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Being able to play the instruments you make


Kallie
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Do you think violin/viola/cello makers should be able to play their own instruments for optimum sound adjustment? Or for better understanding how to improve their instruments?

 

Personally I do some parts of setup according to "feel", or "sound improvement" rather than sticking to perfect numbers.

 

I spoke with someone long ago who said he would never buy a violin made by someone who cant play violin him/herself.

 

What is your opinion on this? Personally i think it would definitely help to have someone around who can play the instrument, but if you understand the practical part of violin making and crafting, but cant play at concert level, should it matter?

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For certain things, it certainly helps to be able to play.  For example, issues related to playability (response, bridge height, neck thickness) can be corrected after a bit of test-driving.

 

But then, different players look for different things in the sound.  What I like might not be what another player likes.

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You know I almost posted this question myself a few days ago, but thought perhaps I was being silly.  I have been wondering the same thing myself.

 

I went to the annual Violin Makers Day in London a few weeks back, and spoke to many fine luthiers there. 

 

One chap from up North I spoke to and I asked him to play one of his instruments for me and he informed me in no uncertain terms that he doesn't play. 

 

Being quite naive about these things, and with the thought that creating a violin is a very different thing to a piece of furniture - it's almost like making a living thing, and I would have thought that for someone making one they would really want to play it themselves, so they can hear how the sound is developing and other such things.  I said this in a conversational way, not an accusing way at all, and I got heap of what was almost abuse from him in response.

 

He started bellowing at me like I was a child that "not every pilot who flies a plane builds his own aircraft, that's just a stupid thing to say".  And this rant went on for several minutes before I was able to bravely run away from the madman.  

 

I'm really not sure I see his thread of thought here..  I was hardly suggesting such a stupid thing as every airline pilot build an aircraft, nor was I even suggesting that every violin player should be a luthier.  I was completely shocked at this crazed outburst from a luthier trying to sell his wares. 

 

But I would have thought that making a violin is a thing of love, and that a maker would want to play it to hear his/her baby coming to life.

 

Perhaps I struck a nerve with him?

 

Needless to say - I didn't buy a violin from him!

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I think there is one drawback to being able to play well.

 

The thing is, violin-playing is very intimate.  As soon as you play an instrument, you start to develop feelings towards it (negative or positive).  If there is too much positive, saying good-bye can be a very difficult thing.  That happened to me once and I still wonder once in a while how that violin is.  Not unlike giving your daughter away in marriage, I suppose.

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I think there is one drawback to being able to play well.

 

The thing is, violin-playing is very intimate.  As soon as you play an instrument, you start to develop feelings towards it (negative or positive).  If there is too much positive, saying good-bye can be a very difficult thing.  That happened to me once and I still wonder once in a while how that violin is.  Not unlike giving your daughter away in marriage, I suppose.

 

Hmmm. My feelings towards a violin usually dissapear after I get the payment... Though there is 1 violin, my first "good" violin which I wish I didnt have to sell. And I still wonder about it some times too.

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As soon as you play an instrument, you start to develop feelings towards it (negative or positive).  If there is too much positive, saying good-bye can be a very difficult thing.  That happened to me once and I still wonder once in a while how that violin is.  Not unlike giving your daughter away in marriage, I suppose.

 

You need to have 60 daughters... then it's probably not such a trauma.  Similarly, make more instruments.  I find that other people tend to like the ones I do, but if they want to buy it, fine.  I'll make more.

 

I think it does help to play at least modestly well to be a good maker, unless you happen to work in a busy shop where you interact with players on a continuous basis.  The issue is to be able to evaluate your work on a timely basis, in order to head in the right direction.

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Do you think violin/viola/cello makers should be able to play their own instruments for optimum sound adjustment? Or for better understanding how to improve their instruments?

 

Personally I do some parts of setup according to "feel", or "sound improvement" rather than sticking to perfect numbers.

 

I spoke with someone long ago who said he would never buy a violin made by someone who cant play violin him/herself.

 

What is your opinion on this? Personally i think it would definitely help to have someone around who can play the instrument, but if you understand the practical part of violin making and crafting, but cant play at concert level, should it matter?

 

 

I think most makers have some ability to play the instruments, however asking a maker to play infront of an audience is probably too much! :)

I heard many makers try instruments and believe me, they come very short of professional standard.

Personally, I was a non musical person, but when I started making violins as a hobby, I felt the need to learn to play to an achievable standard.

 

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I play the violin and the viola, I find that interesting because I can judge my own instruments. Costumers will always ask me to play too, so that they can listen to the instrument. I don't make celli because I don't play them, I have no references to judge cello sound and playability.

 

Many makers were players, Poggi, Garimberti, Bisiachs, Chiocchi, Bissoloti, etc.

 

Talking about Pietro Guarneri of Mantua, the Hills say: "We thus discover that the master had devoted his early years to becoming skilled in music as well as in violin making; and we have here the only instance yet recorded of one of the great Italian violin makers engaged in this dual calling".

 

The Hills presume that Pietro violin master was Francesco Orcelli, an "accomplished musician and fine violinist", who was Andrea Guarneri`s brother in law, proving "an intimate relation between palyer and maker".

