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Bill Merkel

machine made violins also CNC "Betts"

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On 11/12/2018 at 11:37 AM, reg said:

Where can one source such a CNC machine and the software please?

Reg depends on what you want to pay, I got my CNC from ebay but had to add limit switches and go through the chinese ,  it was a adventure but I made it. I use the mach3 but as of yet I'm still trying to learn the works of getting the gcode , maybe Mr. John Masters can help;)

example https://www.ebay.com/itm/USB-1500W-6040-4-Axis-CNC-Engravaing-Machine-metalworking-DRILLING-MILLING-1-5KW/323547615149?hash=item4b54f0cfad:g:Mc0AAOSw2WZbuiuZ:rk:4:pf:0

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37 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

How is a cnc better than a duplicator?

For a duplicator, you have to physically make a good pattern to duplicate.

For CNC, you have to battle with the software to generate a virtual plate shape.

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8 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

How is a cnc better than a duplicator?

CNC is typically much more precise, on CNC you can set the exact speed of movement and depth of cut according to tool and RPM while duplicator is typically handheld and it's up to the guy holding the stylus to move it around. Also the vibrations of duplicator can be bad on your hands in the long run. (I have routed 30 or so plates on duplicator). Most CNC machines have dust collection hood  right at the tool so the dust can be reduced to bare minimum (smaller CNC's can be fully enclosed as well).

Creating model of the plate fo violin is pretty simple. Good CAD guy can do it in one evening (provided he gets good input - outline, crossections etc.). Also some CAD packages (and guys) are better suited for the flowing surfaces of a violin plate (when compared to relatively simple straight lines and circles and bolts of typical engineering drawing).

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I have to say that reading this thread has left me feeling saddened and dismayed. If ever I had the money to purchase a hand made violin by a good maker  I would want proof that it had been completely handmade. I have zero desire to own a violin that been even partly made by machine.

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1 hour ago, Delabo said:

I have to say that reading this thread has left me feeling saddened and dismayed. If ever I had the money to purchase a hand made violin by a good maker  I would want proof that it had been completely handmade. I have zero desire to own a violin that been even partly made by machine.

Where do you draw the line? Ultimately I guess the customer gets to decide whats 'handmade" and what isn't. 

Personally I think the craftsman gets to decide on the tools or how he wants to use them.

Take Don for example he stated that cnc was going to be or is a real need for him if he was going to be able to continue...

I use a Bandsaw and a spindle sander. My glue pot and UV box both require electricity. Does that make it not completely handmade?

What about all the fittings, Bridge, Fingerboard, Varnish, etc... 

 

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16 minutes ago, cjankowski said:

...

I use a Bandsaw and a spindle sander. My glue pot and UV box both require electricity. Does that make it not completely handmade?

...

What!? You don't have a fire going in the hearth to heat up the glue pot??? ^_^

Seriously though, I suppose a definition of 'handmade' would be useful - if it's even possible to come up with one.

And I am a big fan of handmade items...

I even make 'handmade' items....

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16 minutes ago, cjankowski said:

 

Personally I think the craftsman gets to decide on the tools or how he wants to use them.

 

 

Of course he does, but then he is not entitled to advertise his violin as "handmade" is he.

There are still lutheriers who do make violins entrirely by hand in the same way as they were made before the industrial revoloution. To own one of those I would pay a premium many times over one that has been machined made.

Its the same principle as the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century in England. Members turned there backs on machinery and did everything entirely by hand. Today the articles made by them are highly sort after.

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If you buy a Strad or Guarneri, is it important that no other maker did anything to them?

Many reputable makers use or used assistants to do some of the work.  My assistant will just happen to be made of metal.

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29 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

If you buy a Strad or Guarneri, is it important that no other maker did anything to them?

Many reputable makers use or used assistants to do some of the work.  My assistant will just happen to be made of metal.

Stradivari and Guarneri had electric sockets ?

If assistants did help, they used hand tools only, so it still passes the entirely made by hand test. Anyway, is there any definitive proof that Stardivari made his violins with the help of assistants ? Or is this just conjecture ?

Even so, I already knew that luthiers such as yourself used some machinery in making a violin, but its the use of computer controlled CNC machines that has set my alarm bells ringing.

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I find this thread amusing, and I’m sure I’ll regret my usual lurker status...  it brings back lots of memories working for a larger firm where one of the most common questions asked in selling a violin was “is this hand made?”  After getting into  20th century violins, the most honest answer I could give was “I have no idea.”  Similarly, answers to questions like “is this an oil varnish?” Or, “did they have help making this?” With out first hand or historical sources proving one way or the other, you are left to judge the instrument on its own merits. 

