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Hand made versus machine made violins


Delabo
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There are some luthiers who maintain that violins should be made entirely by hand in the same manner as Stradivari and Guarneri, and using similar primitive hand tools available at the time.

Another group have no problem using a mixture of hand tools and some electric tools that require human intervention, such as bandsaws, electric drills, and a dremel etc.

A third group believes that it is OK to use a  CNC machine that can be left to do the work while they do something else. These machines can be left to carve out violin plates and scrolls, and perhaps even other tasks. It is even suggested that the violin parts they make can be superior to hand made objects.

Personally, I believe that all three ways have there place. But the question that comes to mind is, should they all be sold for similar amounts of money ? And should the maker who uses a CNC to make his instruments be obliged to reveal to his customers that machinery was used in the making of their new purchase ? Also, does the maker who eschews modern ways feel that they are more in touch with the wood ?

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I hope I don't complicate your thread, but is your third group not really two separate groups?

Currently it seems to be the only place to put two rather different users of CNC (or similar) technologies - those who produce finished pieces (i.e. anything worked to the point that it only needs removing tooling marks etc., if anything further at all) , and those undertaking 'falsework' (i.e. rough-carving to a few mm tolerance) to achieve a transient state of the piece that will be processed further before it is finished.

I see these as rather different, and would personally feel former could only ever be called 'hand finished' or 'machine made', but don't feel it is an appropriate label for the latter, which should be judged based on what happens next.

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1 hour ago, notsodeepblue said:

I hope I don't complicate your thread, but is your third group not really two separate groups?

Currently it seems to be the only place to put two rather different users of CNC (or similar) technologies - those who produce finished pieces (i.e. anything worked to the point that it only needs removing tooling marks etc., if anything further at all) , and those undertaking 'falsework' (i.e. rough-carving to a few mm tolerance) to achieve a transient state of the piece that will be processed further before it is finished.

I see these as rather different, and would personally feel former could only ever be called 'hand finished' or 'machine made', but don't feel it is an appropriate label for the latter, which should be judged based on what happens next.

I must admit that I had in mind CNC work which just required a scraper finish to qualify for machine made work. I would assume, ( please correct me), that the computer template for a particular violin model could be shared over the internet. This would enable two people who owned the same model of  CNC machine to produce the same identical violin plates.

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5 hours ago, Delabo said:

There are some luthiers who maintain that violins should be made entirely by hand in the same manner as Stradivari and Guarneri, and using similar primitive hand tools available at the time.

Another group have no problem using a mixture of hand tools and some electric tools that require human intervention, such as bandsaws, electric drills, and a dremel etc.

A third group believes that it is OK to use a  CNC machine that can be left to do the work while they do something else. These machines can be left to carve out violin plates and scrolls, and perhaps even other tasks. It is even suggested that the violin parts they make can be superior to hand made objects.

Personally, I believe that all three ways have there place. But the question that comes to mind is, should they all be sold for similar amounts of money ? And should the maker who uses a CNC to make his instruments be obliged to reveal to his customers that machinery was used in the making of their new purchase ? Also, does the maker who eschews modern ways feel that they are more in touch with the wood ?

Ethically the CNC users should sell their products for a lower price, however realistically seen the winner in a darwinistic market economy is the one who makes most profit for least efforts and twisting the truth. (Not only in violin making!) Unless not detected anything goes.

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3 hours ago, Delabo said:

But the question that comes to mind is, should they all be sold for similar amounts of money ?

What a maker can charge is based on the makers reputation.

I think if anybody was trying to decide, "should I use CNC?"  they might want to look into some of the makers with the highest reputation, and find out if they use CNC, and draw their own conclusions.

Or one could go to violin shops, and ask what their customers tend to prefer.

Or you could read this bit of advice regarding openly using CNC, from a fellow MNetter:

On 11/14/2018 at 9:31 PM, Johnmasters said:

You are assuming that the buyer knows how it was made,  aren't you?  Don't tell them.

...and decide if that's something you're comfortable with.

---------------------------------------------------------

4 hours ago, Delabo said:

should the maker who uses a CNC to make his instruments be obliged to reveal to his customers that machinery was used in the making of their new purchase ?

