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Andreas Preuss

Stradivari's secret was a concept?

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9 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

There's a small body of evidence  that points to the "box of scrolls" conclusion, but I doubt that anyone is interested, or will have their minds changed, since that seems to be the trend here.

What? There are other people on this forum besides myself with closed minds?

But I'm afraid you're right. Even if a scientific paper were published in a peer-reviewed journal with an impressive table of statistical measurements suggesting that the violin makers of old Cremona adjusted the size of the spiral scrolls of their violins so as to match the bridge position - ex post facto, despite not adjusting bridge position after violin construction for the sake of sound quality - (my dense closed mind actually makes me think you're tending to contradict yourself here) I'd tend to be skeptical, or, if the mass of facts convinced me against my will, I would still be uninterested, since it wouldn't help me in my goal of uncovering the imagined 'secret' of Stradivari.

However, my mind isn't totally closed.

On further reflectiion, there is a perfectly good and valid reason why a violin maker might adjust the neck of a violin in response to a change in bridge position, not requiring a smidgen of unconventional thinking to accept.

Assume, therefore, a contemporary luthier who does try different bridge positions before cutting the notches to mark the one that gives the best sound quality - even if this is a totally unsound practice. (Hey, he might have a copy of Patrick Kreit's book on his shelf!)

Now then, why would he pick a different neck for the violin because of where he put the bridge?

So that the violin would have an exact standard stop length. That way, the violin would sound its best with standard strings instead of specially-made ones.

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It's like a tar pit demon of violin trivia.

Everything gets dragged in and dirtied up, becoming unrecognizable. An unstoppable, unending horror.

 

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2 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

What? There are other people on this forum besides myself with closed minds?

But I'm afraid you're right. Even if a scientific paper were published in a peer-reviewed journal with an impressive table of statistical measurements suggesting that the violin makers of old Cremona adjusted the size of the spiral scrolls of their violins so as to match the bridge position - ex post facto, despite not adjusting bridge position after violin construction for the sake of sound quality - (my dense closed mind actually makes me think you're tending to contradict yourself here) I'd tend to be skeptical, or, if the mass of facts convinced me against my will, I would still be uninterested, since it wouldn't help me in my goal of uncovering the imagined 'secret' of Stradivari.

However, my mind isn't totally closed.

On further reflectiion, there is a perfectly good and valid reason why a violin maker might adjust the neck of a violin in response to a change in bridge position, not requiring a smidgen of unconventional thinking to accept.

Assume, therefore, a contemporary luthier who does try different bridge positions before cutting the notches to mark the one that gives the best sound quality - even if this is a totally unsound practice. (Hey, he might have a copy of Patrick Kreit's book on his shelf!)

Now then, why would he pick a different neck for the violin because of where he put the bridge?

So that the violin would have an exact standard stop length. That way, the violin would sound its best with standard strings instead of specially-made ones.

Q.

I think that you're confusing scroll size with neck length. Stop lengths and neck lengths are fairly standard for the last 150 years or so.

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23 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

In that case, apparently nearly everything written about violins is untrustworthy, so I could only trust what I experience for myself. But in that case, I would be starting from scratch, and could hardly expect to catch up with whoever it may be who actually has this stuff right.

Pretty much. Much of what has been written about violins has been written by people like you. If you look at the volume of your own content in this thread alone, you should be able to understand how things got that way, and why it continues.

Unlike some other professions, there is very little incentive for real, successful violin makers and restorers and authenticators to publish.

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2 hours ago, David Beard said:

It's like a tar pit demon of violin trivia.

Everything gets dragged in and dirtied up, becoming unrecognizable. An unstoppable, unending horror.

:lol::lol:  Amen!

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4 hours ago, Conor Russell said:

I think that you're confusing scroll size with neck length. Stop lengths and neck lengths are fairly standard for the last 150 years or so.

I was treating scroll size and neck length as two very different things.

