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Advice you'd give an apprentice


Benny812
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Hello all.  I have ordered inexpensive supplies from Metmusic to build my first violin.  Thanks Nathan for the suggestion.  I am curious if anyone would be willing to share a grain of knowledge that they have learned or was bestowed upon them in their humble beginnings of luthier work.  I have no tutor or master under which I can work, nor can I go and drop the kind of money required for luthier schooling so I am asking anyone willing to pretend I am your apprentice.  I understand well the importance of sharp tools and shop maintenance, as well as patience, attention to detail, and pride in quality work.  What I don't know is what I don't know when it comes to this craft.  I have Henry Strobel's books and have read much online.  I have professional musicians in my circle, many of which are Doctors of music and perform world wide that have offered to give feedback.  I also intend to participate in workshops and gatherings of luthiers once this can again happen.  What would you share with me if I were under your tutelage?  Obviously there is no substitute for knowledge passed on through generations in this manner!  I am hoping I can learn some of it, albeit not by the traditional means I would prefer had I the opportunity.  Thanks again and kind regards!

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1. You need a more comprehensive book.  I think Brian Derber's book would be the easiest to learn from. I have the the Strobel books, Courtnell Book, and Derber book.

2. Advise often given on this site.  You will learn more, and faster, by making an instrument, then making another...Than trying to make a perfect instrument (which you can't).

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My goal is to make great string instruments that will become voices for musicians.  I am a cellist (Non-professional) and wood worker and wish to merge these passions into one with luthier work.  I am hoping to leave instruments of quality and desirability behind for generations to enjoy long after I am gone.  I love art, music, and the process and history of hand crafted trade work.  

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Thanks Jim.  My cello pedagogue stated playing cello is a skill that one can not learn faster than one lives.  
All skills take time to improve by doing,  regardless of how much I read about music, theory, or how to play it is only the act of regular perfect practice that my playing skill improves.  
I agree that I will learn best by building.  I appreciate your honest answer.  Hopefully others can share insight they might pass on if they had an apprentice!  Ways to do things better that I wouldn’t figure out right away on my own,  tips of the trade, etc.  I will check out the book recommendations too, thanks!

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6 hours ago, Benny812 said:

Hello all.  I have ordered inexpensive supplies from Metmusic to build my first violin.  Thanks Nathan for the suggestion.  I am curious if anyone would be willing to share a grain of knowledge that they have learned or was bestowed upon them in their humble beginnings of luthier work.  I have no tutor or master under which I can work, nor can I go and drop the kind of money required for luthier schooling so I am asking anyone willing to pretend I am your apprentice.  I understand well the importance of sharp tools and shop maintenance, as well as patience, attention to detail, and pride in quality work.  What I don't know is what I don't know when it comes to this craft.  I have Henry Strobel's books and have read much online.  I have professional musicians in my circle, many of which are Doctors of music and perform world wide that have offered to give feedback.  I also intend to participate in workshops and gatherings of luthiers once this can again happen.  What would you share with me if I were under your tutelage? 

My first advice would be to pursue another profession. Maybe you have the wherewithal to make a go of it as a fiddlemaker, but statistically,  it is much more likely that you  don't.

I know of some fiddlemakers who are brilliant as hell, have stellar training, and still don't manage to sell everything they make. This profession is far from a cakewalk.

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20 minutes ago, Jim Bress said:

1. You need a more comprehensive book.

2. ...You will learn more, and faster, by making an instrument...

1.  Yes.  I have the Strobel book, but haven't looked at it in years.  I still refer to Courtnall/Johnson quite often.

2.  Also yes.  Going thru all of the steps gives some framework for understanding the finer points and advice at the higher levels.  Make chips and get experience with wood.

3.  Study arching of good instruments and get the shape in your head.

This is all presuming that making a violin is for enjoyment and not intended to be a primary source of income.  Otherwise, I'd say what David said.

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1. Make your boodle in something else (I can recommend either geophysical exploration or engineering support contracting; you get to travel a lot on someone-else's nickel, meet colorful characters in exotic places, and statistically have a lower risk of incarceration than practicing law or medicine), then retire and fiddle with violins all you care to.

2.  Before doing anything else violin-related, learn to sharpen tools expertly.

3.  Learn to play the darned things well enough to demonstrate them to people who can't, yet.  Helps with setup tweaking, too.   :)

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Hmmm, As one who has no skill whatsoever in this arena, I wonder what advice I would give myself?

know wood: 

know tools/nomenclature

know violins: buy some old clunkers and disassemble them. Copy them.

the Reverend Morris book mentions many competent makers who made their livings doing other things and yet made fine instruments.

no reason you can’t be one of them.

good luck!

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Don't listen to what anyone says,:rolleyes::unsure:, wait, except me, :lol:

No, this is what I would say,if you have zero experience at woodworking you need to practice fundamentals prior to jumping into a project, lest your "project" becomes your practice ground, practice on cheap or free material....go scrounge dumpsters and construction job sites for scrap wood,no need to spend any money on this stuff, go to the right job site and you could probably end up with some suitable wood for your first practice violin, remodel projects often end up with tons of "garbage" end cuts,demo wood etc. that often times is 1. good enough 2.large enough to make a violin. 

