JBiggs

Favorite small viola model?

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On ‎11‎/‎2‎/‎2017 at 6:50 PM, Mike Spencer said:

Manfio those are really great instruments! I read another older post from you recently were you repeated the same comment about Morel's ideas on Viola neck and string length. I'm currently contemplating making my 1st viola, brothers Amati 1570 and measures 410mm. Would you use the 150 neck length and 375 string length even on his size instrument?

Rene suggested that the string length of 375 and 150 for the neck should be used on all violas regardless of size.  On some older instruments he would move bridge placements up or down to accommodate that although there were some very large instrument where he would have to compromise on this.

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Sacconi also endorsed the idea of moving the bridge up, regardless its traditional position betwen the lower nicks is not mine and is old.

Walter Trampler's Amati viola was big and the bridge was moved up (a lot) to shorten the string length and make the instrument easier to play, as well as making the sound more focused, I think.

Sacconi wrote a special chapter on his "I Segreti di Stradivari" about the "Piazzamento e Taglio Delle ff di Risonanza". On page 91, he coments the sound problems caused by the wrong positioning of the sound holes, that is, holes that are too much apart, too close or too low in the soundbox. And he coments that moving the bridge up causes no problems, I'll quote Sacconi:

"L'spostamento del ponticello verso l'alto, con gisuto distanziamento delle ff, non ha invece una sostanziale influenza sul suono, in quanto, dato l'andamento dell'inclinazione delle ff, non ne deriva una incidente variazione della distanza tra esse e i piedini del ponticello. Questo è assai importante , perché consente di spostare il ponticello verso l'alto in quegli strumenti antichi di grande misura (vedi bassetti e viole tenore), che presentano una maggior lunghezza del diapason. Tale operazione, anche se di effetto estetico non troppo bello, è senz'altro da preferirsi alla deprecabile pratica di accorciare la parte superiore della casa armonica, che oltre ad alterare lo strumento è ancor più aintiestetica." ("I Segreti di Stradivari, pagina 91, terzo paragrafo, seconda edizione, Libraria del Convegno, Cremona).

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6 minutes ago, MANFIO said:

Sacconi also endorsed the idea of moving the bridge up, regardless its traditional position betwen the lower nicks is not mine and is old.

Walter Trampler's Amati viola was big and the bridge was moved up (a lot) to shorten the string length and make the instrument easier to play, as well as making the sound more focused, I think.

Sacconi wrote a special chapter on his "I Segreti di Stradivari" about the "Piazzamento e Taglio Delle ff di Risonanza". On page 91, he coments the sound problems caused by the wrong positioning of the sound holes, that is, holes that are too much apart, too close or too low in the soundbox. And he coments that moving the bridge up causes no problems, I'll quote Sacconi:

"L'spostamento del ponticello verso l'alto, con gisuto distanziamento delle ff, non ha invece una sostanziale influenza sul suono, in quanto, dato l'andamento dell'inclinazione delle ff, non ne deriva una incidente variazione della distanza tra esse e i piedini del ponticello. Questo è assai importante , perché consente di spostare il ponticello verso l'alto in quegli strumenti antichi di grande misura (vedi bassetti e viole tenore), che presentano una maggior lunghezza del diapason. Tale operazione, anche se di effetto estetico non troppo bello, è senz'altro da preferirsi alla deprecabile pratica di accorciare la parte superiore della casa armonica, che oltre ad alterare lo strumento è ancor più aintiestetica." ("I Segreti di Stradivari, pagina 91, terzo paragrafo, seconda edizione, Libraria del Convegno, Cremona).

Google translate: 

"The displacement of the bridge upwards, with the sloping distance of the ff, does not have a substantial influence on the sound, since, given the trend of the inclination of the ff, there is no incident of variation in the distance between them and This is very important because it allows you to move the bridge upwards in those large antique instruments (see basset and violet tenor), which have a longer length of the diapason.This operation, although of aesthetic effect not too good, it is certainly preferable to the despicable practice of shortening the upper part of the harmonic home, which besides altering the instrument is even more aesthetic. " ("The Secrets of Stradivarius, page 91, third paragraph, second edition, Bookstore of the Convention, Cremona).

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This is also what Helen Michetschlager was talking about in her article.  Moving the bridge more towards the geometric center of the viola.  Interesting ideas.

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Thank you Luis!  So this one would fit between the two models I've made, not between the small one and a violin.  He had a shorter model too.  There are enough photos to make one from this.  The arching does just seem to rise easily, but may rise quite a bit, especially on the back.   I really like the outline, and it is distinctive.  Now to find some very cool wood.  Cut on the slab?

