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Hand made versus machine made violins


Delabo
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7 hours ago, David Burgess said:

I don't see any twisting of facts by Delabo. Just a different perspective.

OK, I didn't use proper wording (english is not my language). Someone else told it better that the phrase "machine made violins" suggests somewhat exaggerated involvement of machines. There is no such thing in this world as machine made violin, IMHO (perhaps only the 3D printed objects resembling violin could be called that but I wouldn't call that violin). It's kind of misnomer. What if the maker uses CNC to rough carve parts to save time for the final steps like getting the best tone, finish and setup that are more important to musician and does it in such way that no one can tell the difference after he went over each mm of the wood with his hand tools (like no one can tell how the rest of the tree was removed from your back wedges).

I fully understand the Delabo's feeling, I'm still making instruments completely by hand (except electric drill) and even most of the hand tools and fixtures I'm using I made myself (thumbplanes, some gouges, knives, purfling cutters etc.). I even hauled my wood from forest and split / cut / dried it myself, I prepare the bone and other materials myself, haven't bought a pre-made part ever. Heck I'm even dovetailing the bone edge protectors on my mandolins - perhaps I'm the last dinosaur doing this in mandolin world doing this. I could be called romantic luddite as well.

So I understand that view, but I see it becoming obsolete in (probably not very near) future . No crying can help. Times are achanging and we can do little about it and figting it may be futile. Better to discover ways how this change is going to help us improve the instrument maing just like computers did in quite recent past (in making all the valuable information about old masters available, and allowng all the research involving computer analysis) or such simple thing as electricity did many decades ago....

But at the same time I understand the new technology and I'm in the process of building my own CNC - I personally designed it in CAD and it's already welded from steel profiles (by my friend who is professional welder, but I'm the supervisor of the whole project), not just assembling pre-made parts together. I'm also going to program the controller board to suit my needs (and my friends' who also makes all kinds of wooden objects, gunstocks etc.) and I'll do all the electric wiring as well. And of course I will be the one who will create the programs cutting any parts on it once it is finished. There will be no CNC work introduced in the parts buiilding, just old school 19/20th century machinery - lathe, router, drillpress, so can I call it hand-made CNC? I have not decided yet if I will really use it for instrument parts but I know it will be easily capable of doing it to highest level.

All this talk reminds me of wars around synthetic versus natural diamonds. The technology approaches state when it is nearly impossible to tell them apart. What will be in future when they become identical in all respects?

If I hold and instrument that shows no sign of any machine tool anywhere inside and out, bears label of a real maker (that uses CNC) and looks  and plays like great master instrument is it a master instrument?. Only the market will decide how much will this instrument be worth to buyers. We can discuss ad nauseam and never find the answer.

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On 11/17/2018 at 11:17 AM, Delabo said:

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 ?

My comment about the ignorance of most buyers was directed to this point, because if the buyer asks about working methods the maker or dealer cannot legally lie or mislead, whereas he or she can legally stay silent.The ignorance of buyers, of violin teachers who advise them, and the difficulty of learning about violins, combine to throw a lot of trust onto the selling side of the trade.

If I am buying a copy of Strad credibly believed not to be regraduated, as I have, and the maker tells me that he has good casts and thickness records, has chosen wood which in his skilled opinion will suit, and he thinks that the closest approximation to arching and graduation can be achieved by machine work--why not? However, a buyer might want to know such things, and if buyers were better informed they should be asking the right questions, and honest makers would not need this kind of conversation, asking themselves how much they ought to disclose, even without being asked, about use of automated machines, workshop assistants, or bought-in parts and instruments.

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8 hours ago, David Burgess said:

That's kinda what goes on at the better violin-making competitions. So it's not like such information is completely unavaible.

I don´t believe, that competitions make the thing much better

1) some of the most successful contemporary makers ( judged by highest-level musicians under real life-conditions ) like Greiner and Schleske never won such competitions ( may be they never participated ) while some winners later seem not to play any important role in the equipements of leading musicians/soloists.

