Stefano Bertoli, an excellence of Italian violin making in Milan
Stefano Bertoli focuses primarily on the construction of bowed instruments. The models he uses are both designed by him and taken from the great masters of the Italian violinmaking tradition. His instruments are entirely handcrafted and handvarnished. www.stefanobertoliviolins.com
Stefano Bertoli was chosen by Expo Magazine as an example of Italian manufacturing excellence, together with the novelist Davide Amante and the violinist Camilla Sabbatini, for the introductory video to Expo 2020 Dubai promoted by Duplomatic MS.
Stefano Bertoli participated in one of the most emblematic and strong moments of the video, blowing away the processing dust from one of his instruments, revealing its beauty.
‘Stefano immediately gave me the impression of an authentic person, completely involved in his art. Violin making is a refined art and looking at him as he wore wood, you will find the charm of this art’, said Davide Amante. Stefano Bertoli has also made his refined luthier workshop available for the shooting of the video. The production staff thank him for his availability.
What led you to become a luthier? Did it begin since you were a child or did you realize at some point that you wanted to do it?
Well, since I was a child I played a lot with wood, this material fascinated me because it had life inside. Then I started playing the double bass and I first had the thought to build one. The university that I had just started attending did not satisfy my need to “do things with my hands”, so I enrolled at the Civic School of Lutherie in Milan.
What does it take most of all to become a good luthier?
First of all you have to be patient: try and try again, improve yourself, don’t be in a hurry. Then it is necessary to be humble, the luthier is a craftsman, he learns from others and knows he must listen to the masters in order to improve himself. In the first years of study it is good to set up the phases of the construction of a musical instrument as if it were a training. Then, after building some instruments, you have to ask yourself many questions and carry out your project with the aim of improving sound and beauty by following what you have learned and the traditions of your country or city.
Is inspiration part of your work?
There are ideas: I always get ideas for small tricks, decorations, experiments. Half are thrown away, but that’s okay. That’s the beauty of my job.
When we can say the musical instrument is born?
The moment one “sees” it inside a wooden plank. Then you can’t stop until it’s done.
What is the meaning of the word ‘research’ for you?
The instruments are made according to standard measures of course, but the research process in the shapes and sound quality is continuous and is increased by the exchange of experiences in the community that has been created within the craftsman’s shop and also outside the shop, through relationships with other luthiers. This manner of making research catalogues and records each experience, with the aim of building up an archive from which to draw inspiration in a process of constant exchange of information, as indeed is typical of the work of the craftsman, in particular of the Italian craftsman…
How do you fine tune the ‘sound’ of an instrument you are building and bring out the best possible sound?
During construction, special attention is paid to the curvature and thickness of the wood, in order to achieve the best sound and vibration of the sound box. It is fundamentally a matter of experience and exchange of experiences.
Do you carry out your work entirely in the shop or do you also make use of external collaborations?
All work is carried out in the shop from A to Z: in the sense that I also prepare paints and colors manually. However, my workshop is shared with other young luthiers and this allows us an exchange, a comparison and a professional growth, as well as greater investments in machinery and tools.
Do you also deal with restoration? If so, what does it mean to restore an instrument?
I collaborated for a long time with Maestro Carlo Chiesa with who enabled me to deepen my knowledge of classical instruments. Restoring is a kind of challenge: it requires to be able to do a delicate and precise job. The guiding principle is to maintain the structure and construction idea of the instrument so, where possible, the material, shape and acoustic potential are maintained; where it is not possible, action is taken to ensure that the instrument is reusable, with techniques based on the principles of reversibility. I teach this craftsmanship in the school of violin making and I hope to convey to my students the satisfaction that comes from knowing how to give life to an instrument.
Can you tell us what the fine-tuning phase consists of?
The development of the string instrument is one of the most stimulating and delicate moments of the work. The first phase is done in the shop: a precise analysis of the instrument that includes its measures, potential and the necessary interventions. This is followed by the processing and positioning of the core, the sculpture of the bridge up to the choice of accessories and ropes depending on what has been agreed with the customer.
The second part is carried out with a collaboration between the musician and the luthier. Both seek the optimal acoustic conditions of the instrument taking into account the needs of the instrumentalist.
In your work, when you feel you can pronounce the word satisfaction?
Fortunately, very often, otherwise I would have closed my activity for some time! It is my only benefit! Looking at a finished instrument is always a source of pleasure.
Should a luthier know how to play the instruments he makes?
The important thing is to understand what musicians talk about when they make requests and to know how to meet them.
Which instruments are you most specialized in?
Stringed instruments, then violins, violas, cellos and double basses.
Do you have a specific work method? Can you tell us something?
I use woods, fir and maple, personally chosen. All the work is done by hand in the laboratory and takes up most of my time. In the conception phase I follow models of the masters of the 1700s, in particular Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, and some of their own models, inspired by classic lines. Even the oil paint is produced in the shop with amber resin. It is colored with natural elements, ground and always extracted in the shop.
Different instruments often produce different sounds, how to recognize the right instrument and its sound?
It is a process that involves the musician: it is the musician who can recognize which instrument meets the acoustic and handling needs. And the luthier must meet the musician in the recovery and the possibility of testing instruments.
What instruments will you build in the next few years? How do you want them to be?
I want them beautiful! I want to continue the project for which I won the Cologni Foundation award: to combine art and craftsmanship. The viola that I just finished with the woods purchased thanks to the prize has a carved head. I hope it will be played on a special occasion, one that celebrates the return to music. What I want is to build tools with a soul.
Where can we find you?
In my shop in Milan in via Pellegrino Rossi 5 but also online at www.stefanobertoliviolins.com.
About Stefano Bertoli
Stefano Bertoli focuses primarily on the construction of bowed instruments. The models he uses are both designed by him and taken from the great masters of the Italian violinmaking tradition. His instruments are entirely handcrafted and handvarnished.
He carries out restorations and repairs and pays particular attention to the set up and fine-tuning of the instruments. He dedicates himself to his profession with a constant commitment to research, in the spirit of true Italian craftsmanship.
Stefano Bertoli graduated from the civic school of violin making in Milan in 2014, specializing in the construction and restoration of violins, violas and cellos. After winning the “Una Scuola, un Lavoro. Paths of Excellence “of the Cologni Foundation, carries out his internship at the Milanese workshop of Maestro Carlo Chiesa with whom he is still in close collaboration today and from which he learns in particular the passion for research on classical models of stringed instruments and on entirely handcrafted style of construction.
In 2017 he attended a wood carving course for the creation of heads, held by Maestro Enrico Allorto. He participates in the Cremona Triennial Competition 2018, in the same year he is called by the civic school of Milan for a collaboration in the field of restoration. In 2020 he also began teaching construction at the Turin Lutherie School.
In 2020 he won the third edition of “Artigiano del Cuore”, a competition organized by Wellmade and supported by the Cologni Foundation.
He has many other passions besides lutherie: playing the double bass in a shabby group, working wood and… walking in the mountains, in the woods, where he goes whenever he can.