Michael_Molnar

Good Article about Jack Fry

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I called him on the phone in about 1980, after his Nova program on public television. He sent me a copy of his notes, which I still have. He was very cordual and talked energetically for quite a while

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Wow, that is some article! I looked on Amazon, it seems he did publish at least one book on the subject, but it looks out of print. Sounds like he did some ground-breaking research.

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The thing I found most fascinating about this article is the way he made a prediction about the asymmetrical nature of the plate thicknesses, which was then confirmed by actual measurements of great violins. This is my first exposure to anything like actual design theory, everything I've read so far simply talks about making copies of existing instruments. This article seems to show that there are specific design parameters that can be used to affect the tone in a predictable and repeatable manner, although I suspect that there's no chance of arriving at a specific formula for thicknesses that will work in every case, given that no two pieces of wood are exactly alike. The diagrams given seem to suggest that the Cremonese masters fundamentally understood how to get the most from a given piece of wood, and I'm guessing they had a general starting point in mind, and knew how to fine-tune a plate for the best result. This may not be an earth-shattering concept to most experts, but for me it represents a real epiphany. I'd really like to see some serious discussion of Fry's concepts - I've searched here, and can't find more than a few references to him. I'm also really impressed by the fact that he seems to have been able to modify mediocre violins to achieve excellent results.

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I have known Jack Fry since the early 70's when he was just starting his research on the physics of violins. The thing that most impressed me about him was that he was such a great teacher, able to make complex physics equations clear (at least for me as a music student at the time) to the point of practicality. His assymetiric graduation theory of backs of violins started with the idea that the sound post drove the motion of the back, and that graduations should be balanced around that point, not the center of the plate as was commonly thought. To my simple musicians mind, this made a lot of sense. His other studies of the violin and its various parts, such as sound post placement and adjustment, are equally well thought out and practical. Jack used to teach a course at UW about the physics of the violin. I used to have a copy of the book that he wrote for the course, but years ago I lent it someone, and alas it was never returned. Unfortunately, I have not had any contact with Jack for a number of years, but it is good that his thoughtful and practical ideas have not been forgotten.

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Am I the only one who notices that they claim "arching" contour

lines to be "graduating" thicknessing contour lines in fig 2. ?

"Fig. 2. Idealized contour lines of constant thickness for the

back plate of the violin. Note that they are completely symmetric

around a vertical axis through the center."

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The asymmetric graduation thing has been floating around for a while. Here's another go at it:

">http://www.scavm.com/Lively.html

I think the lack of a pattern to the 'sidedness' of these asymmetries in Cremonese instruments has come up somewhere.

It's not uncommon for people to hatch a theory and then find confirmation of it in a small selection of instruments. The fact that this fellow got excited when he found 1 instrument that matched his theory put me off the article. That kind of thinking leads to the regular production of red herrings I think. (Yes they went on to look at a bunch more instruments but the article sort of sidesteps what they found.)

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Andres Sender

(Yes they went on to look at a bunch more instruments but the article sort of sidesteps what they found.)

I didn't get that at all - it seemed to me that he had sampled a large selection of Cremonese instruments, and had found only TWO that didn't confirm his hypothesis. I'll have to re-read it...

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quote:


Originally posted by:
NewNewbie

Am I the only one who notices that they claim "arching" contour

lines to be "graduating" thicknessing contour lines in fig 2. ?

No, I don't think those are arching contours at all. I've just looked at Heron-Allen's Strad pattern, and the thickness guidelines he gives are very much in line with that diagram. No doubt Fry had access to Heron-Allen's work (and others), and I think that diagram is meant to show a generalized view of what had been "conventional wisdom" concerning thickness contours.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Tim McTigue
quote:


Originally

posted by:
NewNewbie
Am I the only one who notices that

they claim "arching" contour lines to be "graduating" thicknessing

contour lines in fig 2. ?

No, I don't think those are arching

contours at all. I've just looked at Heron-Allen's Strad pattern,

and the thickness guidelines he gives are very much in line with

that diagram. No doubt Fry had access to Heron-Allen's work (and

others), and I think that diagram is meant to show a generalized

view of what had been "conventional wisdom" concerning thickness

contours.

Have you checked the book "The Secrets of Stradivari" by Simone

Sacconi?  It's an exact match for the arching contour lines.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Tim McTigue

I didn't get that at all - it seemed to me that he had sampled a large selection of Cremonese instruments, and had found only TWO that didn't confirm his hypothesis. I'll have to re-read it...

I see what you mean, but if by "these asymmetries" the article means the specific soundpost-oriented asymmetry pattern Fry was looking for, then I think their sample of "20 Cremonese" was too small and they got a skewed result. But I have to track down my references on the question.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Tim McTigue
quote:


Originally

posted by:
Andres Sender
(Yes they went on to look at a

bunch more instruments but the article sort of sidesteps what they

found.)

I didn't get that at all - it seemed to me that he had

sampled a large selection of Cremonese instruments, and had found

only TWO that didn't confirm his hypothesis. I'll have to re-read

it...

2 out of 20 is 10%.  If the 2 sounded bad, then we would be

full speed ahead.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
NewNewbie

2 out of 20 is 10%.  If the 2 sounded bad, then we would be

full speed ahead.

