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Secret Knowledge and violins


Craig Tucker
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secrets of cremona yawn yawn ...

I bored my wife to tears with this shit, in the end she said "you don't suppose Stradivarius just threw away the bad sounding violins?"

Bill Yacey's account of the evolution of the violin is beautiful and plausible. If there was a particular secret then everyone would know it!

I think great violin makers have a sound in their head (often based on an instrument they own or have studied), and they stick at it stubbornly until they get that sound. I'm sure this involves a lot of dis-assembly and re-assembly, fine tuning, chucking things in the bin and starting from scratch, playing (a lot), plus of course having fantastically keen ears, a love of music, and respect for and understanding of the achievements of others as epitomized by the apprentice system.

The Cremonese Sound is an acquired taste. A good Stradivarius may an appropriate tool for a superstar solo performer (debatable of course) but there are many other kinds of violinists in the world and better instruments for them.

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I think great violin makers have a sound in their head (often based on an instrument they own or have studied), and they stick at it stubbornly until they get that sound. I'm sure this involves a lot of dis-assembly and re-assembly, fine tuning, chucking things in the bin and starting from scratch, playing (a lot), plus of course having fantastically keen ears, a love of music, and respect for and understanding of the achievements of others as epitomized by the apprentice system.

I wouldn't classify myself in the "Great" category by any stretch, but I would place myself in, at least, the "competent - if somewhat lacking in the finer easthetic points" category.

In my case - (take this for what it's worth) - "the having an idea in ones head from the start", and pursuing it" is exactly what I did, and in many respects, what I still do.

But, in the interest of being a proper type A, and having to straighten out every detail, the rest doesn't apply.

I never take apart and reassemble what I've made. I rarely toss anything in the bin - I'll finish it and sell it at a discount first - if I must. And usually (only once, in the interest of seeing what all of the hullabaloo about playing white violins was about,) have I ever played the instrument in the white before varnishing, in order to tinker with it. It is generally my habit to complete an instrument - set it up - and play it in, before I make any changes on future violins.

I do look, examine and play every violin I get a crack at, quite a bit.

And according to some people, I have a good ear (good enough to seat me at the tone judging bench for a few years at the VMAAI)

I'd be interested in hearing the same details from other makers, and hearing about their general habits and methods if anyone is interested...

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I'm sure this involves a lot of dis-assembly and re-assembly, fine tuning, chucking things in the bin and starting from scratch...

I never take apart and reassemble what I've made... I'd be interested in hearing the same details from other makers, and hearing about their general habits and methods if anyone is interested...

#1: taken apart and modified 4 times

#2: sounded pretty good, looked OK, sold after adding fingerboard wedge to correct projection/overstand error.

#3: taken apart and modified 3 times

#4: sounds good (VMAAI gold medal winner)... leaving this one alone

#5: slight modification between white test and final (planned event)

#6: slight modification between white test and final (planned event)

#7: significant regrad after white test (planned)

Then there's the original (flat plate) snakefiddle... in the trash bin, except for the neck (which is on #6).

In addition, #5 and #6 have been revarnished, and I'm in the process of re-doing the back varnish on #6. I'll probably re-varnish #1 later.

This is not my ideal, intended working habit, but my idea of how I can learn as much as possible in the shortest period of time. And a lot of what I've been doing has been testing extreme wood, arching and graduation experiments, where the initial assembly is much more likely to come out somewhere in left field. This mode is likely to continue for another few instruments, after which I expect to do less messing around.

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I have rarely had what I'd call a bad violin, and it's been due to some ill-advised experiment. A couple have been thrown away, when I couldn't fix the problem (don't soak your wood in lye water), and I've made a few new tops (I guess I don't like cedar for tops, and there are a couple of treatment processes that I now know degrade wood seriously). Otherwise, no horrible mistakes.

I think the fundamental thing is to work to normal standards, for a start, then try to refine from there. If you do that, you can't get too far out into the woods. What I do currently is the result of 25 years of refinements and tweaks, shaping things to my style and preferences, probably including a healthy number of superstitious things I do because I am not sure if they help, but I know they don't hurt.. The most important aspect of that, as far as I'm concerned, was to not believe everything I read, but to test each aspect. I've read about things makers believe you should certainly do that you don't need to do, and things you have heard you shouldn't that you should. The way to be better than anyone else is obviously not to be doing what the people you want to do better than are doing, so be careful taking their advice. On the other hand, don't believe that everything you can think of that no one has ever tried before must be the "secret".

