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Posts posted by scordatura

  1. It's an estimate, on the regrad, based on the weight of the plate and the thickness. On the other ones that I built, I measured the wood beforehand using accurately cut samples. Yes, varnish would make a difference of a few percent, but that's not a huge deal.

    What do you use for the volume number?

  2. Jezzupe nicely put. I am well aware of the blind test with Stern and Zukerman and others like it. I want to make something clear. I am not dogmatic about the ubiquitous nature of Strads and Guarneris. I have played some violins that are quite new that I would put in the outstanding sound category (Curtain, Zygmontowicz, Bellini, Becker and others). I have played a few Strads that were what I would call dogs. But the absolute best were Guarneris, Strads, and one Storioni that had the best E string I have ever played. As you say probably because they were played for a long time by good to great players. I would say that each time that I have had the opportunity to play on the expensive antique instruments part of me is excitedfor obvious reasons and because of my making/repairing background I almost wanted them to be ho hum. Additionally I knew that I was playing on instruments that I would never be able to own. I actually for a while quite going to shops or asking players if I could try their fiddles.

    Perhaps to bring this topic full circle the image below might shed some light on my original question. As I understand it Curtin uses low density Engelmann (correct me if I am wrong). I have quite a bit of his old spruce. Like I said before, I asked him why he was selling this wood as most of it does not have glaring defects. He said because we (I guess he was still working with Greg Alf) found something lighter. I have tried his instruments and for the most part liked what I tried.

    BTW thanks for warning me about my hands. Years ago I was working on a bass bridge. I was really going at trimming it. All of a sudden it let go and I drove a big splinter in between my fingernail and skin of my thumb. It came out ok after they cut off half of my fingernail and removed the splinter… a tad uncomfortable as you can imagine.


  3. Higher decibels only hurt people's ears more. Is the use of Low Density Spruce intended to jack up decibel levels even higher? :o


    Unfortunately yes. When audiences are used to hearing recordings where the mike is close it creates unrealisticexpectations. Only on one occasion did I play a violin that was hard to play softly enough (due to my handywork). I was the concertmaster and the conductor was always telling me to play softer. That violin has a huge sound but hind of one dimensional. Case in point I am playing a solo with an orchestra. I can assure you that I am going after it. Comment to me from someone in the hall after the rehearsal l" you need to play out more". At that time I was playing on a nice northern italian fiddle that had all of the quality but not enough presence. Thin slab cut back... The style of teaching since Galamian is largely focused on producing a big sound.

  4. "If (as seems likely) they did not sound very special when they were first made, then following their methods (whatever you think that is) does not hold much promise for success within the lifetime of the maker... some of them will sound fabulous long after we're dead. Personally, I'd rather try to make instruments so that ALL of them sound great NOW (or reasonably soon). That is a much different problem, and I don't think can be achieved just by following what the old guys did, assuming we could even know all the details of what they did."

    Don, with all due respect, the above doesn't make much sense (not any, really).

    Truth is, the present has a lot to learn from the past, and how to go about making a damn good good violin is but one.

    I kind of get what Don is alluding to. I have been told by very successful makers that their instrument needs to be played in. For those who have made instruments we say “of course”. But when that instrument really does not sound good from the start--there is a problem. I have read that in Vuillaume’s day he was being accused of artificially aging the wood , etc. and the instruments would lose their voice over time. I have heard this line of thinking about good sounding modern makers (Matsuda comes to mind). Interestingly enough I think Hilary Hahn plays a Vuillaume. Also Vuillaume’s instruments have seen a substantial increase in value recently. No I am not saying that ALL Vuillaume’s sound great.

    Barring what I would define normal playing in (I know… define that) an instrument that is a dud from the start will stay that way unless the problems lie in the setup (bar, bridge, etc.) or it can be thinned.

    We also need to keep in mind that the requirements for volume or sound projection have changed. Bigger halls require more decibels (volume). It is one thing to make an instrument that has what we would deem to have qreat color and nuance. It is another thing for an instrument have tone quality AND volume. Perhaps the 2nd generation Cremonese makers (after Andrea and Niccolo Amati) instruments responded to the changes in neck and string type (and the regraduation that people like Vuillaume did) due to lower and flatter arching. If we believe the accounts, the Stainer and Andrea Amati instruments were the ones to have. Is that because they had been played in or the their setup or sound requirements favored them?

