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Urban Luthier

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Work in progress viola based on the Strad Archinto in the RAM. Plus a beauty shot of the Archinto varnish (truly a humbling experience seeing this instrument in the flesh!)

Question for you -- I plan to do this as a baroque set up. What is the current thinking on plate thickness for the belly for modern baroque copies? Sacconi's diagram is 2.8 at the F holes 3.3 at the sound post and 2.4 elsewhere -- this seems quite thin to me barley more than a violin. I'm inclined to about 3mm all around and at tiny bit thicker at the f holes and sound post. 

Thoughts?

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I'm planning on doing a baroque set up on this viola. Based on the Strad CV templates and Pollens notes, it appears the contralto violas basic geometry is very close to modern: 2:3 mensur, ~223 stop, ~147 neck, even the neck angle (ms 216) is 86 degrees.  

What I’m really struggling with is the bridge height, string angle and overall impact of string tension on plate thicknesses

Any advice would be helpful!

Chris

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First, Dynamite woodworking! 

Based on my reading of the same materials, plust Hargrave's two articles on baroque and transitional instruments, I shoot for pretty much the same break angle as a modern instrument. 

As for strings, if I may, I'd suggest you get a full set from one of the manufacturers of early strings, rather than mixing modern overwound gut and plain gut. My first choice of those would be Aquila. The US distributor is in Portland and is a very helpful fellow. 

Historically informed gut strings are generally lower tension than a set of good modern gut or synthetic. That said, the fashion in the HIP world right now is for heavier gauges, and those, especially the plain E, ratchet down some serious force. 

My baroque axes are made after Stainer, and both the one I have access to and the one Hargrave profiled for the Strad (1679) have, shall we say, unique thicknesses. The violin I just finished is fully 5mm thick in the middle of the back, and 4.5 or so in the belly! That said, things thin dramatically in the channel area of the upper and lower bouts, barely over 1mm at parts on the back and a bit more wood in the same parts of the belly. The channel is stouter in the c bout, as you'd expect. I suspect that the central area bulk acts as a foundation for the power this thing is putting out, but that's nothing more than a suspicion. 

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Hi E, thanks!

Alchemist Medium amber varnish mixed with Behlen Pumice as the ground. Two coats. About 10 coats of Eugine Holtier's brown varnish (really thinly rubbed on -- so thin that I was able to re-coat after a couple of hours of strong sunlight). Two top coats of Alchemist Amber. No colour or pigments added.

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14 minutes ago, Urban Luthier said:

Hi E, thanks!

Alchemist Medium amber varnish mixed with Behlen Pumice as the ground. Two coats. About 10 coats of Eugine Holtier's brown varnish (really thinly rubbed on -- so thin that I was able to re-coat after a couple of hours of strong sunlight). Two top coats of Alchemist Amber. No colour or pigments added.

Hey! Stop copying me before I do it.  :lol:  I just bought the same amber varnish to mix with my gypsum ground. I hadn’t decided whether to do a second layer of amber over the ground before my varnish (Roger H) with pigments, then the rest my varnish, or put the pigment layer directly over the ground. Hope mine comes out as nice as yours. Great job!

-Jim

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I like the Alchemist amber varnish a lot. I have never heard of the Holtier varnish. Is he a violinmaker?

The varnish looks really good. Nice job!

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Eugine is also a violin maker. Here is a link to Old world Tonewood where there is info about his varnish. I learned about Engine from DarylG who was very helpful - see Daryl's thread -- Daryl's work is simply fantastic! I met Raymond Schryer, briefly at an exhibit here in Toronto and he also recommended Eugine's varnish as a good starting point. He had a violin on hand that was varnished with Holtier's stuff. It looked stunning. 

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Urban luthier, have you varnished a whole violin with Eugene's brown varnish?

I like the color a lot, but found it very sensitive to dust. It would easily form small "black islands" around dust particles and leave white spots around. I had to pull the violin out of the light box after a while and go over it with a small brush to correct. Perhaps it would work better doing really thin coats like you do.

Nice work!

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45 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

So far as I know, Gene's varnish is a very well made but very straightforward long cook rosin varnish, a la Hargrave. 

Yes, I did not mean to be critical, it is a nice varnish, but different to other varnished I used. I think the oil/resin content is 50/50. It is not very viscous.

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8 hours ago, Fjodor said:

Urban luthier, have you varnished a whole violin with Eugene's brown varnish?

I like the color a lot, but found it very sensitive to dust. It would easily form small "black islands" around dust particles and leave white spots around. I had to pull the violin out of the light box after a while and go over it with a small brush to correct. Perhaps it would work better doing really thin coats like you do.

Nice work!

Hi Fjodor

I did varnish an entire violin with Eugene's varnish (see picture in post above). I ran into the same issues you did but found that working with really lean rubbed in coats things were fine. Helps speed up drying also. The zits in the small sample above were a result of dropping the sample! I did this really quickly as a test.

I believe Jackson is right, Eugene's varnish is a solvent-free 50/50 mix of linseed oil to resin with the colour coming from a slow cook. The look is similar to Roger H's varnish. I found Engine quite helpful -- his email address is on line.

I'm just glad someone is doing this commercially. There is a lot of choice these days - Eugine, Donald Fels (alchemist) and Joe, all make good stuff.

I'm moving away from trying to learn how to make my own varnish - I've done a few batches that turned out well, but I find the whole process is time consuming, expensive and a distraction from making.

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I find the proportions of the strad violas very pleasing despite the general opinion among violists that their tone is relatively inferior or more violin-like. 
Are you planning on doing the cello style stepped head?

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On 7/25/2018 at 3:49 PM, Urban Luthier said:

Hi Fjodor

I did varnish an entire violin with Eugene's varnish (see picture in post above). I ran into the same issues you did but found that working with really lean rubbed in coats things were fine. Helps speed up drying also. The zits in the small sample above were a result of dropping the sample! I did this really quickly as a test.

I believe Jackson is right, Eugene's varnish is a solvent-free 50/50 mix of linseed oil to resin with the colour coming from a slow cook. The look is similar to Roger H's varnish. I found Engine quite helpful -- his email address is on line.

I'm just glad someone is doing this commercially. There is a lot of choice these days - Eugine, Donald Fels (alchemist) and Joe, all make good stuff.

I'm moving away from trying to learn how to make my own varnish - I've done a few batches that turned out well, but I find the whole process is time consuming, expensive and a distraction from making.

Thanks, I agree it's good that there are options available. I'm testing  varnish from vernici liutiera at the moment. Seems like good stuff and easy to brush. (Not as dark as Eugene's varnish but not any dust problems so far)

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