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I've noticed quite a few late eighteenth- and early nineteenth century very small violas where the makers rejected the normal design ideas in favour for something that is narrow and often low arched. I think these work particularly well when they are low arched and whilst they break  every single rule of how we imagine a small viola to be, they can work really amazingly - even on the c-string. 

The viola illustrated below was cut down, by Matthew Hardie c.1820, from a seventeenth-century bass viol (by Richard Meares c.1670). The additional consequences are that the front is made from bent staves of wood, and the back has been thinned and sandbagged into an arch. It's a piece of utter genius in terms of the "restoration" techniques used on it, and it's just 15 1/4 inch long, rather attentively made as an enlarged Stradivari long pattern. It really is a masterpiece, even if it is also a bit of a Frankenstein.

Personally I think that there is a lot to be said for this model, and I'd even be interested if people wanted to try copying it because I think there may be merits that would translate into a new instrument. There is a certain depth of sound that it lacks under the ear although it is still fine and very quick - some viola players simply won't take it seriously (but I wonder if their ears are following their eyes), and others see it as a very beautiful stringed instrument with the same tuning as a viola, most agree that the sound is weirdly reminiscent of a viol, and although it would be slightly crazy and completely unscientific to suggest that the spirit of the original instrument lives on in this much reduced form, that is nevertheless the impression I get and the impression others have also suggested. Whatever we may say, here is an excerpt of  Hans Werner Henze's 1979 Viola Sonata being played on it in preparation for the Naxos recording so you can judge for yourself (scroll down to the last on the page linked -  http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2016/06/henze-sonata-for-viola-piano/

Dimensions 384mm / 173mm / 120mm / 218mm

for the sake of the incredulous, I've also added photographs showing what it was made from and some idea of how... (it has a better setup.. the photos are from immediately after I bought it). 

Worth noting that Primrose didn't perform Paganini on his Guarneri, he had a small viola for the job, but he quite liked the idea that people thought he did it on the Guarneri... 

Slide1.jpg

Slide2.jpg

Slide3.jpg

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3 hours ago, MANFIO said:

Here Trampler's Amati with the bridge well up the f hole nicks.

Just talking about this on another thread. The Royal Academy Amati is set up with a long string length (over 16 inches). Both have advantages, shorter is more playable but longer gives more overtones and tonal complexity IMO. If I owned the Trampler, I'd be tempted to have the bridge and nut set back, but somebody would probably accuse me of tampering with greatness.

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2 hours ago, deans said:

Just talking about this on another thread. The Royal Academy Amati is set up with a long string length (over 16 inches). Both have advantages, shorter is more playable but longer gives more overtones and tonal complexity IMO. If I owned the Trampler, I'd be tempted to have the bridge and nut set back, but somebody would probably accuse me of tampering with greatness.

I remember walking up to meet Mr. Trampler in the cafeteria at Interlochen one summer.  I asked him what the inscription in gold leaf on the ribs of his viola said.  I had seen many pictures of it on album covers over the years.  He was there to play chamber music with the winner of the Van Cliburn contest and some others.

DLB

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I have to admit I am very taken with the basket weave decoration on the cut down gamba/viola.  I imagine that gambas were not at all in demand at the time and the workman was just harvesting wood he had laying around. Different times.

DLB

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Ben Hebbert, thanks so much for being here!

Would have loved to meet you at the Messiah thingy, but I found out about it so late that hotels were largely sold out,  and remaining hotel and flight prices were above my budget.

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2 hours ago, Dwight Brown said:

I remember walking up to meet Mr. Trampler in the cafeteria at Interlochen one summer.  I asked him what the inscription in gold leaf on the ribs of his viola said.  I had seen many pictures of it on album covers over the years.  He was there to play chamber music with the winner of the Van Cliburn contest and some others.

DLB

Never met him, but I did see him play once in NY. If I believe it looked like he still had a plain gut A string, if I remember correctly.

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10 hours ago, MANFIO said:

I do like slab cut maple, light in weight, for viola backs.

We went out today to meet our oldest and her four boys for lunch; three doors down from the Woodcraft store in Canton.  I didn't find traditional wood, but I'm an oddball.  I found a box of Koa leftovers for $6/lb and for $24 I will get a violin back and ribs.  The wood seems like very crispy mahogany.  .56 sg.  A 8/4 chunk of curly cherry.  2 backs and ribs.  A discounted, from 8 to 3 brd/ft or birdeye, 2 backs.  And a long board of curly Padauk for 2 more.  It is lighter than the cherry at .65 to /68 sg.  Didn't measure the maple.  It has some funk in it, so it wouldn't be accurate.  The Padauk reminded me of the viola.  It should at least LOOK cool.  If it sounds cool that would be great.  $140 for 7 instrument backs.  Cheap thrills.  