    We also have to be careful of the few and far between sources in literature that describe Strads and others as being poor sounding early on. It reminds me of Baroque performance practice. How do we know how they played during the Baroque era? Yes the setup , lower pitch and bows dictate a lot but what do we have to go on? A treatise by Leopold Mozart? It is speculation at best. FWIW I like what is going on in the neo Baroque movement.

  5. I agree that short of empirical evidence for the ground--despite electron microscopes and spectroscopy (damn I hate it when organic compounds are indistinguishable)and old wives tales, you are right ctviolin we do need to make a choice and go with it. To me to get a good look to the overall picture; we need a proper wood color which is separate from the ground and varnish. I have found that time in the sun or a light box (I miss living in Hawaii for the sun but not the constant high humidity) sometimes does not yield what I want. I was reading the "violin maker" book about Ziggy and he uses what is called a wash that according to the author yields a cinnamon color (hopefully Marchese is not color blind--just kidding). "I washed it with a very light wash of pigment to seal it a little bit". This is before he put the ground on. This is what got my wheels turning about something before the ground was applied. Ziggys fiddles do look and sound good. My concern is that I do not want to fully seal the wood with a stain of some type because I want my ground to penetrate the wood. However the end grain absorption poses problems when using a stain. Notice Ziggy said seal a little bit. After all we should study this guy as he is an excellent maker. Besides he gets a pretty good price for his fiddles…all envious violin makers begin biting lip now ;)

  6. Tangent or not, I agree with the violinist. I feel that wood improves with age, but more importantly a good sounding violin that is played often will sound better in time based on "elastic memory". This also relates to our age old discussion about violins "breaking in". If I have a thin piece of rib material and start to bend it back and forth like a coat hangar, at first, as long as I don't bend too much in either direction, the wood will be stiff, but as I work it back and forth, the wood will heat slightly and become more pliable, some of this is due to the heat, but more importantly it is due to the fibers stretching and maybe tearing a bit {like muscle tissue}. All bending has a breaking point, but, much like our own bodies, if we work at flexibility, we can achieve it, slowly. Wood is exactly the same way.

    So, if every day I go to this piece of rib material, and I bend it, after sitting over night, it will be a little stiff from sleeping, but will be able to go right into "bend mode" and be able to hit its peak flexibility after just a few bends back and forth. If however I leave this piece for a long time, and do not bend it, over time it will become stiffer again. Violin music represents 95 possible notes deriving from the 21-note scale in five positions along the fretboard. For each one of these notes we could consider it a part of our body or a different muscle. Each individual note will excite the corpus in its own unique way. An open G string, think of it as bending over and touching your toes, and open A, think of it as reaching your arms over head, and so on, for each note we have a different "yoga" maneuver. A good violin that is constantly played, will remain flexible and ready to serve. I would not attribute this as a broad based explanation as to why these instruments{ the well know master ones}sound so good,but I certainly think it plays a role

    On an instinctual level I think there is something to this. Great violins tend to be played by great players. Over time this may contribute to chemical or even molecular changes to the wood or the binding materials that “glue” the wood cells together. One of the best sounding instruments I have ever played was the Kreisler Guarneri. One the greatest violinists ever (my opinion) played it. However, when I spent some time with the violin it was mostly unplayed (Library of Congress). I have to say that that instrument was almost limitless in its ability to produce a wide palette of color and the ability to withstand incredible amounts of bow pressure (vertical force). I would equate it to being restricted to using only primary colors to paint and then being allowed to mix those colors into infinite variations of color and hue. I kept asking more and more of the instrument and it went with me in almost every way. I walked out of there amazed, astounded and convinced that the greatness of these instruments was not a myth.

  7. This thread on too-low density spruce rings true with me. (pun :P ) I am now realizing that there is some kind of sweet spot with density. I don't have numbers yet, but it seems the high end of Engelmann is best.

