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The Violin Beautiful

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Everything posted by The Violin Beautiful

  1. Sean Peak is a real maker who made his career in the Chicago area. He worked for some time at the W.H. Lee workshop alongside Tetsuo Matsuda before going out on his own. He keeps to himself and doesn’t advertise because he has no need to do so and so that he can devote all his working time to the wood. After finishing his instruments in the white, he delivers them to The Violin House of Weaver, where they’re varnished by Bill Weaver. Each one bears Peak’s signature on its back. For a long time he made only the Gofriller model, but a year or two ago he began making copies of a great-sounding viola by Luigi DiGiuni as well.
  2. It’s a small shop (only 7 people total), but we do a lot of wholesale business with about 50 different shops around the country. Two of us do the bass bars. In the lower end we import primarily new European instruments in the white and work on them to get them sounding better, then Mr. Weaver varnishes them. The same shops that order the new instruments typically want some good old instruments to sell to their customers when they get to a higher level, so we always keep a wide selection of old German, French, and Italian instruments. The nicer French and Italian instruments tend not to need as much to get them playing well, but the German trade violins almost always need more work because they’re very thick and have weak bass bars that make them sound terrible. With some care they can be made into good intermediate instruments.
  3. You’re right, words do matter. I chose mine carefully and did not use hyperbole. For a while I was doing at least four a day. The owner’s daughter, who has been working for the shop over 20 years works on bass bars exclusively and puts in 6-8 every day. Just imagine how many she’s done in that time. Please refrain from accusations without any actual basis.
  4. In addition to my repair and restoration business, I work half the week at the Violin House of Weaver. There we work on quite a lot of new and old violins, violas, and cellos. Haha, not at all. I quite enjoy it.
  5. When everything is going smoothly, it takes me about 10-15 minutes to lay out the bar’s position, 30-45 minutes to fit the bar, just a minute to glue it in, and about 10 minutes to shape it after the clamps come off. I’ve put in thousands of bars, so I’ve developed some speed. Some violins are just more difficult to work on because of the shape of the arching or the graduations. Especially when working on old violins, I’m often working around eccentricities. From time to time I hear this argument against replacing bass bars, and it seems to hinge on the idea that doing that kind of work is a new trend that clashes with historical precedent. It doesn’t make any sense to me because there’s plenty of evidence of the practice being done at least as early as the time of the Mantegazzas. Putting a new bar in is very common when doing restorations, as it’s necessary to remove the original to access cracks and/or accommodate large patches. I would want to keep the original bar where it’s practical to do so, but it’s just not realistic to insist that no one should ever put a new bar in.
  6. I was thinking about water contamination, too. If the alcohol is drawing moisture from the air or if it has evaporated too much, the water content might be too high. You mention isopropanol, which is a form of alcohol that’s different from what I use (ethyl alcohol). When I get the chance, I prefer to use the purest food-grade alcohol I can get (preferably 190-proof Everclear), but since this isn’t easy to get, I ration it and use denatured alcohol more frequently. I’ve always found that denatured alcohol was less “clean” than Everclear. I suspect that the denaturing additives cause there to be some residue, which seems to clog the brush more easily. If I have a clogged brush, I can often unclog it by letting the denatured alcohol dry and putting a drop of Everclear into the palette. Also, you may want to check the data sheet for your pigments (if one is available). Not all pigments are intended for solubility with isopropyl alcohol.
  7. Nelson Hobby has some really useful small plastic C clamps. They were designed for model makers. I bought some years ago and use them all the time. The body is plastic but the screw is aluminum. They weigh almost nothing but work excellently. As I recall, they were not expensive at all, either. The owner of the company said he was having a hard time keeping them in stock when I called because luthiers were constantly putting in orders. They’re 1/2” x 1/2” and come in packs of 2, made in New Zealand. It’s been a while since the last order (probably 2019 or 2020), so I can’t say for sure if the company is still in business. Failing that, you might have luck finding a clamp that could be 3-D printed.
  8. I would say 16” is the size that is most in demand currently. Taller players will often ask for larger models, although shorter players are more likely to play violas that many would consider too big for them. Last year a customer not much taller than 5 feet came in with a 17” viola she’d been happily using for a rather long time.
  9. They have more wood left in them than Aubert bridges, so there’s more to carve away. They’re a little harder than Aubert, but not so rock-like as Despiau. The appearance of the wood itself is often quite nice aesthetically. I think they’re decent quality, but not good enough to make me switch from Aubert. They are more expensive.
  10. What I think of as the traditional American shop attire (at least for the major shops) is a smock (commonly blue) over a white Oxford shirt with a tie. The lumberjack thing seems to me to be more emblematic of hipster culture than of the trade. There’s a cliche that anyone who works with hand tools, operates a small business, and likes to be called a “maker” will wear flannel, a custom leather apron, and have an impressive beard. Extra style points for forearm tattoos with a personal story and/or shaving the sides of your head. I like an apron. Smocks just seem a little too awkward to me, and I don’t really need my sides and back covered while I work (unless I get off my bike and realize I’ve left my work clothes at home). I like flannel in the winter, but more for warmth than anything else.
