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l33tplaya

Making Hay...or Violins:Best Place to Start - UNH, Pomona, Oberlin, etc...

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... and then you get taught like you're going to be there for 3 years.

I remember hearing that truing a lump of metal into a cube with a file was one of the first assignments given to metal workers in the old days. I wouldn't be surprised to find that method of training incorporated into a school like Mittenwald.  I also wouldn't doubt that there is great benefit from going through this exercise.  But 1 to 4 week classes need to give enough information so when a student gets home he can have a chance at a running start.  Because it's going to be a long time until the next class!   :)   In short, these classes are a different animal from the schools:  More knowledge and information given, because the skill can be developed at home, IMO.

 

(OTOH, a student needs to do enough of some things in class so a teacher can see if he needs advice.  It's not a completely cut and dried subject with perfect methods and approaches.)

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How important a factor is the block grain running true and perpendicular to the ribs? If you think it is, then splitting out and truing up a block by hand gives you more control than a band saw.

 

These are not just workmanship details, but get to the fundamental character of the craftsmanship.

My blocks are trued up according to the grain. I use a bandsaw.

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My blocks are trued up according to the grain. I use a bandsaw.

 

It looks really nice to have the grain pointing out perpendicular to the corners.  I think most do this with a bandsaw?  I'm not really sure.  It's great to have the hand tool skills first and all but I couldn't believe it.  Imagine you have 72 hours to learn from an expert and they tell you you're going to spend the time making 4 cubes plus perfect top and bottom blocks.  I'm not trying to say anything rude about a class I've never been to, I am only reporting the way it was in that class for this person I know (and his cohort).  And as it turns out, no one actually makes blocks that way, as you point out.  It's most German, but ridiculous.  In fact with blocks I think it's perfectly acceptable to "cheat" and only true up 3 sides in an exact way--AND do it on a bandsaw to boot.  The rest is getting chopped and sanded anyway.

 

Someone correct me if this is not accurate but that's how I understood it.  What Will L said about recognizing the different goals and priorities for classes that are held in brief "workshop" settings is basically what I meant with all of this, despite making a cube being a great thing to do when you have time to do it.

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At various points in my training over the last 10 years, I have resisted some of the seemingly more obsessive aspects of the work. ( I have always had authority issues.)  But I have become a believer.  The reason is, squaring blocks with a block plane -- at least for the first few instruments -- does contribute to the development of tool skills and the ability to see lines without the aid of a square.  Eventually, it should be possible to do some of the measuring tasks by eye.  Same goes for other operations. What may seem at the time like needlessly being in thrall to Mittenwald tradition actually can pay off as you start doing things like thinning rib  and lining stock.  (NOTE: This was NOT inspired by Mittenwald.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MArY8Yb-qK4)

 

As to whether that is all someone should expect to get out of a workshop, that's another matter entirely.  In small groups, it is not unreasonable to expect enough one-on-one with the instructor(s) so that students can work at their own pace based on the experience they bring to the session.  Karl Roy used to walk around the room every morning at 8am and look at everyone's work, providing critiques leavened with German humor (yes, folks, there is such a thing) and talking about next steps.  If that isn't happening at the workshop you are attending, that is either a function of the size of the class or the instructor's "bad" in my view.

 

I agree that anyone attending a summer workshop should walk away with a clear sense of what they are going to work on before the next summer's adventure.  Ideally that is part of the program.  But students have to exercise some initiative and if they are not getting that sense at the teacher's instigation, they need to formulate what they would like to accomplish during the interim and ask the instructor for a reality check and some guidance.  

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Yes, you guys are right. But don't you think a short workshop should teach that blocks can be done in well under an hour just to get through it, but include advice that major time at home be spent on tool handling exercises? If you have a few years to spend in class the professional training makes sense. But it's hard not to agree with Darnton that you can have that, but with the dual goal of getting pulled as far into the process as possible...and being empowered with a list of skill-building stuff to do in the next year is better...which Kloss evidently does not do. Unfortunately...

Fwiw my husband normally chunks blocks out by hand and he's fast at it. So "some" really do it that way but why this would be an exercise for the productive time of a short course, I don't get it.

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I'm a big proponent of violin making schools. I think it's an unreasonable goal to learn to make a violin in a workshop setting. I think they can be places to improve on your skill, and I have benefitted gently from the Oberlin workshops.

Blocks just aren't very important, so I take your point that workshop time should not be spent working on them. But if you are still struggling with making a block square how can you hope to make a decent center joint, or mortise a neck? I guess my point is that without a foundation of basic tool skills it's hard to move on to more interesting and important aspects.

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Michael,   You must understand that a violin making school is the ideal.   Most of our attendees are people who learned outside a school environment through books, online help or teachers (some qualified, some not).    They come to improve on skills which are deficient.     Most are over 40 and cannot leave family or job for a 3 year, resident program.   

 

My workshops for example is titled "Southern California Violin and Bow Maker's Workshop".  The key word is "Maker's".  It is not making and I make that very clear to all who wish to enroll.   We don't seek to build a violin from start to finish in a workshop environment with unskilled people and their dull tools in just a few weeks.  We don't seek to do that and neither do the other workshops.   We take people where they are and improve upon their knowledge and technique.   Over a short time they can become very good, marketable makers.   Other's do it for hobby.    If you wish to pursue vocational violin making, by all means go to the schools but for most that is only available when young because of the time commitment.  