    Stay tuned.


    I like this line of thinking...I think!

  8. Let's set some margins for 'awesome sounding instruments'. Is there some inference it's not possible to craft a violin with superior clarity unless a certain grade or genus of wood is chosen? And IF it's not clarity which makes the difference between great sounding violins [and not-so-great] then what is it - a certain pattern of 'noise' one hears??

    As I recall, there're many not-so-great sounding Cremonese instruments all using the same genus of wood [as the great ones].



    I knew this would possibly evolve/devolve into what is good sound debate. I am lucky in that I am a professional player (mostly classical and some jazz) and also someone who delves into making from time to time. I have enough skill on the violin to extract the good qualities of an instrument and play around the inadequacies of an instrument. BTW I am not trying to “toot my own horn” or play my own violin if you will…laughing. What I can suggest is that I am a pretty good evaluator of violin sound (or noise) and most of those really great instruments have been Cremonese. I have played some modern instruments that might also fall into that category.

    I am not saying that a particular genus of wood is always going to be a complete winner over all others. The question in my mind is--how can we best have control over the things we can most control? Yes even wood varies from the same tree. But if as makers we can establish a range of density that we want to work from, that aids in our ability to gain SOME control in this impossible endeavor of instrument making.

    How do we know a piece of wood is great before it is done? It looks good? So many grain lines per cm or inch? Gradual or distinct winter and summer grain lines? Sounds a certain way when we run our hand across the grain? Tap it and hear the noise/sound that it produces? Cut into it with a plane or gouge to sense the qualities? All of the above? The wood supplier says so? Or just take any piece that strikes our fancy and work our magic and vary the arching/scoop and thicknesses and hope for the best. It seems to me that we need something quantifiable to assess the raw materials. For me that probably means sticking to a genus (if we can trust our wood supplier) with a target range of density and use some or all of the above tests to determine and then manipulate with arching and thickness.

    Or do we just subscribe to the “it’s all in how you use it” theory…LOL

    You have to love the black art of violin making. It makes for some interesting debates.

  9. I have been to Simeon's site. What I was wondering is how does his wood compare to others like Orcas Island (Bruce Harvey) or Mountain Voice (Carson)or others? My aim is to order a number of pieces so that I can season them. Perhaps I should order one from each to see what works best. Opinions welcome.

    A side note some years ago I was fairly close with a maker who knew well one of the major wood suppliers in Germany. He said that some (not all) of the wood that people thought was European was in fact from North America. I am not trying to start up anything by mentioning this other than back in the day there was a pretty significant bias against North American tonewood. The arguement being that the Cremonese did not have access to it therefore the NA wood could not be the answer to what we are all after--how to consistently make awesome sounding instruments. And yes, I personally played some Cremonese instruments that from a sound standpoint were not that great. But I have played some that were in a class of their own rarely touched by non Cremonese makers. I am not trying to sterotype and say that only Cremonese instruments are superior sounding to all others but there is a kernal of truth there.

  10. Speaking of the Cannone, a few days ago I watched a youtube vid with Eugene Fodor playing the instrument in CA. Very interesting from a number of standpoints. The fiddle sounded great as far as one can tell from the video. What a tragic figure Eugene ended up being. Got to know him a bit--one talented and crazy dude. He was really fun on a sailing boat.

  11. There are strong indications that the thick ones are original grads and the thinner ones are regraduated. I used to think that maybe the earlier ones were thin, and the later ones thick until I'd seen one from 1736 that had missed the whole regraduation frenzy (as did the Cannone) by being "under a bed" for 200+ years. It was just as thick as the late ones: a top approaching 3.4 in places and a back running generally from 3.0 or so to 6.0+mm. So now I tend to believe the story that most of them have been regraduated. Remember that even early on Paganini knew that they had been thinned, and was always looking for ones that had their original grads, but couldn't find many.

    Ahh the benefits from working in a shop like B&F or your newer venture with Stephan to see legendary fiddles come across the bench...lucky you are. How did the 1736 violin sound? Was it as responsive and sound as rich as thinned examples? Difficult to compare apples to oranges but you know what I mean.

