Thomas Coleman

Baroque solid ebony fingerboard?

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When was the advent of the solid ebony fingerboard?  Was solid ebony used on at least a few Viol or Viola d'amores circa 1785?  Or were they all veneered?  the same question about maple fingerboards.  Were (are?) there any examples of makers using solid maple in lieu of maple veneer on spruce core? 

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4 hours ago, Thomas Coleman said:

Were (are?) there any examples of makers using solid maple in lieu of maple veneer on spruce core? 

Antonio Stradivari 1721 'Lady Blunt'. The 'Ole Bull' attributed to Gaspar da Salò. Solid maple was right there at the beginning of violins and before.

1.) Ebony became more readily available.

2.) No need to fool around with veneer which was more time consuming.

3.) Ebony wears better and there was no possibility of wearing through the veneer.

4.) Solid ebony was perhaps too heavy as a wedge shaped board (it was used on occasion) but the newer modern boards with the change in the neck configuration made for a much lighter fingerboard.

5.) There are probably more reasons. (Some claim an acoustic difference).

Bruce

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I have an Udrichus Eberle viola s'amore from Prague, 1744 with an original Ebony fingerboard (to add to which a near twin in the Royal College of Music has an identical fingerboard). And Bruce says, Most ancient maple fingerboards are solid, so they seem to contradict any obsession with composite veneered ones.

This one is associated with the date 1578... though the Ole Bull Gasparo da Salo may be yet earlier... the Linarol and Ciciliano viols in the Shrine to Music Museum or the Kundthistoriches Museum will be informative too...

IMG_4269.thumb.JPG.4b7b894d85adcca920f78966f30b3585.JPG 

 

I think things depend a great deal on location, but I do think the absolute insistence on veneered fingerboards for baroque instruments comes from modern fetishes. I don't think there was such a hard and fast rule back then. 

Its also worth thinking on the availability of Ebony. An enormous amount of furniture made in Augsburg is decorated with thin Ebony veneer, so it seems this is the form it was most available in that area. With Fussen being so close, one thing could explain the other ... :) 

I'd love to know, veneered or not, when Ebony fingerboards came into use. I note that Ebony lutes exist in Raymond Fugger's Inventory from Augsburg in 1566.

 

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5 hours ago, Thomas Coleman said:

When was the advent of the solid ebony fingerboard? 

In the Guadagnini's estate inventory drawn up at his death, thirty ebony violin fingerboards are listed.

In the year of Our Lord 1786.

(from Duane Rosengard, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini)

 

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2 hours ago, Bruce Carlson said:

(Some claim an acoustic difference).

Thanks for the replies gentlemen.  The question stems from the idea of making a Viola d'amore.  I was wondering about the possibility of a dense ebony fingerboard hampering the sympathetic strings. 

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From what I known of viola d'amores, there is real skill in crafting the channel for the sympathetic strings so they run freely. I can't see how the fingerboard would have any possible effect on it. 

 

Good luck! 

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The practical benefit of ebony, whether veneer or solid, becomes important with the introduction of metal wound strings - so not much before 1700. Maple tends to develop grooves quite quickly under the windings. 

I have an idea that on earlier instruments (ca. 16th century) particularly on larger sizes of viols and violins it works well with a solid maple fingerboard, to make them as a kind of box. So, thin sides glued on to a central part just thick enough to accommodate the curve which is rather shallow anyway on early instruments with just the edges glued to the neck. This give a reasonably light and very stable construction which I find works well whatever the authenticity! I suspect some of the Linarol viols may have been made like this and I think I got this idea while visiting the Vienna museum. However it was so long ago that I don't remember quite what I saw.

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12 hours ago, Ben Hebbert said:

 

 I note that Ebony lutes exist in Raymond Fugger's Inventory from Augsburg in 1566.

 

 

11 hours ago, Davide Sora said:

In the Guadagnini's estate inventory drawn up at his death, thirty ebony violin fingerboards are listed.

In the year of Our Lord 1786.

