William Johnston

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  1. Well some old violins used fiber purfling so it can't be called untraditional. With fiber purfling the black lines are made of a fiber material but the white line is maple. You don't have to use heat to bend it but bending with heat should still be used because it makes fitting it in the purfling channel easier. The problem with fiber purfling is that it is harder to make good bee stings at the corners because the soft fiber is harder to cut to a clean sharp point than wood purfling, but it can be done. I prefer all wood purfling just because it looks better under varnish. The black lines in fiber purfling just look like plain black lines, the black lines in wood purfling are more interesting looking.
  2. I don't know the name of the book but there is some book written in German, so I can't read it, but it has photos of a lot of old violins by famous builders. Some of the photos are taken in ultraviolet light so you can see the colors that the varnish glows in UV light. An interesing thing about shellac is that it glows bright opaque orange under UV light but none of the Strads or other Cremonese violins that I took the time to look up glowed this orange color. I don't know anything about these recent tests though.
  3. Red spruce has a reputation for being the stiffest spruce but once you try all of the spruces out there you'll see that there are no real rules on this. Right now I have some Sitka spruce that is harder and stiffer than any of the red spruce that I've tried, of course some of my Sitka is more flexable than red spruce. My point is wood generalizations are rarely accurate so they're best avoided. It wouldn't suprise me if American spruce was shipped to Europe starting with the first colonies, after all one of the only good reasons for sending Europeans to this continent was the exploit the natural resources. Visually under violin varnish you won't be able to tell what spruce was used on which violin. Visually and microscopically(so I've been told by others) most of the softwoods like spruce, fir, and pine can't be distinguished from each other so individual spruce varieties would be impossible to tell apart. You can trick yourself into thinking that you can see the differences between different spruces but you'll be fooled a good amount of time, I'm talking violins here where colored varnishes cover up the natural wood color. So I doubt that it will ever be proved conclusively where each violin builder got his wood and what wood it is so stories of special wood shipments will probably always be around wether they're true or not.
  4. I don't know if it was used as a varnish pigment but it was used as a painting pigment by artists. If you want to read about a disgusting pigment try reading a discription of how the original Indian Yellow was manufactured.
  5. The Hill's book is free at www.celloheaven.com/hill/index.htm
  6. I wouldn't worry about a resin pocket unless it was near the soundpost. The Nicolo Amati violin at the Shrine to Music Museum has a small knot in the top, apparently a great maker didn't think a knot would hurt anything.
  7. I saw this instrument while at the Shrine to Music Museum. www.usd.edu/smm/rawlins6.html I decided to make a few instruments based on this little Amati thing to use up the smaller bits of wood that are hanging around my shop threatening never to go away. I haven't found much about these little instruments on the internet except that they are usually tuned an octave above a viola and that they fell out of use around 1750. It's not a fractional instrument. The body is between a 1/8 and 1/4 size violin in body length, between 1/2 and 1/4 size in string length and the width of the neck is the same as a full sized violin, the neck is actually thicker than a modern 4/4 violin neck. The last thing that I need are more instruments hanging around that I can hardly play so I'll be giving them away for the cost of materials, strings (gut with no metal windings), s&h, and you supply the case. The cost of materials is around $5 since I'm using rescued wood to match the plain appearance of the wood in the original. This instrument is a true baroque style instrument. E-mail if you're interested in getting one of these things.
  8. Oil varnish: Pros - Some recipes are very good. Cons - Some recipes make bad varnish. Spirit varnish: Pros - Some recipes are very good. Cons - Some recipes make bad varnish. Use a good recipe and apply it well and don't worry if it's spirit or oil.
  9. If you don't live near the coast in a very humid area you'll want to let that maple dry out for at least a month before you can think about using it. All of the suppliers I've tried in the Pacific Northwest dry their wood the best the can in the constant rain but if you're building somewhere less humid that wood really needs time to dry out. I bought a one piece cello back from Bruce Harvey a year ago. When I got it the wood felt dry to the touch but gave only a dull thump when I tapped and listened for a tap tone. Now a year latter it rings nicely when tapped. You don't have to wait a year to use that maple, one month should be long enough if you place the wood someplace dry with air circulating around the wood . I built a viola from some of Bruce's poplar about four months after purchase with no problems, I've never tried his maple. I'm just not a bigleaf maple fan. Sides bent from them are more brittle than sides from other maple species.
  10. You're using orange or lemon shellac flakes right? Yes the white stuff is just wax. I haven't had any luck with filtering it out the only way to get rid of the wax is to let the jar of varnish sit undisturbed for a while and then pour off the clear liquid. Normally I dissolve the shellac in denatured alcohol (probably the same stuff you're using) and use it right away with the wax still in it. The wax won't hurt anything. Visually you probably won't notice the wax.
  11. Look at paintings with violins in them from around 1600 to 1800. They usually don't look much like a real violin do they? Imagine what a modern recreation of a baroque violin would be like if done from paintings. I think the only person who accurately painted musical instruments was Vermeer.
  12. The plans are good enough to make a mold from and to take scroll measurements from, arching outlines, and graduations but they're not a good source for any sort of detail. I took pictures of different parts of all the instruments that I was interested in but I don't think that much corner detail will show up in the pictures. I've just never been very interested in the purfling miters. I did take pictures showing the amount of edge overhang that many of the instruments had, including the little A&H Amati thing. If this shows any detail then I'll e-mail you the picture. My main reason for going to the museum was to see the different arches used by the old makers and most of my pictures are side views showing the arches of the violins' tops and pictures taken at angles with light reflecting off the top to show how the arch, scoop, and edgework all come together. It's too bad that the only unaltered old Cremonese instruments that survived unaltered are odd sized things that no one plays anymore. If Vuillaume hadn't of gotten too busy then the Messie Strad would still have it's original fingerboard and neck unaltered.
  13. Two members of it are on display on the top floor in the area of the modern guitars. One of them was the minature violin with the big ugly f-holes and the other was cellolike. I looked at them for a couple seconds and walked away. I've just never understood why the octet was formed. Violin, viola, cello, and bass sounds alright to me. You play viola right? They have a Stainer viola in baroque setup, an unaltered Stainer violin is in the same case, a Da Salo viola with sides of violin depth, and an unaltered Guarneri viola. Andre Guarneri is best known for his smaller 16 5/16" violas but this one is 19" long and 11" wide. I bought the technical drawing of it and took pictures. Some day I'll build a copy of it but I doubt that I'll be able to sell a 19" viola in baroque setup. The Da Salo has fancy purfling inlay on the back but it's hard to see with the way the instruments are displayed. You can't see the backs of any on the instruments well. I think the Strad was the instrument that was displayed the worst, it's back was facing the corner of it's case and you could hardly see anything except that the back looked pretty scratched up. They also have an Andre Amati viola.