Julian Cossmann Cooke

linear v. non-linear approaches to instrument making

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This is not a new issue by any means, but I keep puzzling on it, so I thought I would toss it out there.

IMO, we are all in some measure amalgams of linear and non-linear approaches in our lives and to our craft.  Maybe there are those who are just one or the other, but that again IMO would be unusual.  By linear, I mean calculations and numbers guide us from point A to point B or "a process of thought following known cycles or step-by- step progression where a response to a step mustbe elicited before another step is taken" as Dictionary.com puts it .  Non-linear thinking on the other hand relies more on intuition and what our senses tell us or "used to describe a process, series of events, etc. in which one thing does not clearly or directly follow from another" from the Cambridge dictionary ".  Non-linear is not necessarily creative and linear not; they just create differently.

Likewise, a mind v. heart construct seems too simplistic.  We all have each and employ them both in some measure, though perhaps to a different extent, depending on the task at hand.

Thoughts?  Do you consider yourself more linear or non-linear in your approach to making or for that matter, restoration?  Absolutely one or the other? Why bother asking this question?  (I am partial to the notion that I am going to get the best results by deploying both -- or more accurately, letting my linear and non-linear tendencies to express themselves.)  Maybe because anyone predominantly one or the other might be encouraged to even out the scales a bit by cultivating the other.

And no, I don't know how I come up with this stuff.  Is it my non-linear or my linear self at work? ;)

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I think that if you have some goal in mind, then the process needs to be more linear... evaluating the results of what you have done in order to decide what to do next.  So in that respect, trial-and-error would be a linear method, not just the engineering-type of measurements and calculations.  I'm also assuming that listening is a valid "response" that can be used for evaluation, not just FFT curves.

If I interpret non-linear making as "doing what feels right", with no influence whatsoever from previous results, then I see no way this could reach a goal, but just end up with some random result.

There's probably some middle ground, where you do stuff that feels or looks "right", but something from past results or from other makers somehow shaped those feelings rather than a concrete "step".  For example, I shape bass bars by eye, but pay attention height and weight, yet can't justify what I do other than "it seems to work".  Is that linear or non-linear?  Or both?  Who cares?

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To me, non-linear thinking is a collection of many inputs (information and experiences) that lead to a step. The inputs are weighted in a not obvious fashion. 

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Some people generally see things and learn things in a linear way, one step at a time. Others take the overview of a topic and dive into the whole thing. It's not only differing approaches to instrument building, but the characteristics of two main personality types, if you want to divide the world that way. I compare myself to my brother who, in many ways, is similar to me; we have both spent a lot of time in construction of various kinds. We've always had different but complementary approaches to work. He starts at the beginning and goes step by step to the end. I tend to see the whole project and dive in and put the parts together as I go.


That said, my first violin was built in a pretty linear way. I wasn't able to assess the relative weight of any of the instructions and advice I received until i had gone through one. I am becoming freer now, having formed some of my own opinions about where a millimeter here or there really matters, etc. And I am working on various parts of a violin depending on my mood that day as much as anything.

 

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With respect to the basic woodworking, there are certain things that need to be done in a linear fashion (although there can be different linear methods).  For example, if you non-linearly feel like finishing the outline of the plates first, and then sometime later get around to making a garland, odds are you'll run into trouble (unless you're like Mike Molnar and have precise dimensional control).  Other things won't matter... like carving a scroll first, or after the soundbox is made.  I pretty much stick to a certain order (unless I forget) so that these problems don't crop up.

For the tone aspect, I try to think of everything as a whole and how it works together (non-linear), but then I try to break down the whole into smaller pieces that I can consider and/or test in a more linear fashion.  I can think about how all the variables work, but to get a meaningful test, the variables need to be restricted.

 

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I think it's always a combination of both, generally speaking I think when we all start, based on it's unfamiliarity, in a more linear fashion, and that as familiarity of the process becomes second nature we are able to be more non linear in that the repetitive nature of the process has been done several times, things that used need to be thought of as separate, can now be thought of as a whole.

I think lots of this gets into your goals and if you are focusing on being a copyist or are more flexible with what you build. I think a copyist who would spend x amount of time on a certain model;and then eventually moves to another would be more inclined to be linear in that copying involves new target numbers for each model that need to be achieved and replicated repetitively.

Or quite simply, with familiarity comes the choice of a more non linear approach...

For myself I consider my approach very non linear, going in knowing only that I will be making an instrument from this particular batch of wood and that it, like a sculpture will be done when it's done and will look like what it will look like, all visual details {particularly for guitars} will be figured out when that phase of the work presents itself. I very rarely use any measuring devices outside of straight edges, compass, scribe and ruler. I tend to let the mold and the way the ribs asymmetrically will wrap around an internal mold dictate large portions of the build. I really enjoy fudging symmetry out of asymmetry and enjoy bring out a certain wabi sabi by embracing imperfection.  

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