I will give you 3 tasks that you can practice as an example of "practicing fundamentals"

1. we must understand "PENCIL LINES' WHAT DO I MEAN BY THIS? get a piece of scrap wood, draw a straight line with the aid of a straight edge, CHOOSING A "PROPER" PENCIL FOR WOODWORK { once that is not to light,nor too dark and smudges, I like a "black beuaty#2, one that leave a nice 'width" to the line, but not fat} after we draw the line we must now understand that the line is in actuality 3 potential lines. ie. the left side of the line, the center of the line, and the right side of the line. UNDERSTAND AND KNOW THIS, after straight lines, freehand draw curvy lines, practice those

so now draw three separate lines, PRACTICE cutting one to the left of the line, to the right and in the center.If you do it right, the left and right cuts will leave the pencil line behind, your cut will not waiver into the line, nor stray to far away from it, the center cut will split the line.

This "tiny" thing is essential in woodworking, you will be constantly choosing either a side or the center with all the things you mark out to cut, all the lengths, everything

2. take both a piece of scrap maple and scrap softwood,preferable spruce in your case, then with a gouge chisel, with the piece secured with a clamp,gouge in shallow cuts at a 45{or so} angle to both pieces of wood. After you have cut into the entire face of the practice board, then take your hand scrapers and try to make the board look the way it did before you gouged it out, or use your scarper to perfectly flaten and smooth the face of the wood/board, then do the same thing but take more off with your gouge on all 4 corners of the board, then when you use your scarper try to make the board face domed and symmetrical, just do this by eye, this will help when it comes to your arching and graduations.

3. take scrap and clamp it to the bench, the with your #1 favorite {if you don't have one, get one]  roughing gouge, proceed to "john henry" your way through the entire board using your gouge to make a crude bowl, draw some pencil lines, say 1/2" off the edge to give yourself a starting point to start to plunge into the wood, don't cross the line. Make it so your bowl ends up about 1/8" thick at the bottom, a thin bowl for sure

Then mid way through that, your chisel will become dull, then you must learn to sharpen it

If you can get to the point where all the above is easy peasy, then you are ready to move on to a few more fundamentals, and then shortly after that, you could start imo with a much greater chance of not creating firewood

 

good luck

 

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Thank you all for your input.  Jezzupe,  your skill based exercises to assist in making me better are exactly the kind of recommendations I was hoping for.  Although I like the “choose something else If you’re smart,” too!  I might do a lot more when I retire,  but this isn’t going to be my living!  This is a hobby and passion.

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1 hour ago, LSF said:

 The first nugget of advice my teacher gave me was change your name to an Italian one, really go through the whole legal process and you'll make a lot more money that way.  If only I'd listened.  Very wise advice.  I will go further and say go to Cremona, attend school there, and marry an Italian girl (if your single).  I've heard they're very nice.

 

In about 1996, at Skinner, I bought a 1978 Violin made by one John Terry.  It was perfect and it was beautiful. When we got back to Dallas, my Violin friends assistant called me on the phone and said it sounded great. It turned out that John Terry had studied at the Cromona school and this Violin was apparently his graduation project or something like that. I contacted him and he first verified that it was his, and then later when I finally sold it on eBay, I got an angry letter from the buyer, who said that John Terry had Disavowed the violin. I showed him the auction page from the auction catalog, which I had kept, and that was that, but I often wondered if Mr. Terry might have done better if he had changed his name to Giovanni Terrius Or something like that.

:-)

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4 hours ago, Wood Butcher said:

If one is going to the trouble of copying something, it is best to pick something good to start with.

 I’m not going to disagree, but I think having a basic framework, which can then be modified according to “best practices“ isn’t necessarily a bad idea. 

If you know you’re working with poor quality, you can get a sense of why it is bad quality, see mistakes that you can avoid in your own work, and see  The difference between clumsy and refined work. 

 I wish I had the slightest bit of talent, I would be overjoyed to be able to create my own instrument. 

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8 hours ago, Benny812 said:

My goal is to make great string instruments that will become voices for musicians.  I am a cellist (Non-professional) and wood worker and wish to merge these passions into one with luthier work.  I am hoping to leave instruments of quality and desirability behind for generations to enjoy long after I am gone.  I love art, music, and the process and history of hand crafted trade work.  

The first step is to make an accurate violin.  You may never "see through" to things that may make the difference between a good violin and a better one.  Your ambition is too grandiose.  Simply start by making a violin.

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11 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

If you know you’re working with poor quality, you can get a sense of why it is bad quality, see mistakes that you can avoid in your own work, and see  The difference between clumsy and refined work.

Perhaps if you knew, yes.
Most people starting out just can't tell this or why. Like anything it takes time to learn.

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