 

Talking about Del Gesù`s mystery as to the activities of the master between the year 1723 and 1731, the Hills venture to say that: "May he not, following in the footsteps of his ancestor Orcelli, and his uncle and godfather, Pietro, also have been both a player and a maker of violins, a player of more ordinary capacity than his relatives, possessed of no desire to be attached to one of the Ducal Courts? Singing and dancing to the accompaniment of music was much favoured by the mass of the people throughtout Italy, and Cremona, the seat of instrument making, must from this very fact have inspired some members of her craftsmen families to become players. We have no doubt that such was the case, and supposing it in the case of del Gesù, his double calling would in the circunstances seem to fit in with the tradition handed down to us by the last of the Bergonzis".

 

In anoter part of the Hill`s book on the Guarneris they state that: "we regard it as certain that many of the makers wo setled in the smaller musical centers could play well enough tho take the minor parts in orchestras, and indeed would need to do so to supplement their earnings as makers. These were the days of many disdness... ..."

 

And Stradivari, would he be a player? I suppose so, and it seems there is one written evidence of this. I was reading Sacconi`s "I Segreti di Stradivari" and, in the catalog of the relics of the master we find in nol. 222:

 

"Sul retro del foglieto sono tracciati alcuni righi musicali, autografi di Stradivari, con numeri al posto delle note.

 

I would translate this as (tradutore traditore!):

 

"In the other side of the paper, there are some lines of musical notes, written by Stradivari own hand, with numbers instead of musical notes".

Why would Stradivari write some lines of musical notes but for play them in an instrument?

 

The musical notation in numbers points out to a player that was not able to read music, but was capable to play, and perhaps play well, since in the past (and today) some good musicians were not able to read music. Louis Armstrong was not able to read music. I remember Mozart`s irritation on the fact that many opera singers were not able to read music, so he had to teach them their parts.

 

In many papers of the catalog we find also Stradivari instructions for the strings thicness, what points out to a player too.

 

If you don't play keep good players around you to help with sound and playability. I've heard that in China many violin making schools are in conservatories, so that players and makers are closely connected.

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You know I almost posted this question myself a few days ago, but thought perhaps I was being silly.  I have been wondering the same thing myself.

 

I went to the annual Violin Makers Day in London a few weeks back, and spoke to many fine luthiers there. 

 

One chap from up North I spoke to and I asked him to play one of his instruments for me and he informed me in no uncertain terms that he doesn't play. 

 

Being quite naive about these things, and with the thought that creating a violin is a very different thing to a piece of furniture - it's almost like making a living thing, and I would have thought that for someone making one they would really want to play it themselves, so they can hear how the sound is developing and other such things.  I said this in a conversational way, not an accusing way at all, and I got heap of what was almost abuse from him in response.

 

He started bellowing at me like I was a child that "not every pilot who flies a plane builds his own aircraft, that's just a stupid thing to say".  And this rant went on for several minutes before I was able to bravely run away from the madman.  

 

I'm really not sure I see his thread of thought here..  I was hardly suggesting such a stupid thing as every airline pilot build an aircraft, nor was I even suggesting that every violin player should be a luthier.  I was completely shocked at this crazed outburst from a luthier trying to sell his wares. 

 

But I would have thought that making a violin is a thing of love, and that a maker would want to play it to hear his/her baby coming to life.

 

Perhaps I struck a nerve with him?

 

Needless to say - I didn't buy a violin from him!

Penelope,

 

This poor chap has a tough life ahead of him. He will most certainly not make a living selling violins. He might be a maker. Might.

 

Try to forgive him. That way, this experience might recede into the past for you.

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I played violin in school orchestras from third grade to college level and despite not having practiced in 35 years can still try my violins and violas and get some idea of how they sound. I can't play a note on a cello however which hasn't stopped me from selling well over one hundred of them. I think that unless you can play at a professional level you are better off having a pro play your instruments and make a judgement from hearing them and their comments. I know a few top level restorers who don't play at all and some of equal talent and training who play very well. They both seem to do just fine while I have never seen a musician of any quality who figured out violin making without professional training.

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Being able to play will not help you carve a scroll, shape a neck or apply varnish. However, after final set up it is necessary to play the violin in order to determine what final adjustments are required. This last phase of the making process is crucial for maximizing the full potential of your work. You don't need to be a virtuoso, but having a rudimentary ability to pull sound out of the violin is very helpful. I can't really play at all, just enough to be able to determine certain things. It's not necessary to be able to play but there's not a day goes by that I don't wish I played better. I am always bugging good players to come play something so that I can "really" hear how it sounds. So, to paraphrase: not required to play but it sure makes the process better if you do. One other thing. I think that every person can relate to this but every single time that I tell someone that I am a violin maker they reply by saying "cool! do you play?".

