By Carlo Chiesa - testo disponibile solo in lingua inglese

Ours is a family business, founded one hundred years ago near Milan by my great-grandfather. We used to live in a house close to our saw mill, so I have breathed wood dust since the day I was born. I remember long journeys in the forests looking at trees, visits to the local saw mills and family lessons on how to choose and buy the best logs.

For many years we imported and sold precious woods to carvers and cabinet makers in north Italy, but in the last 25 years we have specialised in woods for the musical instrument trade ­ mainly for violin and bow makers.

When I started work at Rivolta, I realised that the best way to understand what a customer wants is to meet them. So I went to our stand at Paris's commercial exhibition, Musicora. It took me just a few hours to see that this was my job: to meet people, speak to them and help them choose the correct wood for their demands.

Our spruce comes from the upper part of the Val di Fiemme in the Italian Alps, and our maple mainly from the Balkans. We choose the trees immediately after they have been cut, as this tells us not only where they come from but also the environment in which they lived. Trees grown in the highest places are best, since this means a slow growth and narrower rings; we avoid those close to rivers or streams, or on uneven land.

We make sure the tree has no big branches in its lower - most precious - part, and that it has grown straight.

Although we check all of this and much more, it is not until we cut the wood in our mill that we know if it is what we are looking for. Often there are surprises. The Val di Fiemme was a battlefield in the First World War, and sometimes we find a metallic part of a bomb inside the tree!

My job is mainly to advise customers. My brothers tell me the exact character of all of the woods we have in stock, so when a customer calls I can usually give them what they are looking for ­ or at least I can try! In fact, this is not often easy. Some makers prefer maple with a wide flame, others with a narrow flame; some look at the colour, others at the width of the rings.

Usually a customer is happy to come to the factory, where they can choose from our stock. In this case my job is simple: I just advise where they can find the wood and leave them alone. Every maker has their preferred way of making a selection. Some touch the wood, or weigh it by hand, while others tap it with a finger to hear the sound it makes.

The reasons a maker will give for choosing a particular wood are unpredictable and hard to explain. It is not unusual for a log that has been discarded by somebody as useless to be exactly what somebody else is looking for. A small knot, for instance, can be seen as an imperfection or as the chance to give an instrument a more peculiar character; a particular wood structure might be considered beautiful or ugly, valued for its sounding properties or thrown away.

Makers specialising in copies are always in search of woods similar to those used in one or other old instrument. They usually have an exact idea of the appearance of the wood they are looking for, and a small or big imperfection can be the reason for their choice.

My job is more difficult with customers who do not come to see us. I have to understand what the maker is looking for, and every time this is a gamble. Whenever possible, I request a detailed description. This gives me an idea not only of the wood but of the maker, which helps a lot. I like using email, since it gives me the chance to ask questions and suggest different possibilities in a fast and easy way.

With many customers the commercial acquaintance has become something more ­ in a few instances true friendship. Each day at noon I leave the office and prepare lunch for my brothers in the old house inside the factory. One of our best results is when we share our spaghetti olio e aglio with a customer turned into a friend.


The Strad, April 2001 Vol. 112 No. 1332 Orpheus Pubblications Ldt

7 St. John's Road, Harrow, Middlesex, HA1 2EE, UK

Tel +44 20 8863 2020

Fax +44 20 8863 2444