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Landolfi

What is more important?

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I have two questions.  

1. Is the top or the bottom of the violin more important to for tone?

2. From collector perspective, is the top or the bottom of the violin more important toward valuation of the fiddle?

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1 hour ago, Wood Butcher said:

I would say the top, on both counts.

This sounds like you are looking at a composite violin?

Maybe something like a Filius Andreae with a replacement top ... :ph34r:

Violins with replaced tables are essentially a way of getting a sexy label at a cheap price, so you can impress all your orchestral colleague. The quality of the sound is utterly dependent on whoever made the top.

It's extremely rare to find a composite in which the back is replaced.

 

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Tops being softer wood and directly under the bridge, they tend to suffer more damage earlier in a violin's life than backs. It seems from the historical record that it was fairly common to replace a top that had suffered serious damage, rather than do complicated repairs. In the case of the famous "Bass of Spain," it seems the Stradivari top was replaced towards the end of the 18thc. in order to improve the tone! If one were to ever come across a composite with an original top from a known maker, it usually gets snapped up in order to complete one of the many "topless" examples of that maker that are around.

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3 hours ago, martin swan said:

Maybe something like a Filius Andreae with a replacement top ... :ph34r:

Violins with replaced tables are essentially a way of getting a sexy label at a cheap price, so you can impress all your orchestral colleague. The quality of the sound is utterly dependent on whoever made the top.

It's extremely rare to find a composite in which the back is replaced.

 

We had an Aegidius Kloz with a top we made for it. It was acquired for a pittance. Ended up sounding really nice. 

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59 minutes ago, Michael Appleman said:

Tops being softer wood and directly under the bridge, they tend to suffer more damage earlier in a violin's life than backs. It seems from the historical record that it was fairly common to replace a top that had suffered serious damage, rather than do complicated repairs. In the case of the famous "Bass of Spain," it seems the Stradivari top was replaced towards the end of the 18thc. in order to improve the tone! If one were to ever come across a composite with an original top from a known maker, it usually gets snapped up in order to complete one of the many "topless" examples of that maker that are around.

Yes, that's a great story, where the top was in Paris? and Luigi Tarisio tracked down the rest of the bass. I wonder if it is true, cool story.

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43 minutes ago, Nick Allen said:

We had an Aegidius Kloz with a top we made for it. It was acquired for a pittance. Ended up sounding really nice. 

Did you do a complete restoration?

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9 hours ago, Landolfi said:

I have two questions.  

1. Is the top or the bottom of the violin more important to for tone?

2. From collector perspective, is the top or the bottom of the violin more important toward valuation of the fiddle?

My standard answer would be that everything is important

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Of course Jacob is right. 

But as to the importance for tone, I really  think it depends on what's being asked of the violin by the player.

A reasonably decent player can get good use from a violin with a poorly  made back, as long as the front  works. So lots of people  get on fine with pressed violins, for example. 

Better players will  need the back  to work too. Power and grunt, when playing in the higher positions of the lower strings are determined, I think, by  the shape and thicknesses of the back.

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Of  course they're both important.  But they don't always directly survive.

Oddly, I was thinking about this before seeing this thread.  I'm carving a back's arching right now. And that got me thinking.

In a way, I feel the instruments identity is more wrapped up in the back.  If it were a drum, this would be obvious.  The top would be a replaceable and expendable drum head.  The top is more directly involved in the instrument speaking.  But is also more replaceable, and perhaps changable like strings.  Yes. The arching and soundholes are critical.  But still...

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8 hours ago, Fossil Ledges said:

Yes, that's a great story, where the top was in Paris? and Luigi Tarisio tracked down the rest of the bass. I wonder if it is true, cool story.

It’s covered extensively in “The Violin Hunter.”  The offending maker was a guy named Ortega, Who is roundly dismissed in his Henley entry.

The base of Spain was owned by Carlos Prieto for a long time, although I’m sure he’s dead and gone and somebody else has it now.

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A crack in a top is almost expected in an old instrument but a crack in the back seems to devalue an instrument sometimes substantially. I think as far as sound goes the top should be the most important but I have no real proof or evidence.

 

DLB

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8 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

It’s covered extensively in “The Violin Hunter.”  The offending maker was a guy named Ortega, Who is roundly dismissed in his Henley entry.

The base of Spain was owned by Carlos Prieto for a long time, although I’m sure he’s dead and gone and somebody else has it now.

