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Symmetry

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This has been discussed before on this board and I think the idea I accepted is that symmetry was a starting point for the old masters but not an intended and goal. I feel this is obvious because if symmetry was a goal, then old master's violins would be just that - or at least the attempt would be more profound. Other wood work in the period shows the ability for symmetry - so it is not a technology that was beyond their time.

I use an asymmetrical mold traced off a strad, because I want the asymmetry from the violin it was patterned off of. I also use a two piece mold to keep the rib garland as close to my pattern as possible. I know this doesn't follow the accepted Italian process, but I'll play around with that too when I get a few fiddles made.

I find that asymmetry can REALLY be seen when one looks at a violin upside-down. It is amazing how the C-bout discrepancies really pop when you do this. Example:

1730 Viotti Del Gesu straight on top:

Viotti1730GDGfront.jpg

OK. Let's see how good I am. Photos are deceiving but let's assume that these aren't.

It's definitely easier to see the asymmetry when the instrument is inverted.

1) The lower bout is asymmetrical

2) The end pin is not centered

3) The C's are assymetrical

4) The upper bout is assymmetrical

5) The neck root heel is not centered to the neck

6) The neck is not centered to centerline

7) The neck has slight tilt

Question: Would this pass inspection at VSA as a quality instrument?

Same fiddle, upside-down back:

CopyofViotti1730GDGfback.jpg

This can be done with countless examples. Read through your Axelrod or Strad posters upside down and see all the wierd angles that pop out from disagreeing C-bouts :)

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Jim,

I am unable to relate the seeming direction of your posts to my understanding of the violin which is based on over 50 years experience with violin making, including study in fine arts and physics.

In my understanding, the magic of golden age Italian instruments and good approximations is that their resonance and resulting sound output mimics that of the human vocal tract.

Basically the scheme is, in the case (vocally) of a particular vowel, or for a particular instrument, a series of resonances each tuned to a specific frequency. Although each note sung or played will have a very harmonic overtone series, the amplitude of each harmonic will vary according to how it intersects with the resonances of the vocal tract or instrument.

And in the case of the voice and the violin, some fundamentals and some overtones will be exceedingly weak. That is how vowel-like sounds convey information. For example, it is well known that the fundamental of the open G on the best Italian violins is essentially missing. Likewise, the low notes of male singers lack energy at the fundamental. These note are below the frequencies that give the sensation of vowels.

The resonances vocal tract can be variously tuned or emphasized, whereas the resonances of the violin are essentially fixed by the maker and adjuster.

Totally unlike a high-fi system, the radiation spectrum of a good violin is gappy and peaky. There does not seem to be any logical structure to the output spectrum of a good violin. The appeal seems to lie in its human-like irregularity. Another one of those artistic teases that humans are willing to spend good money for.

What is the code of instrument design that you are seeing?

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David,

Beware! Some of the physics guys from acoustics are coming out to check the symmetry of those black marks and find their source!!

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I had the unpleasant experience some years back of patting myself on the back on account of some well cut F holes, only to be horrified at their shape when viewed upside down.

Might one suggest a simple rule - good shapes (mould, form, F etc) are those that remain good looking when viewed 180 deg from the norm.

----------------

I have said this before...

visual perception is strongly influenced by orientation.

You will find it much harder to identify a face in a photo if it is upside down or at 90 deg.

I think this may mean that some asymmetry is inperceptible, not because it is small, but because we just don't 'see' it.

-----------------

Of course, handedness also plays a part. My Fs are asymmetrical because I use 1 hand to cut and what's easy on one side is more difficult on the other.

-----------------

Later...

And another reason for 'not seeing' is the phenomenon of subconscious interpolation by the brain.

I was once asked in a game to count the number of 'the's in a paragraph. I was adamant that I was correct, until the page was turned upside down and the 'the's counted again - I had not 'seen' many!

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David,

Beware! Some of the physics guys from acoustics are coming out to check the symmetry of those black marks and find their source!!

Yeah, that's the same excuse they gave when they came over to our place to mooch our beer. :)

Symmetry of the black marks is reasonably good, because the car has independent rear suspension. If you want to check next summer, there may still be "burnout" marks in the alley behind the art studio :)

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I am of the opinion that many fine beautiful violins were intentionally made asymmetrical. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess. Let's face facts. There is nothing of the function of a violin that is really symmetrical. If that were true all of the strings would be the same gauge and there would be either two bass bars and soundposts or non at all! Take a look at the pegbox and imagine the difficulty of tuning the violin if it were symmetrical. The left side of a violin performs a totally different function than the right side. Why then would one assume that the graduation and outline should be the same?

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Hi Doug,

Welcome to the discussion.

While I applaud the 'romantic' comparison of violin to the human voice,

I believe it to be a red-herring ... meaning it's not possible to

derive any pertinent design mathematics from this style of observation.

... Totally unlike a high-fi system, the radiation spectrum of a good violin

is gappy and peaky. There does not seem to be any logical structure

to the output spectrum of a good violin...

What is the code of instrument design that you are seeing?

