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Graduating a Milanolla model


elderthomas

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But I find it interesting to see people fighting over tap tone and mass distribution methods. To me, they are the same thing. It is like one person says "There are 355ml of water in that bottle!". The other argues "No.. There are 12.5 Oz. of water in that bottle!". In reality, they are the same. They just measure the water differently.


The question is whether you're actually measuring the same thing in the first place.

A funny thing about relationships between variables is that a relationship observed in one direction does not necessarily exist in the opposite direction. Your dog may bark when a crook is trying to break into your home, but causing a dog to bark will not necessarily produce a crook. Similarly, a good-sounding violin may exhibit certain tap tones, but replicating those tap tones will not necessarily produce a violin that sounds as good as the first.

Of course, I'm saying this from a position of total lack of first-hand experience, so please interpret my words accordingly.

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ispirati:

> in order for you to accrue plate graduation experience, you need a consistent method of measurement. My point was that you cannot use volume (thickness being the flexible dimension) to graduate a plate and produce consistent results. The density for each piece of wood is different. <

I agree. There are a couple of ways to measure density, one is to immerse the flitch end first in water until it floats and measure the displacement (or the ratio of floating to sinking) This will give you a number like .38 or.40 from this number you can predict the range of weight of the finished top/back. Then measuring the tap tones (even in the just joined top) will give you the stiffness. There is a simple computer program for $16 that you can purchase from CAS that will calculate the density and give you a stiffness number for the joined top/back for violin, viola or cello.

Oded Kishony

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A comment made on another thread by 1HooUsesSitka struck me as relevant to this discussion.

"Regarding thickness, as a rule of thumb, I cut Sitka a bit thinner; Englemann thickest and European in between.

As I am using Sitka from the same tree for every violin, one would think that the results would be the same for each violin, This doesn't happen for me... Of course the back wood is different each time."

Assuming that all other variables were the same, and the same back wood was used each time, would one expect to get reproducable results if the top plates were graduated to the same tap tones?

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Reproducable, or identical? Even with the same tap tones I would not expect the different woods to sound the same.

. . . now that I think of it, neither. Tone quality is determined by much, much more than a couple of fundamental pitches. That's why a marimba playing 440hz doesn't sound the same as a clarinet playing 440 hz.

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[**** Assuming that all other variables were the same, and the same back wood was used each time, would one expect to get reproducable results if the top plates were graduated to the same tap tones? ****]

elderthomas... you don't have to make an entire top plate to find out the answers to your question. You can take the left over wood from your current plate and conduct a simple experiment. Take 2 left over pieces from closest areas (if you have book matched pieces, it would be even better), and make them into 2 identical shape and thickness. Of course the shape has to be large enough for you to produce a tone is a reasonable audio range. Any shape should do as long as they are identical. This way, you eliminate all the variables. They don't have to be very big.

Then... please measure the mass, and tap tone. If you can, measure the density for both to see if they are truly identical.

Please tell us your findings when you are done. I look forward to the results.

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ispirati:

So, back to the idea of trying to "tune " the individual plates pior to aasembly in order to arrive at a certain (tonal) result in the finished violin...

"But I find it interesting to see people fighting over tap tone and mass distribution methods. To me, they are the same thing. It is like one person says "There are 355ml of water in that bottle!". The other argues "No.. There are 12.5 Oz. of water in that bottle!". In reality, they are the same. They just measure the water differently."

Hmmm, have you really been listening to the argument? It isn't a simple semantics argument at all. The argument is a lot simpler than even that, though. The argument is more like this:

One guy says "I have a complex set of rules and measurements whereby I can "tune" the free plates in such a way as to ensure that the completed violin will have a superior tone"

and the other guy says "well, how come, when you utilize these methods, your violins don't sound any better than any one elses?"

You can use those methods, of course, but I'm making the claim that they don't work any better than any other "method" you might choose including simply not using them.

My advice to elderthomas, based on experience, would still be the same - if you're trying to use tap tones and modal free plate tuning to arrive at some particular result, and are not satisfied with the result, it may well be that your methodology is not working.

I say that 2mm is much too thin to achieve a decent result regardless of what the Strad poster may say, what wood you're using, and regardless of what sort of result you might get by "tuning" your plate(s)...

If anyone thinks I'm wrong about this, please feel free to correct me, but this measurement seems too thin to work well with any wood I've ever seen.

My advice to you would be to make a new top at around 3mm and see what difference that makes. Slightly thinner at the extreme outer edges of the plates - but not into the trough would be acceptable. Just ignore the tap and modal measurements all together. If your arch is ok and your wood is decent (plus if the back is within the normal limits, and the neck & fb mass & angle are correct, plus the bridge, strings, bow, rosin, varnish & rib assembly are ok, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum - guffaw!) you should be cool...

I'd be willing to bet you'd be a whole lot happier with the results.

Plus, what would you have to lose? you're not happy with the tone as is, right? You could always put the thin top back on if you wanted.