There was also a great in depth article about it and Weisshaar's extreme restoration of it in the Strad back in the '80's.

The Ortega brothers got a serious bum wrap because they replaced a few Strad tops in their time, but when they made new instruments, those were pretty spectacularly good. (there was a 3/4 size violin in a Bonham's sale a few years ago) They were nephews, I believe, of Dom Vincente Assensio who had become the offical caretaker of the royal collection in Madrid in the 1770's, taking over after José Contreras I's death. He oversaw a lot of repairs and "modernizations" of fine cremonese and other old italian violins in Madrid at that time, and unfortuantely, it was considered standard procedure to replace a badly cracked top back then, and not just in Spain. There are examples of Strads, Guarneris, Guads and many others that got new tops in France (Lupot) or Italy (I saw a really nice Guad composite with a top that looked very much like the work of Ceruti).

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Oops, seems like Silverio and Mariano Ortega were father and son. I was under the mistaken belief they were brothers, but there's been a lot more research recently into Spanish Lutherie. It's a fascinating subject, since the royals in Madrid were big clients of cremonese and other classic italian makers, and the luthiers in Madrid were handling fairly new and fresh Strads long before they went through the hands of Vuillaume and company. 

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3 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

There's a possibility that paper mache might be acoustically better than wood.

Only used for the back and sides on that guitar.  

There are also quite a few guitars made with molded plastic and fiberglass backs and sides.  While I have never been a fan of Ovation guitars or Glen Campbell, I think it does show that for guitars at least, you can kindof get away  with it.  Note that plastic and fiberglass are not used for the top.

For violins, the back is much more of an active player than in guitars, but still I think it is clear that the top creates the majority of the sound.  

Then there are pianos that don't even have a "back".

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Thanks for the great thread. I know it didn't start with the alternative materials discussion but I was especially fascinated with the papier mache, which started, in a fashion, much earlier. The ancient Egyptians had a somewhat similar material called cartonnage, later by the French. Cartonnage usually had linen and chopped recycled papyrus in it and was used for everything from mummy sarcophagi to the bowls on their mandolin-like, oud type instruments. I only know that because I got to handle a couple of them in grad school. I always wondered about dating the wood in the necks. Now I wonder how they tuned them. I was told then, thirty-five years ago, that the history of those instruments was probably far older than the Egyptians, who have the surviving illustrations and tomb objects, but they assimilated many technologies from the surrounding Mesopotamian cultures, especially the Assyrians and Babylonians. I went to school with one guy whose assistant-ship was very carefully running stacks of Assyrian clay tablets through a low-fire kiln to preserve them for translation. The vast majority were financial records like grain tallies but some allegedly covered the arts scene including music. Again allegedly, I was working in a materials science lab, and was not a history or linguistics major. 

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Paper mâché is a pretty good material.

Paper mâché is made by gluing cellulose fibers together which is what wood is.  But in paper mâché the fiber directions are pretty uniform in the x and y directions whereas in wood they are more unidirectional.  So we would expect to see equal speeds of sound and elastic moduli in the x and y directions for a uniform thickness plate of paper mâché while wood is highly anisotropic with much a much higher speed sound and stiffness in the fiber grain longitudinal direction than the cross grain fiber direction. 

The violin family of instrument's slender proportions evolved around the use of wood.   Their narrow widths go along with the low cross grain speed of sound.

A simple substitution of paper mâché inlace of wood for a violin probably wouldn't work very well because the proportions are no longer ideal for that material.  The mode shapes and frequencies are different which make the instrument's frequency response curves different--they don't sound the same as wood ones.  The shape should probably be much wider.  This is one reason why plywood has failed to become widely used.

But the above discussion revolves around the use of a uniform thickness plate.  The paper mâché material can easily be molded with longitudinal ribs so this geometry can produce the same anisotropic effect of being stiff in the longitudinal direction of the ribs and flexible in the cross direction.

Molded paper packing materials such as egg crates have a much lower density than wood so I suspect that their speed of sound/density ratio (radiation ratio) is pretty high therefore their sound output should be high.

It would be interesting to compare molded pulp egg carton violins with wood cigar box violins.

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We could get into a lot of acoustic physics very quickly, (sounds), like an Oberlin workshop is in order. The rest, (as everyone knows), is a complex multi-directional collection of Illuminati conspiracy theories. "It had been nine hundred and eighty-seven years in outer space time, when I got back. Couldn't seem to find any of my friends to tell my interesting stories to".

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