For the viola, I might bend the belly.  I've done half way before.  Carve 1/2 of the arch in,  about 4-5 mm  thick, not jointed or glued; and bend it up a little high; joint and glue.  Bending the whole thing seems like it would be difficult, but Helen Michetschläger does it.  Kind of like the bent staves of the bass viol Ben Hebbert just talked about.  I might still built it to the 378 one I have drawn up somewhere.  

20171107_170120_2.jpg

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4 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Ben Hebbert, thanks so much for being here!

Would have loved to meet you at the Messiah thingy, but I found out about it so late that hotels were largely sold out,  and remaining hotel and flight prices were above my budget.

We'll meet again! And be in touch if you want to find a cheap place to stay in Oxford - I know the secrets! I really wanted to get over to VSA this year... perhaps next time. :)

10 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

I want to make one, Ben! Should I begin by making a bass viol?

Ha! Or just buy one and appreciate the other use for a sawzall... ... 

I should let Helen Mitchetslager have some quality time with this, because it does substantiate her observations about bent fronts. In this case because English viols have a centre stave, you can actually see the joints running through the top and through the soundholes - those curious little dents at the top of the front are on the joints as well - don't ask, I've no idea what they mean. The intrinsic problem with making observations based on Bresican instruments is that the proposed method involves bending the two halves, so there is a centre joint, and it is very difficult to persuasively prove the point through looking at the the instrument - although you can argue that the cells will be cut through if the wood is carved, this would presumably be equally the case if the instrument was bent rough and substantially finished as would need to be the case if there is significant edgework for a start - so with all due respect, I'm not sure if it's a really really really good theory that works in practice, or a forensically provable fact, though Carlo Vettori's Gaspar da Salo bass viol I think, having really looked at it, is a really strong contender for a bent 2 piece front with very very little 'articulation' of the wings, edges, [and corners], You can see photos here, God forbid you scroll any further down.. there's an embarrassing one later on. You can perhaps see as a result why I have trouble assuming that *all* Gaspar instruments have such a thing... http://www.arteliutaria.com/article_salo_architetto_page_1.shtml

Reminiscing on the da Salo exhibition, I did notice that the two double basses there by da Salo had bent-stave fronts, as does the Dragonetti da Salo in Toronto and another one, all of which I was lucky to see inside a month of one and other. It occurs to me that making a double bass front really gives you the incentive to try to adopt any possible technique except carving it - I mean, the flat backs are proof of the unwillingness to carve anything on them, and Brescian double basses are so broad that a wimp like me thinks there is too much effort in stretching that far! If we want to ask questions about why people started to bend fronts, I'd argue that these represent the moment that there was a real need to innovate - English viols, and any other kind of bent front are likely to follow on from this, so it's more a question of Italian influence in early English work, rather than the idea that we were being particularly clever of our own selves.  

I've been very very naughty and copied Dietrich Kessler's article about bent fronts here with a caveat. Many of the burn marks that he noticed and described as evidence for the way that the staves were bent actually fall over the glue joints. My feeling is that in addition to bending (which need not result in these marks), there was a method of case-hardening the wood. We actually see evidence of a heat treatment in English cellos especially right up to Kennedy in the 1840s, and anyone whose been inside a few of them will be able to report singed corner blocks and other weirdnesses connected with fire. Also, since 1982, different viol makers have found different ways of doing a bent front... and back in the seventeenth century each maker seemed to have his own distinctive technique too, but the nice thing about Kessler's article and my viola is that it's all about the same maker! 

Kessler Viol Construction in 17th century England.pdf

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6 hours ago, Dwight Brown said:

I have to admit I am very taken with the basket weave decoration on the cut down gamba/viola.  I imagine that gambas were not at all in demand at the time and the workman was just harvesting wood he had laying around. Different times.

DLB

Spot on, they really fall from grace around 1720-30 in England, and I think gradually rotted over the next century to the point that there are only about 300 English viols in existence today. 