2) just some weeks ago we could read here about the ridiculous consistency of judges in VSA-competition

3) While sometimes winners win several competitions on the first ranks, the later following ranks (~ 20.-100.) would not be meaningful/comparable for a general ranking of all living makers as wanted by John London

3) I doubt, if in competitions is publicly explained, which points made a judgement and if the OP-question was touched/ examined in any way

4) I know, some MNetters don´t like it : the value of a violin is mainly determinated by sound and namely by a mixture of highest-level evaluated soundquality and a broad more simple-levelled averaged sound-perception . Competitions normally make too little efforts to display this complicated sound-topic and therefore easily will fail. Normal musical life by and by will do the real evaluations and will give the real value of makers work - most probable quite differing from competitions-results.

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Amidst the cries of "luddite", a strange reality beckons. We seem to be observing  the grey haired veterans of the violin fraternity behaving like  turkeys voting for Christmas. It is looking remarkably like a race to the bottom. It took  hundreds of years for the secret of Stradivari to work its strange spell, and now it is being demolished in one short generation.

To watch a master such as Davide Sora work is a thing of beauty. To watch a video of a CNC doing its devastating work - ripping  the wood fibers is brutal.

I believe that to throw away the romanticism of violin making could well be a costly mistake that can never be undone.

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I posted this on the other 'Betts' thread. I agree with Delabo. The acquiring of a violin is not a cold impassionate, calculated decision, unless as an unplayng investment. I am full aware that even early violin were routed out, but the bulk of the work was by skilled hands. It boils down to a question of price as has been aired already. Any factory instrument (even e.g. Paesold I would imagine) has a certain 'machine' input into the making. but if I expect my customers to spend in excess of £10000 I would expect it to be  thoroughly hand made , even if apprentices do the initial work! Grey haired veterans, yes indeed, but such as have been selling violins for decades and instinctively understand the mystique surrounding the violin buying process and the bond that is so often established between the player and the instrument.

"   I am sure many of you have sold a good violin to an excited 18 year old grade 7/8 player! They go through an agonising trial of the 6 - 8 violins that I put out for them (both modern and old) Come the moment of truth when 'the' violin is chosen, the ecstatic face, even a hugging gesture - this is 'my' violin and I'll call it ..."virginia' or anna or tony - whatever!

Then the equally excited parents who have just shelled out £1000s - 'so where was it made, by whom, how are violins made, why is it called a Strad copy? I have recounted the Schonbach/Saxon/Miracourt story so many times and each time they hang on my words just thirsting for the mystique and lore which goes with that unique instrument we call a violin. Sometimes I will spend an hour just explaining the story of violin and always to appreciative ears.

The very thought of a computer controlled CNC churning out clones would spoil it all!

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The things that attract a violin purchaser are (in any order):

  • the reputation of the maker (awards, judgeships, recommendations)
  • appearance (workmanship, varnish, antiquing, wood selection, etc.)
  • sound and performance (range, playability, feel, etc.)

How it was made is usually the hangup of a competing luthier upset that another maker is "cheating" by using automation.  Isn't that pretty much the definition of Luddite?

 

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28 minutes ago, Delabo said:

To watch a master such as Davide Sora work is a thing of beauty. To watch a video of a CNC doing its devastating work - ripping  the wood fibers is brutal.

Emotional much about a machine?

4 minutes ago, reg said:

The very thought of a computer controlled CNC churning out clones would spoil it all!

Then don't think about it so much.

Yeah, these are pretty flippant remarks by me... but decrying the way things are (and seem to be going) appears as if one's personal emotional state about the subject is a justification to blast any other attitudes.  Sounds like Luddites to me.

Personally, I too am in awe of Davide's methods and skill, as well as other masters who I know have tool skills beyond fabulous.  I am glad they exist, and I'm sure that craftsmen like them will continue to emerge.

On the other hand, technology of all sorts will continue to go wherever it goes, and it won't go there if nobody wants to go with it.  You don't have to deal with it if you don't want to, but neither is it reasonable to try to stop it because you personally don't like it.