(from Duane Rosengard, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini)

 

I remember that this topic was discussed some years before, noting that ebony mentioned in old inventories ain't necessarily not the same wood that we call ebony today.

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Despite any historical precedent, I would avoid a solid ebony wedged board like the plague. They are so much heavier than a maple board or a veneered board that they can be a playing health risk to the early player. Veneered boards may be a modern fetish, but I believe it to be for a good reason. When you're supporting the instrument with the left hand, the lighter the better. Plus they're really fun to make!

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But any I've seen have been so tapered on either end that I'd think that they'd be much lighter than a modern fingerboard. Lots of post 1750 violins have ebony boards, although, as overstand crept in, and became higher, they became lighter and less wedged. 

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4 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Despite any historical precedent, I would avoid a solid ebony wedged board like the plague. They are so much heavier than a maple board or a veneered board that they can be a playing health risk to the early player. Veneered boards may be a modern fetish, but I believe it to be for a good reason. When you're supporting the instrument with the left hand, the lighter the better. Plus they're really fun to make!

 

1 hour ago, Conor Russell said:

But any I've seen have been so tapered on either end that I'd think that they'd be much lighter than a modern fingerboard. Lots of post 1750 violins have ebony boards, although, as overstand crept in, and became higher, they became lighter and less wedged. 

I'm still on the fence, but keep in mind there will be a roughly 10mm x 20 mm grove cut full length from the underside of the board.

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If you choose to make a veneered board, Salve Håkedal's tutorial on his website is very easy to follow. I had better luck getting the ebony to curl by passing it through steam coming off a pot of boiling water, but your mileage may vary.

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On 5.12.2017 at 12:15 AM, Thomas Coleman said:

Thanks for the replies gentlemen.  The question stems from the idea of making a Viola d'amore.  I was wondering about the possibility of a dense ebony fingerboard hampering the sympathetic strings. 

You will need make a channeled fingerboard for the sympathetic strings. So you will take away a good part of the ebony and this will make the fingerboard lighter. I don't think solid ebony need to be negative for sound.

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On 4/12/2017 at 9:17 PM, Bruce Carlson said:

Antonio Stradivari 1721 'Lady Blunt'. The 'Ole Bull' attributed to Gaspar da Salò. Solid maple was right there at the beginning of violins and before.

Hi. I thought the Lady Blunt fingerboard was veneered. You can even see photos of it anywhere internet. Maybe is it from another violin?

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On ‎12‎/‎4‎/‎2017 at 7:48 PM, Ben Hebbert said:

From what I known of viola d'amores, there is real skill in crafting the channel for the sympathetic strings so they run freely.

I know this problem well. Slight movements in neck angle can also result in buzzing. Sometimes two bridges are needed just for seasonal changes.

As far as fingerboard material, I recommend whatever is lightest, for chiropractic reasons.

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On 05/12/2017 at 2:17 PM, JacksonMaberry said:

Despite any historical precedent, I would avoid a solid ebony wedged board like the plague. They are so much heavier than a maple board or a veneered board that they can be a playing health risk to the early player. Veneered boards may be a modern fetish, but I believe it to be for a good reason. When you're supporting the instrument with the left hand, the lighter the better. Plus they're really fun to make!

Sometimes - the citole as it happens is a good example, the "wedge" is actually two pieces of wood with a void between them (in this case, each piece is about 3-4mm wide).... 

