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David Beard

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Posts posted by David Beard

  1. I'm fond of Spike as an alternative to spirits of turpentine.

    My folks painted for a living, so as a kid I sort of smelled enough turpentine for one lifetime!

    I do have some turp on hand, and use it when running various experiments. But so far, all the things I want to do in my varnish work as well or better with the spike. So that's good luck for my nose. It does dry a bit slower though. Interestingly, spike lavendar oil appears far earlier in the history of art materials than spirits of turpentine does.

    So in my work, my five solvents are water, lime water, alcohol spirits, spike lavendar, and light walnut oil.

  2. Simplicity of varnishing is just a hypothesis, with a basis on the other things we can observe about probable working methods.

    OK. That's fair. But then the idea that it is desirable to discuss finish in terms of a sequence of layer goals is also just a hypothesis. As such it probably merits discussion rather than dismisal.

    In those terms, I would imagine that at least some makers out there use a system that might be described as:

    1) raise grain and open pores by applying X.

    2) seal pores with Y.

    3) inhance grain using Z.

    4) apply secret 'ground' coating.

    5) apply most recent homecooked varnish

    6) polish

    Further, this is undoubtedly structurally different from what many other makers do.

    For me, I think I like the idea of separating a discussion of goals from materials. It seems logically clearer.


  3. Hi,

    I was writing a post, but it seems to have disappeared. Here goes again:

    Is 'simple' so obviously desired?? Prepared tube paint and one pot finishes evolved as part of the commercialization of art materials. Perhaps this explains part of what was lost after the classical era.

    Also, note that some of the successful modern varnish makers advocate systems that aren't exactly simple: Old Wood, Magister.

    If we accept that classical finishes have a differentiated layer under the 'varnish', then that's already at least two steps.

    If we go further and accept that at least some classic finishes seem to involve a strongly charge color layer between the yellow/golden under layer and the 'varnish', then we have at least three steps.

    If we acknowledge any prep of the wood before the golden layer, we now have four steps or more.

    If we then allow that most violins were later over polished, and might have originally had some kind of flowing final coat, then we have a five plus layers in the typical finish of a classical instrument as used today.

    Given the complexity of materials and layerings of art work of the same era, it doesn't seem far fetched that 5 distinct processes might have been only a very stingy version of the general finishing techniques.

    Who really knows?

    For the original poster: why so convinced of water base?


  4. Hi,

    The bow is integral to every aspect of playing.

    There is also the matter of picking a bow which matches your instrument, and matches your playing. As you progress in your playing, you'll probably discover that you are happier, sound better, and can play more freely when you have both a good instrument and a good bow.

    Things a good bow is likely to do better and help a good player do better: tone, agility, bounced bowings, play a very slow long stroke, play loud, play very quite, control the tone and get different colors, crispness of articulation, softness when desired, etc.

    Like was said earlier, a good bow is generally made by a good maker, using good wood, and is in good condition. Price also generally reflects these same things. However, good and bad don't always match up perfectly to these things. In the end, a good bow is a bow that a good player is likely to pick and use. Sometimes the best ingredients fail to come together into an excellent bow. And sometimes lessor ingredients combine in a happy accident to make a better bow than might be expected.

    So you really have to try bows to find one that is right for you and your instrument, and that matches your playing style.

    My advice would be to visit a violin shop and try as many bows as possible. ONLY by trying and comparing many bows can you begin to start understanding what helps you play better, and what you and your violin like.

    When it comes time to buy a bow, set your budget amount. Then try all the bows you can afford. Look for ones that stand out to you above the rest -- for you.


  5. Hi David,

    Any chance you could tell us where Vitruvius talks about tapping in connection with crossbow construction?



    It's Chapter XII of Book X, actually titled 'The Stringing and Tuning of Catapults'. Not exactly a match to modern 'tap tuning' concepts, but it does show an awareness of using tap sounds in order to balance tensioned systems.

    Also seems very interesting that he mostly describes the critcal design elements in building various machines in terms of simple proportions.

  6. Hi,

    I think setup plays a huge role in the ultimate sound. And setup isn't a simple matter. Setup isn't just a matter of specs and component quality; it also requires a good ear seeking a high outcome with persistence and commitment to the result.

    I suspect that in factory products, setup is mostly approached as a process done to some set standard --without much back and forth aiming for a high outcome.

    When we have a 'fine' instrument in hand, we expect to find a good sound. Setup continues until we get at least a fair outcome. But if we approach an instrument believing it has little to offer, then how hard do we really reach to bring out a good sound???????