It's really all about relationships, either between the maker and a musician, or a maker and the shop he or she is working with.  I think it's just assumed the violin maker actually made the instrument in those cases...so unless you're comfortable with John Masters' idea of keeping people in the dark, I think people should know how it was made.  Won't they find out eventually anyway?  Are there makers who never have somebody come over for sound adjustment, or a repair?

5 hours ago, Delabo said:

Also, does the maker who eschews modern ways feel that they are more in touch with the wood ?

I think there are lots of great instruments to study, and books that study how they were made.  The relationship of tools and the end product to me, is very closely related...and the idea of razor sharp gouges making deliberate cuts is the cornerstone.  To just look at the end curves to make a line in free-space, and have a router cut it out...is...weird...to me anyway. 

I wouldn't necessarily say I'm more in touch with the wood...but I think there's more to the shape of an instrument than the shape itself...if that makes any sense.

---------------------------------------------------------------

The question I'd like to ask, is why the hell would anybody who doesn't like, or want to carve the wood, want to be a violin maker?

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3 minutes ago, Matthew Hannafin said:

What a maker can charge is based on the makers reputation.

And reputation is likely a result of consistently good sound and appearance, acquired over may years.  Or bad sound and appearance, for a bad reputation.

And then, sound and appearance is the result of knowledge and skill of the maker, including how to use the tools  (whatever they may be).

In the end, it's all about supply and demand for the pricing.  If there are buyers willing to pay a high price, there is nothing ethically wrong with charging it... except as follows:

I don't feel it is necessary to advertise the fact of using CNC, as if it was some cancer-causing chemical or allergy-causing nut.  Most buyers I don't think are concerned about that as much as the instrument itself and the reputation of the maker.  However, if a client is picky about machinery, they should ask, and the maker should be honest about the details.

 

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In the end, if you can't tell if it was made with the aid of technology or by hand, it doesn't matter. If Strad had a bandsaw and a router, none of us would be building violins. We would be busy repairing his workshop's instruments.

You can make an ugly, inefficient arch with a gouge or a CNC. 

I do think that one should work to master the use of hand tools and traditional methods in order to understand the process and the shapes before moving to something like a CNC.

I have also seen a CNC cut a chest patch and take potentially weeks off of the time required to do that patch, and probably give a better fit than MOST people could achieve.

Taylor Guitars was a pioneer in CNC technology in the guitar world. I remember seeing their big Fadal take a block of wood with an ebony fingerboard glued to it and carve a neck, flip it over, do the fret slots and inlay cavities, cut the neck joint, all in just a few minutes. Taylors didn't sell for less than the Martins that had all of that done by hand. I don't personally care for the Taylor sound, but that isn't the fault of the CNC.

If it is a good violin, it is a good violin, but I do like my hand tools. If I had the money, I would buy a CNC and experiment with it.

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Phrase "hand made" was, and still is widely accepted as a sinonim of added value for the customer in many fields of craft, art.... and is used or sometime missused for advertiseing purposes. That`s fine. The problem is that there is no consensius about the definition, what hand made or machine made means. And that is why topics like this one, which ocure on MN every now and than (just type "romantic" in the search field), bearing similar or identical titles usualy end up with the Mr. Holmes intervention:rolleyes:.

I do (too) belive that the honesty towards the client is important in this case. 

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4 hours ago, notsodeepblue said:

I hope I don't complicate your thread, but is your third group not really two separate groups?

Currently it seems to be the only place to put two rather different users of CNC (or similar) technologies - those who produce finished pieces (i.e. anything worked to the point that it only needs removing tooling marks etc., if anything further at all) , and those undertaking 'falsework' (i.e. rough-carving to a few mm tolerance) to achieve a transient state of the piece that will be processed further before it is finished. 

I see these as rather different, and would personally feel former could only ever be called 'hand finished' or 'machine made', but don't feel it is an appropriate label for the latter, which should be judged based on what happens next.

Agree, the third group should be split into two. In one group is maker who uses CNC but he is the one who dictates the program and with his own hand finishes every step, and the other group of those makers who "go to numbers" and just remove the toolmarks.