Cuturally, despite that, they held about as much esteem to the English and French as Cremonese instruments. You have to first understand that "musical gentlemen" would have a music room furnished with the best instruments they could lay their hands on, so that you came to their music room to play chamber music! As the quartet arrived in fashion, there weren't enough Cremonese violas to go around and most of them needed radical surgery to be playable anyway, so if you "had to" cut them up anyway, and they were still too few in number to satisfy demand, what difference would it make if you butchered an Amati or butchered a slightly worm eaten Richard Meares or Barak Norman. Thanks to David Rattray's research into Scottish makers, we do know that Matthew Hardie was commissioned by the Edinburgh Music Society to make an instrument out of parts of an old bass viol as a gift to George IV on his state visit to Scotland. We can go as far as to suggest that this illustrates the high level of prestige that these instruments had. I like the fact that he is documented as getting terribly drunk and never finishing it, because the soundholes on mine are a little more in common with his assistant, David Stirrat, tempting me to think this is the George IV viola! What is certainly unarguably the case is that it was wormed beyond reasonable repair before it got the snip, so it got a better fate than the bonfire. For what it's worth I am satisfactorily convinced that this is a Strad model intended to be played with genuine Strads or other Cremonese instruments, with the same level of status. Lucky for me, I didn't have to pay a Strad price. :)

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6 minutes ago, Ben Hebbert said:

Spot on, they really fall from grace around 1720-30 in England, and I think gradually rotted over the next century to the point that there are only about 300 English viols in existence today. 

Cuturally, despite that, they held about as much esteem to the English and French as Cremonese instruments. You have to first understand that "musical gentlemen" would have a music room furnished with the best instruments they could lay their hands on, so that you came to their music room to play chamber music! As the quartet arrived in fashion, there weren't enough Cremonese violas to go around and most of them needed radical surgery to be playable anyway, so if you "had to" cut them up anyway, and they were still too few in number to satisfy demand, what difference would it make if you butchered an Amati or butchered a slightly worm eaten Richard Meares or Barak Norman. Thanks to David Rattray's research into Scottish makers, we do know that Matthew Hardie was commissioned by the Edinburgh Music Society to make an instrument out of parts of an old bass viol as a gift to George IV on his state visit to Scotland. We can go as far as to suggest that this illustrates the high level of prestige that these instruments had. I like the fact that he is documented as getting terribly drunk and never finishing it, because the soundholes on mine are a little more in common with his assistant, David Stirrat, tempting me to think this is the George IV viola! What is certainly unarguably the case is that it was wormed beyond reasonable repair before it got the snip, so it got a better fate than the bonfire. 

Ben, Thank you so much for taking the time to enrich the discussion. One of my favorite violas is an instrument copied from a very early Linarol probably a Lira cut down.  It has a very flat arch and a very broad center bout.  John Dilworth restored the original and used it as a model for his copies.  I am of the opinion that keeping the middle bout wide is a big help in the power department for violas. This one is 405mm so not large and not small.

DLB

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20 minutes ago, Ben Hebbert said:

We'll meet again! And be in touch if you want to find a cheap place to stay in Oxford - I know the secrets! I really wanted to get over to VSA this year... perhaps next time. :)

Ha! Or just buy one and appreciate the other use for a sawzall... ... 

I should let Helen Mitchetslager have some quality time with this, because it does substantiate her observations about bent fronts. In this case because English viols have a centre stave, you can actually see the joints running through the top and through the soundholes - those curious little dents at the top of the front are on the joints as well - don't ask, I've no idea what they mean. The intrinsic problem with making observations based on Bresican instruments is that the proposed method involves bending the two halves, so there is a centre joint, and it is very difficult to persuasively prove the point through looking at the the instrument - although you can argue that the cells will be cut through if the wood is carved, this would presumably be equally the case if the instrument was bent rough and substantially finished as would need to be the case if there is significant edgework for a start - so with all due respect, I'm not sure if it's a really really really good theory that works in practice, or a forensically provable fact, though Carlo Vettori's Gaspar da Salo bass viol I think, having really looked at it, is a really strong contender for a bent 2 piece front with very very little 'articulation' of the wings, edges, [and corners], You can see photos here, God forbid you scroll any further down.. there's an embarrassing one later on. You can perhaps see as a result why I have trouble assuming that *all* Gaspar instruments have such a thing... http://www.arteliutaria.com/article_salo_architetto_page_1.shtml

Reminiscing on the da Salo exhibition, I did notice that the two double basses there by da Salo had bent-stave fronts, as does the Dragonetti da Salo in Toronto and another one, all of which I was lucky to see inside a month of one and other. It occurs to me that making a double bass front really gives you the incentive to try to adopt any possible technique except carving it - I mean, the flat backs are proof of the unwillingness to carve anything on them, and Brescian double basses are so broad that a wimp like me thinks there is too much effort in stretching that far! If we want to ask questions about why people started to bend fronts, I'd argue that these represent the moment that there was a real need to innovate - English viols, and any other kind of bent front are likely to follow on from this, so it's more a question of Italian influence in early English work, rather than the idea that we were being particularly clever of our own selves.  