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There is a difference between information and skill.  When a violinist goes to a teacher at the Aspen Festival for 9 weeks, it's not expected that he instantaneously master a skill based on the information he receives.  He has to go home and work on it.  But if all he learns in 9 weeks is to put one finger down perfectly, he's going to be up a tree when he gets home.  (Yes, it's just an analogy.)

 

We certainly COULD spend a month at U.N.H. making a great block, but at what expense to getting started on some other necessary projects?  But like all our discussions on MN, we're dealing in generalities;  certainly even Clyde off in the corner working on the perfect block is taking a break now and then and walking around picking up all sorts of information from others.

 

IMO, the shorter the allotted time, the more organized and logical the presentation of information should be.  If someone wants to start a topic on how to improve schools and workshops, it might be worthwhile.  

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I may chip in my little experience in the subject after teaching at Cambridge Violin Makers for the last 6 years. 

 

The problem I see in this thread is that we are not focusing on what the goal is in going to those workshops.

 

A 1 or 2 week long workshop for amateurs is not the same as a 1 or 2 week long workshop for professional develpment.

 

In Cambridge we hand over to pupils ready made moulds with blocks glued on ready for chopping, plates already jointed and scroll blocks planed up and sawn out. The goal is to make a violin with the help of the teachers and make the best out of the experience. The focus is on producing a good enough fiddle, not to develope the skills to become a professional. Eventually we do teach some repeating students how to joint plates or how to make a set of templates and mould if they as, but that is not the idea of the workshops. 

 

If one goes to a professional development workshop, the game changes completely. To start, the pupil is already aware of what his particular goal is (I am flying my little spanish backside to Oberlin this summer just to watch Stefan varnish and pest some people about certain details of archings. My apologies to those...)Most of the time is it also up the the participant to make the most of the time in the shop. Everyone going to such places is expected to have the tool skills pretty well grounded before aplying. 

 

Violin making schools are a very good, not the only though, place to start a career in violin making. They are the place to learn the basic skills and the improve them over the time spent at school. 

 

 

My two pence worth...

 

 

J

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Two weeks is not even long enough for sharpening your knife or block plane blades.

 

You need two years not two weeks...

 

KY

Gotta make them dull before sharpening. Might as well make fiddles for that step.

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I have corresponded through email with Mr. Darnton a few times over several years now about various making subjects.... He's been so helpful and promptly gone totally out of his way to answer my questions and paint a clear picture. I'm just some random guy, and if he took that much time with me I can only imagine what one would take away from a few weeks under his teaching. I would give my left arm to go to a course this summer, but after building a new shop this year it's just not in the cards. But I have already started planning for next summer. I can't wait,… I would highly recommend that someone go to his course or any other course with a plan. Bring things you want to work on, write down all your questions ahead of time. And by all means be totally prepared for your one-on-one sessions. Honestly I would leave the making questions out and go mostly for history and personal experience. Having someone like him or Mr. Hargrave to answer any question my heart desire… It would most definitely be about their personal history and experience... or history of the luthrie craft. Sure tips on making will help you become a better Luthier, but history and personal experience of someone who is truly talented… That will give you long-lasting Motivation and understanding of the craft. Don't waste it

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On 4/15/2015 at 4:08 PM, not telling said:

Jmo, but if you're really beginning, and seeing if this is something you might really want to do for awhile, why not spend the two weeks sweeping the floor of the shop of a maker you admire and selling strings and stuff? In exchange they might work with you for an hour a day one on one. Or maybe you could just spend the time in the shop and ask a question here and there (if you kind of have an idea what you need to do, which you might since you're on here a lot). You might have to ask twenty makers before someone said yes, but who cares. I think that makes much more sense than spending three thousand dollars on a workshop that may not be suited to your level or pace anyway. I recommend John Pringle because he's such a super nice guy, he makes baroque instruments of many types as well as classical violin models, and he's completely awesome at it. There are potentially dozens of makers who would say yes, so if I were you I would find one.

I think that is probably the only way to get started, otherwise you end up like the guy who made a mold and some wooden cubes in two weeks.

I really appreciate this suggestion.

I am willing to go a step further and pay cash for weekly private lessons and working on the instrument at home in between. Due to insurance issues the maker-instructor may prefer to come to my home shop. What is a reasonable hourly rate to expect or offer? I live in the Toronto area.

In the past I have made steel string guitars, furniture, wooden boats, and scale models. I have restored antique furniture. I've read the Strobel books plus books by other authors. I've studied instruments in museums and high-end shops.  For a study model, I purchased a well-made antique violin in need of minor repair and restoration  (very inexpensive because it was scratched and dirty, being sold in a small-town flea market for room decor/wall art).  I have been reading this forum for 3 years.

I don't want to become a professional maker or even a busy hobbyist - I'm not physically able. I want to eventually make some decent instruments - especially a cello - as part of rehabilitation from a spinal cord injury. To me the journey is as important as the destination.  Learning new knowledge and skills and meeting nice people along the way is all-important.

Thanks in advance for reading this and any advice you can give.

Yours truly,

Randy O'Malley; Lakeview, Ontario

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