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New Model Violins - going "beyond" tradition


Craig Tucker

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"I think if you have a new idea you should go for it despite the amount of criticism you may receive."

Yes, and in the realm of new instruments I think there's more hope. Early violin development (which was long before the time of Stradivari, by the way) was driven by changing musical styles. When violins began to replace viols, it was because they were making different music. I think designers should adopt a mindset of new instruments/new music. Think of the saxophone or the Moog synthesizer or the Theramin...

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I know some of the above violins are a bit extreme for some people in the conservative violin world (I like them myself) but I'm amazed that regular makers don't slightly change the scroll, corners and f-holes. Even small changes would be appreciated by some of us. The scroll doesn't have to be a weeping cupid head! Just a subtle difference (i.e. Evia scroll in Curtin link above). The corners could be just a little less pointy and the f-holes just slightly less f-like. Violins are not just functional, they are a work of art too. I would find an art gallery full of Mona Lisa copies a bit uninspiring. There are millions of generic Strad copies that don't even sound particularly good so the pattern doesn't stand by itself.

Please ctviolin, do try something different. I urge other violinists to encourage innovators rather than putting them down all the time. You can rest assured that a divergence in the traditional violin isn't going to mean that no other Strad pattern is ever made (unless it's a real success of course!!)

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Great comments llama, I too am an audiophile with emphasis on speaker and enclosure design...

Quote:

"On the issue of tonal implications of small geometry changes - at the risk of causing another heated argument - I imagine these changes do have a reasonable effect, if only as a result of modifying the relative arching. If you have a shape which has a particular c-bout width for example, and you make the c-bout narrower, this not only changes to a minute degree the mass between the c-bout, but increases the arching in relation to the arching at the upper and lower bouts given the same long arch. Just my 2c."

Yes, one would THINK so.

Please DO attempt to cause a heated debate. There are far too few of them here, and I wouldn't have posted the idea of creating new models if I wasn't interested in doing the same.

For what it's worth, when you say that you "imagine that these changes do have a reasonable effect" and are talking about small changes in the shape of the outline, are you speaking accurately and talking about what you think or imagine, or are you talking about what you've found to be true by virtue of having made various small changes in outline, and observing that the results do alter the tone noticeably?

The reason I ask this is that I once thought the same thing... because thinking about it, it makes sense. But, experience has taught me that it simply isn't true within the parameters that most people consider... (i.e. changes in "model" from, say, one "accepted" Italian maker to another).

Although minute changes in shape probably do effect tone minutely, many other things effect it by a much greater degree, to the point where small changes in outline cannot be held accountable for the characteristics of the violin by virtue of all of the other things that are going on concurrently. Further proof that this is true, in my opinion, is the misguided assumption by many makers that copying to achieve a similar shape will result in a violin with a similar tone. It just doesn't happen that way, does it?. What you get is a similar looking violin - if you're exceptionally good at what you do, and if that is your goal, then you've succeeded.

Part of the reason why copying a Strad won’t produce another Strad, is the mistaken assumption that slavishly copying things like the outline, should have a great deal to do with how the violin will sound. Within certain very limited parameters, it IS true - but for all PRACTICAL purposes, it simply doesn’t work that way.

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That's a sweet design Tim. I almost always like the finished product, when someone can take the essence of a traditional design, and successfully incorporate modernity.

Of course the tradtionalists won't like it - who cares? They often have a near religious stake in keeping the established forms intact. Who knows why?, it just seems to be the case.

I assume you made the design because it was pleasing to you own sense of aesthetics?

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Maybe 2 years ago I went to a free viola concert in NYC. There were maybe 6 players playing sonatas with piano or solo viola stuff. Anyway, I went to the concert not knowing who the players were or what viola they play on. I don't know much about the instrument or the repertoire. After hearing 2 or 3 players I had my head down reading the program and then a person started his piece which made me immediately snap to attention because the sound of his instrument was so good. I really can't remember how to describe it but it was just so much better than anyone else's that it grabbed my attention. It turns out the viola player was a guy named Shmuel Katz playing a Hiroshi Iizuka viola. It had a different shape being modeled after a viola D'Amore. Anyway, it really struck me how much better the sound from this oddly shaped instrument was, and I didn't notice the odd shape until after I heard it, so I had no bias.

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It's good to see these two messages. I think that sometimes people get stuck on the idea that because something looks different that it will have none of the characteristics of whatever it might be meant to replace rather than being open to thinking that it may actually have all of the characteristics plus add a bit of it's own - allowing the performing artist to be even more creative. The sound spectrum is very broad and complex allowing for a lot of flexibility within any given range without ruining the desirable characteristics of a particular instrument.

I would really like to see some more acceptance of creativity in the design of the violin. Lots of people try to copy violins from Stradivari and others unsuccessfully. Millions of violins have been made and sold that weren't exactly like the ones made by Stradivari and others, but have still been called violins and people except it because they visually have the same look and sort of have the same sort of sound. That to me seems more shameful than someone just admitting that they can't reproduce the darn things 100% and instead of making their copy 85% of what they were copying and the rest just sort of "whatever" how about 85% of what they were copying and the remaining 15% make using their own creativity. At least that way at least you end up with something that is 100% craftsmanship and it can be said that 85% was based on ideas developed by craftsman hundreds of years ago and the rest by a modern craftsman.

