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A beginner's theory


Mike Atkins
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15 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Mike, 

Read James Beament's "The Violin Explained". Read Roger Hargrave's articles on his website. Read David Beard's articles on his website. Get a copy of Derber's book. 

Mostly, spend a lot of time at the bench, perfecting your sharpening technique and simple drawings with straight edge and dividers. Then start on wood. 

Best of luck,

Thanks. Certainly I have been reading things that are readily available or affordable as much as possible, I'm sure there's more to read and I'll keep digging and taking suggestions. Though a lot of what I've read is in disagreement about one particular thing or another and most seem to make certain claims like "Stradivari thought this... intended that... did this... would never have done that..." Without video footage of his making process, a diary or recorded interview, no one can know what was going on in his head or all of the intricacies of his particular approach. Maybe it's necessary to slather manure on the instrument, or cut down a spruce tree with a particular fungal infection from the north facing slope of a certain mountain during a full moon while singing a particular song... Maybe all these efforts would be better spent on inventing a time machine, inviting Tony to brunch and giving him a GoPro to wear on his head while he makes his instruments... 

Having my own personal ideas isn't too different while certainly more naive and from far less experience, but I suspect that won't prevent me from getting to the bench and building an instrument. While I could always improve, I do have decades of experience sharpening tools, so I should be able to get by. I agree this is of primary importance wether building a violin or a coffee table. I'm already fumbling around carving wood so I'm not too keen on going back to the drawing board. Just sharing my thoughts and enjoying the giggles, eye rolls and head shaking that's followed.

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Mike, when I first started I went through the same reasoning process as you.  (Whatever you do, don't confess on this forum that you are an engineer and want to apply engineering principles to violin construction.)

Where I wound up is this:

Ask as many questions as you can about technique.  Better technique produces better instruments.

Follow standard measurement ranges, including all of the micro details.  It helps to have a professional instrument in front of you. You will make mistakes and  learn which measurements matter most.

Make a dozen or so instruments, taking measurements and qualitative notes, and play each of them for a couple of months each.  Every piece of wood acts differently.  Learn how you want it to act, and how to make it act appropriately (see above, which measurements matter most).

Watch Davide Sora's videos!

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I am an engineer and want to apply engineering principles to violin construction.:P

However, I have found that it is mostly pointless, as the connection between cause and effect(s) has many branches that go all over the place and are too complex to analyze.  And the goal is undefined.  Wanting to and being able to are different things.

In short, do what good makers do, and make instruments like the ones that work well (whatever that is).  It is unlkely that you can be clever enough to outwit 400 years of trial-and-error and thousands of makers trying.

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33 minutes ago, Shunyata said:

Watch Davide Sora's videos!

I've watched these repeatedly, so meticulous and really beautiful work! I've also been watching Peter Westerlund's videos lately and he has some really interesting methods. Plus his are nice because I don't have to try reading and deciphering Italian. I'm no engineer, just someone who's crazy enough to want to build a violin...s

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3 hours ago, Mike Atkins said:

I've watched these repeatedly, so meticulous and really beautiful work! I've also been watching Peter Westerlund's videos lately and he has some really interesting methods. Plus his are nice because I don't have to try reading and deciphering Italian. I'm no engineer, just someone who's crazy enough to want to build a violin...s

Peter's videos are really interesting and I particularly appreciate his openness in explaining his construction method in detail.

Regarding my videos, you can find the English translation of all the text in the description page below the video (you have to open or expand it), but I warn you that my English is not as good as Peter's...:)

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4 hours ago, Don Noon said:

I am an engineer and want to apply engineering principles to violin construction.:P

However, I have found that it is mostly pointless, as the connection between cause and effect(s) has many branches that go all over the place and are too complex to analyze.  And the goal is undefined.  Wanting to and being able to are different things.

In short, do what good makers do, and make instruments like the ones that work well (whatever that is).  It is unlkely that you can be clever enough to outwit 400 years of trial-and-error and thousands of makers trying.

As far as a goal, at least in this topic, mine was to gain a better understanding of how the violin works. Probably too hard. Another one was to suggest that wood properties could impact design. Maybe poorly articulated or conceived, but I do see that many great old instruments created on the same form don't have consistent arching and thicknessing. I wonder why that is, and think it's reasonable to suggest that the particular piece of wood and its properties could be the cause.

These great instruments aren't copies of each other. So making copies clearly isn't the only way to make good instruments, while it certainly may be the best way to learn how.
 

16 minutes ago, Davide Sora said:

Peter's videos are really interesting and I particularly appreciate his openness in explaining his construction method in detail.

Regarding my videos, you can find the English translation of all the text in the description page below the video (you have to open or expand it), but I warn you that my English is not as good as Peter's...:)

I watch the videos on my television which doesn't have the descriptions below. I'll definitely watch them on the computer and read the English translations. Your careful attention to every detail is really impressive and makes me want to be a better woodworker in general!

Peter Westerlund's videos are definitely interesting, and maybe even somewhat encouraging for my theories about the wood impacting the design. Not sure I could do what he does though, but maybe at some point I'll try. First I have to build violin #1...

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7 hours ago, Mike Atkins said:

As far as a goal, at least in this topic, mine was to gain a better understanding of how the violin works. Probably too hard. Another one was to suggest that wood properties could impact design. Maybe poorly articulated or conceived, but I do see that many great old instruments created on the same form don't have consistent arching and thicknessing. I wonder why that is, and think it's reasonable to suggest that the particular piece of wood and its properties could be the cause

People who want to believe violin making is all about controlling the variables and details, these people look at the variations and asymmetries in classic instruments and see super controlled super subtle responses by the makers to difference in the materials.

