One Piece Back vs Two Piece Back


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1707 'La Cathedrale' has two, very small, wings.

I'll take your word for that. I don't have a picture accurate enough to see it. B)

 

However, here is the 1727 Smith......... looks like it is more common than I thought, even among Strad's instruments.

In fact, in this case is that two 'winglets' either side? I can only presume this is original work. Someone else may know better.

 

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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?

 

Excellently put . . .

 

:rolleyes:    B)

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This is the kind of stuff I love!

Let any modern maker try this and they would be thought deficient in skill or wood choice or blah blah blah. I would assume that none of these instruments would stand a chance in a modern competition because of those extra joints. (I hope I am wrong.) But the makers we admire most just put the thing together, and made compromises when they had to. Granted, in a very nice way.

 

And I have to wonder, how did a maker of Mr. S's  skill not pull off matching the flame better on all three backs.

'Cause #$% 'em! That's why.

 

 

hahaha

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These must have been added for tonal reasons. Surely Strad would not have used pieces that were not quite big enough, even if they were stunning. Surely not. Anyone have a theory? Nice story Stephan I also have some fine reclaimed timber.  I never throw wood away.

 

That's because you're from Yorkshire though; go on - :) admit it?

 

  :ph34r:  :ph34r:  :ph34r:

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Just to get this back on track, 'winging it', as MickC called it  was very common even amongst the best. And as Don pointed out, so were repairs, either for worm damage or resin pockets. (Strad repaired both several time on both backs and bellies) Tone wood was very expensive back then. By comparison it is cheap today. Today it's labour that costs. Back then it was the raw materials. There are a couple of Del Gesu violins with tops where the bass and treble sides came from different trees. The probable explanation for this is that his wood arrived as split wedges. With carful sawing he occasionally managed three halves from one wedge. That meant two wedges equals three bellies.

I also seriously doubt they made a conscious decision to use a piece because it was acoustically better. The most likely explanation, (and it has happened to me several times) is that such blemishes appeared after a considerable amount of work had already been invested. Why would you then throw away an otherwise useable piece. This It is a just another example of the different priorities and mental attitudes that we have today. Like 'chasing the laser' in our working methods, we all think about perfection in materials in the same way. In places like Milan the wood used by most makers was mainly taken from local sources, (also occasionally in Cremona). This wood was often ugly, badly cut and has since distorted, but somehow it works. We are always in danger of over dramatizing such things with fanciful theories. It is the same with the wood seasoning debate on this site. Wood seasoning is relatively simple. This does not mean that they were not cleaver, or did not do some things that we no-longer know about or understand. It just means that we should approach our trade as a trade. A trade that requires certain practical skills and knowledge. It is not as some like to believe a mystical, artistic, pseudo scientific, practice. Sorry another rant - it just slipped out.   

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Just to get this back on track, 'winging it', as MickC called it  was very common even amongst the best. And as Don pointed out, so were repairs, either for worm damage or resin pockets. (Strad repaired both several time on both backs and bellies) Tone wood was very expensive back then. By comparison it is cheap today. Today it's labour that costs. Back then it was the raw materials. There are a couple of Del Gesu violins with tops where the bass and treble sides came from different trees. The probable explanation for this is that his wood arrived as split wedges. With carful sawing he occasionally managed three halves from one wedge. That meant two wedges equals three bellies.

I also seriously doubt they made a conscious decision to use a piece because it was acoustically better. The most likely explanation, (and it has happened to me several times) is that such blemishes appeared after a considerable amount of work had already been invested. Why would you then throw away an otherwise useable piece. This It is a just another example of the different priorities and mental attitudes that we have today. Like 'chasing the laser' in our working methods, we all think about perfection in materials in the same way. In places like Milan the wood used by most makers was mainly taken from local sources, (also occasionally in Cremona). This wood was often ugly, badly cut and has since distorted, but somehow it works. We are always in danger of over dramatizing such things with fanciful theories. It is the same with the wood seasoning debate on this site. Wood seasoning is relatively simple. This does not mean that they were not cleaver, or did not do some things that we no-longer know about or understand. It just means that we should approach our trade as a trade. A trade that requires certain practical skills and knowledge. It is not as some like to believe a mystical, artistic, pseudo scientific, practice. Sorry another rant - it just slipped out.   

Do you think Stradivari was hard pressed to find wood period, or maybe hard pressed to find rich patrons willing to pay dearly for expensive wood?

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Here is a Grancino cello back I found on the internet a few months ago. I kept the photo to remind me to continue to be a wood miser. He plugged a knot with a round of wood... was it revealed as he worked or did he buy the wood knowing he would have to plug it? Who knows? Who cares? It's what you have to do. 

 

The salient issue is what Roger says over and over, and I enjoy reading, you have you use what you can get. In the days of the classical builders maybe the wood man did not bring his cart down the mountain for two years in a row and everyone learned you don't waste material, you make do. 

 

Wood misers unite! 

post-69241-0-08694900-1387023695_thumb.jpg

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Here is a Grancino cello back I found on the internet a few months ago. I kept the photo to remind me to continue to be a wood miser. He plugged a knot with a round of wood... was it revealed as he worked or did he buy the wood knowing he would have to plug it? Who knows? Who cares? It's what you have to do. 

