David Beard

Making a case for reviving a non-copyist approach with design and making more integrated.

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I've tried to write the results from my work and research over the last seven years in a series of blog posts.

 

The central ideas are in these posts:

 

A strategy for approaching a revival of old methods

 

How one might design and making what we see in the old instruments without using modern means

 

Simple ratios and compass geometry as design principle and part of building process

 

I feel like I'm throwing myself to the wolves here, but c'est la vie.

 

 

I began this work inspired after reading Sacconi, Francois Denis, Kevin Coates, and Roger Hargrave.  I felt that between them, enough ground work was laid to consider making not based on a Mirecourt derived copyist approach, but rooted much more directly in the old instruments, and as much as possible reviving old means and design methods.

 

 

So...

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I only have two basses under my belt, but they have both been my own models. For whatever reason, I haven't gotten bit by the copy bug too hard. I've spent a fair bit of time studying the Denise book trying to apply his methodology to bass outlines. I'd like for my instruments to be classically styled as much as possible, but you do see a diverse range of output from historic makers. I'd like to enjoy that same range of freedom. Already, my taste and style evolved significantly between my first and second instrument and again going into me third. I'm looking forward to seeing the evolution in my output retrospectively. 

 

Also, I have seen some incredible instruments that are truly modern in appearance. I hope someday to develop a contemporary looking instrument that still presents as an elegant, timeless bass. 

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David, thank you a whole lot for posting this.  IMHO, the links you gave form a very serious publication.:)

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Very impressive and appreciated.    

 

I haven't had time to read carefully all you've just posted, but to me the whole reason for the interest in the subject of design falls to two main points: does design effect the tone and function, and does design effect the look.  

 

Re tone and function, probably design is important, even critical; if we get too far afield we might be in trouble.  However, it seems that a little variation doesn't hurt, at least to the extent we can tell.  And from the only physical forms we have—those of Stradivari— we know once a form was made changes occurred, either intentionally or accidentally, in the course of making each violin.  I'm not suggesting this means anything one way or another.  But we're better off starting with "good bone structure." 

 

Re the look, the use of geometric design required the use of measuring tools, including the compass.  And the earlier violins of the classic Cremones show signs of this.  So, IMO, much of the charm of these instruments comes from the subtle remnants as much as the overall measurements and ratios.  And as time passed, it seems even the later Cremonese makers began to either get away from making their own geometrically designed forms, or perhaps just began taking their forms from earlier violins, and with each generation the subtle signs of geometric design disappeared on their instruments.  When this happened even violins patterned after the several most noted Cremonese makers lost something.

 

To me, trying to reestablish design as it might have been done—not with free-hand drawing and erasing until we think we have something good; or by using a computer program; or by tracing old, usually second or third generation copies—is worth a serious effort for all of us who want our instruments to have a fresher, more classic look. 

 

—MO

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A geometric construction can accurately duplicate the violin shape but I don't think it was the the original method for generating the shape.

If you want to try a natural and flexible drawing method I suggest bending a flexible maple rib.  It a simple craftsman's approach rather than a studied architect's one.

 

Attache is a pdf (in 4 parts) of a paper I wrote for Julian Crossmann Cooke a few years ago.   I wrote it over that winter

because it was too cold to work in my shop.

Bent rib, p 1-7.pdf

Bent rib, P 8-12.pdf

Bent rib, P 13-17.pdf

Bent rib, P 18-23.pdf

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I think a luthier can learn a lot from studying and being influenced by examples of well functioning violins.  I'm not saying that the copying should be an exact bench copy necessarily.  Rather the maker can get ideas as to what works and what appeals to the maker and modify to suit him/her self.  Supposedly some people think that del Gesu's instruments are influenced by Brescian instruments (Maggini?).  Would Guarneri have ended up making the same instruments if he had never seen those other ones?  You would have to make a lot of instruments to develop a good model if you started from scratch, with no examples to study.  If you study carefully and measure an instrument to "copy", and then make modifications to try to improve what you are doing, it would seem that you'd develop a good model much more quickly.

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Mr. Beard, great arguments, and a stellar job of presenting and reinforcing them.

 

Mr. Kasprzyk, same goes for you.

 

My personal bias happens to be in the direction of "the simpler, the more plausible.".

 

Did the ancient makers design a construct (or have a construct designed for them), based on the belief that musical intervals somehow related to physical proportional relationships on violins? Quite possibly. After all, these proportions are pretty significant on wind instruments, and vibrating strings.

 

On the other hand, I've futzed around with measurements, proportions and designs enough, with experts in both the fields of sound and instrument identification not noticing much, that my conclusion is there's a lot of room to fudge, if one has established the visual skills to recognize "flow", and how things "hang together".

 

With 100 to 150 years of violin making history behind them, would it be unreasonable to think that Stradivari and Guarneri may have come to rely more on "visual imprinting" from exposure to past works, combined with their own "upstart" notions, than reliance on a set of rules with might reproduce an Amati?

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A geometric construction can accurately duplicate the violin shape but I don't think it was the the original method for generating the shape.

If you want to try a natural and flexible drawing method I suggest bending a flexible maple rib.  It a simple craftsman's approach rather than a studied architect's one.

 

Attache is a pdf (in 4 parts) of a paper I wrote for Julian Crossmann Cooke a few years ago.   I wrote it over that winter

because it was too cold to work in my shop.

Hands down, the most humbling response to one of my posts that I ever received.  Glad your giving it a wider audience, Marty!

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... I don't think it was the the original method for generating the shape.