My own experience with numerical controlled cutting technology comes from restoration work.  From that I can tell you that it’s none of this as easy as people contributing to this thread would like you to believe.  There’s substantially more head work to achieve extremely conservative results than the head work involved in doing things the old fashioned way.  

In 300 years our decendents will be arguing if the wood in the instrument was grown in a forest or printed on a cellulose printer.

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I use CNC lathes and mills every day at work.  Been doing it 40 years.  I wouldn't think of using CNC to make a violin, or even a cello.  I'm making a roughing plane right now to get a bigger rougher.  I just don't like the feel of gouges.  They take big cuts, but I'm just not comfortable with them.  

I rather like hogging out a chunk of wood by hand.

With CNC's every plate would be the same.  HOW BORING IS THAT?  Really?  You want everything looking the same?  I don't.   Oh, you could change the pattern?  Yes, but it would crank out more of the same.  And it is no easy task to program a violin profile.

Do you want them all sounding the same?  I would think not, and I'm not sure why you'd want to have it that way. I don't think that making the outside profiles the same would guarantee good, or repeatable sound.

I rough mine out, inside and out first; and it doesn't take a lot of time. That is the work the apprentice, or helper would have done in the old days.  Some shops had them, others didn't.  

The important and time consuming part, like Melvin said, is what you do with the roughed out shells afterward.  That is the fun part.

Ken

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So once the CNC is set up and working, why not make two violin backs at the same while your at it ?

Or five- or -ten - or ............. 100 , its set up isnt it, so why not ?

Buy in a bigger and better industrial CNC machine. 1000 a week or more achievable.

And a scroll cutter, and a purfling machine while were at it.

Call them hand made, because we hand finished bits of them.

 

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Maybe part of a definition of 'hand-made' or 'hand-crafted' could be a percentage of how much 'hand' was in it.

Ex.  This item: 20% machine made - 80% hand crafted!

15 minutes ago, Jerry Lynn said:

...  it brings back lots of memories working for a larger firm where one of the most common questions asked in selling a violin was “is this hand made?”  After getting into  20th century violins, the most honest answer I could give was “I have no idea.”  Similarly, answers to questions like “is this an oil varnish?” Or, “did they have help making this?” With out first hand or historical sources proving one way or the other, you are left to judge the instrument on its own merits. 

...

I think you've nailed the issue.  When people spend MORE money on an item - that they can also buy super-cheap, they WANT to know what all went into it.  They WANT a story, or a history, or details about materials, etc.  I know that that's what I want.

If I buy a cheap mass produced item from a huge anonymous retailer, be it Amazon, or Walmart (or whatever) I don't expect a story.  Ex:  A Mendini violin for (not even the cheapest) $136 https://www.amazon.ca/Mendini-Antique-Violin-Shoulder-Strings/dp/B002026DR0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1542213228&sr=8-1&keywords=mendini+violin

(Notice the added value as well - comes with extra  'strings' ^_^, rosin, shoulder rest, bow, case, etc.)

If I buy the item, for 10 X the price, or 100 X the price, I expect 'more'.  I'm interested in more, which is part of why I'm investing more into it.  I also want to be able to tell more about it - to anyone else who might be interested.  

I think it's a mistake to pooh-pooh that factor.

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6 minutes ago, Rue said:

 

I think it's a mistake to pooh-pooh that factor.

Please don’t think I was suggesting that I Pooh-pooh’d anything.  On the contrary, a large portion of selling nicer instruments is education, and providing comparison of like items in both past and current sales for pricing.  

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LOL!  No!  That wasn't directed at you!  

That was a general comment.

It's very frustrating, as a consumer, to pay more for something, and not to be able to get any added information about it.

Especially in this day and age of 'over-sharing' - it wouldn't be hard to give people the information that they want.

 

PS  I still want 'general' added information.  If a violin was crafted in a small shop, I don't need to know the name of every craftsman that touched it, or that Bob had a bout of diarrhea the day he was finishing carving the scroll...

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23 minutes ago, Delabo said:

So once the CNC is set up and working, why not make two violin backs at the same while your at it ?

Or five- or -ten - or ............. 100 , its set up isnt it, so why not ?

Buy in a bigger and better industrial CNC machine. 1000 a week or more achievable.

And a scroll cutter, and a purfling machine while were at it.

Call them hand made, because we hand finished bits of them.

 

I think this logic confuses and maligns the intent of the maker.  The reason to not make 1k violin plates the same is that it discards nearly all of the critical thinking around process, material selection, craft and decision making that goes into making each instrument the best instrument it can possibly be.  Even cavemen purposefully used tools available and made newer and better ones.