I was taking the position that matching the scroll size to the bridge position on the violin seemed like voodoo to me, because scroll size has nothing to do with sound.

So I then suggested that perhaps one might change the neck length, instead, making it longer if the bridge is higher on the body of the violin, shorter if the bridge is lower on the body of the violin, so that the distance from the nut to the bridge, measured along the strings, stays exactly the same.

Why would someone want to do that?

Well, based on the following facts:

  • Today, violin strings are made in factories, usually out of metal and plastic, repeatably and to high precision;
  • The strings on an instrument which are tuned to lower notes when open are different from those tuned to higher notes, being thicker and heavier;
  • Strings for violins, violas, cellos, and double basses are all labelled as to their intended use, and, for example, the strings in a packet for a 3/4 violin aren't just shorter than those for a 4/4 violin, they're also slightly thicker and heavier

one could jump to the, no doubt mistaken, conclusion that for any given piece of violin string, there is exactly one tension at which it sounds the best, and that this tension could be determined, or at least specified, to a very high precision.

Based on that mistaken conclusion, the rest follows with relentless logic. A 4/4 violin would have to have exactly the stop length that the string manufacturer expected for a 4/4 violin, so that when the violin is tuned according to the standard A=440 Hz pitch, the tension on all four strings would be almost exactly the manufacturer-recommended tension for best performance.

EDIT: Perhaps I should go back and note the context to make this all clearer.

The idea was suggested that, based on where a maker decided to put the bridge on the body of a violin, the neck of the violin would then subsequently be carved, or at least selected, so that the scrollwork would harmonize with a certain measurement of the violin.

That sounded pretty odd to me.

So then I supplied an alternative "rational" reason why the neck of a violin would need to be decided upon after the place for the bridge was chosen. To make the length of the neck right, instead of the size of the scroll, so that the stop length would be exactly what commonly-available violin strings were designed for.

Hopefully this all makes sense now.

Edited by Quadibloc
Clarification

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Yes. Our climate can be a bit harsh to old instruments - but overall - with a bit of care - violins do fine.

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55 minutes ago, Quadibloc said:

 

Hopefully this all makes sense now.

really not!

As David Beard stated, classical violin making, like timber framing, classical architecture etc etc, is a marriage of form and function, in which harmoniousness of the parts in their proportions and their visual appearance is as important as their function within a musical instrument.

You seem to see violin-making as akin to designing a handy tin-opener for camping trips.

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1 hour ago, Quadibloc said:

Hopefully this all makes sense now.

Nope. Writing an essay didn't help. Were you perchance ever in a working situation where you got paid by the word? :lol:

The main reason string lengths have become standardized is that players really like it when the notes are in the same place, when they play different violins. Silly players. ;)

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15 minutes ago, martin swan said:

You seem to see violin-making as akin to designing a handy tin-opener for camping trips.

A can opener on camping trips? That's not camping, that's a picnic. :D

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Silly me, though, I missed the obvious. After moving the bridge, one should do something to the neck of the violin... in order that the fingerboard will be parallel to the strings. Otherwise, the higher notes on any given string will exhibit problems.

I can imagine someone wanting to visually harmonize the scroll diameter with the length of the neck, or the overall length of the instrument, as that's reasonable from an aesthetic standpoint. But with the bridge position? Maybe mystical geometry did, historically, play some part in violin design, but that's something I would tend to be skeptical of.

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22 minutes ago, Quadibloc said:

Silly me, though, I missed the obvious. After moving the bridge, one should do something to the neck of the violin... in order that the fingerboard will be parallel to the strings. Otherwise, the higher notes on any given string will exhibit problems.

I can imagine someone wanting to visually harmonize the scroll diameter with the length of the neck, or the overall length of the instrument, as that's reasonable from an aesthetic standpoint. But with the bridge position? Maybe mystical geometry did, historically, play some part in violin design, but that's something I would tend to be skeptical of.

Rather than dribble on inconsequentially, why not actually ask to see someone making a violin, or even setting one up?

