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Stringy

f holes

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I know that luthiers have varied opinions on what constitutes beauty in a finished instrument, and was wondering what the experts on here would  consider, the perfect scroll, and f holes. For instance making the f holes longer than normal and slimmer, would this be a hanging offence? Forgive my ignorance, but the best way to learn is ask, thanks in advance for any interest and time in answering.

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I would say that making the f-holes appropriate for the model that you have chosen (Amati, Strad, ect) is best. Once you have "mastered" that, your own model is something that you could be, but shouldn't be, hanged for producing.

One very talented apprentice/friend of mine likes Amati and wanted to put Amati scrolls/f-holes on his instruments regardless of the model. I finally got hm to see the way by comparing that to the lovely VW Beetle with the Rolls Royce grill. That, as an artist, he understood.

That said, do what you want, and if you do it well enough folks can't, although they may, complain.

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The best thing about making your own instruments is that you can do exactly what you want and are free to ignore all other opinions. Of course selling them is another matter!

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14 hours ago, Stringy said:

I know that luthiers have varied opinions on what constitutes beauty in a finished instrument, and was wondering what the experts on here would  consider, the perfect scroll, and f holes. For instance making the f holes longer than normal and slimmer, would this be a hanging offence? Forgive my ignorance, but the best way to learn is ask, thanks in advance for any interest and time in answering.

Violinmaking is an art. There is no such thing that could really offend anyone, except for a few scenarios: If you are trying to make an EXACT copy of a violin from a reputable maker, but altered the design of the f holes so much that it does not really resemble that maker's work (either intentionally or unintentionally), may sometimes be considered to be disrespectful, or simply lack of consistence. And under that circumstance, if you would still claim that an EXACT copy, I am sure some people may be offended; Or in some case the craftsmanship may be crude to an extent that many professional makers feel "disgusted", but really that has nothing to do with "beauty". Imagine being a cook and being served with a disgusting dish, you will have that same feeling as well.

However, when it comes down to designing a violin, you get to decide everything. Whether if you stick to the convention, or think outside the box. There has been many innovations in the history of violin making, and in fact, every maker innovates. Take some excellent examples, J.B. Vuillaume was an excellent inventor, who basically copied traits that he loved here and there, and pasted them on this own violins. Many French violinmakers were strongly influenced and inspired by the Italian (Cremonese, specifically) makers. From an aesthetic point of view, everyone definitely has their own opinions. For example, I personally find many Del Gesu instruments very ugly, and in fact many of his works were pretty lousily done. But again, many may disagree with my aesthetics. However, there is something called a "general aesthetics", where a particular style or design is appreciated and adored by the majority. For example, Andrea Amati's invention (some people believe it was Gasparo Da Salo, just for the record) of the general violin form, which evolved into most filddles that you called "violins" nowadays, was surely appreciated by the gerneral public (at least more appreciated than the other competing models back then). Therefore, to answer your question, people back then must have looked at his violins and thought "oh this is the perfect shape, f hole, and scroll". While after all other forms evolved from the A.Amati, we might not think the same today.

From a practicality point of view, the design of a violin involves a crazy amount of mathematics. If you look at some of the old masters' sketches, you'd be amazed how many calculations they had done, or how many geometric patterns they had experimented with, before finalizing on a design. To make a "violin", as oppose to a "violin-shaped-object (VSO)", one needs to at least follow some of the arbitrary proportions, or dimensions, to make sure it would function correctly, and this is why many people based their design on some of the most famous models (Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri, Stainer, Vuillaume, Guadagnini... You name it), because these models have been proven producing really great-sounding instruments over the past centuries. However, the innovation never stops. In fact, many modern instruments were proven by blind experiments sound better than many old master instruments (sorry for digressing, although this is mainly caused by internal designs such as bigger vibrating area and stuff, not particularly by  the "design of scroll and f holes"). And also, speaking from a business POV, most people appreciate, and are familiar to these models (i.e. Sometimes if a player gets used to a certain model, they wouldn't want to change, because the positions are always slightly different, and the adjusting and adapting process could be really complicated).

So above all, you would be looking at a particular design that would both make sense in the scientific realm, and the aesthetic realm. There is really no boundary on "how long a F hole should be", or anything like that. As long as you think the design makes you (or the majority) feel soothing and comfortable, it is a great design. And sometimes, many makers implement more advanced designs just to flex their craftsmanship, which is totally acceptable.

From Maker's point of view, they not only look at the general design and proportion, but also at how FINE the craftsmanship is. So even if an F hole fits in well with the right shape and proportion, but it is very crudely cut, it will still be regarded as "ugly".

This is a really long post... That being said, I would personally see a "beautiful" F hole as one that has a relatively thinner and rounder design, very smoothly carved curves, and even comfortably fluted wings. Something like the following picture, which is taken from a Vuillaume violin.