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51 minutes ago, Delabo said:

So once the CNC is set up and working, why not make two violin backs at the same while your at it ?

Or five- or -ten - or ............. 100 , its set up isnt it, so why not ?

Buy in a bigger and better industrial CNC machine. 1000 a week or more achievable.

And a scroll cutter, and a purfling machine while were at it.

Call them hand made, because we hand finished bits of them.

 

Is a hand drill preferable to an electric drill?  The thing that matters is the finished product. If the customer demands hand-drilled then he's misled.   Machine isn't going to affect the VM's judgement of quality.

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I'll add my point of view... I';m making mandolins but the myth of Strad violins is what started my interest back when I was a teen and that really influenced my view. I read most every book on violin making or guitar making that was available and went through long process of (self)learning and eventually I build mandolins. On the other hand I am math and IT teacher so such technical things like CNC and computer modelling are natural for me as well.

Among mandolin folks, use of CNC is not only accepted but even expected in best instruments made today. I'm talking instruments selling for $10-20k or even higher. Some makers use it just for roughing parts and some detailed work on inlays, while some go to extreme and do everything with CNC (I guess they even use it for sharpening pencils). If you think that they can crank out hndred instruments a month you are wrong. Even with CNC they only make 10 or so instruments a year (except Steven Gilchrist who is really prolific even without CNC- he's using just duplicator and some cool fixturing for overhead router). The CNC saves their knuckles for more delicate handwork and they can spend more time tintkering with getting desired tone and setup of finished instruments so their customers can expect really high standard.

Then there is group of makers who only see the "old school" methods. But using modern hand tools can be considered cheating by some as well (compare the simple wooden plane with blade hand sharpened on stone and perfect modern plane with blade sharpened on high tech grinder).

I can understand both views pretty clearly - my situation is very specific - the most recent instruments I built completely with hand tools - all carving, cutting, even pearl dots cut and filed by hand, I made my own tools, even made binding channel gramil (mandolin version of purfling cutter) and cut all channels by hand (I used to do it on router). I used to rout outside arch on duplicator  but on last 10 instruments I carved them by hand  completely. The main difference in result I see is that my hands hurt more, not in saving time. I could not tell which instruments I built completely by hand and where I "cheated", no way anyone else could. To make things more complicated I fell in love with CAD and CNC and started building my own CNC and already prepared complete CAD model of mandolin (based upon CT scan of old original) and some new possible jigs and fixtures but I still feel some of the "guilt" for cheating that is inside my mind from all the old books... perhaps that's why I decided to build the recent instruments completely by hand (though I admit I cheated and used drillpress for tuner holes) but when I finish the CNC I will certinly want to use it to its full potential. So if I make the tool myself, make the model and code (and can adjust for every piece of wood if I wish) and finish it all personally by hand, what I am?

To me the line is where the tool (CNC) dictates how the job is done. I would never change the preferred dovetail joint for neck because other joint is easier to do on CNC. If the maker is the one who dictates how things are made by his tools it is still HIS work and not of the tool.

 

 

 

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6 hours ago, Delabo said:

I have to say that reading this thread has left me feeling saddened and dismayed. If ever I had the money to purchase a hand made violin by a good maker  I would want proof that it had been completely handmade. I have zero desire to own a violin that been even partly made by machine.

 

Good violins can be made in many ways, but it is heartening to know that there are people who think like you.

I am one of those who believe that manual work is still a significant added value, especially in these times where technology seems to make it more and more superfluous.
This would lead to a slow but inexorable loss of traditional working systems.
While understanding and respecting those who make different choices, all my respect and admiration to those who consciously decide to keep them alive for the next generations, including me ambitiously among these:)
I am firmly convinced that working by hand is not a losing battleB)

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6 hours ago, Delabo said:

I have to say that reading this thread has left me feeling saddened and dismayed. If ever I had the money to purchase a hand made violin by a good maker  I would want proof that it had been completely handmade. I have zero desire to own a violin that been even partly made by machine.

 

2 hours ago, Delabo said:

So once the CNC is set up and working, why not make two violin backs at the same while your at it ?

Or five- or -ten - or ............. 100 , its set up isnt it, so why not ?

Buy in a bigger and better industrial CNC machine. 1000 a week or more achievable.

And a scroll cutter, and a purfling machine while were at it.

Call them hand made, because we hand finished bits of them.

 

I think you raise some very good points, and will undoubtedly come under fire from the machine crowd for making them.

