Bringing an 18th Century Mittenwald Cello Back to Life
A Ken Sullivan Restoration Story
When asked about his most memorable restoration pieces, it doesn’t take Ken Sullivan long to recall a special 8 months in Arizona with a Mittenwald Klotz School Cello. Maybe it was a ¾ size, perhaps a ⅞, but it wasn’t the dimensions of the instrument that made it noteworthy. This Mittenwald was a relic from the 18th century and a family heirloom that had been with the owners for generations. Over the years, various aspects of the cello had fallen into disarray, and the owners were hoping to bring new life to the antique instrument.
The repairs were extensive, requiring hundreds of hours of work, love, and patience to complete. As is common with antique violins, violas, and cellos, the top was beginning to crack and sink, creating a much flatter top than intended. After carefully molding the top, it was pressed out and a breast patch was inserted to revive the original arch and intention of the maker. The cello also received new corners to correct chips, cracks, and nicks.
The Mittenwald also underwent neck grafting, a complicated repair process where the neck is replaced while the peg box and scroll of the original instrument remain. After unhinging the neck from the mortise, the old wood was separated, trimmed, and prepared for grafting. Ken took great care to match the new wood block to the figure of the original, planning the new neck to smoothly fit into the peg box. With a new neck comes a new fingerboard, another laborious process that took a keen eye and great attention to detail. After these large scale repairs, Ken’s efforts turned to fixing any extraneous cracks or weak points in the wood.
Once structural repairs were completed, it was time to focus restoration efforts on external aesthetics. After extensive varnish work, a completely new set-up was required in order to achieve the same intended musical tone as the original instrument, a feat that took no small amount of time, effort, and skill.
The final result was an absolutely stunning 18th century Mittenwald Klotz School Cello ready to be played, enjoyed, and passed down for many years to come. The repair will always be salient in Ken’s memory both because of how elated the family was to see their heirloom restored and how absolutely breathtaking it was to hear the instrument be played once again by the client’s cellist son. While this heirloom repair may be one of many for Ken, he believes the beautiful end result always makes the work and effort worthwhile.