Christian Garrick - Violin

Musical genes don’t run much deeper than Garrick’s. With a jazz pianist father and a mother who played classical piano and sang in the London Philharmonic choir, avoiding a musical upbringing and education would have been difficult.  “We lived in a very claustrophobic house with a piano on each of its three floors,” recalls Garrick.

“There was at least one piano being played if not two, so you’d have days when dad would be working on an arrangement or piece and mum would be practising Chopin in the other room. My brain was being bombarded with musical noise and as a youngster I was soaking that up, but I didn’t know that there was so much variety in what I heard ‘till later on.” As a child, Garrick would typically find himself out one night with his mother at the Festival Hall as she rehearsed Messiaen, while the next night he’d be with his father at a jazz gig listening to the likes of Norma Winstone, Henry Lowther and Dave Green.

At home, Garrick remembers that he was always tinkling on the piano, “because the lid was always up! I was always interested in the piano as a composition tool at home, but not necessarily as a performing tool. The first instrument that I got any real tuition on was the violin, which I started when I was six or seven with peripatetic lessons at school.” He made his first violin himself, as he was following the Suzuki method which requires you to make your own instrument. “I made mine from a cereal packet,” says Garrick, desperately trying to stifle a laugh. “It didn’t have any strings on it – so it didn’t make a lot of noise. But it served the purpose of getting you to hold the instrument correctly under your chin. As for bowing, you had a pendulum made of a rubber ring with a piece of string attached to it to simulate the bowing movement.” Garrick’s first real violin was a cheap Chinese factory instrument issued by the school. “I remember my first full size was bought by my mum from the local music shop in Hemel Hempstead.” He continues. “This was when I was playing in the local youth orchestra in Hemel Hempstead. We did all the classical repertoire – I remember playing Mendelssohn’s violin concerto when I was 17.”

Garrick readily admits that he really wanted to be a classical soloist. “But that was before I went to the Royal Academy to study on Graham Collier’s jazz course. And anyway, I don’t think I really ever had the stamina and discipline required – and that needs to be there from a very early age. After all, my upbringing was much more varied and much less disciplined, probably because of the jazz and the improvisation.”

When he arrived at the Academy he was lent “my first decent instrument”. Garrick remembers only that it was German and that he borrowed it for a couple of years. “They also gave me the dosh to buy my first electric violin – a Californian ‘Zeta’.” But it’s a British hand built John Dilworth instrument with a spruce table and maple back that Garrick sites as his first proper violin. “It was made by John in 1994,” enthuses Garrick, “and I still use it today as my main instrument.” However, Garrick has recently acquired a new electric violin with seven strings. He explains: “It was made by John Jordan in the States. It’s the same size as a standard violin and has the same dimensions. But the body has been modified and cut in a different way for weight purposes – it’s a ‘onepiece’ flamed maple with a composite neck. Visually, I guess it looks like a viol or an old medieval instrument. It’s also headless, where the strings are put on the other way round and the tuning gear is underneath the chin. The top four strings are tuned in the normal way and the bottom three are tuned in fifths below the G (C/F/Bb) which goes a tone under the cello range. At first I was worried that it wouldn’t speak on the bottom strings because of the short string length, but it is actually very easy to play and very sonorous.”

So what strings does Garrick use? “I’ve tried them all over the years,” he confirms. “My favourites on the John Dilworth are Pirastro Obligatos. On the electric violins it’s got to be Sensicore mediums. For the seven string they’re specially made Sensicores which you can’t get in the UK, so I have to order them on the Internet from a supplier in the States. But they last a lot longer than the standard strings – like Double Bass sets.”

I’m eager to know about Garrick’s bows. “Well, John Etheridge introduced me to Pete Oxley who runs the Spin in Oxford, who also happens to be one of the world’s top bow makers – although Pete would never admit to it! There were two choices, a gold or a silver mounted bow. The silver was half the price of the gold one – so the choice was pretty much made for me! The wood is Pernambuco. It has the perfect density and flexibility for a bow. Pete only uses the finest white horse hair – I think mine’s a Canadian stallion!” Garrick has played carbon fibre bows but doesn’t own one. “I tend to borrow a viola one for when I’m playing the 7 string.”

I’m just about to leave when Garrick says: “I’ve not told you about my old German violin which is a copy of a ‘Strad’. It’s got an LR Baggs pickup on it and I’ve lowered the string action so they’re almost sitting on the fingerboard. It’s great for ‘folky’ stuff – lullabies and so forth.” For ballads like ‘Nuages’, Garrick uses aluminium mutes which were manufactured by the now defunct Symmons company. “I find them in antique shops,” he says. “They give a much warmer sonority and tone than the wood ones.”

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