Surviving instruments of the Great Masters - Andrea & "Nick" [Amati] as well

as "Tony" [stradivari] - provide all the visible clues needed to crack-the-code.

Elements of the scroll, corners & f-holes leads one to the logical thought process

of the "genius" behind the design fundamentals.

Any observed asymmetries in fluting and/or 'scoop", for example, will not yield

any info needed to unravel the mathematical puzzle.

I'm not knockin' "asymmetry" either. Some players want a different instrument

"response". Whether they understand what's causing the difference is perhaps

a moot point.

I guess I'll end by saying if anyone thinks they've identified the fundamental

mathematics for violin design, they should be able to apply the same design

principles to generate the dimensions & curves for other stringed instruments

as well. If not, their mathematics are incorrect.

Jim

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I guess I'll end by saying if anyone thinks they've identified the fundamental

mathematics for violin design, they should be able to apply the same design

principles to generate the dimensions & curves for other stringed instruments

as well. If not, their mathematics are incorrect.

Sorry, I don't understand the logic behind this?

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I’m a little tired of hearing about things like the “golden section”, which can be used to describe almost any form if one tries hard enough. I use the word “describe” because it is not necessarily the basis for a design, but rather, something mathematicians can retrofit over most things, simply to harp about it infinite application and worth.

Are there any old/ancient geometric designs for tops (or any part of a violin)? Did painters truly use this golden section to plan compositions? I am glad that, at some point, someone somewhere decided to describe/record moulds for people using geometry, but I am unsure of just how much number crunching was done to arrive where we are today.

Also… another way to check the accuracy of your ffs is the simply look at them in a mirror (ideally before you cut them). I do the same thing with paintings. If I want to see how well I’ve done, when a painting is complete, I just hold it up to a mirror, and gasp at the slight misinterpretations of perspective etc.

The role of handedness is a huge factor in all visual things (not just execution, but how one perceives finished forms).

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I so agree with the mirror test!!

At barber shops, for example, I have seen a double transposed mirror image of myself (ie as others see me) and wondered who's butt-face is staring back...

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Is the Messiah violin a good example of symetry ?

I have drawings of it, and it seems not to be.

So, if it is not, then why copy imperfections ?

Bad genes don't get copied as often as good ones, so why should asymetry be awarded a prize ?

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I so agree with the mirror test!!

At barber shops, for example, I have seen a double transposed mirror image of myself (ie as others see me) and wondered who's butt-face is staring back...

Well how about me admiring my own *butt* in the multiple mirrors in ladies changing rooms and realising it wasn't mine :)

Mirrors and reversing images really show up discrepencies.

I used to stand a mirror to reflect back the image at me from a distance and it is liking looking at something for the first time.

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Is the Messiah violin a good example of symetry ?

I have drawings of it, and it seems not to be.

So, if it is not, then why copy imperfections ?

Bad genes don't get copied as often as good ones, so why should asymetry be awarded a prize ?

Hi Ben,

In my opinion, it is a incorrect assumption that asymmetry is an imperfection. It is so profound (particularly when viewed from a different perspective) that it screams intentional or at the very least unimportant. We aren't the first people to turn a violin upside down, or look at violins with a critical eye.

I have no ill opinion of symmetrical violins, just a preference toward the other.

CB

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Hahahah ! Good idea Sharron.

I am right handed for most things, but I use both hands where I can,

I like the feel of balance it brings to what is essentially a left brain job.

Hi CB, the violin as we know it (the messiah is an obvious example) tries to be symetrical.

Trying to make it asymetrical by design is in my view, daft.

Copying a violin which is asymetrical (most are) is another matter, but I don't do it.

Imperfections manifest themselves just by making things, so whay copy other peoples resulting imperfections ?

Most of this is stuff is just waffle, since making violins does not happen by looking at the perfectly symetrical computer screen....

This violin is featured on Cozio, it has asymetric C bouts, something I would not bother to copy.

I rather take half the outline and use that as a base to work form.

http://www.cozio.com/instrument.aspx?id=6717

Cheers.

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I do not recall where I originally saw this, but there is some fascinating work out there on facial symmetry, where images of human faces were processed with a cut down the middle, one half mirrored, and seamed to together so that three images resulted, the original, left face, and right face. I recall that all three looked very distinct, and inevitably, one of the altered pictures presented a friendly or attractive appearance, or otherwise. If memory serves me correct, neither looked as natural as the original (in spite of perfect photo editing, as the operation was entirely undetectable). Of course the two altered pictures were perfectly symmetrical.

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I do not recall where I originally saw this, but there is some fascinating work out there on facial symmetry, where images of human faces were processed with a cut down the middle, one half mirrored, and seamed to together so that three images resulted, the original, left face, and right face. I recall that all three looked very distinct, and inevitably one of the altered pictures presented a friendly or attractive appearance, or otherwise. Of course the two altered pictures were perfectly symmetrical.

I actually doctored up many photos back in the mid 90's and ran a kind of "facial symmetry = attractive?" test. It turned out that a somewhat significant amount of people tended to find perfectly symmetrical faces to be the most attractive, BUT there was a limit to how far apart or close the spacing of facial features could be. I'm sure that there are a TON of tests like this floating around on the web... including the ultimate average human face, produced by morphing all sexes and genders together. The result was rather bland... like a mannequin. (Here is the test... http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2006/10/aver...rls_are_ho.html)

I personally like a touch of asymmetry, and believe that we all intend to make symmetrical things, but end up with something very different.

