I selected the wood: A gorgeous one-piece back with matching ribs and neck, which I had bought ten years prior, and a lovely piece of spruce from way back in the 1980s.
The first problem I ran into was heat. The back was huge, and although I had already sawn large chunks off each side, as well as the top and bottom part, there was a lot of carving left to do. I picked away at it as I could stand it, taking long breaks and large gulps of water as I went.
Then, for a couple of months, I got busy with other things. When I returned to the cello, I made good progress, I thought -- until it came time to glue the body together the following spring. Over the winter months, the back had shrunk. It had shrunk so much it was now overhanging the ribs.
Panicked, I called my friend Bill Scott. We talked it over and came to the conclusion that I would have to re-size (shrink) the ribs to fit the back, and make a new belly. I went about my tailoring work, trying to think upbeat thoughts like "just think, I will have a quarter of the next cello already made by the time this one is finished!" and "after this, making a violin/viola will be a piece of cake!"
I went through the process of making a new top, glued the body together, and parked it in my UV cabinet.
Carving the scroll was a lot of fun, except when I slipped with the gouge and carved my hand instead, which slowed me down a bit again. Still, once the cut was somewhat healed, and the scroll finished, I varnished everything and was very pleased with the effect of my home-cooked varnish combined with a pigment I had made.
I happily anticipated finishing the instrument by the end of the year and was looking forward to getting a couple of months to play it in before taking it to Georgia for the "Celebrating Women Luthiers" exhibition, when I dropped the cello on the concrete floor in my basement on the way into the UV cabinet one day. All in all, I got off lightly: The back sprung loose from the ribs most of the way around, and one of the edges was a bit scraped up. I only cried a little.
As I was shaping the neck, I felt stunned when I encountered a large crack in the neckroot. I called my friend Bill, and he suggested trying to fill it by inlaying a piece of wood. I spent a day fitting a sliver of maple to the crack, but really had no way of clamping it. After I glued it, I found that not only did the crack now look considerably worse, but it had perversely grown longer.
I gritted my teeth and sent an email to my colleagues in town, asking if anyone had a pre-cut cello neck graft.
One person did, but when I planed the piece of wood he sold me, I found a knot right in the neckroot area. So I sacrificed a full cello neck block which I had been saving for a special instrument. I was now about three weeks away from my date of departure for Georgia.
Dismantling the cello was not much fun, especially as I had fitted the original neck with a carbon fiber reinforcement rod. But I got it done, all the way wondering if maybe the universe was trying to send me a message. Was it telling me to give up? Was I tilting at windmills? Or was my resolve being tested?
I fitted the neck graft, glued on the fingerboard, shaped the neck and set it, and reshaped the neckroot. I parked the cello in the UV cabinet again, to let the neckroot build a tan. Next time I looked at the cello, the varnish was covered in deep craquelure.
A strong urge to burn the cello made itself felt at this point. I resisted the urge,and decided that maybe antiquing the damn thing was the way to go.
With just about a week left and the varnish nowhere near settled, I began the process of setting up the instrument for playing, agonizing all the way over whether or not to even bother taking it to Georgia. The flights were booked, for both the cello and myself, but I suspected taking it in all its ugliness would be rather shooting myself in the foot.
I called my friend Bill. He swung by and looked over my mess. "I feel I would be crazy to take this," I confided. Bill was blunt: "I think you would be crazy not to!"
The cello made one last attempt at bucking me -- fitting the endpin, which is normally a very straightforward process, went horribly wrong. The second endpin was still not straight, but at this point, there was no time left to fix it.
The first time I pulled a bow across the cello's strings was disappointing. Its timbre was thin and brash and the D-String sounded like cardboard. After experimenting with four, five, six, seven, eight strings, the ninth finally made it so I could stand the sound of what I now thought of as "the thing".
Arriving at the Huthmaker shop, I removed the cello from its case, shame-faced and cringing. "Looks kinda cool!", said one colleague; "wow! amazing craquelure!" said another. One person told me the cello's sound was reminiscent of a spring day, clear and sunny. Another said "it sounds so f***ing beautiful!"
There are moments in life that are deeply humbling. This is one of them. I am a luthier and a cellist, but somehow completely missed the character of the thing I made. The cello will not be coming home. I feel sad that I didn't get to spend more time with it -- time I would have spent trying to improve something that was clearly good enough, if not better.
The moral of the story: I don't know what the moral of the story is. Perseverance?
Or maybe that favourite bumper sticker of mine: Don't believe everything you think?