There are a lot of extremely basic issues which you should try to understand before theorising about the superiority of Stradivaris, like the relative ease of adjusting a bridge or a neck :blink:

 

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12 hours ago, David Beard said:

It's like a tar pit demon of violin trivia.

Everything gets dragged in and dirtied up, becoming unrecognizable. An unstoppable, unending horror.

 

From a more positive point of view, it's performing a valuable service by keeping this material out of other threads.   When it hits 1000 pages, we should publish it as a surrealist novel. :ph34r:

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51 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

Is it possible to quadibloc some one's posts?

Yes... there is a setting of "ignore" that you can use, and the posts don't appear.  It has removed piles of useless verbiage from my screen.

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2 hours ago, martin swan said:

like the relative ease of adjusting a bridge or a neck

I'm well aware that it's rather easy to move the bridge up and down on the body of the violin, while changing the neck requires basically making a new one.

But if one wants the bridge to be here and not there, for the same reason one might want the sound post to be here and not there - the body of the violin for some reason demands that position to sound its best - then the question was raised: did violin makers do something to the scroll to make it harmonize with the bridge position.

The scroll, of course, is part of the piece of wood that also includes the neck.

First I pointed out a rather fanciful reason, that would only apply to modern makers... then it dawned on me that there was a much more prosaic interrelationship between the two that I had overlooked.

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7 hours ago, martin swan said:

really not!

As David Beard stated, classical violin making, like timber framing, classical architecture etc etc, is a marriage of form and function, in which harmoniousness of the parts in their proportions and their visual appearance is as important as their function within a musical instrument.

You seem to see violin-making as akin to designing a handy tin-opener for camping trips.

Yes, but I think David was saying you had to put the windows in before you knew how big the roof should be.

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15 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

What? There are other people on this forum besides myself with closed minds?

You don't have a closed mind, as far as I can see. It is just incredibly frustrating that you keep posting hoping to learn, when it has been pointed out repeatedly it will only waste time and potentially cause irritation until you have taken the step to attempt to play, or look at violins extensively, or listen to a lot of violins, or make or watch a maker if they let you, maybe buy; and preferably several of those steps. So maybe on that point you do have closed ears? Or you are just asking experts for ideas, then ignore what I read as the central point in their answers?

And I am no expert, just an amateur fiddler. Enough to see that some of your ideas would quickly be resolved by a little hands-on experience and will never be resolved by writing about what you have read. I see people far more skilled than me making a real effort to encourage you, and point you in some good directions, which largely means to stop writing for a while, and spend some time looking and listening and learning. The whole world of violins is so full of subtlety and puzzles, it could be a great adventure.

As for your statement that you will never play, you would be surprised how many violin makers play folk (Appalachian, Irish etc) fiddle, where you can start to do something worthwhile and fun with what would seem a very low level of skill in other areas of violin playing.

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20 minutes ago, John_London said:

...

As for your statement that you will never play, you would be surprised how many violin makers play folk (Appalachian, Irish etc) fiddle, where you can start to do something worthwhile and fun with what would seem a very low level of skill in other areas of violin playing.

Ditto.

I wanted to add - there is no reason not to take some introductory lessons - even if it's just to learn how the instrument works and what it's capable of.

If that's enough -  you can stop there. If it's not - keep going.

I take weekly lessons. Love 'em.

My goal is to see how far I can go...

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4 minutes ago, John_London said:

You don't have a closed mind, as far as I can see. It is just incredibly frustrating that you keep posting hoping to learn, when it has been pointed out repeatedly it will only waste time and potentially cause irritation until you have taken the step to attempt to play, look, hear, make or watch a maker if they let you, maybe buy. So maybe on that point you do have closed ears? Or you are just asking experts for ideas, and ignoring the central point in their answers?

And I am no expert, just an amateur fiddler. Enough to see that some of your ideas would quickly be resolved by a little hands-on experience and will never be resolved by writing about what you have read. I see people far more skilled than me making a real effort to encourage, and point you in some good directions, which largely means to stop writing for a while, and spend some time looking and listening and learning. The whole world of violins is so full of subtelty and puzzles, it could be a great adventure.