    Some years ago when I was playing but not making, I began tinkering with setups. As an experiment, I forced myself to frequently practice and sometimes perform on a really crap German factory fiddle from the 1960s. I was interested in better understanding the roles of player, setup, and instrument in performance sound. I continued the experiment for a bit over four years.

    At first the instrument was tight small and ugly sounding. My first run at setup didn't make much if any dent in the general awfulness. However, after about a year of playing in the instrument began to open just a bit. This made me think there might be more improvement to be had. Going back and forth with the instrument over another four months, I tinkered substantially with the bridge, strings, and post. Eventually I found a setup the instrument seemed to like, with a thick post and very openly cut bridge and Olive strings.

    In the third and fourth years of the experiment the instrument was actually playable. The fiddle still had big limitations, but you could have beautiful musical moments with it. Of course, you had to work harder to draw sounds than you would on a more gifted instrument. Still, after sufficient TLC it spoke through the whole range and could reach a wide palette of sounds.

    I'm glad I went through this experiment. I learned many things.

    Most of all, it settled me on a few opinions:

    1) Better instruments truly are better. They are more open, carry better, give result with less effort, and inspire the performer to freer more expressive play.

    2) The sound the audience experiences is largely the result of commitment and skill in the setup and the player. Inferior tools can be brought to produce almost any result, but with considerably more effort. The audience might be happy enough, but that extra effort on a better instrument can open the doors to higher artistry and expression.

    3) Setup should not be approach simply as a fixed process. It requires back and forth, playing, and time. It also should ideally link to the player.

    4) Setup is difficult enough that we won't attain good results when we don't believe in the instrument enough to persist through to a best outcome.


  7. Maybe the best way to have a program or school for violin expertise/connoisseurship would be not to.

    A very large number of posts in these threads seem to say you can't take a direct path to violin expertise, you need to travel through the land of violin dealing to get there.

    So instead, it might be better to have a program for violin dealing/business.


    Broader student base

    Less abusable outcome

    Such a program could incorporate some grounding in issues around expertise, covering topics such as 'how to know when you don't know' and 'when and how to get expert help'.

  8. I'm pretty much at the beginning of the road, so I'm more relying on reading, logic, and intuition. Undoubtedly, experience will likely modify my methods.

    So for now though, I tap a bit -- just not for specific pitches.

    Some logical reasons not to believe tuning to specific pitches can be right:

    The old guys apparently didn't make specific instruments for specific local pitch variations.

    I'd expect this to be a problem if violins needed particular plate tuning to be good.

    Repairs and restorations and regrads would change the tuning, as would loss of varnish.

    So if the tuning was critical, instruments should historically go in and out of being good.

    Instead, it seems that good instruments mostly just get better with time.

    There doesn't appear to be any strong correlation between results and tuning among modern makers.

    Not likely that the old masters were reading Catgut Society, Fetis, or similar.

    But in support of the general notion of tapping:

    Listening to the wood while carving seems a natural thing to do.

    The writings and ideas of Roman author Vitruvius were in circulation.

    Apparently they were even rather in vogue when the violin arose.

    Vitruvius discusses both resonances and tapping, though in somewhat different context. He talks about intentionally placing large urns and building in cavities throughout an amphitheater for the sake of resonances. He also talks about tapping as a way to determine equal tension in building something like a cross bow. So the idea that the old makers might have had some ideas and practices along the general line of tapping doesn't seem unimaginable. But tapping combined with microphones, scopes, computers, and numerical analysis? That seems vary far removed from the old masters. In their day, numbers and music mostly only connected in the relationship of harmonious intervals to simple integer proportions.

    So for me, I do a little tapping to help me find asymmetries in the response of the plate, and later the instrument. But I'm not looking for a particular pitch, just balanced responses.

    Myself, I'm more interested in the Q of the taps than their pitch (broadness or sharpness of the resonance). I want an instrument with resonances that respond to the player, not with with such specific resonances that they pop out in and out. So I'm happy to hear lively but broader and less pitch defined taps.


  9. I greatly respect those who cultivate true expertise. But as others have said, dealing and instruments are progressively getting more widely dispersed, along with pseudo expertise.

    That is why I’m more interested in developments that allow a very select handful of individuals to have a broader reach and to participate (at least partially) in a higher percentage of “evaluations”.

    The idea that any process can deterministically stamp out ‘experts’ is dangerous (as I believe Roger said), as well as ridiculous.

