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Thread: Even More George Wilson on YouTube!

  1. #1

    Even More George Wilson on YouTube!

    Good Afternoon,

    Thanks to Matt Lau for mentioning the "Woodwright's Shop" interview with George Wilson.

    For those who'd like to see more of the wild Georgianous Wilsonia rampaging about in his natural habitat, there is, in four parts of about 15 minutes each, "Colonial Violin and Harpsichord Making" from 1976. Also featuring the crafticious stylings of Marcus Hansen and Larry Bowers.

    Part 1 of 4 >

    This video was made when Mr. Wilson was working in what might be called the "middle period shop"- after the non-public shop of 1970 and before incorporation into the Cabinet Shop. The filming was done in a combination of the middle period shop (violin) and the Cabinet Shop (spinet). I imagine the narrow middle period shop was size constraining for filming the spinet construction and it uses more cabinet-like techniques anyway.

    The video presents a quite clear and well-written description of making an English-style spinet harpsichord of about 1770 (wing-shaped with strings at an angle to the keyboard) and a Baroque violin (short fingerboard). The video, while seemingly general, does show a surprising level of important detail of the materials, tools, and techniques. The projects are depicted in parallel and while it would seem separating the projects would make them easier to understand, in Colonial America, without guilds due to the low number of craftsmen, craftsman were allowed to make and/or sell anything they could and wanted, so making different instruments simultaneously is probably more realistic.

    George Wilson has spoken about the probability of repair projects in such a shop and that there would be a wide variety of items for sale about too. The extent of instrument making in Colonial America doesn't seem extremely carefully documented, though there was an increasing amount of activity as time went on. Importing was so expensive and the commercial relationship with England became "strained". There were spinet harpsichords made in Boston and there are the clavichord plans by Tannenberg and four clavichords from the Moravian community in N.C. from about 1780. Regardless of the relative realism of the depiction, "Colonial Violin and Harpsichord Making " is very worthwhile.

    While focusing on instrument making, this video will be interesting to watch for anyone that enjoys butchering dead trees. Because of the way Colonial Williamsburg presents crafts, the materials, tools, and techniques are as carefully as possible period reconstructions. It was clever of CW to have George Wilson set up the instrument making as he brilliantly reverse engineered the techniques by studying the tools and the finished object. Starting from a kind of zero point undoubtedly meant less contamination of modern techniques and tools that a commercial builder of 1970 might have introduced. Harpsichord building in 1970 was divided into both purist historical and "improvement" sects, but no builders I knew of were using 18th Century tools and even simple historic techniques such as laying out the keyboard were only partially documented or would be from a different national style. It's a shame more details of the middle period shop are not clearly shown as it was overflowing with fantastic tools George had made- brass thickness calipers, violin and other planes, various specialized jigs, benches, bow and brace drills, and and there is the important aspect of tool sharpening of which George is a master.

    I'm very glad to be able to see after all these years as I remember when it was being made, but just then went "out of town" for the next 35 years and never saw it.

    What I might point out that is clear from this video is George Wilson's amazing skill of concentration and effortless ability- and willingness- to clearly describe design, materials, tools, and method. What is not easy to depict is his natural ability to judge proportions, a micrometer eye, the ability to smell different grades of stainless steel- well it seems like that!, and the rare gift of being able to create pleasing compound curves. In my view, it's impossible to learn proportion, ambition for precision, or what makes a great curve.

    I know I'm not alone in wishing Mr. Wilson would write the book!

    Alan Caro

    PS > You might enjoy some of the other posted Colonial Williamsburg videos- I'm certainly going to watch the gunsmithing one. Spoiler alert! They didn't make gun barrels on 3D printers,..
    Last edited by Alan Caro; 01-06-2014 at 2:15 PM.

  2. #2
    Great serie! I've seen it before but not on youtube. It's just amazing one of my favorite videos of handtool woodwork and more. I Dont know anything about George Wilson but I gonna look him up!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Neither here nor there
    Blog Entries
    Absolutely amazing work, and well-documented. I am so glad Mr. Wilson answered his calling in life. I, as well, hope that calling includes writing a book.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Earth somewhere
    some should start a where's George Wilson thread

    I'll start… I saw George at the 7 11. He was talking with Elvis about fixin his guitar.
    Sent from the bathtub on my Samsung Galaxy(C)S5 with waterproof Lifeproof Case(C), and spell check turned off!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Nah,I was sending him to Dan Erlewine.

  6. #6
    I had seen that series before but I looked at it again. I'm just amazed at George. He's a fairly young man in the video and yet it's obvious those were not the first musical instruments he made - he had some special tools already made to perform a few of the tasks. I'd really like to know more about how George learned his trade - he must have served an apprenticeship with an instrument maker. And not only does George know musical instruments, woodworking and finishing, but I've learned through the forum that he also has done quite a bit of metal (machinist) work.

    Bravo, George. You're an amazing fellow, an inspiration to all of us.

    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Actually,Mike,I started TRYING to make guitars at 13,in 1954. I had no help as no one knew anything about it in Ketchikan,Alaska. It has been uphill all the way. I did not see my first guitar making book until I was in college in 1959 or so. Even then,the book was 1/8" thick,and not a great book at that,but I learned every scrap of info in it.

    In 1968 I made my first harpsichord,a relatively simple Italian style. In 1970,I made my first complex,English style,veneered harpsichord for the museum. I was 29 years old. At that time I made the tools you see in the film,which was made in 1973,released in 74.

    When I got into the museum,I had access to their great library and other craftsmen,and my knowledge and skill went rapidly upwards in that first year.

    Here's a bad picture of the English harpsichord from 1970. Taken by candle light. My apprentice thought he was a great photographer!!

    No one in Williamsburg had ever done any veneering. I had to figure that out,too. The finish is oil varnish,applied by hand and rubbed.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  8. #8
    Very nice now I have some threads to read and pictures to look at! I'm new here so didn't have the slightest idea you are an active member here!

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