For scrolls, I would definitely look for a fully fluted (fluting goes all the way into the throat), filleted edges to a comfortable amount, and lastly finely carved curves. An example would be the one in this picture, which is taken from a mysterious violin that was once sold through my shop (Many people may not agree on me on this scroll, but I find it fascinating, such beautiful fillet (chamfer)).

Vuillaume violin : left f-hole] | Library of CongressPSX_20201014_222004.thumb.jpg.952bb3a514f674d82a9c9f3dfba09b9f.jpg

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Thanks for the replies. I appreciate the images from Wilano illustrating his points perfectly, And with which I must agree. Beauty but must be functional. Tha ks to mark and duane too for the input and sharing your thoughts on what I find a fascinating subject.

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3 hours ago, Wilano Cortignini said:

From a practicality point of view, the design of a violin involves a crazy amount of mathematics. If you look at some of the old masters' sketches, you'd be amazed how many calculations they had done, or how many geometric patterns they had experimented with, before finalizing on a design.

 

On this particular point, I will disagree. My thoughts are more that some people have a proclivity to attempt to retro-engineer things, superimposing modern methods on old artistry, when what they are are lacking is something as simple (and perhaps God-given) as "a good eye".

Not everyone is best-suited for every profession.

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

On this particular point, I will disagree. My thoughts are more that some people have a proclivity to attempt to retro-engineer things, superimposing modern methods on old artistry, when what they are are lacking is something as simple (and perhaps God-given) as "a good eye".

Not everyone is best-suited for every profession.

Never use vice-grip pliers when a hemostat is called for.

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You certainly don't want to go too slim with the ff's or you'll be forced to find more creative ways to insert the soundpost :) 
Some makers were more successful than others in finding harmony between the parts.  Stradivari seemed to have taken a much more formulaic and thus repeatable approach while del Gesu instruments look like they were approached more intuitively, taking risks and sometimes falling short.  The dG's that were successful, however, are some of the most stunning violins ever made.

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18 hours ago, Wilano Cortignini said:

a practicality point of view, the design of a violin involves a crazy amount of mathematics. If you look at some of the old masters' sketches, you'd be amazed how many calculations they had done, or how many geometric patterns they had experimented with, before finalizing on a design.

 

15 hours ago, David Burgess said:

On this particular point, I will disagree. My thoughts are more that some people have a proclivity to attempt to retro-engineer things, superimposing modern methods on old artistry, when what they are are lacking is something as simple (and perhaps God-given) as "a good eye".

Not everyone is best-suited for every profession.

 

I also am going to disagree about the old masters.  I've gone to ridiculous effort to dissect and understand the geometry used in the old master Cremona work, including the soundholes.  And I've made lots of crazy complicated mathematical illustrations of their work.  But I don't believe they went through any of that.  And I tend to believe that making lots of study sketch before working, hanging them on the wall to contemplate and adjust for days, I think all that tinkering and pains taking is a specifically modern copyist thing.

Rather, I believe that all the stuff found from my research that looks fancy when you try to describe it is in fact all very simple to carry out in pracitce.  It's all just what comes easy if you use dividers as you make.  

And the old master knew what they were doing.  They had no need to scratch the head or second guess or navel gaze.  They were working within a structured tradition that they already thoroughly knew.  Sure, they still had to steer their choices to the results they desired.  But the knew the options in front of them at each step.

They would have been trained to these methods since youth.  Swing this arc from here.  Take half of that.  All of it dead simple and known to them.

No need to tinker in the current instrument.  You can always tray a few different choices within the traditions optiins for your next instrument. No need to fuss as you work.

*****

And, I'll agree with Burgess, beyond and method of working one might choose, a good eye, talent, skill, and experience must be added for great results.

The means of working I'm proposing as used in Old Cremona are only just that, a means of working.   And, they account the full range of making in Old Cremona, including the less talented.  Though, of course, all who we remember were both skilled and experienced.  Nevertheless, we see a range of quality even within old Cremona work, even within the output of single makers.  

No.  Fussing and tinkering aren't needed.  But talent and eye and ear are.  

The methods I'm starting to make public do not insure the untalented or inexperienced will suddenly make good workers.   They don't even insure you will make something a Cremonan would make, or even just within the 'structure' a Cremonan might make. No. They don't give that much.

What I found amount to 'recipes' appropriate to each feature as you work.  These are recipes of simple divider geometry, and simple divider ratios.  And some recipes provide guides in locating or sizing things.  But using the recipes still requires discernment and skill, and making choices.  At every point, the recipes offer structured method, but also options.  The maker must still 'steer' the work through their choices, and must still carry out the work with skill and talent.

And, I may not have found all the rules yet, or all the interrelationships between rules as the old masters understood things.  My work is limited to what I could find and comfirm across many classical examples.   The things I've found are consistently present in classical work.  Breaking the recipes I've found would result in work outside what the Cremonans did.  But that doesn't mean there weren't further traditions guiding them that I haven't found.

