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Delabo

Hand made versus machine made violins

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56 minutes ago, Mampara said:

My superpower is patience, I finished reading this whole thread end to end. It was painful but interesting. It doesn't really matter how you make your violins as long as you keep producing good quality instruments. Its the only way to keep good music going and save the world from noise pollution aka rap music!

I agree that how a violin is made does not matter, very fine violins can be made by CNC.

What does matter is clearly informing the eventual purchaser of the violin as to where the violin was made (country of origin) and the method used in its construction ( entirely hand made or CNC). To the credit of many of the makers of violins who post here they have sussed up and admitted that they are now using CNC's in the construction. I see no need to say on a label that the violin was made using a CNC as it looks as though the majority will soon all be made that way. I think it is very important for those makers who continue to construct violins entirely by hand to clearly label that it is handmade from start to finish. The certificate should unequivocally make this clear, and perhaps makers will have to  somehow prove that this is true. Perhaps even joining a guild of luthiers who continue to use classical violin construction methods.

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10 hours ago, Don Noon said:

It would almost certainly be a lot of straight lines, as we are dealing with approximately point loading, and curves are pre-buckled and tend to buckle more easily.  If I find myself with a lot of time to kill, I might try one just for laughs... I'd bet it will sound like crap.

Thanks,   I will think about it.

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If instruments were to be built out of materials that are homogeneous and consistent then perhaps a computer controlled process could consistently make good violins.  Unfortunately, wood is not homogeneous and is not consistence.  The shape and the arching and the graduations are influenced by the inhomogeneous wood,  so any computer controlled process would have to be able inherently to compensate for the lack of homogeneity in the wood.  This is one place where the talents of an expert violin maker come into the fore.  Feeling the wood, hefting it, flexing it, listening to it, feeling how the tools and wood interact when working the wood, etc., etc. are what the expert human violin maker does with the hands to guide the making process.  None of these aspects have been reduced to numerical data usable by a computer program.

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Thought I would join in....  here's a picture of my CNC machine.   it's the single blade hand powered model

platecarving.jpg

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3 hours ago, gowan said:

...Feeling the wood, hefting it, flexing it, listening to it, feeling how the tools and wood interact when working the wood, etc., etc. are what the expert human violin maker does with the hands to guide the making process.  None of these aspects have been reduced to numerical data usable by a computer program.

This is a nice, romantic vision of expert violinmakers.  However, there's still a long way to  go to make a convincing case that this method of work is an actual cause for good results.  A correlation might certainly be found... but that could well be due to the tendency for experienced makers to avoid CNC, and CNC users to lack experience making good violins... which has been my observation.

You could also consider the Goldsmith method... make it thick, and then modify it later when you really know what you have and what needs to be done to make it better... which doesn't seem to require that touchy-feely process.

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14 hours ago, Don Noon said:

This is a nice, romantic vision of expert violinmakers.  However, there's still a long way to  go to make a convincing case that this method of work is an actual cause for good results.  A correlation might certainly be found... but that could well be due to the tendency for experienced makers to avoid CNC, and CNC users to lack experience making good violins... which has been my observation.

You could also consider the Goldsmith method... make it thick, and then modify it later when you really know what you have and what needs to be done to make it better... which doesn't seem to require that touchy-feely process.

Yes, I suppose the "touchy-feely" approach is a romantic vision but that approach was pretty much all that makers had 250 years ago.  CNC might be seen as  a step in the evolution of tools.   Another romantic idea is that a hand made object carries some of the character/personality of the maker.  Perhaps that is what makes people pay a lot for instruments bench made by a single person when excellent instruments can be found for a lot less money that were made in a production shop environment.  

As for the Goldsmith method, maybe some of the "touchy-feely" stuff is involved in knowing what you have and what needs to be done to improve it.  I have no problem with using CNC  for some of the job of making violins.  CNC is especially useful now, it seems, in physically demanding aspects (e.g. gouging out the maple back of a cello) or in making copies of a particular pattern.  I don't see, at present, how CNC can deal with "on the fly" adjustments needed in working with, say, variations of local density of the wood.

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1 hour ago, gowan said:

I don't see, at present, how CNC can deal with "on the fly" adjustments needed in working with, say, variations of local density of the wood.

Maybe I'm just not experienced enough... but as yet with my 30 hand-carved instruments, I haven't noticed any local density variations that I thought needed adjustments in arching or graduations.  Even the knots and wormholes are more of a planning or repair task, rather than arching/grad modifications.

Overall wood properties are a different issue, and I do select for wood properties when I start, based on what I want to do... and adjust overall thickness at the last step to get the weight/stiffness that seems right.  CNC won't change any that for me, as the initial arching can be specified based on the wood properties, and final adjustments will all be by hand.