As for your statement you will never play, you would be surprised how many violin makers play folk (Appalachian, Irish etc) fiddle, where you can start to do something worthwhile and fun with what would seem a very low level of skill in other areas of violin playing.

In the general case I'm pretty much saying what Martin indicates.

In the specfic question of making necks and heads beforehand, I'm saying that in classical work the lengths, widths, and heights for working the neck, pegbox, and scroll all key off the unit of the body and neck stop. This unit is most always 1/3 the body stop. And in the most common classical choice the volute height is 3/4 this unit. 

The body stop in turn relates to the bridge line.  In its final form, the bridgeline depends on the placement of the soundhole eyes. So the whole thing gets pretty intertwined.  Nominally, you can use 5/9 of body as a standin for the bridge line. But in most classical examples the final bridgeline gets placed slightly higher than the 5/9 of body guide (so the stop is somewhat shortened).

You can see on examining many cases that sometimes the measures of the head key off the 5/9 guide, but use of thw actual stop is more often indicated.

The actual stops in classical work don't actually adhere to the modern standard fixed measure stop.  They vary considerably from instrument to instrument, even with the same maker and year.

To me, these things suggest that the heads were evidently made with awareness of the instrument in hand, or at least near at hand.  This also suggests that at least the body length was set before working the neck and head. Probably the bridge line and therefore soundhole eyes also.

 

 

As to working in batches of a few instruments, I don't see a conflict.  Small batches like that can still be kept separate and distinct. And you stil gain efficiencies in fewer tool set ups, etc.

It is the notion of interchangeable or prefab parts that I find anachronistic.

 

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Quadiblock, if you are oblivious to all the subtle (and not so subtle) hints offered so far, I would suggest that most of the subtleties violins offer, needed to even begin to understand them, will forever remain beyond your grasp. Have you considered other hobbies?

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20 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

In principle I agree with all what you said. But there is a grey zone where you can actually still work in the spirit of an 18th century craftsman in Cremona and yet organize the workflow with your helpers in an efficient way. 

I can't really say that I have a proof for a his but there are indicators:

I am sure that Strad made certain things in huger batches and stored them away for later use. The purfling strips are one of those things. Otherwise you can't really explain that the black strips are very narrow over a long period in his making (a span of 5 years or so around 1720) And they always have exactly the same look. I hardly can imagine that he made it once and tried to copy for the next violin exactly the same feature. 

If Michael Darnton says that some experts can see that he worked(always?) 3 violins at a time, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't. have done so. (Maybe the numbering on the mould Primo, Secundo, Terzio, Quattro is an indication for a set of moulds to be used simultaneously to have always different models at hand.)

In the 18th century wood workers would go also with the seasons of the year. I know a cello maker inMarkneukirchen who would never close an instrument in summer, so he lines up his cellos until Winter to close them. 

So in total, I agree that there was no  modern assembly line in the shop but certain procedures were worked in groups of 2-4 pieces is not unlikely. 

 

Hi Andreas,

Always thought provoking!

I think we mostly agree here:

     *assistants

     *efficiencies of process when consistent with character of work

     *not factory or cottage industry with interchangeable parts and hands, thus limiting large batch and prep ahead to things that don't depend on the specific insteuments

      *possibly working several instruments at once, but respecting the integrity of the individual instruments 

 

 

 

 

 

(The 1st through 4th form names appear to relate to decreasing size.  The P and S labeled forms are very similar in length, but the S labeled forms seem to imply narrower lower bouts.  The T is a good 10mm shorter, and the Q is a further 10mm shorter still.   I believe each label represents distinctly differentiated design ideas.  So not just about efficient work in batches.  Also, the existing instrument, the wear on the molds, and the remaking of some form label designs indicates that some of these form ideas were used much more than others.)

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