The Violin Beautiful

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    Alexandria, Virginia

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  1. I have a hide glue jar for general use and a bone glue jar for tops in my workshop. When I’m at the shop, I just use old glue for tops because it’s always plentiful and the shop doesn’t order bone glue. Both work well.
  2. Most of the players I work with prefer to have at least a week for their strings to acclimate before a performance. I don’t know if there is a way to test string longevity (other than player observations) but I wonder if it would be possible to measure the stiffness of the string at different times. An old string feels like a piece of twine—the difference from when it’s new is quite plain, especially with a high tension set like Evah Pirazzi. In the end I think player evaluations are much more important than lab tests.
  3. New or lightly played strings will have a certain stiffness to them. Old, worn out strings feel like worn out rubber bands. You can feel the difference with your fingers when changing the strings. The core of synthetic strings is typically a nylon of some kind, and it stretches out over time and loses its snap, similar to the horsehair in a bow. The frequency of string changes depends a lot on playing style and conditions.
  4. I use the finger and thumb method too as a rough gauge of the tack strength.
  5. I was taught to always be sure to clamp the plate to the blocks when putting the top back on because of the risk of damage to the arching. Although this is the first argument I’ve seen for leaving an area of the block free of glue, a former colleague surprised me one day when he told me he’d stopped using clamps on the blocks when he put tops back in place. He still applied glue as normal, but he felt that clamping the joint would compress the contact point, making it a lot harder to fit an opening knife in later on. I’ve wondered about his theory ever since, but I haven’t been willing to test it out. I know what results I can get putting the top on the conventional way and don’t want to risk catastrophe. Like Michael Darnton and Mark Norfleet, I’ve seen a good number of instruments that suffered structurally as a result of bad glue joints at the top block.
  6. I don’t think it’s really worthwhile to attempt to extrapolate inflation values based simply on prices paid at auction. Just looking at the numbers doesn’t account for condition, provenance, or desirability, all of which have major influence on prices paid.
  7. Yes. You can make a pond of acetone and soak the part in it for several hours. I know someone who has a couple shot glasses set aside just for ponding frogs or stick handles to remove old glue. In bow restorations, the first step is often to clean out all the old glue in order to determine how the damaged area will fit together when glued properly. I’ve used acetone to release CA glue from slides on cheap bows. For some reason some factories put a bit of CA on the frog under the rear of the slide. In cases like that, acetone is often the only thing that seems to release the slide.
  8. The bow repair staff in one of the shops where I worked previously used G2 for splines, frog repairs, handle cracks, and fill. The results were impressive and I didn’t see any failures. However, a well-known specialist in splines later showed me that he could also get excellent results with CA glue for the same repairs, with the benefit that everything could be undone with acetone fairly easily. I also know of several bows glued with CA and not splined that have held for years. I’m intrigued by the experiments with additives to hide glue but have yet to try it. As far as the question of whether to spline or simply glue, I think context is key. For an expensive bow that is used regularly by a professional player, there is much more pressure to make a repair that is absolutely solid. If a repair fails, especially on stage, it can seriously damage the credibility of a repairman’s work. Viewing it from this perspective, there’s an argument to be made that even if the glue might be strong enough, the spline is an extra line of defense. In the case of a bow that is not as valuable or isn’t being relied upon as much, it’s safer to try repairs that are less invasive, knowing that there’s some chance of failure. In that situation, the customer is more comfortable with a bit of risk and might not be as concerned if the repair doesn’t hold and must be redone. The strength of modern glues like marine epoxy and CA is impressive. It’s just difficult to determine absolutely whether those glues are strong enough by themselves. I’ve seen glue joints that failed and spines that failed as well. Even if the glue is strong enough, sometimes it all comes down to the preparation and skill of execution.
  9. I would stay away from Gorilla Glue altogether. It’s not nearly as strong and secure as is often suggested, and it takes a lot of babysitting to avoid having a line of foam at the glue joint. Several people use it, including a couple shops in my area, for regluing broken necks on cellos. The failure rate is high enough to make it a product I don’t trust. It’s also a real pain to deal with if you’re the unfortunate luthier who has to do the follow up repair.
  10. I don’t use that approach for two reasons: 1) Putting more hair than what’s needed for a flat ribbon into the mortise will crowd it and can distort the ribbon. If the ribbon is compromised, the hair won’t track on the string as well. 2) To allow for more hair in this method, you have to leave a bigger hair gap when making the plug. In theory the extra hair will keep the plug in place, but a gap that’s too big is one of the biggest causes of plug failure. I’ve found that being very exact with the size of the hair gap is important in getting the plug right for the head. When I’m measuring out hair for a bow, I always look at the head mortise to determine whether I want to use more or less hair. Even with a smaller head mortise, a wide ferrule can still spread the hair out without it looking too thin, so I choose not to use the ferrule as my indicator for hair amount (unless the ferrule or frog mortise are noticeably different).
  11. Be very careful about adding extra hair in the frog. The amount needed is dictated by the mortise in the head, so if there’s a small mortise, more hair will be bad for the structure and likely the sound. It’s often said that less is more when rehairing. If the frog is causing issues and you’re sure nothing else can fix them, perhaps a replacement frog can be put on. A lot of bowmakers keep frogs around that they can use for similar purposes. I agree that a bow with too little hair can be problematic, but a lot of that comes from the way the ribbon is distributed and the way the bow responds when hair on the playing side is gone.
  12. I don’t know if others have had this experience, but at the time that I joined Maestronet I worked in a shop that had a very negative view of the site. The owner had read some posts in the early days and decided that Maestronet was a dangerous waste of time. When I took an interest in the forum, there was some serious discussion among the staff, and the owner and Vice President expressed concerns that any comments online could be used as a reflection of the shop, and there was a fear that information shared could give competing shops some kind of advantage. As a result, I joined under a pseudonym. I didn’t try very hard to be completely anonymous, as I chose a name that could be used to find me without too much difficulty. Once I started doing more to develop my own business and had more latitude to post, I started thinking about updating my profile. I chose to wait to make changes until I had published my website.
  13. Wedge cleats can be helpful for leveling as well. The cleat is made so it fits on one side of the crack and overhangs the other. You can then make a wedge to slide into the overhanging part of the cleat and level the crack. I’ve heard of the jack screw method David Burgess suggests and am intrigued by it, just haven’t tried it.
  14. I’ve used both a bandsaw and hand saw for cutting pegs to length. If the bandsaw blade is set up so there’s little travel you can get reliably good results. But a handsaw gets good results in almost the same amount of time. I’ve been using the hand saw more lately. Use what you find most helpful. If you don’t have a bandsaw, I wouldn’t recommend buying one just for pegs.
  15. The idea of standardization in Cremona is somewhat complicated. I think it’s true that there are a lot of violins that have a very similar style and appearance, but it’s hard to tell how much of that comes from the demands of buyers and how much comes from the similarities that arise when makers learn the same style. Having schools does tend to make style more uniform, but it also helps to raise the overall level of the workmanship. I’ve seen some quite nice modern violins coming in from Italy, both at the master level and at the workshop level. I believe there are makers in Italy whose instruments are recognizable. I hesitate to say they have more character because a determination of that kind strikes me as a little too subjective.