Personally, I think the easiest way to get into trouble is to think you can make a better violin without ever having made a good one. And finally, if you do a halfway decent job of following the plan, you can make a violin that's not too bad, but that doesn't mean you're a brilliant maker with nothing to learn.

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I'd be interested in hearing the same details from other makers, and hearing about their general habits and methods if anyone is interested...

It helps to be in the right frame of mind. I got myself in the proper frame of mind for violin making first thing this morning by sitting down with a cup of coffee, and blasting Bach Toccata & Fugue in d minor (organ music) at window rattling levels. Twice. Made my ears water. Highly recommended.

Not my favorite performance, but:

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There's no defintive answer / silver bullet.

Although we are making stuff that hasn't changed much over 300 years.

I think of violin making as a combination of skills.

Here are 3 things that come to mind:

1. Technical procedural knowledge competence and experience, that covers everything from restoration to making to playing to listening.

2. Natural creative drive determination persistence and humility, that covers all the tricky stuff, like choosing an f hole.

3. Sales.

Number 3 is really what I find hardest but it's the not the hardest thing to learn....

:)

Bill knows the secret :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYXB6pQvJcg

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Huh, I know what the secret is, but then it would be PRETTY stupid of me to tell you, wouldn't it? :angry::huh: oh well ok then, since you all insist, makes me nice nice compliments and sends me wine bottles. The secret of the cremonese is their originality, and of course that simply can't be repeated, that is an un-copiable quality. So if your goal is to make something equal to a cremonese fiddle, you can just give up. It's been done once and for all. You could just as well try to re-launch the renaissance, theoretically it is possible, but I suspect it wouldn't be quite the same this time around, would it?

So, I believe the secret is the power of the original. And of course only the original originals can have that power. Copies can only lend some of it's splendour, but not possess it themselves.

But then again, I think in many cases, this lack of "originality" is the only difference between the cremonese and the best contemporary instruments. And that quality has very little to do with sound, for example, with quality of work. It is just a historical fact.

So my feeling is that too many people in this business believe they can invent the wheel over again, if they just have enough tricky machinery and science ideas. Yawn.

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OK, you've got me... I admit I took a Strad poster of the Titian in my time machine back to the 1500's and gave it to him. He wasn't into making exact copies, though.

Gosh Don...you chose 1500?? No lottery tickets numbers or superbowl winners to memorize, how do you expect to profit on time travel? This is of course with the common knowledge that you can't return with material items from the past.

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It helps to be in the right frame of mind. I got myself in the proper frame of mind for violin making first thing this morning by sitting down with a cup of coffee, and blasting Bach Toccata & Fugue in d minor (organ music) at window rattling levels. Twice. Made my ears water. Highly recommended.

Not my favorite performance, but:

I wonder how horror film makers would have done if JS Bach had not written this piece!

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This sounds nasal to me:

An Erhu uses a totally different compression scheme than violin and has a much different timbre.

For you dB vs Freq guys, a nasal-sounding violin typically shows an appreciable 'dip' between 1000-1800Hz [or so]. Personally, I think violin nasal sound is caused more by how well

the instrument compresses & rarefies air rather than by absolute dB level differences.

Jim

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An Erhu uses a totally different compression scheme than violin and has a much different timbre.

For you dB vs Freq guys, a nasal-sounding violin typically shows an appreciable 'dip' between 1000-1800Hz [or so]. Personally, I think violin nasal sound is caused more by how well

the instrument compresses & rarefies air rather than by absolute dB level differences.

Jim

Show us your graphs, Jim. :lol:

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Most of my "secrets" have come from right here, so I guess they are kind of public. Same with what I've sorted out from books. The problem has been separating fact from fancy, and that happens during actual making. I do have a few things that are exclusive to me, but they mainly relate to my individual capabilities and working preferences. Even those sometimes change over time. I might divulge more but I hate to spread misinformation.

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