The Violin Beautiful

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  1. To keep the bow straight it’s necessary to make a C shaped motion throughout the bow stroke. As your wrist nears the violin on the up bow, it should feel as though the frog is moving toward you (not just in one plane), and on the down bow it should feel like it’s moving out and away. It will feel forced and unnatural for a while but will become second nature with practice. The affect on tone should be observable right away. The goal is to pull a “straight” and even tone with each stroke. Accomplishing that will take your playing to a completely different level.
  2. When the idea of the equation or ratio is brought up, it’s quite often in the context of an outfit sale. The bow is generally thrown in as something to sweeten the deal and sold at a steep discount or just thrown in for free, depending on how much the customer haggles. What makes the bow “right” for the violin in this setting is too often what allows the seller to make a sale without cutting into the profit margin. The same applies to the case. This approach frustrates me and I believe it fosters resentment among customers. I would really like to see people approach the selection of violin and bow as equally important decisions. It doesn’t bother me if the customer chooses an instrument first and takes some time to get used to it before thinking about a bow. Obviously many customers don’t have the time to make multiple visits, so they feel a need to choose both on the spot. Still, it’s possible to treat the selection of the bow with care. It all boils down to setting up expectations at the start of the appointment. If one explains that the sale is for an instrument, bow, and case, it helps to avoid the look of panic that customers get when they realize that they’ve spent their budget on a violin but have nothing to go with it!
  3. 72 mm is way too low a projection. That’s well below the standard even for a 3/4 cello. Assuming it was closer to the normal projection for full size originally, the neck has dropped drastically. That suggests an issue that might necessitate a full reset. When it’s only a couple millimeters off, a New York neck reset can be quite handy, but anything this severe usually needs to be addressed by a full reset. As to what is “standard,” 81 is what I was taught to use as my template for new instruments. However, one of the shops I work with goes by 82-84. As described above, old cellos are a different animal and need to be evaluated individually, but I don’t think 72 would be likely to work on anything.
  4. I think it’s worth comparing this situation to that of a moviegoer making an illicit recording. If the theater staff catch someone doing it, the moviegoer will be asked to leave at the minimum and could even face legal action. I don’t think a theater would accept an argument that the patron didn’t speak the language well enough to understand the policy. Mutter’s case was slightly different because she stopped the performance to personally address the person making the recording. The concert hall staff didn’t intervene for quite some time, which strikes me as odd and somewhat inappropriate, although I realize that details of the story have changed in different accounts (perhaps they acted faster than the reporting suggested). There are strong arguments in favor of making personal recordings and equally strong ones in favor of giving artists more control of their performances in an age where ownership of content often a battlefield. However, if the venue had its rules laid out, making the recording was a violation of the rules, whether it was morally defensible or not.
  5. I think it sounds stunning. Are you getting the boxed set with the book and poster? I have it and consider it a prized possession. I’ve been toying with the idea of using the poster for the next violin I make after I finish the two Titian models on my bench currently.
  6. I also think the ratio is arbitrary. Many players are willing to consider bows that are more expensive than their instruments. But keep in mind that there are still very many people that expect a bow to be thrown in the sale for free because they consider it an accessory like a case or music stand.
  7. Haha, maybe I should have used the term “flaky” to avoid confusion! Anyone that can reproduce Strad varnish is welcome to do so!
  8. There isn’t much issue with spirit varnish. Dealers are more interested in the appearance and longevity of the varnish than its recipe. It’s often hard to tell which kind of varnish is on an instrument anyway, so it’s more about the skill of the luthier in application. There are always discussions about which varnish is best for longevity or tone and which resins are best to enhance sound without hardening the wood, but there’s no definitive winner, and what ultimately matters more is consistency of results and adroitness in handling color to enhance the wood. Two things that dealers hate: varnishes that are too chippy or never seem to dry enough.
  9. If the instrument is even and full, there is no need to change the bar. There is a possibility that a wider bar would improve the sound, but it can become a reductio ad absurdum to hunt for the “ideal” sound. I do think that the desired dimensions for thickness and length have changed over time as a result of changes in string technology and playing technique. I have seen a trend toward thicker and longer bars. It’s not unlike the trend in bicycles: more stiffness and aggressiveness are key. I will say that it’s quite common for me to encounter instruments that are anemic and unbalanced and to find that the bars are thin, short, and poorly shaped. For new making, it certainly doesn’t do anything harm to experiment with different shapes and dimensions. In fact, that sounds like a great project for the Oberlin acoustics workshop. But when I have customer instruments on my bench, I’m much more conservative don’t want to take any risks.
  10. From your story, it sounds like what you’re suggesting is that the shop used their Fagnola (which was more expensive but sounded bad) to make you more comfortable with your Morassi. And because the other person in line said the violin they tried was also better than that Fagnola, it must be the case that it’s a common strategy at the shop and in the field. It’s not so easy to know exactly what the shop was doing and if they really intended to throw the Fagnola under the bus to make a sale. It is possible, but as others suggested, that doesn’t necessarily mean there was foul play. If they were clear about the pricing and weren’t trying to upsell, that might be a positive. I hear a lot more complaints from customers that have been to shops where the salesmen tried to push them into buying instruments they never wanted to consider. It’s also possible that the shop was eager to move the Fagnola, so they were getting it out in all their appointments to draw attention to it; perhaps you weren’t looking in that price range, but maybe a friend or teacher would be. It seems odd to me that a shop would intentionally pan a more expensive instrument like that. It only makes them look bad if the more expensive instruments sound bad—that implies either bad setup work or bad choices in acquisitions. I think I would probably steer clear of a shop if I thought their expensive instruments were lousy. I’m not saying your suspicions are unfounded, just that there are other ways to read into it. Ultimately, it only matters if you (and/or the parties whom you trust to give unbiased opinions) like the way the violin performs.
  11. I’m glad you enjoyed it! That bracket selection was the one that I spent the most time setting up. I felt that the two ultimately belonged together because of their reputations and because of similarities in their interpretations, but it was a difficult decision.
  12. I did say “more likely,” not “always,” but I think it’s significant that your violin sounds viola-like. That information would lend credence to the argument that body length was the most important factor. There are always exceptions. The shop recently sold a French violin that sounded fantastic despite having really odd proportions.
  13. LOB is important because it corresponds to the volume of air inside the body. The greater the air volume, the more likely it will sound like a viola and be bass-heavy. Many players, shops, and dealers refuse to consider anything over 360.
  14. Yes, the intent of this bracket is to have fun with a great piece and listen to the varying approaches that performers take. I’m glad if you and anyone else here gets some enjoyment out of it. I’ve certainly had fun with it at work. Thank you for your picks. I’m curious to know some of the other choices you made and which performer you’d pick overall. I have a couple performances to watch again, then I’ll post my own bracket. FOR FUN!