I am a luthier based in Toronto, Canada. I was drawn to instrument making by a love of both music and craftsmanship. An opportunity to study and observe under the guidance of the well-known viola maker Otto Erdesz led to a career devoted to the art. I now have 35 years of professional experience to draw upon. The viola has gradually become the main focus of my work but fine violins are also available.
My approach to instrument building
John Newton instruments are constructed entirely by me, using traditional techniques, and any part of the process can be observed by interested musicians. No premade or machine-carved parts are used; and the entire method offers me complete flexibility in making whatever size, shape and custom modifications may be requested. My wood is very carefully chosen from a variety of sources to be seasoned, healthy and tonally excellent.
I have constructed violas at virtually every size increment between 15 and 17 1/4 inches, following examples by Andrea Guarneri, Stradivari, Maggini. Gasparo and Guadagnini, as well as my own patterns in traditional style. I attempt to keep a selection of sizes and patterns available for trial. Instruments can also be made in Baroque setup based on surviving originals.
My violins and violas are heard regularly in the hands of professional players in many great ensembles, including the orchestras of Boston, Cleveland, Toronto, Calgary, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and Edmonton, as well as the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Tafelmusik, and the St. Lawrence Quartet.
The Ergonomic Viola
Viola players face unique challenges in coping with an instrument which is much larger than a violin but which is played in a similar manner; and generally players like to use the largest and deepest-voiced viola they can manage. This can lead to many physical problems, as time gradually turns discomfort to injury; and many violists of smaller size are not physically capable of handling a large instrument.
There are a number of modifications, both large and small, that can be made to the viola to improve its comfort and playability. These can include:
- slight or pronounced reduction of one or both upper bouts
- indentation of the lower curve of the outline
- reduction or elimination of the corners to facilitate bow clearance
- shortening of the string length
- reduction of unnecessary weight
- modifications to the scroll
I have extensive experience with these options and how they affect the sound of the finished instrument. My goal is to create violas that combine playability with traditional tonal excellence and that are fully at home in orchestral, chamber or solo settings. I never sacrifice the quality of sound to make an ergonomic modification; but the viola does allow considerable freedom of design within its traditional tonal character.