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Similarly, I'm not aware of small variations in the wood affecting my plate thickness.  But I do flex the plates as a partial guide to final thinning of the plates.  I'm for sufficient overall flex, sufficient flex in certain places, like twist flex between upper soundhole eyes. But I'm also trying to get a sense of all small regions of the plate participating in flex in a basically smooth and even way.  And that can lead to somemore thinning in spots to loosen any area that stands out as too stiff.  I don't think of that work as about unequal wood properties in areas of the plate, but if there were such inequalities in a particular plate they wood likely affect this stage of work.  I just don't such variations are at all normal for the wood I use.

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On 7/24/2019 at 2:54 PM, Delabo said:

I think it is very important for those makers who continue to construct violins entirely by hand to clearly label that it is handmade from start to finish. The certificate should unequivocally make this clear, and perhaps makers will have to  somehow prove that this is true. Perhaps even joining a guild of luthiers who continue to use classical violin construction methods.

It would be very difficult to prove how any contemporary violin is made other than to video the whole process, but who would bother with that?
How many violinists care that much anyhow?  Still, if it was important to a violinist to have ‘proof’ they could request a video of construction, but I suspect most people would be more interested in owning a quality instrument than worrying about how it was made?
The ‘Two Cello” chaps often play Carbon-fiber instruments - would they really balk at a CNC instrument? Are the millions of people who watch their videos feeling cheated because their cellos weren’t made by chisels, or do they just enjoy the music?

I’m all for being honest and there is nothing to hide about using CNC. But as for certifying violins according to construction techniques - I just don’t see the point, nor do I see who would police that.
And should we have certificate to say if a bandsaw was used? What about if the maker didn’t mix her own varnish? Or what she bought the purfling, pegs and end pin rather than making them with her own hands?

I guess it boils down to if someone is buying a violin for it’s functionality only (in which case how it was made is irrelevant, so long as it is well made) or if the buyer  wants some history, story or mythology to go along with it; is it enough to ‘admire’ their violin for its sound, or do they need a story behind it?
It’s natural to admire handmade stuff over machine made stuff as ‘ handmade' reflects human skill, so ‘it was made by hand’ is a worthy story if a violinist requires that.

But then we have to decide what is ‘legitimate’ in terms of ‘handmade.’
Should we accept art and craft may be a collaboration rather than the work of one individual hand? We can collaborate with other people, or with tools.    
(Jeff Koons conceives his art work but then has staff produce his ideas. So is his art really ‘his’ art?).

Ultimately , I think it’s for each individual to decide what they deem important rather than trying to make artificial rules about creativity and fit everything into categorizes and classifications and then certify with certificates.
If it’s important for a violinist that their instrument was made without any power tools, they can simply buy an older instrument.

 

Edited by Guy Booth
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On 7/25/2019 at 3:31 PM, Don Noon said:

adjust overall thickness at the last step to get the weight/stiffness that seems right.  CNC won't change any that for me, as the initial arching can be specified based on the wood properties, and final adjustments will all be by hand.

Exactly...there seems to be some misconception that we can’t hand-finish stuff once it’s come off the CNC. I don’t know where that idea comes from.
It will be a long time (probably never) before my CAD/CNC skills are anywhere near good enough to get within a few millimeters of a finished plate, so I’ll be finishing by hand for sure. So can I then claim it’s a handmade violin? I don’t see why not as it's the finishing that ‘makes or breaks’ the instrument. Until that point, what difference does it make if roughed out by hand, drill press or CNC ?  

Edited by Guy Booth
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7 hours ago, gowan said:

 

Yes, I suppose the "touchy-feely" approach is a romantic vision but that approach was pretty much all that makers had 250 years ago.  CNC might be seen as  a step in the evolution of tools.   Another romantic idea is that a hand made object carries some of the character/personality of the maker.  Perhaps that is what makes people pay a lot for instruments bench made by a single person when excellent instruments can be found for a lot less money that were made in a production shop environment. 

It's lookin' like your definition of "excellence", and mine, may have taken rather different paths.

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14 hours ago, gowan said:

 

Yes, I suppose the "touchy-feely" approach is a romantic vision but that approach was pretty much all that makers had 250 years ago.  CNC might be seen as  a step in the evolution of tools.   Another romantic idea is that a hand made object carries some of the character/personality of the maker.  Perhaps that is what makes people pay a lot for instruments bench made by a single person when excellent instruments can be found for a lot less money that were made in a production shop environment.  