I've been very very naughty and copied Dietrich Kessler's article about bent fronts here with a caveat. Many of the burn marks that he noticed and described as evidence for the way that the staves were bent actually fall over the glue joints. My feeling is that in addition to bending (which need not result in these marks), there was a method of case-hardening the wood. We actually see evidence of a heat treatment in English cellos especially right up to Kennedy in the 1840s, and anyone whose been inside a few of them will be able to report singed corner blocks and other weirdnesses connected with fire. Also, since 1982, different viol makers have found different ways of doing a bent front... and back in the seventeenth century each maker seemed to have his own distinctive technique too, but the nice thing about Kessler's article and my viola is that it's all about the same maker! 

Kessler Viol Construction in 17th century England.pdf

Straight oak wine barrel staves were traditionally bent by building a fire inside the barrel to get the wood hot enough to bend into shape.  If you had simply cut the curved shape the longitudinal hollow cell walls would let the wine leak out.  By bending the staves the hollow cells follow the barrel contour shape so the barrel can't leak.

The fire inside the barrel toasts the wood's inside surface and the amount of this toasting has an effect on the wine taste and you can use barrels with various amounts of toast--light, medium, heavy.  A more modern way of bending the barrel staves is to heat them with steam however the wine taste is different from using traditional fire bent staves.  California Chardonnay  was never considered as good as French ones until they started using traditionally made wine barrels.

In any case, if you using your violas to store wine you might want to consider how you bend the tops. 

 

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Really useful Marty! 
In this instance, that the scorch marks seem to be applied with a certain amount of localised force with some kind of hot iron, and it is the marks made by this that sometimes go across the glue joint, so it would have to have been bent and glued before the heat treatment... 

That says a lot for the making technique, and although they are staves "like those of a barrel" there is presumably a huge difference between making a circular barrel, or just an arched top. That said, barrel making was so prolific, and there is no reason why viol makers wouldn't have picked up ideas that worked for both.... in the end both need to be properly seasoned before they can function so there could well be a transfer of ideas beyond bending and planing... why not. 

I do keep my coffee capsules in an old treble viol back and ribs that I use as a container, so your last suggestion isn't too far from the truth!

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2 hours ago, Dwight Brown said:

Ben, Thank you so much for taking the time to enrich the discussion. One of my favorite violas is an instrument copied from a very early Linarol probably a Lira cut down.  It has a very flat arch and a very broad center bout.  John Dilworth restored the original and used it as a model for his copies.  I am of the opinion that keeping the middle bout wide is a big help in the power department for violas. This one is 405mm so not large and not small.

DLB

Dwight, 

Totally! The Pope is known to have remarked about one such instrument being the greatest viola ever made. I certainly know of one Linarol ex-Lira that is pretty much there, and Brenzi violas - made as violas but inhabiting the same basic principles are totally gobsmacking. 

Knock yerself out with Lawrence Power and this Brenzi... the only time I every played on stage with him was when he did his debut as a violinist playing the Bartok violin concerto, so I kinda missed the point! 

Also not small, so I'm digressing... 

 

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10 hours ago, Ben Hebbert said:

Dwight, 

Totally! The Pope is known to have remarked about one such instrument being the greatest viola ever made. I certainly know of one Linarol ex-Lira that is pretty much there, and Brenzi violas - made as violas but inhabiting the same basic principles are totally gobsmacking. 

Knock yerself out with Lawrence Power and this Brenzi... the only time I every played on stage with him was when he did his debut as a violinist playing the Bartok violin concerto, so I kinda missed the point! 

Also not small, so I'm digressing... 

 

Is the size of the viola giving the illusion of relatively lower rib height, or are the ribs actually somewhat lower than usual?  Really enjoyed the video.

-Jim

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18 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Straight oak wine barrel staves were traditionally bent by building a fire inside the barrel to get the wood hot enough to bend into shape.  If you had simply cut the curved shape the longitudinal hollow cell walls would let the wine leak out.  By bending the staves the hollow cells follow the barrel contour shape so the barrel can't leak.

The fire inside the barrel toasts the wood's inside surface and the amount of this toasting has an effect on the wine taste and you can use barrels with various amounts of toast--light, medium, heavy.  A more modern way of bending the barrel staves is to heat them with steam however the wine taste is different from using traditional fire bent staves.  California Chardonnay  was never considered as good as French ones until they started using traditionally made wine barrels.

In any case, if you using your violas to store wine you might want to consider how you bend the tops. 

 

Wait a minute on the the white oak leaking. I don't know much about wooden barrel making but, white oak has tylosis in the cells which keep it from leaking. That is why it is a prized boat building wood. 

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