    Some professions use societies and various schemes of certifications and levels to supposedly assure qualification, but these are really more indicators of ability with internal group politics and conformity to process than of attainment or expertise. Again, the long term opinion of colleagues and the market are probably the only real guards against the ‘pseudo’ experts.

    While the skill of identifying violins is sometimes likened to identifying people, it’s really more like being able to identify kinship and lineage.

    A skill that many have:

    “Hey Luke! I remember you. I saw you at an auction a few years back.”

    But much rarer:

    “Luke! Very nice to meet you. Oh hey, I can tell just be looking at you who your father was. You’d probably better sit down for this.”

  10. There are other fields where book and classroom learning are insufficient, and where true expertise is in problematically short supply. Medicine for example prepares students with school study, but then requires internships to complete the education.

    Also, I wonder if some of the high tech options might enable 'specialist experts' to provide long distance support to violin shops around the world.

    Pictures might not be enough to id fiddles, but what if the local violin dealer and remote expert link up with high definition video and sound?

    I would think the local guy and the expert could work together very effectively to make an id, or valuation, or arrive at a repair plan for a difficult job.

  11. I read Maestronet much more than I post.

    For me, Maestronet is a lifeline and a school. I've spent the last couple years researching and preparing, and now am in the midst of making my first several violins.

    Maestronet is a treasure. Beyond the current threads, the archives are full of gold. Besides providing constructive information, the forum also gives a window on the diverse and multilevel violin culture around the world.

    Posting does seem to be a tricky business! When I do post, sometimes the pointy sticks attack. Egad! And sometimes someone is offended or someone's feelings are hurt even when not intended.


    Bottom line though, Maestronet provides the most convenient way to enjoy a little community with people similarly obsessed with violins.

  12. Perhaps it's something in the lighting? Or maybe others won't see the same thing?

    For me, the tops of the siblings seem to present a stronger contrast than the backs?

    Any insights into this divergence of impression? And why do the backs seem more harmoniously similar by comparison?

  13. Any thoughts on the advantages/disadvantages of a water soluble ground, on something which will be exposed to perspiration?

    Certainly outside of instrument making, the use of water based colors and grounds under varnish is well established. Apparently this was still the normal structure for paintings in Andrea Amati's time.

    As evidence of its continued and broader use, Watin and others describe Chipolin as kind of royal wall finishing. Chipolin was basically a carefully applied white mineral ground in water based glue, followed by varnishing. Well executed Chipolin was reputedly an extremely durable material, once dried.

    None of this necessarily means anything for instrument making. Except that we shouldn't easily dismiss the plausibility of water binders under varnish.

  14. I hope the playground is big enough for many, and for more than one star.

    I've learned from the posts of Burgess, Carlson, Hargrave, Holmes, Saunders, Darnton, and other true experts who thankfully have and/or do post. These stars don't always agree, but always are worth reading. I've also learned from the post of many many others here on MN.

    I don't believe than anyone who has felt cause to offer a supportive word to one member has intended belittlement of others.


    Asking for tolerance. And intending respect toward all our stars.

  15. I'd like to better understand the classical treatment of the linings and blocks.

    I've searched the internet for pictures, and there are a few. But it would be nice to see more pictures of the blocks and linings from classical violins. Particularly, I found it hard to find pictures of the upper and lower blocks and how they meet the linings.

    Of course there are some great resources out there, like Roger Hargrave's articles.

    post-30802-0-84966200-1327378787_thumb.jpg post-30802-0-84207800-1327378769_thumb.jpg

    Latter makers seem to have changed these features very freely. Often, later makers seem to 'clean up' the asymmetries by centering their blocks more equally on the corner, and often by using the same kind of lining join on each side of the block. Obviously symmetry has a natural kind of appeal and logic to it, but clearly the classical makers had some other idea in mind.

    The mortised C bout linings clearly have a rather spring like connection to the blocks. But all the other lining joins apparently are simple butt joints. These I would expect to be almost like hinged joints.

    The shape of the blocks extending into the outer bouts and just barely reaching into the C bouts also seems to emphasize this disparity between the hinged and mortised lining joints.

    I'm hoping and wondering if people have more pictures, and maybe some theories about why?

    What are the consequences of their design? What might be the purpose?

  16. Thank you Michael!

    There are some people with experience making, and some people with experience handling the great instruments, and some people who can communicate clearly and effectively, and some people with a probing curiosity and evident love of violins, but...

    you are among the extraordinarily rare elite that combine all these virtues with an openness and generous sharing.

    Cheers! :)

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