The Violin Beautiful

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    Alexandria, Virginia

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  1. 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.
  2. I wonder as well, although I imagine the food industry uses it in much higher quantity for things like extracts and cake decorations. Here’s an article that came out when 190 proof Everclear was banned in my area: I’m curious to know if anyone has gone through the licensing process to get 190 or higher proof alcohol for luthiery. I started looking into getting a license for it myself last year. The cost wasn’t prohibitive, but there was a lot of red tape. Before getting the permit one had to get a supplier lined up and determine the exact amount needed for a year. Fortunately someone did the shop a favor and brought in a bottle from out of state, eliminating the need for more.
  3. My wife’s grandfather always says “Up to three is a curiosity, more than three is a collection.” The n+1 rule is pretty standard for collections of any kind, unless you’re able to collect an entire set of items in mint condition. With violins, that’s impossible to do, so n+1 it is, haha.
  4. From your description, it does sound like the instrument is not balanced very well. Without seeing it in person I can’t identify the source of the problem, as there are several possibilities. As far as the tension matter, I believe that it shouldn’t be necessary to mix and match sets. The manufacturers carefully design their sets to be optimized for balance. A good setup should be balanced regardless of the set of strings you put on. From that point you can choose a set based on the kind of response you want. If you find that you have to constantly experiment with different strings, something is getting in the way of the instrument’s functionality. Also, I think that if you feel like you have to keep searching for a better string combination, you’re bound to be frustrated. The psychological effect of fighting against the instrument is significant enough to ruin the enjoyment you might otherwise get from it.
  5. Ah. Thank you for the clarification. I was guessing the shop had moved since the time the cello was made in London.
  6. I had a Thomas Smith cello on my bench a few months ago. Nice to see a picture of the shop.
  7. I’ve been wondering for some time whether the Romberg flat was introduced as a way to deal with fingerboards that weren’t given the proper scoop. I don’t think the understanding of how to plane a board was quite as widespread 100 years ago as it is today. It seems to me that the reason luthiers have moved away from that style is that it’s become clear that a board with a regular radius and proper scoop will function just as well if not better while being less finicky to establish and maintain.
  8. The scoop is generally made deepest in the middle of the fingerboard. This seems to work best. A maker in my area tried putting the deepest point at the center of the string on some of his violins, but the results were not good, and he ended up switching to the center of the board. While I think it’s true that it’s possible for a violin to be playable with less scoop than the standard, it can lead to problems with buzzing with certain bowing styles. I have spent a lot of time getting rid of buzzes by correcting poorly shaped fingerboards. I have seen boards that warped so that the top surface was effectively flat, and in some cases the lower strings would buzz in the middle of the board.
  9. I agree with the above comments, but I’d add the following: The string vibrates in an arc when it’s bowed. The thicker the string and the lower the pitch, the wider the arc will be. The fingerboard needs scoop to accommodate this. The widest point of the arc is in the middle of the string, so the fingerboard’s scoop is planed deepest in its middle. Leaving the board flat or too shallow means the string will buzz as it vibrates and it won’t feel right under the fingers. You have to keep in mind that the string will also be more likely to buzz when stopped if there isn’t sufficient clearance.
  10. Spirocore and Larsen is the combination I use the most and it’s the one my customers tend to prefer. I’ve put Magnacore and regular Larsen on a couple cellos and I’ve used Spirocore and Versum on a couple lately. The Versum seemed a little brighter.
  11. It certainly seems that way to me. I was quite surprised when I was talking to a bow maker who said the turning stick was unnecessary. Every top level rehairer I know uses one.
  12. There are different opinions about wetting the hair; some soak the hair, some dip it, some apply with a paper towel (like me) or brush. What’s important is to get the hair wet enough that it’ll form a manageable ribbon. If you’re careful, you can avoid getting the ends as wet as the rest of the hair. When you put the second knot into the mortise the hair should still be a bit damp but not wet enough to dampen the plug. As far as the second question, the uneven tension may come from the way you handle the hair before tying the second knot. Do you use a turning stick or some other tool to account for the bend of the hair in the mortise? I know of one bow maker who doesn’t use a turning stick, but he stretches the hair while it dries before putting the spread wedge in so that the hairs come out even. Also, make sure your knots are solid. If they’re not quite tight enough, some hairs could pull through.
  13. The grin on the violinist’s face is priceless. It opens the door for a lot of captions!
  14. Tools do add up in cost, but think of it this way: a lot of those tools are built to last a lifetime. If you do decide that you want to do more making, the tools will carry you a long way. Good tools cost more because they’re of better quality and materials, and that has an immediate payoff as you work. You can (theoretically) save money by making some tools yourself, but that involves investing a lot of time before you can get to work on making.
  15. Sorry for any confusion, by CA I meant cyanoacrylate. I haven’t tried the glutaraldehyde/formaldehyde treatment on hide glue, although I’ve heard good things about it. I’ve had good results with cyanoacrylate glue and have been able to make the glue line disappear in most lights, but it’s by no means perfect. I’m in favor of any method that’s structurally sound AND reversible for future workmen.