Or, looking at it another way, there might be some OTHER reason why the two weren't asymmetrical (some property of the wood, perceived by the maker). The fact that one of them was a Stradivarius doesn't, in my mind, immediately disprove the hypothesis, in fact it might tend to confirm it, since I bet at least one of the other examples was also a Strad. Of course I have no practical experience, so I could be completely out to lunch, but the sheer body of experimental evidence he apparently collected would seem to indicate he was onto something important. Not the ONLY thing, certainly, but something pretty significant from what it looks like to this uneducated soul...

Plus, I have no idea how many of the old Cremonese violins still survive intact, but 20 sounds like a pretty big sample of the extant instruments...

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I know that John Waddle and Steve Sirr claimed to have found such an assymetry, too, but they found it in a number of instruments from different Italian schools., using CAT scans. the extent shown in the scans was much greater than anything I would have suspectd from the measurements I'd done. I found this curious enough that I started checking for this specifically, on the Cremonese instruments I saw (I've been taking grad charts all along, on a more or less symmetrical plan, but not to that point at the post, vs the area opposite). What I found, in my opinion, was a very normal distribution of about 10% instruments symmetrical, and the rest assymetrical--evenly divided as to which side was heavier, and the difference usually wasn't very great. That's something you'd normally expect with the crude tools they used for measuring and graduating, not by intent.

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Thanks, Michael, I was hoping someone of your experience and level of expertise would weigh in. It helps put things in perspective for people like me just starting down the path of learning.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
NewNewbie

2 out of 20 is 10%.  If the 2 sounded bad, then we would be

full speed ahead.

quote:


Originally posted by:
Tim McTigue

Plus, I have no idea how many of the old Cremonese violins still survive intact, but 20 sounds like a pretty big sample of the extant instruments...

Okay, there should be an emoticon for eating crow. I've just read the article about the Carrodus del Gesu, which gives some idea of how many Strads and Guarneris there still are (600 Strads), so I see now how vanishingly small Fry's sample indeed was. I'm somewhat amazed there are that many. The more I learn, the more I know I don't know...

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Michael Darnton gives an approximate number of 10% symmetrical and

so does Wilson Powell.  So there is some agreement here.

What Michael goes on to say is that it's approximately 50:50 for

the rest of the remaining 90% of the asymmetrical violins, that he

has seen, being either "soundpost side thicker" or "opposite

soundpost side thicker".  

The Fry article does not say what the distribution of asymmetrical

instruments is, just that they are asymmetrical.

One instrument did agree with his soundpost side thick theory, and

they do mention that. I would think that if they had found a very

very close resemblance in all the other asymmetrical instruments

that we would all be doing it to our new creations.

If you look at any of the Cremonese graduation pictures from today,

you will see that they are varied quite a bit with respect to

handedness.

Instead of eating crow, try some vegemite!    If you do

then eating crow will be a step up! I should know I've eaten my

fair share ! Haha  Just don't try crow with vegemite!

 Yuck!

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In a general sort of way, I'm inclined that anyone who's looking for "secrets" won't find it in graduations, unless they're doing something horribly wrong (which is something that HAS been done at times). I know this is contrary to a lot of people's opinions. . . . .

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Michael Darnton writes...

'In a general sort of way, I'm inclined that anyone who's

looking for "secrets" won't find it in graduations, unless they're

doing something horribly wrong (which is something that HAS been

done at times). I know this is contrary to a lot of people's

opinions. . . . . '

................................................................................

......................................................

Totally agree!........there are just too many regraduated Strads

& del Gesu performing to high level expectations for grads to

be the secret......I guess this could also eliminate ideas of

secret internal coatings having an effect too......

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Excellent find Michael!

As I cut tonewood, striving to cut the best, I have researched all

I can on the subject of the famous violins.  The UW research

by Mr. Fry sounds like the best and most quantitative I have seen.

 (quantitative in the fact that he gives plate dimensions

specifically, and the relationship they have to one another)

 Clearly, he put his finger on a number of things that can be

a  "given" in the equation.

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989,

and I think I remember seeing that class for the physics of the

violin.  Too bad I did not take it.

Anyway, as I have done my violin research, I have found that there

are two camps of thought out there.  Camp 1 is that there is

still something mysterious about the famous instruments.  Camp

2 says it is physics.  Both camps say that the subtleties of

the wood, arching, varnish etc is are large factors.

 Agreed. I am in camp 2.  

Just as Fry described, it is the combination of the voices that

makes the proper, elegant sound. The SHAPE of the

plates (graduation asymmetrically, similar to described)  that

make the combined finished sound!

 Camp one, I believe is for the people that refuse to look at

the data.  Just as CNN runs a special every 6 months on the

mystery of the Strad, they and the big media in general do not look

at the research...and results of some of the best modern makers!

(some of which are right here on this forum)

Conclusion:  You guys building violins have the data.

 Believe in the light bulb that just went off and go

do it!  Trust me, the majority of the violin

makers out there  will never believe it.  That is your

advantage.  

If there are experiments you want to do in relation to the soundbox

and Fry's work,  I will supply the tonewood for you to do it,

no charge (you pay shipping)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 What i need is a simple proposal of

what you are trying to do and how many units you need.  If you

want to graduate 10 plates differently, fine, no problem.  I

can even rough them out on my carver first.  

people can call me at 303 507 5225 or email

chamberssim@qwest.net

p.s. I would like the media to quit beating this dead

horse.  Make this century like the late 1600's and early

1700's for excellent violins.

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The way I see it, the "two" sides aren't that different: the physics people claim it's physics, and then proceed to not solve the problem; the mystery people say it's mystery, and then proceed to not solve the problem. All claims and counter-claims apart, that makes them exactly equal.

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