  12. Forests full of trees do not produce just one exceptional piece of wood.

    Yes there is some variation, from piece to piece in the same tree, but not enough to make a huge difference.

    So if a 'one-off' is exceptional, then perhaps it is not some-one-thing but a combination of things that is responsible.

    How many makers has there been that reached the top of making, only to stay briefly, and then disappear due to a failure to continue to produce top quality work? By the top I mean top dollar for work.

    The consistency of the making is due to a lot of hard work, sweat/thought equity. Something Science can't measure, unlike density of wood, which is relatively easy to measure.

    Salve Håkedal, violin maker, Wood density calculator for rough peices

    "In comparison, a 1736 Stradivari

    violin top shows a spring–fall ratio

    of 1:1.153 and an overall density

    of -574 HU or 0.427g/cm3, which is

    relatively heavy." - Path Through The Woods Sept 2005 The Strad

    The real question for me is, how can a maker maximize what any given piece of wood has to offer.

    Reaching the full potential is not some easy math problem, or as simple as having the lowest density wood on the block.

    Nor is it as simple as following directions from a poster, otherwise we would all be Top makers.

    If it was so, then you would never see makers disclosing their wood sources. Something that happens quite regular here at Maestronet.

    Top makers are Hard workers and Top thinkers! .....i think??????? :blink: :blink: :unsure: :unsure: :huh: :huh: :lol:

    i hope I worked that one out right? :huh:

    I don't think I or anyone was implying that this is as simple as a species or give type of wood. Although if you do not start with good (whatever that means...) materials, you are finished before you begin. My aim is to have a discussion of what type of top wood people are using and where you purchase that wood.

    Back when I was into making, anyone who discussed (openly anyway) using anything other than European wood was a heretic. It seems that that line of thinking has gone out of favor to some extent--which I think is a good thing.

    This reminds me of Formula 1 racing. You could not just put a McLaren undertray/diffuser on a Ferrari chassis with a Red Bull front wing and hope it would work to make the fastest car. That being said when McLaren developed a trick thing called an "f duct" last season all of the teams scrambled to copy it AND integrate it into their vehicles. Sorry for the F1 reference...

  13. My measurements show a slight trend toward higher damping in low-density spruce, which I believe would weaken the overtones and give a plainer sound.


    Did you compare European or Sitka to the Englemann? It would be interesting to see the differences.

  14. Thanks for the responses. So low density = engelmann. It does make sense that a less dense wood would not have as much inherent dampening so the complexity of the sound might suffer.

    I find it interesting when people say that del Gesu's are thick. I am not sure that this is true. I was just looking at the Biddulph del Gesu books that have measurements taken from the exhibition in the 90s at the Metropolitain Museum and some of the Strad posters/plans that I have. From what I could see the tops were all in the 2.3-3+ range. Not like the really thick French violins that need to be regraduated. Before anyone gets worked up...I am aware that most of the Strads, Guarneri and other antique instruments are not in their original state (due to Vuillaume and other shops over the years). And yes tenths and even hundredths of a mm make a difference.

    Also how many wood samples from Stradivari and other great Cremonese makers have really been scientifically put to the test to quantify the properties of the wood. I am aware of Condax and a few others that had access to samples for mainly varnish and ground analysis. If there are any studies of such things anyone could point to I would appreciate it.

    To me the question is would you rather have a less dense wood and work around the problems of complexity of sound or modulate a dense wood that tends to not vibrate with the freedom that wood with a lower density does. As with many things the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Perhaps that is where things beyond the wood like ground and varnish figure in to the above...which is indeed another rich topic!

  15. After a long hiatus from violin making, i've got the bug back...

    Anyway, I am interested in opinions about so called "low density spruce". Is this garden variety engelmann? I realize that there is quite a bit of variation within a given species but I have noticed the term "low density spruce". Does this differ that much from others selling engelmann spruce or is it a different species?

    Thoughts, opinions?

    I have a stash of spruce that was purchased from a famous maker. When I asked him why he was selling this wood he said "we found something lighter".

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