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I find that the ability to play makes many parts of fixing violins easier (as well as more fun) because I can not only quickly test what I did, but also do iterative "cut and try" setup adjustments on bridges, etc.  I do find that it interferes with sales, however, as I have a tendency to keep the best I find off the market.  :lol:

 

Penelope, I have the following answer to the ludicrous "pilot" analogy : https://www.eaa.org/eaa , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rxH-5LJb0s . http://www.burtrutan.com/ , etc., etc.....  :)

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Being able to play as a maker is a double-edged sword. You have the experience to be able to relate to what a client says more intimately, perhaps even being better able to understand HOW the instrument responds to differences in set-up etc, however there is then a danger that the maker will think he/she knows better than the client, and dismiss their criticisms.

 

On th other hand, it is amazing what can be achieved by a person who does not play, and 'simply' learns the craft to a high degree. In this field consistency is key, and that I think is something makers who don't play are more likely to have over those that do. 

 

 "find that the ability to play makes many parts of fixing violins easier (as well as more fun) because I can not only quickly test what I did, but also do iterative "cut and try" setup adjustments on bridges, etc" As a player, I agree.

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Do you think violin/viola/cello makers should be able to play their own instruments for optimum sound adjustment? Or for better understanding how to improve their instruments?

 

Personally I do some parts of setup according to "feel", or "sound improvement" rather than sticking to perfect numbers.

 

I spoke with someone long ago who said he would never buy a violin made by someone who cant play violin him/herself.

 

What is your opinion on this? Personally i think it would definitely help to have someone around who can play the instrument, but if you understand the practical part of violin making and crafting, but cant play at concert level, should it matter?

 

I think what throws a bit of a curve in your good intentions is the wording " to play... for optimum sound adjustment" . That excludes YOU playing the instrument. I could be very wrong but I don't think you should get overly involved with "adjusting". Make / repair them well and set them up perfectly by the numbers - works a charm. A lot of the playability issues amateurs get overly involved with are inconsequential for a proper player. I suppose it's nice and heart warming to test drive them a bit but it's "around the block" , not Nürburgring. I have yet to see / hear a maker who can play violin ( tone-wise ! ) at soloist level. It's easier to play a Paganini c/to backwards than to put a violin through it's tonal paces.

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Someone who also plays will potentially understand goals with set up a bit better, and playability issues in general.  But you can just as easily schlep a new instrument up to a professional player who will say exactly what they like or don't like about it if you're lucky enough to find such a player.  That is even better than trying to be objective about one's own work. 

 

I don't think most violin makers really are players too.  Play arounders, but not really serious about it.  You'd better learn to play a scale and a few short pieces, but other than that, no more is really necessary imo.  It's not like you need to play for others just to sell a violin.  I doubt it's likely for a professional violin maker to play well enough to impress the people they want to be buying the instruments anyway.

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As an absolute failed player, I did become a 'successful' maker.

But then, I tried to play for nearly thirty years, while I made, so I could play any major scale well - and some fiddle tunes very well...

But making and playing, for me, were (are) two completely different paths - and abilities.

You could have one ability naturally, and not the other. In fact, I'm thinking that there may well be a 'natural turn of abilities' that would perhaps disincline someone, to have a great skill in both realms or both areas...

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It could be useful in some areas.  The biggest problem is that what is right for the top professional (if that is your market) can be quite different then for a lower level player or someone who does not play classical violin. Unconscious bias is likely to be present, going for a sound or playability quality that one assumes is the goal because of how it sounds and plays to the maker.  Same issue with trying to make a violin that conforms to what a computer tells you is correct.   The computer isn't very likely to buy your violin.   Unless you are making a violin that top violinists actually want to own, you are tied to the wrong master.   If your goal is to make a violin for a different type of player (or a computer), then being a player who naturally likes those qualities could be more useful. 

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Taking the time making violins does take from practice time to get better on the violln.  I believe a person who is really mechanically inclined, say a machinist or someone really good with numbers could have a good first attempt at making a violin.  He/she would have to make what's in the mind flow down to the arms and hands.  I can't say if that would be easy or hard to do.  I came about it from the other direction-  I had the braun and gumption but the mindset was what I had to mold.

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It is possible to make a good instrument without playing.  Also possible to be good at set-up without playing.  I've seen plenty of people do it.  

 

However, I think being able to play is helpful.  I think of it as another tool in the toolbox.  If you don't have that tool, you have to figure out ways to get around that.  There are many people I know who are not very mechanically inclined and they make good violins and are good restorers.  These people figure out other ways to cope with their mechanical deficiencies with various cheat cheats and they lean on their strengths.  Which often overshadow their weaknesses.  I think not being able to play is kind of the same thing.  

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   Unless you are making a violin that top violinists actually want to own, you are tied to the wrong master.  

I make to see if I can actually do this while living in this lifetime of mine- no master other than myself but I will admit the computer does have a influence on what I learn and do.  I have to remember that I'm human and my material is wood.  I may make a high caliber violin one day, hopefully sooner than later.  If a student beats the pro to me, so be it.  Present day- I'll take whatever I can get for them.  

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I think there are questions which have never been answered, and probably can't be.  Just because a maker/player knows what a great violin feels and sounds like doesn't mean that he can take that information and translate it to some wood and come up with another great violin.  So does he arrive—if indeed he does—by great generalities or by countless observations and adjustments to how he makes?  

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