As for the Goldsmith method, maybe some of the "touchy-feely" stuff is involved in knowing what you have and what needs to be done to improve it.  I have no problem with using CNC  for some of the job of making violins.  CNC is especially useful now, it seems, in physically demanding aspects (e.g. gouging out the maple back of a cello) or in making copies of a particular pattern.  I don't see, at present, how CNC can deal with "on the fly" adjustments needed in working with, say, variations of local density of the wood.

Well,  don't forget that violnists are notoriously neurotic.  Violists,  not so much.   Do you make such adjustments for local densities in the wood?  Does that help,  or is that just a loose concept?"

I don't think that I have ever seen a top or back that varies significantly in density over the size of a violin or viola;  at least decent wood seems pretty uniform.  If it was NOT uniform,  I would not see good justification for leaving it slightly thicker in a small area.

As I said before,  an effective stiffess for mode 5 gives a good adjustment for a given piece of wood.  There is another measurment that I believe corresponds to Don's radiation ratio in a near-finished plate.  That would be the frequency of mode 5 divided by the mass.  For a spruce top,  I invariably get a superior result if this is 5 or more.  Much below 5,  and the sound is less alive and perhaps a bit muted.

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2 hours ago, Johnmasters said:

Well,  don't forget that violnists are notoriously neurotic.  Violists,  not so much.   

While I agree that violinists are probably at the top of the spectrum when it comes to neurosis among musicians, I just thought I'd share something one of the top NY violin makers back in the 80's said to me about how violists would drive him nuts. Basically, violinists wanted either a Strad model or a Del Gesu model, and there were always buyers for his violins. Violists, on the other hand, have no "standard" models in mind, and would drive him nuts with their nit-picking and rejecting off-hand details that didn't correlate to their particular preferences, and those could be all over the place!

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On the ‘touchy feely’ subject, there must be a correlation between how a plate flexes and vibrates when tapped and its acoustics, and I don’t discount that these qualities can be ‘felt’ in a rudimentary manner by a violin makers.
It’s a while since I’ve made a violin, but I remember I could certainly ’feel’ more ’life’ when tapping a finished plate compared to it in a earlier, thicker stage. I remember too there being a point when thinning a plate where it seemed to come ‘alive’ and suddenly seem to vibrate a whole lot more when a small amount of wood was removed. That was about where I stopped - for right or wrong.
I don’t discount the possibility of other violins makers being more sensitive to this ‘feel’, but I’m skeptical on that trasnslating into great instruments

Use decent wood, nice arching, and thickness to a ‘standard’ level and any plate is going to have ‘life’ in it. From that point, nobody knows if an extra quarter millimeter should be taken off or not, or if it’s a little too stiff here or there.

If the ‘touch-feely’ thing works (beyond a rudimentary level) and if there were an ‘ideal’ arching, rigidity and corresponding thickness for a given piece of wood, then it would be best to achieve that without any ‘hand’ feeling at all.
Rather than bending and twisting a plate by hand to gauge stiffness, you could simply make a rig that bends it mechanically to accurately measure the flex. That way you’d get an exact measurement and eliminate the variability of human senses.
But we don’t know exactly what we are aiming at in terms of plate characteristics to produce the ‘best’ instrument we can, so even this data won’t help much.

There is no ‘ideal’ to aim for, or ‘feel’ for, and so simply working a plate to within a range of what has worked in the past in terms of arching and thickness is our objective limit. We then have to wait until we string-up the instrument to know how it turns out.

It seems to me if you use great materials with great workmanship within a narrow range of geometry, you’ll end-up with a great instrument. Beyond controlling those parameters, there is little more we can do. If there was some proven and consistent means of improving things beyond that, the method would be out and we’d all be doing it.

I guess plate-tuning is one ‘means’ of trying to improve things objectively,  but it’s not proven. It’s just one more topic to debate!
If it did work, then the ‘touchy-feely’ means of finishing a plate would be pretty much out the window anyhow. You'd just work the plate to until achieving a set frequency Mode.

To me it seems odd when (some)  makers ascribe to doing everything by hand, and claim to have some initiate and sensitive feel that’s telling them how a plate should vibrate and flex, but then they switch to using a mechanical device or computer to determine and achieve a desired frequency tap-tone when finishing off the plate.
If they are going to use tap-tones, then surely a sensible way of making a plate would be CNC, followed by final thickening to the desired mode tab-tone? No touch-feely stuff required! 

 

Edited by Guy Booth
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This thread and the one it spawned from have pretty much established that a CNC violin can be every bit the equal of a hand made violin.

It is also clear that a great many luthiers are now using CNC machines, or will be utilising them very shortly. It is also a fact that it is extremely hard to distinguish a well made CNC violin from a hand made one.

