Woodsound Studio, The Fine Art of Luthierie since 1975

Repairs & Restoration

Marc Johnson’s Francesco Stradivari Cello

Marc Johnson with his restored Francesco Stradivari cello

Cellist Marc Johnson has been a friend and client for nearly 30 years now, and he is certainly one of the major players in my career. We became acquainted many years ago, when he began spending summers in Maine, as a member of the the Vermeer Quartet, who were the resident quartet for Bay Chamber Concerts for many years. Initially, he asked me to rehair his children’s bows. Following rave reviews from his children about my bow rehairing, eventually instruments belonging to all the members of the Vermeer passed through my hands, including Marc’s Matteo Goffriller cello, Shmuel Ashkenasi’s Bergonzi violin, Pierre Menard’s Francesco Ruggieri violin, Mathias Tacke’s Lorenzo Storioni violin, Richard Young’s (school of) Gasparo da Salo viola. We maintained the Goffriller every summer until he moved on to his present cello, the 1742 Francesco Stradivarius described below.

Marc Johnson was born into a musical family in Lincoln, Nebraska. Under the tutelage of his first teacher, Carol Work, he won several national competitions and was accepted as a scholarship student at the Eastman School of Music. While there, he studied with Ronald Leonard and John Celentano. He continued his studies at Indiana University where he was a student of Janos Starker and Josef Gingold. At the age of eighteen he became the youngest member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and played in that orchestra for four seasons. He has also been a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He continued to have success in competitions, winning first prize in the prestigious Washington International Competition, among others.

For thirty-five years, Marc performed as the cellist of the renowned Vermeer Quartet. The Quartet appeared regularly in the world's musical capitals on five continents, and made extensive tours yearly in Europe and North America. Their recordings gathered critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, and include a version of the complete Beethoven string quartets on the Teldec label. The Quartet can also be heard on the Alden, Cedille, Orfeo, and Naxos labels. They received three Grammy nominations; one for Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ, another for their recording of the Shostakovich and Schnittke Piano Quintets, and a third for the complete quartets of Bela Bartok. They appeared regularly at the world's great music festivals, and held residency positions with Northern Illinois University, Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, Maine, and The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England.

Since the quartet’s retirement in 2007, Marc has continued to pursue an active career appearing in recital and as soloist with orchestras in North America and Europe. He is a frequent presenter of master classes here and abroad. He and his wife, the pianist Katherine Johnson, are co-directors of Bay Chamber Concerts, the Next Generation, a series of free chamber music seminars for students from the state of Maine. He has commissioned new works for both cello and string quartet and has recorded for CRI Records. He joined the faculty of Boston University in September 2007.

The Restoration of the Francesco Stradivari Cello

This fine, old Italian instrument was made circa 1730 by Francesco Stradivari.

For many years this cello tended to develop a nasty buzz in the summer, as the top swelled from the neck block. Most years we would have to take a long rod with an afffixed tube and pipette to insert glue in the neck block area. This was accomplished through the end pin hole with the aid of mirrors. The instrument also had a significant dip in the treble lower rib that the top had been forced into. Slowly, this had deformed the top; a crack was forming and the high register was suffering. In 2007 the Vermeer disbanded, and Marc finally had the time needed for us to remove the top and correct both the neck area fit of top to block and to build wood in the dip in the ribs and reform the top to the original arching. We also had to add new wood to the top edges at the c-bouts to relieve tension and restore the cello’s voice. Once these repairs were made, with the top back on and a new soundpost and bridge, the instrument returned to the international concert stage once again.

As you will see, the top has had some very unusual repairs in its long life, the most unusual being the radial fan-like bars added to the top to deflect the downward string pressure and to maintain the arching of the top. Please enjoy these photos, scrutinize them carefully, for seeing the inside of a Strad is a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Note: Click on an image to see it larger, then use your browser’s BACK button to return to this page.

The top in the neck block area has been rebuilt for a correct fit to the block. If you enlarge this photo, you will be able to see the multiple edge layers from various restorations.

A view of the completed top with rebuilt edges and reformed top plate, ready to be reinstalled onto the ribs.

Bass-side repair (note wolf eliminator glued to top just to left and above the f-hole).

The treble side after reforming the plate.

Reassembled instrument needs new post and bridge. Here we see a bridge blank (left) and on the right the finished bridge carved from a blank for flexibility and tonal response, ready to be set up.

The label of Francesco Stradivari, who was the son of Antonio Stradivari. He was a major builder and worked with his father and continued the shop after his father’s death with the help of his brother, Ombono. If there had been no Antonio, Francesco would have been considered the greatest maker in Cremona.

New wood added to c-bout to lessen tension on refit to the ribs. Look carefully at the bottom of the f-hole for stabilizer.

Interesting view of soundpost patch, various cleats, and cross-grain stabilizers.

The final setup of bridge location and angles, now ready for a soundpost adjustment.

Each year for the last 20-odd years, we have cleaned this instrument of the grime and gunk that accumulate from travel, practice, and concerts, as well as fixing the nicks and dings of life, doing touch-ups, renewing the French polish finish, and making a soundpost adjustment for the next season.

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