  11. It really comes down to managing expectations properly. If there is something awry with the instrument, I consider it part of my responsibility to explain it to the customer. Whether or not the issue is addressed by changing anything is at the discretion of the owner. Doing work without approval could have serious repercussions, so I strongly advise against it. Having an in-depth conversation with the customer and providing documentation of the problem or at least a detailed explanation are crucial, especially as the value of the instrument reaches considerable heights. If the customer isn’t comfortable with making the changes you propose, be clear about the potential issues with sound or functionality. If the instrument needs something you consider controversial in order to perform well, it may be better to pass on the project. Choose projects in which you can be confident. Getting into questionable ones can damage your reputation.
  12. I would be concerned about degraded carbon fiber getting onto players’ fingers. It’s a great material for many things, but it’s messy and not especially easy to work with. I much prefer a wood fingerboard that can be shaped and reshaped easily with a normal block plane. Having to buy extra tools just to make or fit a fingerboard would be more hassle than help. I like the idea of having a smaller number of tools that can be more versatile. The idea of a coating could be practical. It’s already common practice among some luthiers to French polish fingerboards, which adds a layer of varnish that may protect a bit.
  13. I agree that it’s good to keep the top on if possible, but long cracks, especially poorly repaired ones, call for a top-off repair. I wouldn’t feel right handing an instrument to a customer if I couldn’t guarantee the repair.
  14. If the violin is decent and the cracks are long, it’s worth it to take the top off and repair them properly. Assuming the repair work was bad before, there may be a lot of debris/old glue to clean out anyway; it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to properly clean the damaged area from outside. If you use good cleaning products and methods, there shouldn’t be any harm to the varnish.
  15. Maybe I’m experiencing all the exceptions to the rule, but I’ve seen a lot of loose bassbars, especially in new factory instruments. The sound tends to be very anemic, very thin and without any richness. Although a buzz isn’t always noticeable, one can hear the loose bar clap against the top by knocking on the top in the location of the loose areas. An inspection camera or mirror can confirm. I’ve come across a decent number of old Germans with loose bars. I’ve noticed many of them had dollops of hide or white glue at each end, perhaps intended to hold the ends down more securely.
  16. You could probably do something like that. I’ve used the glue hinge many times without issue, so I can say that it works. I’ve never used it in conjunction with a cast myself. Nothing is perfect, and it isn’t something I use every time, but I’ve found it very useful on many occasions, especially because it has allowed me to get everything lined up nicely with a lot of clamps, then do the final gluing with just a few, which significantly reduces the weight strain of the plate and gives better visibility of the crack to double-check alignment.
  17. I’ve heard many people talk about using a thicker post for more warmth or darkness. In my own work, I tend not to use different diameters. I focus more on fit, position, and wood quality.
  18. It’s a pretty simple but very practical method: Start by getting everything clamped and prepared as you would for a dry run with the clamps. Then, instead of removing the clamps, brush some thick glue over the crack on the inside in between the clamps. Add more if necessary, then allow to dry. After that, remove the clamps. The glue on the inside should hold the plate together without having penetrated into the crack, forming the hinge. This provides enough structure that the outer surface can be flexed gently to apply glue, then reclamp, possibly even with a smaller number of clamps. Once the crack is secure, the thick glue can simply be washed off of the interior.
  19. I think I got this from David Burgess: Glue a rubber washer to the end of a syringe that matches the opening diameter fairly closely. You can fill the syringe with glue and the washer will help the glue into the crack. It can get a surprisingly high volume of glue in with little effort. I’d err more on the side of thin rather than thick glue for cracks, because the penetration throughout the damaged area will be much better. I’ve glued things both ways and don’t feel strongly in favor of one method over the other. Sometimes it just comes down to how well the crack fits back together or how well everything lines up in the dry run. I’ve also found the Fasnacht “glue hinge” method helpful for larger areas. I’ve used it many times for full-length cracks on tops and backs.
  20. If the number is high, are you making the argument that Strad tops were made too thin?
  21. I also consider it common practice to wrap the string over the tail end at least once to essentially “bind”‘the string in place. This is especially useful when the string hole is larger than necessary. Placing the hole close to the thumb side of the peg does have the disadvantage of minimizing space for the string to fit between the hole and the pegbox wall, so placement closer the center tends to work better, although one can sometimes get by by increasing the number of turns on the opposite side of the hole.
  22. The best shavers I’ve used have been the Alberti shavers. They’re not cheap, but they work unbelievably well. I have Herdim shavers that work pretty well. It does require some fiddling with the set screws to get everything working well, but they do a decent job. I keep the Juzek shaver around for fitting pegs to holes that are in between sizes on the Herdim. The Juzek isn’t as smooth, but I got it to work well enough after resharpening the blade and adjusting the position. You can make a simple one that can work fairly well by reaming a hole into a wood block, making an opening at the top of the hole, and clamping a plane blade over the opening in the right spot. I have an assortment of blocks like this for making peg and endpin hole bushings.
  23. I think the point many are trying to make here is not so much that jigs are necessarily evil, but that the overuse of them reduces the hand skills of the workman. There is an immense value in developing hand and eye skills to the point where guides are unnecessary. As has also been said, jigs may simplify some things, but they are not necessarily time-savers. For someone just getting into violin work and without any hands-on instruction, it can be tempting to buy lots of gadgets to try to reduce guesswork. The problem is that using helper tools takes away from the process of developing the hands and eyes. If the jig does it all, you don’t get as deep an understanding of its function.
  24. The pearl eye at the end of the button seems odd to me for a HILL bow. Every one I’ve seen has been plain silver. The screw is also rounded at the end, rather than pointed, as I’d expect with an original Hill screw. The collar on the button does seem different as well.
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