Soloist's are really hungry for this sort of stuff and I think it's up to the craftsmen to give it to them. Those who play strictly in orchestras aren't looking for anything that will make them stand out and it wouldn't be accepted anyways anymore than someone wearing overalls to a black-tie event.

Tim

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Craig,

Please keep us posted on your progress.

You certainly know more than your share about violin making so, along with your years of experience how can the outcome be anything but good? Different doesn't have to be a bad thing. I'm all for variety. When I go into a music store I usually play several of the acoustic guitars (sorry about the g word). The different makes all sound different but it's personal preference isn't it? Plus, there's a huge variety of color, shape, size, ... (I admit it. I'm a renegade).

When your ready to deal with real wood let me know

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I think it's not a "new model", I remember seeing an instrument with this outline - perhaps a viola - in the Musical Instrument Museum of Turim, Italy.

I like this model and I think I would try to make a viola like that, if I had the plans.

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  • 3 years later...

One of my favorite threads, I would like to see what (if anything) has produced as a result. I believe that after I have made a few violins I will attempt making a bent top and bottom violin, just to see how it would sound, it has always appealed to me. Has anyone attempted this?

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You gave me a start there for a moment when I opened the thread without reading the original posting date of 2004! I thought Michael Darnton had 'risen from the dead' till I noticed his numbered posts remain on that now legendary 9999.

I have contemplated this viola d'amore design many times (as a player).

I can see it offers some greater flexibility to the player's left hand in higher positions

(perhaps not an issue in early music.)

I seem to recall Rivka Golani played such a cut-away instrument by her late husband Otto Erdesz

with the slopping upper bout on the treble side only. (I think the symetrical pattern

is aesthetical more pleasing)(Not sure if the pictured instrument is one or rather one of Iizuka's?)

golanibachsuite.jpg


I would love to commission such an instrument like the pattern of Iizuka

should the opportunity arise - there are a few of them around being played by prominant players.

I don't care too much for the look of the so-called "ergonomic" instruments.

But that's a personal bias.

Omo.

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After seeing that cut-away viola I wonder if the first cut-away guitars were met with the same skepticism as different violins are. Or are the guitar players more practical and saw them as easier to play and different, not blasphemus. Slight differences in violin design make a huge difference in how they look. One reason cornerless violins look nice, at least I think they do, is because the corners are one part of the design that can jumble up an otherwise nice instrument. People can immediatly say "I don't like those pointy corners....everything looks nice, until you see those corners!" Add preferences in color and even "normal" violins are a tough sell. I like things that are different, but they still need to be in harmony with the whole.

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Strad certainly wasn't afraid to stick his neck out and change things as he saw fit, so why is it that someone who deviates from Strads design is immediately shunned by the orthodox makers? Was Strad regarded as a maverick out of control when he left his apprenticeship? There are leaders and there are followers. Just keep in mind that there are certain dimensions and shapes to facilitate ease of playing.

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Hmmm... First of all, I do not see any shunning here, but even if there was, one has to adequately define sticking ones neck out. The definition is simple. Can one tell the difference between a Strad and an Amati at ten paces? No. Could one tell the difference between a Goldastini and a Strad at fifty? Yes, even if you were forced to sight it up from the end of a soda bottle.

Change, in and of itself, is inadequate for acceptance, and any radical departure from the norm needs serious artistic flair, and deep aesthetic insight to work. I have rarely seen changes for the better that could be called obvious, and yet I would call myself unorthodox. I think a benchmark for a successful change could be the degree of acceptance one can find at the higher levels of violin purveyors. If someone makes changes and can sell them to pros at market values commanded by traditional makers, well that should be enough acceptance for anyone.

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I agree that maestronet is fairly open but it seems that there is little acceptance to be found in the general violin market. My theory is things like corners are like purses, they are a status symbols. A well executed corner is like an expensive purse, it insinuates a level of quality in the sound and construction of the rest of the violin, even though it is fairly insignificant to both of those aspects (which is debatable). It is just fuel to the fire of the age of basing things on style over substance.

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Build a violin out of an unconventional wood and see how quickly the orthodox makers reject it. From all I have read and seen, Strad's models were and still regarded as unsurpassable, and I am of the opinion that this is why most makers continue to make copies of them. All the power to someone who wants to try and improve something; without trying nothing is gained. I'm sure this is what set Strad apart from his contemporaries. If a violin maker turns out unappealing instruments to the eye and ear natural selection will cull these out and the instruments will eventually disappear.

Sure, some say " Everything has been tried before; there is nothing that can be improved on." Once we surrender to this kind of thinking all advancement grinds to a halt. I say if a maker wants to try a new approach, go for it; just keep in mind you have a pretty high standard to meet or exceed.

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In many respects, style is substance, especially since it is very uncommon to be entirely deficient in style while being a master of substance.

The question is, acceptance by whom? Violinmakers? Players? Dealers? Collectors? You have to understand your target market. Someone who goes a different route has to be prepared to be rejected by any one or all of these groups. If he or she finds healthy acceptance among two of the latter three, even if it is a small but loyal niche market, then that is enough to validate the work. If it is a struggle on every front, then it is time to quit.

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