 

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Michael and Don,

It's pretty clear that no makers are standing in your way of doing whatever you want.  Nobody is crying out for you to stop using CNC.  It's fine to go along with whatever technology you want.

All I'm trying to say, is that some musicians will care how it was made.  That seems to be the point where you've ran away with technology and never stopped to ask if it will impact anything more than the intrinsic instrument.

Frankly, I think some bad logic has been used to think CNC will be respected just like any other tool in a luthiers collection.

The idea of apprentices doing some work for master makers for example.  Just because you've used the logic of many hands making an instrument, to justify CNC in your minds, doesn't mean the musicians will see it that way.  The apprentice/master relationship was for centuries how knowledge and skill were passed down, it forms a lineage, many people have probably visited a luthiers shop and have seen apprentices working.  While it's true a CNC maker will have the "many hands" aspect, there is no passing of knowledge or skill, and a machine humming away will be very different from seeing an apprentice that's a real person who's learning their craft.  Again, all of these logical conclusions of thinking only other makers will care what you're using, could very easily put some potential customers off your work from the start.

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28 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

On the other hand, technology of all sorts will continue to go wherever it goes, and it won't go there if nobody wants to go with it.  You don't have to deal with it if you don't want to, but neither is it reasonable to try to stop it because you personally don't like it.

I absolutly agree, it`s just a different level of making, step away if you dont`t like it.

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4 hours ago, HoGo said:

 

I fully understand the Delabo's feeling, I'm still making instruments completely by hand (except electric drill) and even most of the hand tools and fixtures I'm using I made myself (thumbplanes, some gouges, knives, purfling cutters etc.). I even hauled my wood from forest and split / cut / dried it myself, I prepare the bone and other materials myself, haven't bought a pre-made part ever. Heck I'm even dovetailing the bone edge protectors on my mandolins - perhaps I'm the last dinosaur doing this in mandolin world doing this. I could be called romantic luddite as well.

So I understand that view, but I see it becoming obsolete in (probably not very near) future . No crying can help. Times are achanging and we can do little about it and figting it may be futile. Better to discover ways how this change is going to help us improve the instrument maing just like computers did in quite recent past (in making all the valuable information about old masters available, and allowng all the research involving computer analysis) or such simple thing as electricity did many decades ago....

I see it quite differently. Look at the surge in popularity of TV shows about hand-forging knives and swords; remodeling houses; fixing up or customizing cars; living on an isolated homestead in Alaska, improvising much of what they need; shows about survival in the wilderness. I think there are many people who have found "modern life" (or working in a cubicle) so unfulfilling, that there is a clambering to "get back to the basics".

At one time, when I said that I was a violin maker, people were mostly indifferent, or even described it as "blue collar" work, with a dismissive attitude. Now, it seems to generate a high level of excitement or interest.

A friend of mine who was a truck driver recently quit is job. Why? He said that with all the electronics, automatic transmissions, a computer telling him exactly when he could and couldn't drive, the job had gotten too disconnected from what he had once loved about the job. He's now working in construction.

3 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

3) I doubt, if in competitions is publicly explained, which points made a judgement and if the OP-question was touched/ examined in any way

Then you are simply uninformed. At the most recent VSA Competitions, competitors could sign up for personal evaluations from the judges. And the Competition chairman gave a detailed presentation on how the judging is done, and why it is done that way.

Nathan Geim, the concertmaster of the Hungarian Radio Orchestra (and a fabulous player) gave a presentation in which he demonstrated a dozen or so violins from the competition, describing in detail exactly what he liked and didn't like about each one, and demonstrating and highlighting the differences in how they played, sounded and responded. Amazingly informative!

I don't recall a presentation on the use of CNC in violin making, but Steve Rossow (who probably has more knowledge and experience with this than anyone) was present at the convention. He's quite approachable and easy to talk to, has been a regular at the Oberlin workshop, and is also one of the teachers at the Red Wing school. There's vastly more going on at these conventions than just the scheduled presentations, if one wants to take advantage of it. I could go on and on about that.