Further, even if we imagine finding the all the traditions someday, still you have to steer your choices well to get good results.   Depending on choices, the same system embraces small violins, tenors, cellos, and all sorts of variations.

It is a system that can go to more places than you want to go.  I'm not proposing a system of divider recipes that forces you to old Cremona results and only old Cremona results.  But I am proposing that all Old Cremona results fall within these divider recipes.

******

So, once again: talent, experience, and some assembly still required.

*******

I myself have spend more energy so far in finding these 'traditional divider recipes' than in using them.  I'm beginning to make entirely by using these recipes, from mold to instrument.  And I'm learning just how much results still fall squarely on the makers shoulders.  And how much I have to learn about carrying out these things in a good way.  Theory versus practice, etc.

******

But, for the old masters all of this would have looked familar, known, straightforward, and simple.

All of them brought skill and experience to the workbench and these tradition recipes of geometry.   Some of them also developed into great talents.

 

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15 hours ago, David Burgess said:

On this particular point, I will disagree. My thoughts are more that some people have a proclivity to attempt to retro-engineer things, superimposing modern methods on old artistry, when what they are are lacking is something as simple (and perhaps God-given) as "a good eye".

Not everyone is best-suited for every profession.

 

7 hours ago, David Beard said:

I also am going to disagree about the old masters.  I've gone to ridiculous effort to dissect and understand the geometry used in the old master Cremona work, including the soundholes.  And I've made lots of crazy complicated mathematical illustratuons of their work.  But I don't believe they went through any of that.  And I tend to believe that making lots of study sketch before working, hanging them on the wall to contemplate and adjust for days, I think all that tinkering and pains taking is a specifically modern copyist thing.

I actually would agree with you. Quite frankly, looking back to my paragraph, I did exaggerate the importance of mathematical models to state the practicality in design. However, I would not completely rule out careful planning and calculations done before or during the design process, and their importance in leading to design advancements.

I recall seeing hand drafts of Stradivari and Vuillaume (though I can't recall whether it is the original or an exact copy, but for sure not a later re-master of their draft where people add in unoriginal measurements and such), and that simply impressed me so much. Consider all of the work was done around 200~300 before us, and was presumably some of the most advanced acoustic design / geometric pattern calculations ever being applied in instrument making at that time. Although I have to admit, comparing to some modern researchers / copyists 50-page research papers on violin modelling, those old hand drafts seem to have little significance.

Once again. I 100% agree with the importance of "a good eye", but as Beard stated, "beyond and method of working one might choose, a good eye, talent, skill, and experience must be added for great results". Good eye is indeed the foundation of everything else to make a top of the top maker, and later skill and experience build on that. Take Stradivari once again as an example: though he made some of the most respected instruments, it still took him quite a while before figuring out the iconic P and G forms. He obviously started off decent enough with the "good eye", but after years of making and experimenting, perhaps even innovating little by little, he had come to the conclusion that bigger, flatter models such as P and G deliver more powerful sound, or some other advantages.

That being said, the power "good eye ", as quoted from Burgess, "perhaps God-given", should never be underestimated. For that there is a reason we call that "Joey guy" from Cremona "Del Gesu" :D

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Being a mathematician with deep interest in geometry I studied all of the design methods proposed in various books or online and studied CT csans, moulds etc in Photoshop etc I found that the good eye may be the biggest part of the whole design.

I'm on my way to building my first violin (been building archtop mandolins and various other things for nearly 25 years) and started to study Kreisler del Gesu and base my first effort on that. I've done many drawings and comparisons to other instruments of Guarneri and other old italian guys and found out that While I agree that original design was clearly based upon somewhat simple circle geometry, It is impossible to determine if everyone designed his own moulds or the original  "perfect" mathematical model was drawn in times of first Amatis (or even before) and from there the rest just copied the moulds/ templates and jigs of their masters. It was really eye opening when I overlayed one of the Strad's forms (I don't remember) over the Kreisler del Gesu CT and it fitted more precisely than any of the "perfect" geometric constructions I've seen. The only big difference being the exact shape of the body blocks and thus corners. After overlaying several other violins and moulds the difference of great many models can as easily be attributed to just copying outline of old moulds onto new piece of wood by just scribing the new outline shifted so the new would be wider/narrower/longer.

Guarneri did use f hole shapes that ranged from straight Strad clones to funky ugly looooong "Ole Bull" holes, that all on violins made supposedly on just one or two different moulds (per Hargrave). Soe there is quite a bit of freedom tat is generally accepted but still violinmaking is very rooted on traditional approaches and some folks may frown oupon your work if you try to stretch the boundaries too far. Think about that especially if you intend to live out of your work. Some arists (painters etcc) were great but died in poverty because their art didn't fit the "tastes of the era".

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