the far left, with three copies by Robin on the right.