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NICOLA DE BONIS
LUTHIER IN BISIGNANO 
1918 . 1978

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YEAR:  1974

SOUNDBOARD:  Italian Spruce

BACK & SIDES: Indian Rosewood

FORK:  650 mm

VARNISH:  Shellac

The brothers Vincenzo and Nicola De Bonis carried on the historic family lutherie tradition of Bisignano (Cosenza) until a few years ago. Nicola has also built stringed instruments, which are very rare, but the guitar is the instrument in which he effectively expresses his understanding of the work of an excellent luthier. In this guitar of his, an instrument of great charm, with a complete and balanced sound, perfectly preserved today, we find all his qualitative characteristics as a craftsman-artist.

To build and finish a good violin, the De Bonis take no less than five months, time also necessary for a satisfactory drying of the glue and varnish. In their opinion, one of the most delicate operations is that of cutting the f-holes on the lid of an instrument. So much so that Niccolò Amati (1595-1684), precisely by increasing its shape compared to the previous models, gave more sweetness to the voice of his violins. Furthermore, the choice of wood is very important, the fibrous compactness of which must be considered and, even more, the seasoning, the age of the maple, for example, is around ten to fifteen years, never less.

The application of the glues and the varnishing are particularly accurate. Without the latter, the sound of a violin is altered fifteen to twenty years after its birth, losing purity.
The existence of the violin, however, has many unknowns, some of which, among the small and little known, are attributed to two pieces of pine wood glued inside the instrument: a tiny rod (the "chain") , about thirty centimeters long, placed on the inside of the lid, and a

smaller cylinder (the "soul"), six to seven millimeters in diameter, placed between the lid and the bottom. These not very visible elements, in addition to their mechanical function, have such an intimate influence on the sound performance, that they even troubled Antonio Stradivari (1643-1737) in determining their quality, aging, shape, dimensions, position.

The fact is that an excellent violin is born from a whole fusion of complicated adaptations, elusive tricks, whose formula escapes pure and simple technology, because it is also created with intuition, with the genius of the luthier. In this regard, it is said that Andrea Amati (1500) wandered in the Tyrolean forest in search of middle-aged pines, beating their trunks with wooden mallets in order to listen to their internal vibrations, those vibrations that he would later manage to perpetuate in the bottoms of his instruments. It is also said that he obtained maple lids from oars of ancient galleys lost by the Turks.

In short, the fact is that no manual has ever been able to present the key to the secret combination in detail, no luthier has ever been able to perfect the voice of the violins more than the Amatis, the Stradivaris and the Guarnieris.

Bisignano, a populous agricultural center overlooking the Crati valley from the top of a spur, is famous in the region for its handicraft activity, which in the past thrived mainly with displays of sacred sculpture (pulpits, choir stalls, lecterns, wooden altars).
The wood carvers were gradually replaced by numerous clay workers and, in particular, by the potters, today large-scale producers.

But the current fame of the craftsmanship derives above all from violin making, from a centuries-old workshop of luthiers, in which the same family, the De Bonis family, works from generation to generation. "In the Italienische Geigenbauer, Ghota's almanac of luthiers - writes Giuseppe Grazzini in Epoca (February 12, 1961) - the De Bonis are spoken of as a dynasty. There is a Francesco I, a Francesco II, a third, a fourth, like the Giacintos, the Micheles, the Nicolas, the Vincenzos, the Rosarios, variously alternating like the branches of an imperial family tree.These are centuries of history, the history of a secret and unexpected Calabria, that of music. The story of a workshop where with the same chisels, the same shapes, the same woods, above all with the same love, someone repeats the miracle of creating a living instrument every day.Violins, guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, everything is born in this workshop in identical models for centuries.The grandchildren become fathers, then grandparents, then they leave seeing that the last born are already ready to take the place left empty, to continue that work that must never end.
In the De Bonis workshop we come across the image of Giuseppe Verdi as that of an important friend who went to Rome for a few days. The sense of time no longer exists. It could really happen that the door opens and Verdi enters to ask for a violin. It happened once before, after all. As has happened for many other musicians. It was always the same shop, it was always a De Bonis who said yes, who would have done his best to please that illustrious customer. With the same modesty, a virtue so rare, yesterday as today".

In the De Bonis workshop the specialties are violins and harp mandolins, concert guitars and swing guitars.
The laboratory, for those who visit it, looks like a tangle of wood, bones, varnishes, glues, tools, colours. But for the De Bonis family everything is in its right place, nothing is out of order; they know how to find with their eyes closed the spruce for the soundboards, the ebony for the keyboards, the veined and moreed maple or the rosewood for the soundboards or for the necks, the ribs and the ox bones for the purfling or for the inlays or for the mouths. It is an orderly disorder, as artists know how to see and want.

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And this, perhaps, has not happened for any other product of man, both of his art and of his science.

A luthier can make use of quite a few scientific, technical and aesthetic rules for the construction of a violin, and by following these alone he can produce just one commercial instrument. But to create a valuable model he needs instinct, talent, imagination, experience, and these prerogatives are not foreseen by any treaty.

Experience, evidently, is the last secret in the hierarchical succession of qualities necessary for those who make musical instruments, but it is, in all probability, the absolute first in terms of degree of importance. And this secret, for the De Bonis. it is inheritable by their children's children, and that's it, as an inextinguishable, perpetual spiritual legacy. Thus commanded the fathers of their fathers for ever, and that command is inviolable. It's law. A law that miraculously continues to survive the pressures of contemporary pragmatism: the moral law.

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