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I had serious doubts about my new violin before I assembled it. I used a Strad poster as a guide and noticed that the top thickness was down to about 1,9 mm in places. I also went down to that thickness - by mistake. My tap tones were not promising but the weight was good. Anyway, I assembled and the resultant instrument is excellent. I then tested the resonance frequency in the box at 275 hz which is good, the neck tested 276 hz which is also good. Again, by happy accident.

So, what to do in future. I am going to use the Chladni method, at least then one has a reference from which to work and it gives a good indication of how stiff the plate is. The stiffness to weight ratio seems to be important. I have a feeling that once the plates have been "Chladni'd" then the weight will be close too. I think!

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ct... correct me if I am wrong. The whole idea of plate tuning isn't about creating a superior tone. It is about consistency and predictibility in tone. We can gradually change each parameter to induce a desireble tone. But we need a consistent measurement method to help us over come the variables, such as density of the wood, and use the measurement method to recreate the same tone if we desire to. The given data of certain tap tone, mass distributions, and node frequencies are simply success data from other makers who experiemented in the past. It worked for them, does not necessarily work for us. But these data can be used as a starting guideline for a systematic graduation method.

One can obtain a superior tone by accident. Without the understanding of the measurements methods (call it tuning if you like), s/he will not be able to reproduce that same tone again when given another similar piece of wood (same species) with slight different properties.

I agree with you that 2.0mm is probably too low. But why did 1.9~2.1mm work for Stradviari in Milanollo, yet it does not work for elderthomas' Milanollo? And why should a 3.0mm plate work for elderthomas' Milanollo? If it does, what kind of tonal quality can you predict? We can only predict if we have a systematic methodology.

Some like to measure/tune by mass. Others like to measure/tune by frequency. I am only saying that both are valid. In a way, they are related to each other. Both should help introduce consistency when applied consistently. But graduating with thickness only will not bring consistency in tone because of density varible.

A good violin maker most likely have a consistency in their tone within a certain range of style. I often hear people describe Strad's tone like the bright morning sunshine and the del Gesu tone like the thunder storm. Each maker has their own consistent tone. This can only be achieved if they had a systematic measurement/tuning to generate that consistent tone. Right?

I am sure elderthomas is not only interested in the fish. He wants to develop the skill of how to fish the fish.

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The original idea of tuning was tonal superiority, but when that obviously didn't work, they went for consistency. That hasn't been proven, either. At this point, tap tuning is a seductive and superstitious idea, with no proof of any results in any direction. (As a friend of mine says, it's a pleasant superstition that the parts of a musical instrument should sound musical.)

About the best data you can get from tap tuners is that "my violins are better since I started tap tuning." Yeah, big deal: my violins got better as a I made more of them, too--what do they expect, that they're going to become worse makers with more experience? The other "proof" comes from people who say that they took apart a (grossly obese) violin, tuned it, and it got better. That's why people regraduate violins, silly, and you don't have to tune them while thinning to get better results.

At this point, unless someone will point me to some real evidence, I view tap tuning improvements as the fantasy of weak minds. By the way, none of my professional maker friends tune. At the most, they do a little thumping, and say "Oh, that's interesting", and maybe write down the pitch, but they don't do anything to change it. I've done that, too, and the pitch I get is always "wrong" (look into how people decided the "right" pitch--that's an interesting exploration into pseudo-science, too.)

A real test would be for someone who believes in tuning to make 10 violins without doing it, to see if things got worse, but that's not something superstitious people do.

The most interesting tuning thrust recently, and something with some real promise, is tuning of fully-assembled violins. Makers have different ways of thinking of doing this, and one of the more documented is Martin Schleske-- http://schleske.de . Unfortunately, at this point he seems to be able to work with only the lower frequencies of the body, not the areas where all of the really interesting tonal things are happening.

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The history of mode tuning shows that people were persuaded by what measurements of good violins told them. I read the 1981 article (in 1981, then being a Scientific American subscriber) that got so many makers fired up on the subject. The conclusion that violins with consistently fine tone could be produced thereby was not so aggressively advanced as some have perceived. The author made it plain that one must have mastered traditional techniques before such methods can be applied.

Unfortunately there are makers out there who are convinced that a pure engineering approach to violin making will eventually vitiate the craft aspect, except for cosmetics.

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Do you remember if any conclusions were drawn from, first "real" good instruments, or just the ones they liked best of their own [read my last paragraph, below], and second were these compared to admittedly bad instruments? I'm almost sure they weren't drawn from any representative quantity of disassembled universally-accepted-as-good old instruments, if I remember correctly, which is to my mind a serious flaw.

It's been a long time since I read that study, but I remember even at the time (I wasn't making instruments then) being not impressed by the way the conclusions were drawn, and what from.

