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jacklinks

One-piece backs generally command higher prices. True or False?

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Nothing scientific here, but it seems that prices of violins with one-piece backs fetch higher prices than those with two-piece backs. They are probably more aesthetically pleasing than two-piece backs, but I thought I have read that over the long haul, two-piece backs are structurally better.

So are one-piece backs better for some tangible reason, or do they just have more curb appeal?

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Not better, but it saves a lot of careful work making a nice joint, which in some ways can make it cheaper in the long run. A one piece does not cost that much more in comparison to a good two piece back, so the time saved makes good business sense.

Players do seem to prefer the look, and often think it provides a different quality over a two piece. This isn't true, but why fight them ;)

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Given the same wood quality, one-piece backs are more expensive. You need a bigger tree, perhaps there is a bigger  loss of wood in the cutting.

When I was in a wood dealer in Cremona decades ago I asked about one-piece backs and the guy answered that he sent them to his friends....

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5 hours ago, jacklinks said:

Nothing scientific here, but it seems that prices of violins with one-piece backs fetch higher prices than those with two-piece backs. They are probably more aesthetically pleasing than two-piece backs, but I thought I have read that over the long haul, two-piece backs are structurally better.

So are one-piece backs better for some tangible reason, or do they just have more curb appeal?

As others have noted, a well-cut 1-pc back is going to cost more than a similar 2-pc.  Most 1-pc backs I see are not perfectly quartered.  It's easier to find a well-quartered 2-pc, and that can be more stable over the long haul.

As for work savings:  naaah.  Making a good center joint doesn't take much time.  And then there is a nice centerline reference to use for later layouts.  The wedge-shape of the 2-pc is a lot closer to the final shape, and usually there's a lot more wood to hack off with a 1-pc.  So I personally think a 2-pc is less work in the end, but not by much.

There is absolutely no acoustic or structural benefit either way, as long as the joint is perfectly made and the wood is cut the same way.

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3 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

 ( ... )

There is absolutely no acoustic or structural benefit either way, as long as the joint is perfectly made and the wood is cut the same way.

There is no way to prove my hope-thesis... but i disagree, but not to a great degree.

The restrictive nature of laying out a one piece back can create a situation where, when scraping, the audible difference between one side is different from the mirror opposite area of the back. Due to limited funds, i have used less than perfect 1pc backs. It may not be that different from side to side but i expect that there are sonic consequences if makers are graduating to known thicknesses. I am sure the best makers intuit how each side should be finished... but not me, as i have not developed that touch or sensitivity.

The first time I breezed through Sacconi's book, i was surprised to see so much symmetry where my experience had been that most instruments were not. 

My huge generalization is that older 2pc backs "sound" stronger, not good or bad, than instruments with 1pc backs. It could also possibly be explained that older 2pc instruments have been restored more frequently than 1pc backed instruments? Perhaps Professor Buen has a database of 1pc vs 2pc backs...  most finer slab cut instruments are 1pc.

 I will have to go back and check some graduations, 1pc vs 2pc.   

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

As for work savings:  naaah.  Making a good center joint doesn't take much time.  And then there is a nice centerline reference to use for later layouts.  The wedge-shape of the 2-pc is a lot closer to the final shape, and usually there's a lot more wood to hack off with a 1-pc.  So I personally think a 2-pc is less work in the end, but not by much.

I will respectfully disagree here. Before I was a violin maker, I was a cabinet maker. I don't think I'm particularly slow at jointing a back, but it's certainly quicker not to have to do it.

I have never found the lack of a natural centre line to be a problem, but a pencil and scriber can take care of this.

As to how much more needs cut off, I guess that depends on how your backs arrive. If they are 1" thick boards, then yes, there is more to cut off. Mine all arrived like the usual rooftop shapes.

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I'm just a Cello teacher, but also respnsible for the rental Programme of the Music School I work at. Looking at all the old mainly Saxon violins, of which a considerable number have one piece backs, I get the Impression that joined backs are more stucturally stable than one piece backs, which often seem to warp more. I suspect that two joined bookmatched pieces of Wood will stabilise each other , as the tendencies for warping are in the opposite direction.

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2 hours ago, Dave Slight said:

As to how much more needs cut off, I guess that depends on how your backs arrive. If they are 1" thick boards, then yes, there is more to cut off. Mine all arrived like the usual rooftop shapes.

I have about a dozen of them, and NONE of them are the usual rooftop shapes.  They are either flat or wedge shaped.  But I suppose it depends where you get your wood.

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In the world of model numbers that sound like a line up of cars; and Google Top10 violin brands,... a one piece back attracts a premium.