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Hi CB, the violin as we know it (the messiah is an obvious example) tries to be symetrical.

Trying to make it asymetrical by design is in my view, daft.

Copying a violin which is asymetrical (most are) is another matter, but I don't do it.

Imperfections manifest themselves just by making things, so whay copy other peoples resulting imperfections ?

Most of this is stuff is just waffle, since making violins does not happen by looking at the perfectly symetrical computer screen....

This violin is featured on Cozio, it has asymetric C bouts, something I would not bother to copy.

I rather take half the outline and use that as a base to work form.

http://www.cozio.com/instrument.aspx?id=6717

Cheers.

I understand your perspective completely - and don't disagree (all except for the "daft"part :) ) Asymmetry is another nuance of a violin as a whole that I would like to control. If it is going to be asymmetric, I want it to be an asymmetric design that is thought out - not a symptom of the violin making process.

Again, I know this differs from the traditional process (as far as we know), but it is part of my desire to have the result of my work deliberate and intentional.

CB

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Hi Ben,

In my opinion, it is a incorrect assumption that asymmetry is an imperfection. It is so profound (particularly when viewed from a different perspective) that it screams intentional or at the very least unimportant. We aren't the first people to turn a violin upside down, or look at violins with a critical eye.

I have no ill opinion of symmetrical violins, just a preference toward the other.

CB

Casually show a violin to an average person and ask them if it appears symmetrical, and the average answer will be yes. Wood, tools and the makers hand and eyes are all imperfect, so to obtain absolute perfection is an elusive task. I don't think the violinmakers purposely introduced asymmetry, but more so it was a shortcoming of the initial mould development or assembly of the ribs. If the asymmetry couldn't be seen without careful measuring and comparison, it probably wasn't worthy of any further consideration by the maker. Some makers probably applied somewhat more emphasis to this than others. del Gesu would have fit into the latter category.

If you look close enough asymmetry will be found in all things that appear symmetrical, intentional or not. Someone here previously mentioned that the Cremonese makers were craftsmen or tradesmen in their time, not artisans. It was only later their work was elevated to be recognized as an artform.

Their prime goal was to crank out acceptable instruments to supply the demand to feed the family, much the way we do so today. There's a point where we have to say "That's enough time spent on this, good enough, finished, time to move on." If you don't, the wife will soon be tapping you on the shoulder "The kids are hungry, when are you going to sell that thing?"

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Bill, the Cremonese makers were not cranking em out as fast as the Brescians, mainly becuase they could afford to take more time, they had a different market.

So, the Brescians tended to make more asymetrical outlines than the Creomonese.

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Is the Messiah violin a good example of symetry ?

I have drawings of it, and it seems not to be.

So, if it is not, then why copy imperfections ?

Bad genes don't get copied as often as good ones, so why should asymetry be awarded a prize ?

Ben... as I stated in my opening post, the last VSA Gold medal was one that was inspired by the Messiah. However, we all know the argument around the Messiah. I do not have a particular opinion about the arguement. But looking at Stradivari's work, we would mostly assume that he is trying to acheive symmetry. Of course one cannot avoid the "organic asymmetry" during the assembly process. But don't we agree that he tried to acheive the symmetry? From all the surviving moulds in the Cremona museum, I think there should be some evidence of that.

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Bill, the Cremonese makers were not cranking em out as fast as the Brescians, mainly becuase they could afford to take more time, they had a different market.

So, the Brescians tended to make more asymetrical outlines than the Creomonese.

That's a very good point you make, time becoming the determining factor; I believe if the intention was to build a crooked violin they would have made it more blatantly obvious.

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Ben... as I stated in my opening post, the last VSA Gold medal was one that was inspired by the Messiah. However, we all know the argument around the Messiah. I do not have a particular opinion about the arguement. But looking at Stradivari's work, we would mostly assume that he is trying to acheive symmetry. Of course one cannot avoid the "organic asymmetry" during the assembly process. But don't we agree that he tried to acheive the symmetry? From all the surviving moulds in the Cremona museum, I think there should be some evidence of that.

I absolutely agree, and that is what my concern is with consciously incorporating asymmetry into the external measurements of violin design (as opposed to being a result of the process of making). Asymmetry striven for or arrived at in such a manner is a meaningless artifice with no tonal, aesthetic or historical justification ("historical' in the context of violin-making).

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Asymmetry striven for or arrived at in such a manner is a meaningless artifice with no tonal, aesthetic or historical justification ("historical' in the context of violin-making).

I think we can allow such artifice a small ledge of esthetic legitimacy, where it can catch its breath after a near-deadly fall towards oblivion. :) Just as antiquing is a legitimate pursuit in its own right, so is recreating the esthetic impact or exact look of a particular instrument.

I don't envision myself ever making an asymmetrical mold, but I cannot do anything but admire the process Melvin uses to get his results.

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