Frankly - to be a total bitch - I don't really buy the weight arguments as a health risk on many levels, not least that a violin without chin and shoulder rest is already incredibly light. However, I would be very interested to know what musicians feel this is a health risk, and have an honest assessment of how they play, because frankly an awful lot happens in the baroque world that passes for historically authentic just because someone saw it in a painting... One of my pet complaints is that on decent antique instruments you always see chin wear on the treble side, so clearly playing on that side was a very widely practiced technique for a long time. You almost never find a baroque musician who has tried it. Some of them start bullshitting about victorian beards (wtf???) to justify not doing so, and yet it is a simple ergonomically sound way of working with the violin. I think very often Ockham's Razor should be applied to historical performance - the simplest way is probably right, and if it's a health risk to the player, that probably means you shouldn't do it. One thing I also see on some baroque instruments is incredibly chunky fingerboards and tailpieces especially - the aesthetic seems to be that the top end of the fingerboard and the corresponding end of the tailpiece should match in thickness, and be chunky as anything. It is marginally possible that this comes from observing viols and forgetting they are much bigger than violins so proportionately it doesn't make sense... otherwise I have absolutely no idea where this ghastly aesthetic comes from except possibly from the minds of medieval re-enactors who think that nothing's authentic unless it's the thickness of a castle wall... 

I enclose a few photographs of a completely original Chappuy of about 1760 with veneered fingerboard and tailpiece (on maple) to give you an idea of what good taste historically informed practice should be.

Lastly, I randomly managed to find the Lady Blunt's tailpiece a few years ago (which I obviously feel quite smug about) ... read all about it here: https://hebbertsviolins.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/more-on-the-lady-blunt/
 

It looks like this: ladyblunttailpiece.thumb.jpg.209394af8e19e0cb187e9b6888fab800.jpg

 

And here's the Chappuy:

DSCF3058.thumb.JPG.3d6c24838bb5cb1e13f06934637efb30.JPGDSCF3032.thumb.JPG.2d94920f64fca9846c68d57574d78e21.JPG5a2a04ab8be01_DSCF3027copy.thumb.jpg.8634494fd682cea34495cbca54d5c99b.jpg5a2a04ed67562_DSCF3051copy2.thumb.jpg.357421eca90ff135dc58b5aeb6d1355e.jpg

5a2a05fbdd307_DSCF3060copy.thumb.jpg.72172a1493507cc3a4428fbc03a9b8fb.jpg

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Nice gear on that Chappuy!! Tailpiece looks a lot like the ones I've been making actually. Feeling better about that design already!

As for the rest, I admit to having only anecdotal evidence - my wife is a student of Stanley Ritchie. He's known, among other things, for advocating chin on the treble side. The loaned reconverted instrument she uses has a very heavy ebony wedge which caused some discomfort initially, but after all this time of playing upwards of three hours a day she seems to have adjusted. 

Edited slightly for civility - sorry, Ben! It was the Tullamore Dew, I swear!

One last thing - Stanley himself played (he isn't currently) for many moons on two reconverted violins with full ebony wedges, a Maggini and a Stainer. So it can't be all that bad, once you're used to it. Of course it was issues with his left thumb that caused him to stop playing, but only at 82! Considering what ballet dancers go through it's probably not worth worrying about.

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10 hours ago, Ben Hebbert said:

And here's the Chappuy:

Beautiful!  So, in this case, the glue surface between the ebony and maple wedge is flat? As opposed to a thin(ish) ebony veneer being glued to an arched core?

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14 hours ago, Ben Hebbert said:

I don't really buy the weight arguments as a health risk on many levels, not least that a violin without chin and shoulder rest is already incredibly

Points well taken but the OP is talking about a viola d'amore, not a violin. These are the most underplayed instruments both in the 18th century and now, IMO largely because they are cumbersome. I struggle with it even though I play 17.5' violas all the time,. Players that get good at it usually have a smallish, lighter instrument,.

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1 hour ago, deans said:

Points well taken but the OP is talking about a viola d'amore, not a violin. These are the most underplayed instruments both in the 18th century and now, IMO largely because they are cumbersome. I struggle with it even though I play 17.5' violas all the time,. Players that get good at it usually have a smallish, lighter instrument,.

Read the OP

There isn't any difference in choice between different instruments, there are more viola d'amore fingerboards and viol fingerboards that survive because they were less likely to be modernised, but the same rules apply across the board, so it's totally relevant to the OPand to what they asked to talk about these.

real historic viola d'amores that I have handled are always surprisingly light. 20th century Ines are built like a battleship. Anyway the person talking about lightness was talking about violins. 

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