 

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7 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

A friend of mine who was a truck driver recently quit is job. Why? He said that with all the electronics, automatic transmissions, a computer telling him exactly when he could and couldn't drive, the job had gotten too disconnected from what he had once loved about the job. He's now working in construction.

Good, last minute decision I would say. GPS driven, driverless trucks are coming... :huh:

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49 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

I see it quite differently. Look at the surge in popularity of TV shows about hand-forging knives and swords; remodeling houses; fixing up or customizing cars; living on an isolated homestead in Alaska, improvising much of what they need; shows about survival in the wilderness. I think there are many people who have found "modern life" (or working in a cubicle) so unfulfilling, that there is a clambering to "get back to the basics".

Sure, making violins is a romantic and respected role for various good reasons. Even making shoes the traditional way has some cachet (the trade to which actor Daniel Day Lewis is said to have moved after retiring from films). It would be fun to have a hand-made Bristol motor car in the garage. If I need a car or a motorcycle to do a job reliably and effectively, I'd pick a small Toyota or a small Honda. And hand-made shoes costing thousands? Most people would never know the difference. I can spot hand-made shoes because I appreciate hand work, and I know they fit and last well, yet the shoes I choose to wear were mass-produced in Thailand.

A hand-made violin is nice as a romantic gesture. It is great that the tradition lives, and that there are customers who will pay for it. When making a violin or a car or a pair shoes for someone who just needs it to work, does it really matter?

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11 minutes ago, John_London said:

Sure, making violins is a romantic and respected role for various good reasons. Even making shoes the traditional way has some cachet (the trade to which actor Daniel Day Lewis is said to have moved after retiring from films). It would be fun to have a hand-made Bristol motor car in the garage. If I need a car or a motorcycle to do a job reliably and effectively, I'd pick a small Toyota or a small Honda. And hand-made shoes costing thousands? Most people would never know the difference. I can spot hand-made shoes because I appreciate hand work, and I know they fit and last well, yet the shoes I choose to wear were mass-produced in Thailand.

A hand-made violin is nice as a romantic gesture. It is great that the tradition lives, and that there are customers who will pay for it. When making a violin or a car or a pair shoes for someone who just needs it to work, does it really matter?

Some people prefer to have both. And it may not even cost any extra, if one plays their cards right. If one buys right and sells right (sure, a little luck might be involved) one can basically have use and ownership of a very expensive violin for free. Or even make a profit.

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No doubt some big making competition winners had some CNC somewhere.   I'd hate for little old me to have to convince a customer my violin is better than it because I didn't use it. 

TV shows, when I see the Alaska one, my thought isn't envy, it's that I'm glad I'm warm and inside.  When you're really roughing it, the first thing that hits you is visceral understanding of why individuals formed communities, why and how those communities made things as easy on themselves as possible, incl. technological progress, not for fun but in desperation, leading to the plenty that we enjoy today.  Happy Thanksgiving.  lol.

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On 11/17/2018 at 8:20 AM, Andreas Preuss said:

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.

Don't worry,  with so many violins available,  the prices should drop eventually.   And for sure,  the market for very decent violins will decrease as the Chinese products improve.  

I am reminded of the exhoribant fees charged by surgeons and even regular physicians.  They claim they charge for their understanding and not for the time spent.  

 

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On 11/17/2018 at 3:17 AM, 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 ?

I still say that you have not used a CNC or tried to set up a system to do all that work "for free."

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8 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

No doubt some big making competition winners had some CNC somewhere.   I'd hate for little old me to have to convince a customer my violin is better than it because I didn't use it. 

TV shows, when I see the Alaska one, my thought isn't envy, it's that I'm glad I'm warm and inside.  When you're really roughing it, the first thing that hits you is visceral understanding of why individuals formed communities, why and how those communities made things as easy on themselves as possible, incl. technological progress, not for fun but in desperation, leading to what we enjoy today.