I would call those from first group clever enough to use the best tools available at their time. Didn't makers do it all the time? Just the sophistication level of tools was different in the past....

In this group, I would put folks like Tom Ellis, who does totally unbelieveable and incredible work using CNC like noone else in business though I don't like that he doesn't work with outside arch and just tunes graduations and tonebars, but on mandolins with more complicated neck joint adjusting that would not be simple and generally makers don't vary arching that much and spend more time selecting the best wood.

The second group of CNC users covers is what gets done at many modern instrument factories.

I did large repairs to a modern Gibson f-5 mandolin that showed whole lot of the "bad side" of CNC use - the outside was sanded by unskilled guy, in many places edges extremely uneven. The arch was cut very asymmetric - someone didn't manage to put the wood into machine well aligned and f holes were also shifted badly. Inside was not even sanded all the way, just the areas visible through f holes and the list could go on... CNC couldn't compensate for lack of skill.

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

I don't feel it is necessary to advertise the fact of using CNC, as if it was some cancer-causing chemical or allergy-causing nut.  Most buyers I don't think are concerned about that as much as the instrument itself and the reputation of the maker.  However, if a client is picky about machinery, they should ask, and the maker should be honest about the details.

 

Don, from my expirience, buyers are not concerned, but many times interested in the process of instrument making, wanting to see the workshop, debate about the individual making phases, wood, varnish etc. It is usually a pleasure to show them around, explain a thing or two. We usualy want people to know about our work, preferences, methods, tools, views... It helps them to understand, gain knowladge about the instruments thay use, and to decide if they want to be our clients or not. So I don`t see why should the informations about some parts of ones making process should be avaliable on demand only. As stated, CNC is just another tool, nothing more.

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1 hour ago, Delabo said:

How about the suggestion that a CNC blade rips the wood fibres ?

Possibly significant if you roughed out plates on the CNC and then varnished them.  Presumably most CNC users at least do some final surface cleanup by hand.

This "suggestion" looks like a Luddite myth generated to support their anti-machinery feelings.

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1 hour ago, Marijan Radaljac said:

Don, from my expirience, buyers are not concerned, but many times interested in the process of instrument making, wanting to see the workshop, debate about the individual making phases, wood, varnish etc.

...

So I don`t see why should the informations about some parts of ones making process should be avaliable on demand only. 

I have only had a few clients visit, and so far none of them have expressed much interest in seeing the shop (which is in the garage of my house).  If they did, I'd be happy to show them.  I don't think they need to "demand" information, just ask about it if they're interested.  One would expect a "hand made only" oriented client to ask about it.

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28 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Possibly significant if you roughed out plates on the CNC and then varnished them.  Presumably most CNC users at least do some final surface cleanup by hand.

This "suggestion" looks like a Luddite myth generated to support their anti-machinery feelings.

 

 I am not so sure it is a myth. If a powerful CNC was programmed to work faster and take out deeper cuts, it could easily be damaging underlying fibers. After all, lignin glues the fibers together, so why would not strong vibration tear them apart below the surface.

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53 minutes ago, Delabo said:

 

 I am not so sure it is a myth. If a powerful CNC was programmed to work faster and take out deeper cuts, it could easily be damaging underlying fibers. After all, lignin glues the fibers together, so why would not strong vibration tear them apart below the surface.

And you are sure that would be bad for the sound? I thought strong vibration was meant to be a good thing ... accelerated "playing in" and all that ...

 :P

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

I don't feel it is necessary to advertise the fact of using CNC, as if it was some cancer-causing chemical or allergy-causing nut.  Most buyers I don't think are concerned about that as much as the instrument itself and the reputation of the maker.  However, if a client is picky about machinery, they should ask, and the maker should be honest about the details.

I disagree on this point.  I think a lot of people in the market for a nice instrument made by a "violin maker" sort of just expect that it's a traditional violin they're buying.  I would even go so far as to say it's a pleasure to them knowing it's hand-made.  (I think) we're talking about the violin market here for conservatory and beyond level instruments.  So at those price levels...sure...some people don't care...but some might be unimpressed that they just shelled out for something a CNC router made.