 

The salient issue is what Roger says over and over, and I enjoy reading, you have you use what you can get. In the days of the classical builders maybe the wood man did not bring his cart down the mountain for two years in a row and everyone learned you don't waste material, you make do. 

 

Wood misers unite! 

In your photo there seems to be a line in the varnish or wood that follows the outline of the instrument, a inch or two inside.

Do you know what caused this?

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Yes the instrument was made larger at some point, or changed at least. It may have been made smaller- cut down and they went about it by adding a complete rim and remaking the edges. I'm not clear on which way it went down, but the the instrument apparently comes with a paper saying that work was done in France around 1800. The rest is said to be Grancino. 

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Roger, Have you any thoughts about the relatively plain wood that seems to characterize many instruments in Stradivari's last years?

I'm not Roger, but my opinion is Strad had less strength and perhaps patience in his later years for working with the highly figured wood.  It was less physically demanding to work with more plain wood. Even his sons would have been senior citizens in Strad's later years, and perhaps they weren't keen on working the wild figured wood either.

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I'm not Roger, but my opinion is Strad had less strength and perhaps patience in his later years for working with the highly figured wood.  It was less physically demanding to work with more plain wood. Even his sons would have been senior citizens in Strad's later years, and perhaps they weren't keen on working the wild figured wood either.

The catalog published for the exhibition (in Cremona) of Cremonese Instruments from 1730-1750 has some interesting information contributed by Christopher Reuning, Duane Rosengard and Carlo Chiesa among others... concerning economic (market), political, and social conditions in Cremona from about 1720 on.  I'd highly recommend reading it.

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Again, I suggest reading the catalog I mentioned as it touches on the issue of materials used in Stradivari's workshop in the 1720s and 30s.  I'll leave the theories to those capable individuals who have gone to the effort to gather the historical and archival information to be applied with observation in order to formulate them.  Within the catalog, the outline of conditions and situations of the various family shops in Cremona from the 1720s on to 1750, and the observations offered, make a great deal of sense to me.  Maybe Roger and/or Bruce (who I certainly consider in the group of those individuals of the type mentioned above) have a different take, or more information they can add... but here's a short bit (Carlo speaking of the last years of the Stradivari workshop) from the text that specifically addresses materials:

 

"The shop was still productive,  While the technical precision of the instruments was usually not very high, and sometimes left much to be desired, the wood choice was remarkable, often of an excellent standard and better than that used in the previous decade.  Indeed, the acoustic character of many violins of this final period has made them superb concert instruments.  The choice of wood could be a consequence of a contingent situation.  In the 1720s there were no particular opportunities to use the best wood in the family stock and it was retained for future needs, but after 1728, having realized there was no future for the shop, the Stradivari family freely dipped into the best bits of their material supply." (Carlo Chiesa; "Antonio Stradivari and Cremonese violin making of the 17th and 18th centuries"; from the 2008 Exhibition catalog Cremona 1730-1750; the Olympus of Violin Making.)

 

I wouldn't stop with this little snippet if you have interest.  Taking in the various contributions of the text will fill out the picture of what "contingent situation" Carlo is referring to, and the catalog includes some nice photos of late Strads like the "Tangye/Segleman" and the "Muntz" as well as many other instruments by the Guarneri del Gesu and the Stradivari & Bergonzi families.

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Here is a Grancino cello back I found on the internet a few months ago. I kept the photo to remind me to continue to be a wood miser. He plugged a knot with a round of wood... was it revealed as he worked or did he buy the wood knowing he would have to plug it? Who knows? Who cares? It's what you have to do. 

 

Perhaps it was one of the later re-workers that plugged the knot? The are plenty of instances of nice old Italian violins with the knots left in place.

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I played a Burgess at his house in 07 and he said he almost never does two piece backs.  It's 'as simple' as: regardless of what characteristics you may be looking for, it is going to be easier to find two separate pieces  of similarly very high quality wood (whether two pieces of the same tree or not) as opposed to finding such high quality in a piece twice as large.

 

Please, no know-it-alls.  I know there's more to selecting wood than that, but that is probably the main reason.  Also, a 1-piece of such high quality may likely cost more in materials (just a guess, perhaps moreso these days than in the old days at least)

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The catalog published for the exhibition (in Cremona) of Cremonese Instruments from 1730-1750 has some interesting information contributed by Christopher Reuning, Duane Rosengard and Carlo Chiesa among others... concerning economic (market), political, and social conditions in Cremona from about 1720 on.  I'd highly recommend reading it.

Thanks Jeffrey,

Can this catalog be found somewhere online? I would be very interested in reading it.

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Thanks Jeffrey,

Can this catalog be found somewhere online? I would be very interested in reading it.

 

It's a hardback.  Published by Foundazione Antonio Stradivari Cremona.  Christopher Reuning stocked copies after the exhibition and may still have a few.

 

For those interested in this period instrument, I'd recommend it and the catalog for the Bergonzi exhibition a couple of years later.  Lots of excellent information.

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