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C.B.Fiddler

How much "individuality" is acceptable?

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This question has been touched on in the past, but we have so many new members now doing very interesting work, I thought I'd bring it up again.

I am a beginner. So it is my mission to learn violin making in the traditional sense. This I will do until I have consistent and purposeful results and then go my own way. My question, though, is what is it that defines individuality in a modern maker, particularly one that is not a copyist? Is it a matter of excellent workmanship amidst untraditional parameters, or is it infinitely more subjective?

It seems that the slightest deviation from traditionalism can knee-jerk a reaction toward amateur luthiery. Would you agree?

Thank you,

CB

(That's Chris Burndrett for those wondering which of us are real :) )

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I think you are doing right, that is, following the steps of the classics... ... after that (and it's not a short way) your own style may be unveiled by itself.

Personality, in general is revealed in small details, I like Rocca as an exemple of personality (and Del Gesù, of course).

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Individuality cannot be helped. If there are people who can overcome it in their work, they are very rare.

Individuality shows in the countless choices you made as you executed your work, the proportions in your details, the quality of the shapes, the tools you used, how you used them. Not just each separately but also the pattern of choices as a whole. This quality shows through even in the work of most copyists, as I understand it.

So although someone who knows what they’re doing will do “all the right things”, the way they do them will be individual to them, the corners a little more this way than that way, the quality of lines, all the countless details.

A pro’s work shows familiarity with the vocabulary of violin detail and style, but that knowledge doesn’t necessarily turn people into clones. It’s true that to an uneducated eye the similarities may stand out, but to those who know the vocabulary the subtle differences in execution and orchestration are what indicate the individual hand.

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Chris. I'm sill trying to figure that one out, but find that the concern is drifting away from the fore of my thoughts. Make a fiddle to the best of your ability learn from it, then make another and another -- all the while, keep studying the greats. Don't try for your own ideas in the beginning. I've found that it's too hard to understand just what a violin is unless you begin by working within traditional boundaries. I was looking at Cezanne's work the other day. It's interesting to see how traditional his early work was. Most (All?) of the great artists began with the basics and tradition before they went on to define new ways of thought.

Yet another real Chris ...

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My question, though, is what is it that defines individuality in a modern maker, particularly one that is not a copyist? Is it a matter of excellent workmanship amidst untraditional parameters, or is it infinitely more subjective?

It seems that the slightest deviation from traditionalism can knee-jerk a reaction toward amateur luthiery. Would you agree?

Thank you,

CB

(That's Chris Burndrett for those wondering which of us are real :) )

I'm not sure I'm real, so you can take my comments any way you wish... :)

I'd personally have a difficult time giving your question a "short answer" without having the advantage of an example, or examples, illustrating specific features or styles and how they relate to a specific instrument.

When I look at a fiddle, the first reaction I have to it isn't based on anything specific, but more the question of if it "hangs together". If it does, then I notice specifics. If it doesn't, I may look for something I like about it, but that won't get me over my initial reaction.

I guess one thing that might leave me with a less than favorable feeling about an instrument is if the maker has incorporated too many ideas (characteristics from different makers) into the work. Another might be poor handling of the integrity of the line (how the lines work with each other). Another might be finishing procedures that are too rough (obscure the wood and the work).

I've seen a number of fiddles that, although they don't slavishly adhere to the model they were inspired by, hang together very nicely.... but in these cases I notice more often than not, that the maker has impressed some style to the instrument that carries on throughout the design. (Do you understand what I mean??)

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I think it's important to implement your own ideas because you think they're a more effective or beautiful design, not because you want to express your individuality. and one doesn't understand what would be a better design until you've made many instruments.

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That could be considered a tough question, but personally I don't think a clear answer is all that difficult.

Anybody who is going into "mainline" violin-making is entering a very traditional and circumscribed field of artisanship ("artisanship" being a technically and historically correct categorization of this craft- let's forget about the Romantic and post-Romantic "artist" BS). Either one accepts that or not. If one doesn't, one can kiss market recognition goodbye, and no amount of whinging will change that).

Certain "stylistic" norms in violin making are very old, and certainly universal. A lot (most?) of it is based on the Cremonese ideal. However, within these stylistic customs (many of which impact on tone, incidentally) there has been, and still is, an abundance of personal interpretations. To start with one of the earliest - Guadagnini can certainly lay claim to an intensely personal style - he can hardly be described as a "copyist". To jump to the very present - is David Burgess a copyist? However, the stylistic roots of both can clearly be traced back to the Cremonese ideal.