It's a feature that a consumer can see, hence it's used for marketing.

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Never come across the idea that a one-piece back was special before ...

After all, one-piece backs and one-piece fronts are to be found in any tradition where large dimension wood was readily available and time was money.

One-piece backs are definitely more susceptible to deformation around the soundpost.

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One-piece or slab cut boards are cut from the side of a log. If it is a large log the annual rings can be close to parallel to the face of the board. But if it is a small log or cut close to the log's centre the rings can be at quite an angle to the face.

That may or may not be of great significance with maple, but with spruce it would be. That is why spruce boards are always cut or split on the quarter, so that the annual rings are vertical to the face of the board, both for its strength and tone wood properties. But, as long as a wedge is big enough, it is possible to have a one-piece spruce board cut on the quarter.

 

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Long time I was chargeing the same price for one piece backs, but now as the maple in the quality I set as my standard is more difficult to find I have to charge more for a one piece back violin or viola. For acoustics I don't think there is a measurable difference.

 

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I've just cut what is called Tasmanian oak with the annual rings close to perpendicular to the face of the board. It is actually a eucalypt and doesn't have anything in common with an oak. It's a tall hardwood from temperate forests in Tasmania. It was probably milled at least 40 years ago. I've counted about 50 annual rings in a piece about 2 inches wide. Although the board is only about 1 inch thick I can't see any curvature in the rings and it must have been a huge old tree. I've also got examples of King William pine with extremely close annual ring spacing. It's still possible to get a range of Tasmanian species but, thankfully, there are strict forestry controls in place now.

 

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All of the above comments are correct as to added price but the tendency to deform and any acoustic differences are from the back being slab cut (as most one piece backs are) rather than quartered. If you do see quartered one piece violin or viola backs they are as Melvin said usually from a cello back that had a defect of some kind.

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12 hours ago, martin swan said:

One-piece backs are definitely more susceptible to deformation around the soundpost.

And two-piece backs are definitely more susceptible to opening up in the center. :D:ph34r:

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2 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

And two-piece backs are definitely more susceptible to opening up in the center. :D:ph34r:

The first thing I'm doing when seeing a highly flamed one piece back is to look for a soundpost crack, due to the many I've seen before. I would prefer an opening seam.B)

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As near as I know as a collector/player/teacher (non-maker) about the only difference is that wood for a two piece back is usually cheaper that an equal grade one piece.  Two piece backs are usually quartered, one piece backs can be slab, quartered, or something in between.  

I guess I would be more interested in the difference between slab cut and quartered wood.  My thought is quartered wood would be more stable but really I have no evidence.

DLB

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I knew many guys who valued one piece backs more, mainly in the area of older trade fiddles. Some actually thought they indicated a better made instrument, others liked the appearance.

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The consensus of this thread so far seems to be a generalization that one piece backs warp and develop soundpost cracks more often than two piece backs. A generalization I think since it really depends on the cut of the wood. I have one piece spruce tops and backs that are perfectly quartered. I remember Jacob S. saying in a similar thread, where one piece tops were being discarded as unsuitable for a number of reasons. His comment was if you have a good one piece top why would you saw it in half and reglue it?  Doesn't it really depend on the cut of each piece of wood. I'd prefer a one piece quarter sawn back over two piece back depending on the cut. As far as one piece backs warping?  If the cut is perfectly quartered I doubt it will warp more than a two piece. Really doesn't it come down to the cut? I'll pay more for a perfectly quartered one piece back then I would for a two piece back. Slabbed backs are another story.

 

 

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I agree with everything Ernie said, plus...

11 hours ago, Ernest Martel said:

A generalization I think since it really depends on the cut of the wood.

Another generalization: the larger 1-piece chunk of wood frequently comes with a compromise in the cut; it's easier to get a quartered cut on the smaller 2-piece chunk.

That said, maple properties don't vary as wildly with cut as they do in spruce, and the back isn't nearly as important acoustically as the top, IMO.  I have seen a good Sam Z. violin with a back that was very far off quarter, and one of my VMAAI tone winners had a similar back.  Still, I don't intend to use a fully slab-cut back, as I think that would be more prone to soundpost cracks than any other cut.  Sure, it's not a given, and well-seasoned solid wood should survive... but I'd rather not go there.  

 

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...and when looking at wood online I've noticed most dealers don't show an engrain shot of the wood. Unless you have a history with a wood dealer or tell them what you want then buying wood from pictures is risky (if you want perfectly quartered wood). 

I agree with what Don said too, that back properties don't vary as much as spruce. Which is why I think using different species of wood that have properties close to maple will work too.

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