So will CNC violins ever attain the monetary status of a top hand made violin ?

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2 hours ago, Delabo said:

This thread and the one it spawned from have pretty much established that a CNC violin can be every bit the equal of a hand made violin.

It is also clear that a great many luthiers are now using CNC machines, or will be utilising them very shortly. It is also a fact that it is extremely hard to distinguish a well made CNC violin from a hand made one.

All this is highly speculative, and is very much lacking in proof, currently.

While I do know of a few semi-successful makers who are using CNC, I don't know of any "to die for" makers who are doing that.

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

All this is highly speculative, and is very much lacking in proof, currently.

While I do know of a few semi-successful makers who are using CNC, I don't know of any "to die for" makers who are doing that.

Would you be able to see the tell tell signs that a violin has been partly made by CNC and then finished by hand ?

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6 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

The to die for would keep it secret, else they would be dead.

 

Have you heard any rumors ?

You can tell me, I wont pass it on, and no one else is reading this :lol:

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

All this is highly speculative, and is very much lacking in proof, currently.

While I do know of a few semi-successful makers who are using CNC, I don't know of any "to die for" makers who are doing that.

Give it time! I doubt there are many people ‘seriously’ using CNC to make violins at this stage? My guess would be that it’s mainly hobbyists currently using it and they aren’t as likely to be making top class violins no matter what tools they use.   

So while handmade violins might be currently “superior,” I doubt that demostrates any inherent inferiority of craving with CNC as opposed to a chisels.  Wait until there are as many makers using CNC with a few decades experience as there are doing it by hand and then we will have a fair comparison.

Do you think you could ‘hear’ if a violin was made with CNC if listening blindfolded?

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20 hours ago, Michael Appleman said:

While I agree that violinists are probably at the top of the spectrum when it comes to neurosis among musicians, I just thought I'd share something one of the top NY violin makers back in the 80's said to me about how violists would drive him nuts. Basically, violinists wanted either a Strad model or a Del Gesu model, and there were always buyers for his violins. Violists, on the other hand, have no "standard" models in mind, and would drive him nuts with their nit-picking and rejecting off-hand details that didn't correlate to their particular preferences, and those could be all over the place!

Ha Ha !!  That is a new piece of information for me.  Most of my violas were sold to advancing students,  and I never had complaints.  So this is new to me...   I would explain how certain things were compromises,  such as broader bodies for a given length.  I tried to keep the string length down a bit from standard sizes by enlarging the lower bouts a very small amount.  It seemed to give good results.

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Violists, on the other hand, have no "standard" models in mind, and would drive him nuts with their nit-picking and rejecting off-hand details that didn't correlate to their particular preferences, and those could be all over the place!

One maker I knew, years back, took advantage of that. While he'd make anything for somebody reasonable, rather than hassle with customers, he made mostly violas and consigned them through the shops of people he knew. His experience being that, no matter how any given individual one turned out, given enough exposure, somebody was bound to play it and exclaim, "At last !  True viola sound !"

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Question: When you make a CNC violin,  Is the left half identical to the right half,  or do you program them to be slightly different?  If you do, then aren't you trying to aspire to something hand done and necessarily imperfect. And if so, then isn't the imperfection the perfection that you are aspiring to? 

Just asking

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3 hours ago, MeyerFittings said:

Question: When you make a CNC violin,  Is the left half identical to the right half,  or do you program them to be slightly different?  If you do, then aren't you trying to aspire to something hand done and necessarily imperfect. And if so, then isn't the imperfection the perfection that you are aspiring to? 

Just asking

I’ll be making them the same right and left on the CNC. Why do you think it’s ‘perfect’ to be non-symmetrical? 
What do you even mean by ‘perfect’ anyhow? I simply want to make nice sounding, pretty violins, that people enjoy playing and hearing. That to me would be perfect! :)

There is no such thing as ‘perfect’ in terms of violin acoustics, so why assume we are ‘aspiring' to a non- tangible? Every Strad sounds different, so which is the ‘perfect’ one? 

As for the rib structure, that will still be made by hand - as accurately as I can - but no doubt there will be some variation from right to left and as I like to ‘match’ the plate outline to the ribs, I’ll still do the edge work and pufling channel by hand after trimming to the ribs - at least I’ll do it that way until I’m extremely accurate making ribs - and that might be never...will that be enough ‘imperfection’ to be ‘perfect?’ How much is required? 
I plan to use a heated blanket and gig to bend the ribs (as guitar makers do), rather than the traditional bending iron. To me that makes more sense in terms of accuracy and consistency. Just another example of changing technology. They never had electric blankets in the old days! 

 

Edited by Guy Booth

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