I don't think it is that hard to answer your question if one is honest with oneself - when are one's shortcomings, either in terms of technique or knowledge of stylistic norms, becoming an excuse? "Traditional" violin-making is NOT a creative process like music composition - it is an "interpretative" process like performing a great classical concerto. If that's not where one wants to be, then the route to go is "alternative" in whatever guise. I've never heard the renditions of great soloists categorically being referred to as "mindless repetitions", but this is very often the complaint hurled at successful and good (even great) violin makers by some who are not prepared to do the hard yards, or want to change the game to their personally-devised rules.

But if one wants to join the game, then get to know the rules and don't whinge when you start playing and getting hurt.

Considering my reputation on this board, I wish to state categorically that the above is not intended to be either an overt or covert dig at any particular person. It is simply my statement of how I understand the "game" of traditional violin-making - and it does not mean mindlessly making copies. In fact, I would be very happy if I were able to do that :)

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Chris, nothing wrong with doing what has been done before, if it works.

Started another violin a few days ago, it's going well, loosely based on the Allard Amati.

I have a copy of the Allard working drawing by John Pringle, with archings, scroll details, and thicknesses.

The violin I am making is a bit bigger than the Allard, but the C bouts are almost exactly the same shape.

So here's the unusual bit :

The purfling is 1.5mm ebony/maple/ebony, with rather long bee stings.

Here are some corner details :

http://www.flickr.com/photos/60307911@N00/...168208033/show/

Cheers. :)

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Thank you for the replies. In a perfect world, I would have the prequisite time to work on my violin and gain the necessary experience needed to really delve into luthiery to the extremes I would prefer. I am not in a rush to develop individuality, as Chris Burt (yet another real C.B. as well!) noted, but I am interested in developing my eye so that I can see each step before it is completed. Again, with the outcome being purposeful and deliberate as well as finely executed.

Jeffery, I do understand the philosophy of your meaning, however I lack the experience to *visualize* what your eye recognizes as integrity in the lines and how they "hang together." Another formidable goal of mine is to try to avail myself of more opportunity to be exposed to fine instruments. I understand this to be the only way to develop such an eye. Again, your insight is much appreciated.

Andres,

Your response is lyrical in and of itself. I think I am going to print it out and hang it in my shop as inspiration.

Thank you!

CB

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Jonathan, Jacob, and Ben,

I took a while to write the last response and missed your posts. Your replies are very helpful. Jacob - I agree and I feel that my shortcomings may be my "individuality" until they are controlled. I am a purest at heart, and expect that my desire to learn the traditional method will span my lifetime. The individuality I seek in the future is more along the lines of nuance.

Ben, the corners as well as the photography are/is beautiful. You have a real talent for bee stings - a trait you and my violinmaker-teacher share.

CB

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I think one must be very careful of "individuality" that is a result of poor workmanship or skills that are not quite up to snuff. The individual elements of the violins that are most appealing are deliberate, well thought out and well excecuted.

My first violins had very long, "individual" corners. Not because they were beautiful (they were not),

but because my eye/hand skills were not good enough.

That being said, I found the best way to nurture individuality is to try very hard to stay true to the original look/intent of the model you are making.

The better you can emulate, the better you can alter.

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The individual elements of the violins that are most appealing are deliberate, well thought out and well excecuted.

I understand what you meant but just for the sake of discussion, how does Del Gesu's work "fit" in your statement above?

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I feel that my shortcomings may be my "individuality" until they are controlled.

CB

That is the most lucid description of my own "style" I could possibly wish for. :)

Thanks for strengthening my resolve to continue fighting the good fight :)

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I understand what you meant but just for the sake of discussion, how does Del Gesu's work "fit" in your statement above?

That is a puzzling question...?

How does one arrive at such "radical" designs, executed with such consistency (despite the variety in some detail, with obvious and specific tonal aims in mind) without premeditation?

I take it for granted that del Gesu's legendary (and unfounded) general reputation for "sloppy workmanship" does not lurk in the background?

PS - gotta get some shut-eye - be back tomorrow.

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On of the reasons I love double basses is because of the variety and lack of "standard". Sure there are a few classic models that are oft-copied, but at then end of the day, if you make a bass, they are judged on their own merit and not treated as wierd if they don't conform.

http://www.worldofbasses.de/Instrumente_02...rumente-02.html

ALL of the instruments shown on that site are beautiful in their own way. That's not to say there aren't some ugly (to my eye) basses out there. But they all have an inherent grandeur and there's PLENTY of room for individuality and taste.

