Tony Mason is a resident of Barrow, and has a workshop a couple of miles outside Wymeswold, in the heart of the countryside. Over 30 years ago he started Alexander Accessories, making high quality violin and viola chin rests that are used by some of the world’s most famous violinists and violists.
Tony originally trained and worked as a metallurgist. He taught himself to play the violin, and when he required a new chin rest decided to try making his own, since good quality accessories were not readily available. After making chin rests for his children and for one of their teachers, he came to the attention of a London firm of luthiers (makers, restorers and dealers of stringed instruments). They offered him a year’s advice and then started buying from him. Now many more luthiers buy from him, and supply professional soloists and orchestral players all over the world.
Tony’s assistant Chris joined him seven years ago, after careers in the Navy and as a driving instructor, and learnt on the job. They moved to their current site around two years ago, having previously been based in Quorn, and make around 500 chin rests a year. In the workshop there are a number of machines including ‘Big Bertha’, a cast iron-framed band saw from the 1930s, for splitting wood, a smaller band saw for shaping it, and several machines for machining and sanding curves.
There are over 30 designs of chin rests available, and each design can be made using one of several different types of wood with classical fittings available in various metals, including solid titanium, which is light weight and non allergenic. The woods used are high-quality hardwoods including fine grained ebony, South American rosewood and French boxwood which will have taken 200 years to grow to the right thickness high up in the Pyrenees. It is dried out for 3 years or more before use, and some of the ebony and rosewood they use has been stored for up to 10 years.
After a chin rest has been shaped and sanded, it is finished with a traditional stain (where applicable) and oil, and then polished with beeswax. The result is a beautiful piece of workmanship, sometimes crafted to the individual requirements of the player.
The chin rests are popular with professional players because they are light in weight and finished using the old, tried and tested methods. They can be made to the player’s specification. The type of chin rest needed will depend on the player and their playing position, and if a player needs a chin rest to be taller than usual, this can often be accommodated. The correct choice of chin rest design will improve comfort and playing style, and a professional player can use the same one for many years. Items are not held in stock, but are made to order.
As well as chin rests, Tony and Chris make around 70 violin and viola tailpieces (the piece of wood that retains the strings at the bottom of the instrument) a year. One of their latest commissions was an armrest for a mandolin! They can also supply the most beautiful, ornate tuning pegs.
Alexander Accessories has work coming in all the time, and has no need to advertise – repeat customers and ‘word of mouth’ keeps them very busy. They like being off the beaten track, where it is peaceful and there are no interruptions.