Tom Ferguson was born in Liverpool, England in the 1930s, working as a ship instrument maker. During his youth he studied music 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 antique copies of furniture from the finest Australian and South American timbers.
On retirement, with his 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.
The customer is given the choice of violin, viola or cello model and preference of timber. All instruments are handcrafted, taking approximately 100 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.
By their very nature, the biggest majority of Australian hardwoods are quarter cut. Most soft woods are generally cut on the back.
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 belly, whether it is local timber or exotic, he believes a 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 his 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, kalantas cedar, alpine ash and selected eucalypts.
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 as a museum piece. The cello situated in a museum in Melbourne and with other musical artefacts including Dame Nellie Melba’s landau.