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The Eye changes.

What I thought was highly pleasing in my making/carving 15 or 10 years ago, I would not now repeat.

Expect your taste to change...

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My question, though, is what is it that defines individuality in a modern maker, particularly one that is not a copyist? Is it a matter of excellent workmanship amidst untraditional parameters, or is it infinitely more subjective?

Lots of great responses so far. I tend to think in Jeffrey's terms, looking for something that "hangs together" or has a theme, but I don't know how to extrapolate on this more with words.

What's the context?

A formal competition?

What classical musicians will accept?

Getting school kids interested?

Pop music, or some other niche market?

What you can get away with when making basses? :)

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thanks for stating the obvious david....

now i can stay out of this one, for the most part, related to what i do.... :)

in my opinion related to traditional design, it is very much as jeffery stated....to me

the peice must have a cohesive nature to where the peice has fluididity to it and no one part stands out above the rest....

the primary areas of concern related to "individuality" on a traditional instrument are as followes in my opinion...

the scroll...and all its components...the eye in particular

the ff holes...they're shape, angle of orientation and spacing primarily

the corners {ew icky} they're shape,countour, how pointy? etc...

the bouts...are they boxy? or do they drop off quick, the proprtion of the lower and upper to themselves, the overall width

the graduation shape...

the fittings

and ofcourse the finish....

and theres more...but those seem to be the main ones to me....

i've seen violins with perfect everything, but the finsh was bad

or really nice but a "wonky"{thank you martina} scroll

etc...

so an individual violin will have all these components flow together well and none will stand out above the other...

its very much like a well design home....from the front yard to the all interior all components, it will have a cohesive well thought out plan, the paint,floors,cabinets etc... all go together well....however it will be unique unto itself....

i've allways felt it somewhat like fashion too, particularly how the shape goes with the fittings....

you stand back and say

"you look, marvelous darling"

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My twopennorth......and probably all it's worth B)

To develop the *eye* for seeing what the experts see......takes time and lots of it.

The more you develop this *eye* the more you realise you need to *see* even more.

The execution of the work is paramount and what you *see* needs to be replicated by this.

That said :)

Well I haven't got the eye or execution right yet.

But.....I have made a start.

Made lots of people laugh and groan when I take another fiddle for them to try at the session.

Keep getting asked what model/maker it is based on :) oh I wish!.

I was told there was no way a woman of my age with no skills could make violins.......well it seems

that at the moment I can make a resemblance and something which actually sounds a lot better than it looks.

Great fun, I wish I hadn't started a cornerless one now and I am thinking of putting it aside for now.

I really want to try more *copying* to see how close I can get the skills to this time.

So I guess the individualism comes more in the execution of the work in my case :)

Ben..your work and pictures once again WOW!

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Experimentation is often a good thing. I think that as long as the playability as good, go for it. Keep in mind that luthiers have been experimenting with designs for a few hundred years, so do your homework ahead of time. Also, if playing games with size, it's nice to be able to fit it into a case!

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when are one's shortcomings, either in terms of technique or knowledge of stylistic norms, becoming an excuse?

Apprentice: Makes mistakes, and doesn't know how to fix them.

Journeyman: Makes mistakes, and knows how to fix them.

Master: Makes mistakes, but they are part of his "style."

I, too am starting this journey. I have been doing research for months, but the construction process is still slow. I keep comparing different methods, and incorporating bits and pieces from other sources to the Strobel technique.

I also keep looking ahead, to see what effects my current decisions will have.

I'm doing the best I can on my first. Still, if I end up with an instrument that looks weird, but sounds good, I'll be happy at this point. I will take my learnings to future incarnations.

John Pierce

Maker of Fine Wood Chips and Sawdust

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name='Woodgrinder'

Maker of Fine Wood Chips and Sawdust

:-)

Yeah, aren't we all! I had a lady call me on the phone, asking if she could come get my wood shavings for use in her compost, as she was sure that violinmakers didn't use harmful chemicals, or treated wood. I politely explained that the amount of shavings I produce in a year would not be much help to her garden, and that, at any rate, I have my own compost heap. (I did not go on to say that spruce shavings make the VERY best fire-starter, in my wood-stove, on cold mornings.)

Chet Bishop

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