The Violin Beautiful

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  1. More views of the bow would be helpful for identification. The stick and frog should both be stamped with a letter that pairs them. The stick might have a number as well, which would often show the year. As you said, there’s often a maker’s mark on the tip or face plate below the mortise.
  2. I’ve been able to get out a few slides that seemed impossible by using acetone. On the last one I used a pipette and carefully flowed some in on the top and bottom surfaces of the slide. It took several hours and applications to release, but it came out safely. I’ve had a couple that were glued in so badly that the only solution was to carve the slide away. I would only do that on a cheap bow (I wouldn’t expect to have that problem on a fine bow, anyway).
  3. You would make a cast in order to have something to clamp against. The cast will have a negative of the deformation, but you can correct the cast and then use sandbags to gradually return the arch to its former shape. It is possible to correct arches using other methods, but this one is the most widely used. Also, just to be clear, I am also of the opinion that this is a top-off repair, and one that will take considerable effort and patience to complete successfully.
  4. Water carefully applied to the wood on the sides of the crack will swell the crack closer together. It’s a useful technique, especially on center seams that have come apart and sat long enough to deform. Please don’t use CA glue on the violin! Hide glue is a very strong glue that will work wonderfully and it can easily be removed without harm to the top. Keep in mind that someone else will eventually work on the violin, and you don’t want to leave them a bigger problem than the one you found.
  5. It’s not a simple repair, but the cracks can be repaired. I would do as much as possible to preserve the purfling. There looks to be a lot of dirt and/or varnish in the big crack, so I would focus on cleaning all of that out first. Once you have everything cleaned out you can reevaluate the cracks—the fit may be improved or the gap might be bigger. If it’s very close to fitting you may be able to moisten the wood gradually and persuade the crack to go back together. Otherwise, you might consider adding wood to the gap, as David Burgess suggested above. I have seen some similar damage on several instruments. In my cases, it was caused by something pressing into the top in that area and cracking. I can’t say for sure that that’s what caused your violin’s damage, but it strikes me as a possible explanation.
  6. The army doesn’t destroy any fine instruments. Their procurement officers contact certain shops from time to time as new instruments are required. Old ones are sold every so often through the shop with whom they contract. Many players use their government-supplied instruments for years, to the point that some express sadness at having to relinquish them should they leave, so the idea that they buy new inventory and replace the existing inventory annually is false. Because of the red tape that accompanies dealing items that belong to the US government, it can be a lengthy process dealing with the different military bands, but they do get the instruments bought, sold, and maintained eventually.
  7. If the humidity in your area is beginning to rise and will do so for the next few months, your bow should handle the change well. The hair will absorb moisture from the air and get a bit longer. If the humidity is fairly constant, I would make the decision based on the way the bow handles when playing. As long as the bow isn’t pulling out of line and behaves like it has in the past, it doesn’t seem dangerous.
  8. Your bow should be as close to the bridge as it can be without the sound breaking down, more like “lane” 2 on average. Getting too close to the bridge produces the sul ponticello effect and too close to the fingerboard produces the sul tasto effect. As the bow moves away from the bridge, the sound loses power. In orchestra, sul tasto is employed in places where a very soft voice is desired, but without some of the the tonal color change that comes from playing con sordino.
  9. Only considering the three makers you suggested, I would say Grisales is the best known and has had a good reputation for a long time. If you’re looking for a violin purely as an investment, you could do very well purchasing an old French violin with a good certificate for less. Modern Italians will appreciate, but at a little slower rate than older makers at the same price. As to the condition, there are innumerable old violins out there that are in pristine condition, just right for investment. Don’t let anyone convince you that old violins are going to be in bad shape! They have the advantage of having been aged and played in over the years. There are some new makers that make instruments that sound amazing right off the bench, but they are in high demand, so price will reflect that. There are a lot of complexities to violin investment, and there is a certain amount of danger. To minimize the risks, find a shop you can trust that will back up the instrument and get a certificate from a top expert if it’s old or one from the maker of it’s new. Also, find a luthier you can trust to keep your instrument in good shape so that it will fetch a good price when you’re ready to sell.
  10. It looks to me as though someone inserted a repair strip and stripped the whole central area of the top, then stained and/or attempted to touch it up. The grain orientation of the insert suggests a home repair.
  11. I think a soundpost that’s too tight is just as dangerous and awful sounding as one that’s too loose. Getting just the right length so that the top is supported is what separates the skilled workmen from the hacks. I agree that humidity swings are detrimental, and I think they cause issues with fit that can be catastrophic if not addressed. I’ve done countless patches on instruments that were split open by posts that were too tight.
  12. Glad to see you’re getting some tools together! You have some good sizes now, just a little more setup to get it all working well. I think your 12mm blade might benefit from more adjustment to its curve. I’d recommend making the cutting edge longer so you have a tighter curve close to the tip and a flatter one at the other end. Also, the bevel looks like its inner and outer edges aren’t parallel. Grind until the bevel is uniform—it’ll make honing a lot easier if you have a good hollow that allows the blade to register well on the stone. It takes a lot of practice and patience to get it right, but you won’t regret it later on. To avoid burning, use a light touch and check the blade for heat buildup often. Dip it in water regularly to help keep it cool, especially if your grinder has a high rpm.
  13. Like you, I put cleats in when I’m gluing cracks on the top or back. I could imagine an argument for fiber or parchment in areas with multiple cracks close together or at bad angles. I don’t think it’s wrong to use those methods as long as the glue is strong and the reinforcements are well-applied. As far as observation of longevity of parchment repairs, I can say that I’ve worked on a lot of Hill workshop violins from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and I found that they often did repairs with thin strips of parchment cut to length, both for cracks and for repaired center seams. Almost all of them are still sound.
  14. Personally, I like Kevlar for tailguts and have been using it more lately. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s anything earth-shattering, but I have found that switching from nylon to Kevlar made the sound a little bit richer in some cases. I really hate the way nylon stretches out and ruins all one’s careful attention to adjusting the afterlength and I’ve seen enough tail guts explode at the threads on good instruments to be in favor of an alternative. Also, I think that the look of the braided Kevlar has a professional aesthetic to it that makes nylon just seem like cheap plastic. The irony is that the Kevlar is actually cheaper than nylon. I like the braided steel as well, but I’ve found that it cuts into the saddle, necessitating little strips of plastic or some other protective material.
  15. Dendrochronology is a tool that helps experts determine age. As has already been suggested, it can show how new a piece of spruce is. Finding out that the piece is very old doesn’t necessarily mean that the age of the wood and the instrument are the same, as many makers used and still use old wood. The way I see it, it’s a marker for identification, much like other elements like varnish, purfling, and edge work. I wouldn’t expect to nail down an attribution with it alone, but it can help rule out some possibilities.