Some people enjoy challenges, and get bored with the same-old same-old, or aren't interested in being like everybody else.

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On 11/17/2018 at 4:39 PM, Don Noon said:

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.

 

I agree,  but then again as a person of science background,  I am mentally part engineer.

And besides,  WHAT IS SPECIAL AS HANDMADE,  AND WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?  I say a violin is mind-made and any way you remove the unneeded wood is OK.  The outcome is what is produced.

 

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I am not set in stone one way or the other. I have my preferred working methods and tools, that may change at some point, who knows.

What I find interesting is, the heated exchange about handmade and power tools vs none, which ones are ok and which ones cross the line.

Mainly because several trades, professions, crafts, are going somewhat the opposite way, Furniture making, Boots, Hats, Tools, for example have for the longest time been a factory and production endeavor. Over the last several years these and others have been getting farther and farther away from power tools and mass production and have been focusing more on quality over quantity.

Recently read where the guys at Mortise and tenon magazine built a new shop and did not add lighting. When the sun goes down they are done for the day. I couldn't function that way, some of my favorite times to work is in evening and at night. Just the way they wanted to do things.

I have noticed that it seems to be accepted and even expected that some use certain tools and some don't, Some are hand tool purists and some aren't. A lot don't really argue about or carry on about it or begrudge the other. For the most part they seem to respect one another based on the merit of the work itself and recognize that in a lot of ways the tools give a feel or a result to the work that other tools don't.

If you are using sheet goods, you are likely going to use a table saw. If you do a lot of mortise and tenon work you may use a mortice machine.

Some really care about the tools that where used, but a lot don't. A lot don't look at the things we do an obsess about. Then again a lot do.

I am having a hard time understanding why it has to be an either or...

I am having a hard time comprehending the perceived notion that using a particular tool or not using it somehow automatically leads to deceiving the customer or client.

They are tools, no matter what tools you use, most will judge you based on the finished product. Regardless of the tools you use your finished product will not appeal to everyone.

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16 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Some people enjoy challenges, and get bored with the same-old same-old, or aren't interested in being like everybody else.

Small challenges within the overriding context I described.  If you go from driving a truck (or flying a plane) to carpentry it's not because technology ruined everything, it's because you think it will be easier.

 

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Well - there's obviously a hierarchy.

Both a Ford Fiesta and a Lamborghini will function to get you to and from the grocery store - or to dinner at Rideau Hall.

And I'm sure the CEO of Ford and the CEO of Lamborghini are each making a decent wage.

What's the hierarchy for violins - and where do you want to be on that hierarchy?

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14 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

Small challenges within the overriding context I described.  Sure, there's somebody somewhere who was sane who went totally off the grid somewhere for a little while.  But he didn't live that way forever, unless he had real problems, incl. most likely being on the run :)   If you go from driving a truck (or flying a plane) to carpentry it's not because technology ruined it, it's because you think it will be easier.

Easier than sitting all day? Or might there be more to it?

I didn't just make up the thing about the truck driver. He felt that the level of driver-involvment, and self determination had gotten too low to interest him any more.

How much time does a commercial pilot spend on auto-pilot, compared to the time actually spent in manual control of the plane? How appealing might it be to go home after work, and actually make something?

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22 minutes ago, Johnmasters said:

I still say that you have not used a CNC or tried to set up a system to do all that work "for free."

This is the bit that puzzles me. I am not even convinced it is about a CNC machine doing the roughing out that apprentices once did. These machines do not seem to be any quicker at doing the job than a well trained man or woman (watch how fast Chinese ladies work) can do. Its noisy and intrusive with dust to deal with. It looks more like "boys and there toys" to me. A substitute for the Mechano set of long gone childhood days. :)

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17 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Easier than sitting all day? Or might there be more going on? 

When you give up sitting all day, you will soon realize how good you had it, unless you're doing the equivalent.  You might make your little excursions up Mt. Everest, or think you envy it in movies, but the desire of the human animal is to be simply able to sit all day.  It is the point farthest from brutal survival.

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