About Tom

about tom
Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson was born in Liverpool, England in the 1930s, working as a ship instrument maker. During his youth he studied piano and woodwork, and was an avid concert goer. He immigrated to Adelaide in the 1970s working as a production engineer and in his spare hours made furniture with intricate inlay from the finest Australian and South American timbers.

On retirement, with growing knowledge and expertise in wood working, he decided to follow a long held passion to make a violin.

After purchasing drawings from Dante Roccisano, encouragement from the well-regarded Tom Lewis (who worked for the famous Arthur Edward Smith from Sydney) and sourcing timber from Europe, he created a template for his first violin.

Since those early days he has made 100 violins, 15 violas and 15 cellos. The customer is given the choice of size, model and preference of timber. All instruments are handcrafted, taking many hours to complete the fine detailing of components.

Models for the violin include the “Carrodus” by Guarneri del jesù 1743, Stradivari Messiah 1716, Stradivari Titian 1715, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini 1776, and the Stradivari 1712 “Davidoff” for the cello, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini viola and his own designs for viola’s, half and three quarter-sized violins and half-size cellos.

The early instruments were made from the traditional European maple and spruce timbers but the later ones are made using some of the rarest Australian timbers, some of them 2500 years old, producing sounds that are equal to their European counterparts.

The decision to work with Australian timbers came from a friendship struck with a local timber merchant after moving to Melbourne in 2004. His friend, Laurie, or LT, a third generation timber merchant, “knows” timber.

By their very nature, the biggest majority of Australian hardwoods are quarter cut. Most soft woods are generally cut on the back.

LT says that from a 60 cubic metre of timber it is sometimes possible to get 2 to 3 lineal metres of suitably flamed and toned hard wood, perfect for instruments backs.

When it comes to soft wood for instrument tops, whether it is local timber or exotic, he believes a 1500-year-old tree of approximately 5 to 6 metres in diameter would supply a reasonable quantity of quarter cut at 90 degrees.

His other maxim is any person using timber should stock in their work shop enough to be used over a period, to reach equilibrium in moisture content. Hence Ferguson’s stock of selected Australian timbers to satisfy most clients tastes and requests. If European timber is requested he would then purchase enough for the one instrument.

The types of Australian woods used include Huon pine, celery pine, king billy pine, cedar, ash and suitable eucalypts.

Tom Ferguson

Recordings and interests

J.P. Shilo – a local musician has worked in Europe and China and recently played in the back up band in national concerts with Leonard Cohen when he performed in Australia, plays a Ferguson violin. He has also recorded some of his own music. Two tracks from J.P. Shilo's "Hungry Ghosts" recorded with one on Tom's violins can be heard "I Don't Think About You Anymore" and "Nothing Has To Happen".

A violin was placed on loan to the Australian Chamber Orchestra and was used in a photo shoot to promote a national tour of the ACO with Barry Humphries/Les Patterson and Dame Edna in late 2009. The violin was Ferguson’s version of the Del Jesu.

Ferguson has done what others have shunned and made a Huon Pine Cello using wood that is more than 2500 years old. The cello has been donated to a museum that is under construction in Melbourne and which will house other musical artefacts including Dame Nellie Melba’s landau.

Philosophy

Tom Ferguson

“In my craft or sullen art” – Dylan Thomas

My love for music and woodwork has played a great role in my life. Throughout my life I have loved playing the piano and in my later years have started teaching my granddaughter the violin using the Suzuki method. Going to good concert performances also inspires me enormously. I also enjoy listening to recordings as I work in my workshop each day.

In violin making, it is about bringing craft and art together. Models, archings, thicknesses, combinations of different types of wood and other factors determine the outcome of the final tones.

Sound finds the interaction between the instrument and the musician and I see myself in the middle to help where necessary.

I make instruments for all levels of players, ranging from students to teachers, orchestra players, chamber musicians and soloists. My goal is that they stay happy with their purchase and get a lot of hours of pleasure out of playing my instruments. Buying an instrument is an important investment and in the past some of my customers have decided to pay me in instalments. I also offer some instruments on loan for some deserving cases.

The original artisans and designers of stringed instruments used their eyes, ears, hands and hand tools – and passion - to formulate the basic standards to create what we know today as the violin, viola, cello and bass. These instruments, with variations required for the modern day orchestra, still exist today.

I use the same tools of the trade - and passion – plus the history of the ancient artisans as well as the models that are still in existence today to handcraft copies of those instruments that where made by those ancient artisans some hundreds of years ago.

When the plates are close to completion dimension-wise, the use of the tap tone method, mass and as Pablo Casals once remarked “licence with honour” for each component to be finally meet my satisfaction, for an instrument that can proudly carry my name.