Reputation is everything...and the image in peoples minds of a CNC router banging things out for you is a tough one to shake...obviously not for Bob Taylor...or people wanting to buy an $800 guitar...but for a serious person in the violin market....we need a CNC router to do our carving?  For the prices people pay?

2 hours ago, HoGo said:

I would call those from first group clever enough to use the best tools available at their time. Didn't makers do it all the time? Just the sophistication level of tools was different in the past....

What is unsophisticated about a skilled workman using razor sharp hand tools efficiently?

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I don't want to see the classical design and small features get lost and the whole knowledge base get rounded off or dumbed down.  But I would like to see listening tests where the best modern factory instruments are compared with the best old world violins or best modern individual makers.  Then if you want to pay an extra $18,000 for completely hand-made, cool.

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2 hours ago, martin swan said:

And you are sure that would be bad for the sound? I thought strong vibration was meant to be a good thing ... accelerated "playing in" and all that ...

 :P

Yeah, you might have a point there, dead violins do come alive after being vibrated.  :P

PS: Could you check your PM's.

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Ok,  I am a player, and not a maker. If I buy a factory instrument, I know it was made by multiple hands, with lots of machinery. The varnish may or may not have been applied by one person with a paintbrush(or whatever a maker uses)or it might’ve been put on with a guy with a spraygun. The degree of “factory” Will be reflected in the final workmanship.

If I buy, for instance, a bow from Arcos Brazil, or a cello from the William Harris Lee shop, I know that multiple hands were again involved, but the bulk of the finish work-the most important part-was done by the maker who’s name is on the label, or whose stamp is on the bow. And again, no problem. But if I am paying 40 grand for a fine instrument from a makers bench, I want that instrument to have been made by that maker. I asked recently how many makers made their own purfling after having been astonished to find that David did not. But every other aspect of his instruments was done by his hand without any machinery, except perhaps a bandsaw he used to cut the slices of the logs.

In a recent chat I had with David, he pooh-poohed the instruments of a particular modern maker on the grounds that he had “used a machine to cut the tops.” I’m not sure exactly what he said, nor exactly what he was referring to, But the cello I own was 100% made by the maker(purfling aside.) I would have been unhappy with the price if I found out later that it was a community effort, or that some kind of replicating machine Had done a lot of the work.

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We could have a whole laundry list of power tools that may or may not be used by a maker, and may or may  not be of importance to a potential buyer...

Bandsaw vs. handsaw, power jointer vs handplane, spindle sander vs gouge for shaping corner blocks, router vs handcut purfling channels, handmade vs pre-made purfling, scroll saw vs hand saw for roughing the F-holes, etc. etc. in addition to the question of CNC or not to CNC.  Not to mention the use of hired hands to perform some of the less demanding operations.

I wouldn't keep any of these things a secret, but neither would I print up a disclaimer sheet to hand out specifying all these details.  I think the buyer needs to ask, if it's of importance to them.

 

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

I think the buyer needs to ask, if it's of importance to them.

:blink: Welcome to the computer age I guess.

Buying a violin can be a very stressful time for a musician.  They really don't need another potential land-mine of finding out their lovely violin is just another machine made piece.

Next, I feel like so many great makers from history, and alive today, have tried to educate, and elevate the craft...it feels like a kick in the shins to expect musicians to weed through whats a fine hand-made instrument, and what's made by the lovely apprentice DeWalt, and scraped smooth by the chap on the label.

Furthermore, why is it fair to expect musicians to even know what a CNC is?  Every music store they've probably been in talks about nice hand-made instruments as upgrade instruments for down the road.   That's what they're expecting when they are looking at an upper level instruments that day down the road.

When I order a cup of tea, I don't ask if it comes in a cup...my whole life it's been an unspoken rule that it comes in a cup.  How would I know if something changed and all of the sudden the cup must be asked for?

 

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42 minutes ago, Matthew Hannafin said:

When I order a cup of tea, I don't ask if it comes in a cup...my whole life it's been an unspoken rule that it comes in a cup.  How would I know if something changed and all of the sudden the cup must be asked for?

 That is very funny, and an excellent way of stating that point. 

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