 

 

I think this is right depending on how we look at "shape."  Because gross shape like corners, c-bouts, f-holes, scrolls and pegboxes, and arching were coming along for a century or so before Andreas.  So bowed instruments very close to violins were already around before him.  But it does look to me like Andreas may have gone a step further to come up with very structurally refined and logical shape, which was perfect enough that not much has changed since.

 

In other words, the earliest Cremonese didn't start from scratch, using geometry to come up with an entirely new instrument, but they somehow got the jumble of shapes and sizes preceding them to a level of perfection almost instantaneously with Andreas.  And since, except for slight changes seemingly more in the line of tweaking, no monumental changes have been shown to be an improvement.

 

There aren't very many Andreas instruments around, but I don't see an indication from the body of his work that he spent years making noticeable changes, which to me indicates an initial design more than monkeying around with bending rib stock or anything else.  Of course, maybe he just got lucky.  

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Thanks to everyone who's taking a look, and thanks for the responses so far.

:)

 

 

 

Marty, thanks for sharing your considerable exploration of bent spline methods. 

 

  I agree that these methods had a place in the old Italian craftsman's tool kit. But we differ on the nature and degree of that.  Obviously, a bent maple rib structure is automatically and naturally actually a bent spline shape.  The documented historical use of spline methods in wooden boat building (and in architectural drawing)  is as a method of 'fairing' a curve. Spline shapes are even the conceptual basis behind 'fair curves'.  The powerful strength of spline rests on two things: first, spline shapes can find a beautifully smooth curve through any collection of

control points, two, given sufficient control points, a spline curve can trace along any given smooth curve with only finite points of discontinuity.  This means finite splines can be made to trace all compass geometry finite constructions, but the reverse is not true.  Finite splines can trace smooth curves with continuously changing curvature, but compass constructions can't.  Therefore, because finite splines are a nearly unlimited tracing method, and finite compass constructions are in contrast highly limited as a tracing method, the fact that shapes of classically made violins, mandolins, lutes, guitars, vihuelas, etc are all well traceable with compass constructions (see Coates) is very significant.

  But more importantly, spline curves are too flexible to determine designs, they flow smoothly over predetermined control points, or they trace a predetermined curve, but they don't help you determine anything.  Thus their known historical role is about smoothing and fairing curves.

 

 

 

A discussion of curve types

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I had already suspected something like this underlay the original Italian violin designs, because they appeared during the early Renaissance, when artistic thought was permeated with classical Greco-Roman design ideas (which are replete with compass-and-straightedge constructions as well as fascination with ratios), and feel that you have gone a long way toward proving it.  IMHO, where some people are feeling reluctance is at the idea that the violin craftsmen of the 1600's were still sufficiently conversant with these ideas to apply them freely.  I believe that that reluctance is "selling them short", and that they were much more literate than most people realize.  Remember that at about the same time, a cottage-born London gutter clot like Shakespeare (as well as his colleagues like Marlowe) was applying Greek and Roman plots and plot construction ideas to English playwriting with no trouble at all. :)

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Thanks for sharing, it's nice to see that there are makers that appreciate the old methods, one of the missing pieces I would add is that these geometry's are actually representations of frequency for a natural A=432hz or related pitch(ie. 396, 423.2, etc..) So, if pitch is discounted, your already not going to understand the origins of violin design. I know there are mostly naysayers out there, so it is taking a chance of being labeled crazy(always without any foundation, I might add). Really, all one needs to start with , is to understand that fifths are at 2/3 interval, anyone with eyes to see will figure out the rest( the pentagram which is the geometric representation of intervals of fiths, among other things). It really is quite simple if you understand this root.

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As I am in the midst of making forms for a Strad P model, I'm obviously not against copying things.  But there are different degrees of copying, and I don't really consider myself a "copyist", as I'm not all that concerned about getting everything exactly the same as what Strad did.  I rather prefer to try to understand the concepts of his work, and the general look, rather than exact copying.  Same with Guarneri, or daSalo violas.

 

Copying can (and should be) a great teaching tool, to find examples of known great instruments, and copy them to see how it works.  We have hundreds of years of trial-and-error knowledge at our disposal, and I'd rather start out working with something that is as error-free as possible.  Starting with the geometry from scratch seems far more open to unknown (i.e. probably not as good) results.

 

But I guess it's all in what you want to do.  If you want to be creative and pretend you're living 300 years ago, fine.  Have fun.  I have had fun making a few of my own models too.  And I still have almost all of them hanging in my  shop.  Right now, my focus is on making violins that sound as good as possible and represent what the buyers want.

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... one of the missing pieces I would add is that these geometry's are actually representations of frequency for a natural A=432hz or related pitch(ie. 396, 423.2, etc..)

How so?

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How so?

Well, for starters, a pentagram geometrically represents the 2/3 ratio used for the tuning of violins, not just the neck /stop ratio, but also the interval of 5ths in which a violin is tuned, which is a Pythagorean tuning. The "calibration" for a 432hz pitch is the human voice itself in the soprano range, noticed by opera singers who have objected to pitch inflation of orchestras, past and present. The shift in voice between the F & G dictates this "calibration", G is the center. This is intensity between the lower and more falsetto range &

is akin to a phase shift, as in water to vapor. These concepts were well known, and well published by the learned of the 16th & 17th century, Fludd, for one.

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 The "calibration" for a 432hz pitch is the human voice itself in the soprano range, ...

Doesn't the "calibration" of the voice vary from singer to singer, and change with age?

 

What makes 432 any less arbitrary than 430 or 434?

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