One Piece Back vs Two Piece Back


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Do you believe that the tonal qualities of an instrument are influenced by whether is is a one or two piece back, and to what extent? Surely if one produces better instruments than the other, it would be more common?

 

Like you, I too believe one "surely produces better instruments than the other" and am not prepared to take "No" for an answer. :)

 

If I could just figure out which one............

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I don't believe it affects the sound at all.

 

Due to the width you need for a one piece, compared to the narrower wedge for a two piece back, it can be harder to find the quality you might want, and does cost extra.
The extra cost is however offeset by the fact you do not need to joint it, for this reason alone I'd use a one piece back when possible.

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I don't believe it affects the sound at all.

 

Due to the width you need for a one piece, compared to the narrower wedge for a two piece back, it can be harder to find the quality you might want, and does cost extra.

The extra cost is however offeset by the fact you do not need to joint it, for this reason alone I'd use a one piece back when possible.

Thanks Dave - really interesting insight.

But I still cant believe it doesn't change the sound

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If one was proven to be superior over the 500 year history of violin making, then I think it would be clear by now. To me they are just different choices. Same goes for slab sawn or quarter sawn backs, they each have their own merits, but perhaps not in the way you have been thinking of.

 

Your question is one we get asked in the shop a lot, and I can see that is a clear belief amongst some players that a one piece back will be better, some just like the look. In the end, as long as you have an instrument you are happy with, I would not worry unduly about whether it could have been better with a one piece back for example.
How the instrument is made, and the skill of the maker will far outweigh the choice of materials every single time.

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Each and and every piece of wood has the capacity to "change the sound"...  or probably better stated; Each piece of wood has it's own physical, and therefore tonal, character.  In addition, the character (strength) of different orientations of the grain (slab/quartered/bias) will have an effect.  These effects can be modified and manipulated to an extent by how a good maker works with the wood... and many makers develop preferences for the woods they stock (visual and otherwise).

 

There are certain makers who preferred one piece quartered backs (for example; Pressenda used mostly one piece backs for violin)... others who didn't seem stuck on either one, and still others who seemed to work with what was available.  I just examined a rather nice sounding Bergonzi violin during a visit to Boston that had a beech back.

 

The requirements of the tree diameter limits the number of single piece quartered backs that might be available (the tree needs to be twice as large).  I've seen quartered single piece 'cello backs occasionally.  Imagine the size of the tree required for that.   :)

 

I think it's an error, however, to try to determine "the difference or "change"", and certainly try to connect "better" or "worse" in comparing book matched or joined continuing figure backs with one piece backs in terms of tone.  Debating this is most probably (surely) a waste of time and a quantifiable answer is a pipe-dream.  It's predominantly a cosmetic issue.  

 

In terms of what is sought by collectors and players; I find that the higher end of the market is more concerned with quality of the example, it's visual and tonal appeal, and condition rather than if the back is one or two pieces.  Certainly some collectors may have a preference to one or the other, but it's not often the priority.

 

So... possibly a better question (for the OP asking of a group of makers) might be: In your experience, what characteristics of the back wood do you find has noticeable, and/or measurable, effects on the tonal character of the instrument?

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How the instrument is made, and the skill of the maker will far outweigh the choice of materials every single time.

 

In more ways than even most makers think... this is true,

 

- no matter what materials are chosen, the skill and ability of the maker will (in general) always dictate the results - quality wise - so the above statement is always (again, generally) true.

Excepting those examples where something unexplained causes unexpected bad results in the odd violin (which DOES happen to everyone occasionally - experienced makers not excepted) the makers skill and experience does factor in MUCH more than ANYTHING else does.

 

Materials included.

 

  It's refreshing to have a poster cut through all of the various opinions, assumptions, and occasional violin related mythology that comes up, and come out with a simple statement of truth.

 

One piece - two piece back? Either way tells us nothing intrinsic about a particular violin, without playing it.

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Related to the points brought up by Michael_Molnar...

 
I have a copy of an article by Rene Morel titled "The Secrets of Viola Sound". In it he says "Old Brescians...The back is made of maple cut on the slab, which is much softer than that of quartered maple. This is the best choice for viola voice...Amati used soft maple, mostly slab cut (though not always). Strad violas...the wood is cut on the quarter, making the A string voice lean towards a violin sound."
 
I'm not sure if this adds much to the debate between one-piece and two-piece backs, but am I incorrect to assume that these slab-cut backs were most likely one-piece? In my (limited) experience I have not seen many two-piece slab-cut backs...
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Sacconi, ever observant, believed that Stradivari must have found "book matched" tops to be more successful, since after a few early one piece tops, it is "very rare indeed" to find them.  Incidentally, he further points out that one piece tops were more common in Amatis.    

 

Then he points out his belief that backs function differently from tops.  The very fact that Strad made so many violins with one piece backs leads to a conclusion that someone as careful as Stradivari found either little difference or none.  If it's good enough for Strad, it's good enough for us, IMO;  but years ago I found that all my favorite violins had two piece backs.  I'm reasonably sure that I wasn't perfectly objective, though.

 

And, as others are pointing out, there are so many other factors that I don't know if we could ever be sure. 

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I love one-piece tops. Put the wider grain on the bass side, and go to town.

I think a two piece back is likely to be stiffer, especially on the long arch, as the finer grain is joined down the center. But as Jeffrey and ct said, there's no picking out a feature like this to point to a better violin. It's all a balancing act.

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The cut as Jacob amply advises is dependent on tree and availability...The good old Guys didn't  waste time to make a join if not required but would make several joins if materials were short and demand high...It all works

True.....A lot of 'cellos have fronts & backs made from several pieces of wood.Some of them seem to have been made rather badly with really ill-matched pieces!

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As J. Holmes said "better" no "different"  yes. If the wood is slabbed or one side has wider grain than the other then it's up to the maker to adjust either their graduations or their expectations accordingly. I generally find that using wood from the same tree the slab cut one piece backs tend to give a slightly darker sound either because it is a bit less stiff that way or because if you leave it thicker to gain stiffness you have a heavier violin. 

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To me it seems impossible to compare one or two piece backs since you can't get everything the same except for the backs.  In practice I would expect the maker's technique to differ depending on the wood and this would include one-piece vs. two-piece backs.

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I'm not sure if this adds much to the debate between one-piece and two-piece backs, but am I incorrect to assume that these slab-cut backs were most likely one-piece? In my (limited) experience I have not seen many two-piece slab-cut backs...

 

 

They can be either one or two piece.

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