That was Carleen Hutchins, right? There's another aspect to these studies that I learned much later, when I saw the Octet at the National Music Museum, and played them. They were horribly made--embarassingly amateur in nearly every respect, horribly set-up, and abysmal in every respect. If the research was based on evaluations of instruments similar to those (something we can't ever really know) then I feel even less hopeful whether anything's to be learned from that article. If the Octet (a project of people who worked in the Hutchins shop, under her supervision, is my understanding) had been made in my shop, I'd have burned them all, and that calls into serious question the level of standards and judgement involved in this whole project, in my mind, from one end to the other. You cannot learn about silk purses by testing sows' ears or by reading research done by people who can't tell the difference.

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Instead of shooting down every argument, Michael, how about give us some hints about what strategy do you take to get consistency in your production. One cannot do it this way, say, I’ll copy Milanollo graduation today, tomorrow, I’ll copy Soil. When you play a Strad, you immediately feel the acoustics is the same, even though each one may sound different. There is no doubt in my mind he followed same system of construction, whatever that system is anyone’s guess.

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I think the key is that when you play a Strad each sounds different.

What's this hang-up with consistency? I don't worry about that, and the idea of doing so confuses me. Strads sound good, in my opinion, because he was the ultimately artistic maker, and the ones that sound right have incredibly beautiful archs, as do the great del Gesus. They sound different because the arches are slightly different, but beautiful, and not the same. The problem is that in this day people think you must be able to quantify and describe everything, including beauty--give it a size and a number.

Put that against the Octet instruments--a group of instruments with hideous archings, all different, all bad. That's why the whole thrust of tuning fills me with distain--it's based on the idea that a person with no taste and no art can make a beautiful sounding instrument by skipping directly to a set of numbers.

As far as I'm concerned, this pursuit of quantification is for people who have nothing else to draw on and no real concept of beauty, and who are looking for a shortcut. There are no shortcuts to being Stradivari.

So what do I do? I try to make each instrument more beautiful than the last, and sometimes it works. If you are looking to become the next Rembrandt by using the paint-by-numbers plan, it ain't gonna work.

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If I may add to Michael's point:

From the very beginning of my violin building journey, one of the most fascinating aspects of the violin has been the concept of "Function Follows Form", and the reality that beauty of sound will follow beauty of design.

It's cool to see how the universe works; violin building is a microcosm which reveals to me a larger plan of everything.

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As you predicted- us with no experience or knowledge still need to spout our opinions. I think I agree, but you're not saying that just the curve of the arches have to be beautiful, are you? I don't think there's any way "pretty" alone can produce better sound. But, that said, I can see that a maker capable of making a beautiful instrument, imparts those abilities to all the parts of the instrument, and the result is a well-made and beautiful instrument that typically sounds good/better. I can also see these better-made instruments commanding generally higher prices, and therefore, having generally better players as owners. Better players = better sounding instruments. Ron.

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Nicely stated Michael...Bravo!

I don't know how many of you compose music or paint but there is a similarity in all this "art". You do it because you feel it's right or hear it (music) The process is based more on instinct built off of a solid foundation of knowledge.

It is difficult to teach the arts because it is difficult to quantify...much of the art comes from within.

I once was teaching my daughter portrait photography and was setting up the easel in the darkroom. I enlarged the image and set the framing. my daughter asked how I chose that position and I wasn't sure. I talked about it and showed her several variations....none of which worked well. She needed me to say something about the golden rules, percentages, space....all the things she has read about. Ultimately, while I know these rules it comes down to a simple..just what looks right. When I'm in a groove then there is only one correct position. When I'm a little "off" then there are more choices.

I think the same goes for violin making. There are basic rules, then there is the art that comes from the experience of seeing, knowing and trying.

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I don't know.. what you guys are talking about sounds an awful lot like an earlier post suggesting the "heart" a maker put into his work was the key to success. That was poo-pooed and called non-sense. Instead of putting "heart" into it, it was said a maker just had to "know" how to make the instrument. I think "heart" is closer to art, and "knowing" is just knowledge of how many millimeters. Which way is it? Or does it depend on who asks the question? Ron

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One has to "know" to be able to create the art of a violin. It is not likely that "knowing" will lead to a successful violin without the art.

All art is based on a foundation of science but is done with an additional and necessary ingredient that cannot be quantified.

Painters know their oils, pigments, how they mix, values, hues, opaque, transparent, glazes, canvas, glues etc...Knowing these things and knowing rules of composition usually doesn't make a painter.There is much more....how do you quantify that persons experiences, feelings, instinct that flow from the right brain.

Are violins any different? If it were as simple as studing the density, speed of sound, species of wood, timing of cut, seasoning -then putting that all together with previously studied measurements ...well....we would have many new "strads" around wouldn't we?

We don't.

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"..how do you quantify that persons experiences, feelings, instinct that flow from the right brain."

Not sure how to quantify it, but let's describe it. "Experience", I agree becomes "knowledge", but "feelings" can certainly be better described as "heart", & "instinct" is certainly more "heart" than "knowledge" too. It's just that the idea of "heart" was jumped-on previously, & "knowledge" was put forth as the key.

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