We live at a time, where the technology is becoming extremely convenient, and also relatively affordable now. It's natural people will take advantage of this, and I think almost all makers will use some form of powered tool, be it a drill or a bandsaw for example.

Like you, I see the CNC as something which goes against the ethos of a handmade instrument.
I'm sure they are difficult to program and costly to maintain, so it's not necessarily a simple thing to use at all. It's a lot of work, but in a different way.
I think the acceptability of using something like a CNC probably varies from country to country, and also price point. In my country, I doubt too many people would be impressed to find a maker charging $15,000 equivalent for a machined instrument, if it was $3000, maybe that's ok with them. In USA it seems CNC is quite widespread, and happily accepted by many.

I can see why as a musician, you value the human touch of the maker, their decision making as the work progresses, the feel for the materials used, and the ability to adapt accordingly. Above all, their passion, experience and skill.
These are the things which make having an instrument made by hand a unique experience, and I don't think it can really be had when the hand work is confined to scraping the machining marks from a piece of wood.

Because of the effort required, i'm sure there will be less and less people hand making as time goes on, it seems inevitable, and I think the violin world will be much the worse for it.
Already there are probably enough violins in the world, every shop is full of them, homes with unused violins in the attic or garage. We need quality, rather than only quantity, and I hope that handmade will always be valued more in peoples hearts and souls.

Some will say an instrument is only a tool to make the music, so why does it matter. I would say it does matter, because of the way music touches us all, and how it can make us feel inside.

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As someone with years of extension experience building violins in part by using CNC machines and other very creative methods to reduce fabrication time and therefore cost / sell price, I am finding this thread exceptionally interesting (see my web site Shifrinviolins.com).   

This discussion is ranging from the basic “how to” to the “ethical” discussion regarding value of hand work relative to other methods.  I would like to help clarify a few points about the “how to” part, and I’ll leave the “ethical” discussion for another time.

 

Only those that have ever attempted to truly draw a violin plate, inside and outside, using a CAD system would appreciate just how difficult it truly is.  Violin shapes are organic and do not consist of radii and tangents, but instead are lofted and blended contours relatively easy to create by hand but extremely difficult to create with CAD software.  The idea that a “CAD operator” can create a violin plate 3D model in a few hours or day is just not within reason.  I am an expert CAD designer with many thousands of hours of Solidworks experience.  I have latterly hundreds of hours of effort into my violin plate models.  Yes, someone could create something that looks like a violin (kind of like a VSO) in a relatively short amount of time, but the fabricated plates would not even be close to a “good” violin, by any stretch.  In order to reach the point where my violins are now, good violins, my plate development efforts included several hundred variants with samples made of each, and in some cases complete violins. 

 

The plates are bad enough, but I challenge anyone to attempt to draw or create a 3D solid model of a violin neck and scroll that is even close to good enough to be useable on any decent violin.  Creating the 3D model of my scrolls (see pics on my we site) again took hundreds of hours of complex Solidworks effort using the software’s most complex features, and again by a very experienced CAD designer, me.  Basic and “free” CAD programs simply do not have the capability to do this, and Solidworks costs $5,000. 

 

In addition to the difficulty with modeling (creating a 3D solid model in software), once you have the model, the real expertise and effort begins.  You need CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software, typically like Mastercam or Bob Cad (another $5,000 to $10,000, and another case where the “free” or basic software that comes with many low-end CNC routers simply won’t work).  This software allows you to import your model and eventually create the tool paths (in G-code) that direct the CNC machines servo motors - motions.  This is extremely tricky, especially for cutting wood and worst yet organic violin shapes. You need to consider, test and develop many parameters if you expect to end up with anything better than a very roughed out part.  Grain direction relative to cutter direction, both feed and rotation (changes across the outside of plate!), tool path methodology, types of cutters, depths of cut (rough and finish), tool changes, feed and rotation speed changes, holding fixturing, zero points, touch off points, etc., etc.  The learning curve for using a CNC mill for parts as complex as violin parts is extremely steep and requires many tests and modifications, in my case, and with extensive experience, years!

 

Primary point – As much as the sellers of CNC equipment try to make you believe, it’s not as simple as just making the investment in a CNC router and you’ll be able to start production violins! You need very good 3D models (or modeling skills and software) of what you expect your violin to end up like, and you will need to spend extensive time learning to manipulate the CAM software and the machine in general.  In addition, if the CNC machine does not have an automatic tool changer (and most don’t), you will be highly limited regarding what you can actually accomplish as the accuracy required in a violin plate or scroll makes it difficult to “re-zero” accurately enough in a manual tool change.   

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