I just see processes that don't control those details very much.

A good chocolate chip cookie process isn't about getting the chips to land in the same places each time.  I good cookie making process doesn't make the cookies all the same or highly controlled.  It makes the cookies all good every time.

This might be a silly analogy, but it's relevant.

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3 minutes ago, David Beard said:

People who want to believe violin making is all about controlling the variables and details.  These people look at the variations and asymmetries in classic instruments and they see super controlled super subtle responses to difference in the materials.

I just see processes that control those details that much.

I good chocolate chip cookies isn't about getting the chips to land in the same places each.  I good cookie making process does make the cookies all the same or highly control.  It makes the cookies all good.

Maybe a silly analogy, but not irrelevant.

I'm not suggesting control is the objective, I'm suggesting understanding the materials could influence choices during construction. That isn't control, that's allowing the material to influence the maker. It's possible that the design was just fluid and accidentally produced the same exact asymmetries over and over, it's equally possible that some specific choices were made over and over. Dismissing different ideas because they don't fit neatly into a notion of how things were won't help solve the mystery either.

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On 7/9/2021 at 6:09 AM, David Beard said:

Don't underestimate 'mindless' tradition.

>

We don't need more 'improved' or 'inventive' violins.   We need more that are 'as good' as 'good' violins have been.

If your goal is to make good violins then it is reasonable to closely adapt tradition and don't make any changes to it.  It is unreasonable that you can make any improvements.

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”


 George Bernard Shaw

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1 hour ago, Mike Atkins said:

I'm not suggesting control is the objective, I'm suggesting understanding the materials could influence choices during construction. That isn't control, that's allowing the material to influence the maker. It's possible that the design was just fluid and accidentally produced the same exact asymmetries over and over, it's equally possible that some specific choices were made over and over. Dismissing different ideas because they don't fit neatly into a notion of how things were won't help solve the mystery either.

Yes. That's an interesting hypothesis.  And it could be examined with the right data.

My work shows the type and range of shape and proportions choices the Cremona masters were using in their making.  And it shows how you can 'read' those choices in a particular example instrument.    If one also had good data on clear material properties differences you could look for correlations between properties and choices.

But, I'm inclined to doubt how much they did that sort of thing.  And especially any idea they did that with much precision.

You can observe two obvious correlations: 1) a strong tendency to use wider grained spruce choices in lower voices instruments, and 2) a tendency to allow more back/sides use of softer species like willow or poplar.

Other than that, studies have shown their properties of their wood choices are particular consistent or unusual.  And you can see the weren't finicky as we are today about using knots, or adding wings to widen a board.

A could be wrong. But for now, I tend to believe they bought wood from specialists for instrument making. And the made basic judgements. This is good wood. This is beautiful visually.  This is good for a cello. Etc.   

But I suspect their choices of plate height, arching, etc. Were rather more or less separate choices from the wood choice.  I can't prove the issue one way or the other for now.

But, I haven't yet seen anything about the wood character the seems to correlate with arching height, or heaviness of build, etc.

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5 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

If your goal is to make good violins then it is reasonable to closely adapt tradition and don't make any changes to it.  It is unreasonable that you can make any improvements.

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”


 George Bernard Shaw

I agree.  The world right now makes factory, innovative, and copy violins.  It made the mistake of stepping away from and neglecting old Cremona methods starting 200 years ago.

I am unreasonably stepping out of line by saying let's revive those traditions.

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11 minutes ago, David Beard said:

Yes. That's an interesting hypothesis.  And it could be examined with the right data.

My work shows the type and range of shape and proportions choices the Cremona masters were using in their making.  And it shows how you can 'read' those choices in a particular example instrument.    If one also had good data on clear material properties differences you could look for correlations between properties and choices.

But, I'm inclined to doubt how much they did that sort of thing.  And especially any idea they did that with much precision.

You can observe two obvious correlations: 1) a strong tendency to use wider grained spruce choices in lower voices instruments, and 2) a tendency to allow more back/sides use of softer species like willow or poplar.

Other than that, studies have shown their properties of their wood choices are particular consistent or unusual.  And you can see the weren't finicky as we are today about using knots, or adding wings to widen a board.

A could be wrong. But for now, I tend to believe they bought wood from specialists for instrument making. And the made basic judgements. This is good wood. This is beautiful visually.  This is good for a cello. Etc.   

But I suspect their choices of plate height, arching, etc. Were rather more or less separate choices from the wood choice.  I can't prove the issue one way or the other for now.

But, I haven't yet seen anything about the wood character the seems to correlate with arching height, or heaviness of build, etc.

It certainly could be a bad idea and who am I with less than one instrument under my belt to say? My observation is that the arching and thickness seem to be the most consistently variant things, while a variety of different instruments still are described as having that particular maker's "Sound". Perhaps those two design elements are adjusted to get a particular "Sound". I have three excellent pieces of finely grained spruce, all roughly the same dimensions from the same source that make very different tones when tapped in the same way in the same location. Just my wild speculation.

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43 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

If your goal is to make good violins then it is reasonable to closely adapt tradition and don't make any changes to it.  It is unreasonable that you can make any improvements.

The best makers are called "innovators" and traditions seem to have some basis in what they did. Tradition is an awesome learning tool I suspect, but I also think traditions are created by people who move beyond or develop further other traditions.

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20 hours ago, David Beard said:

 The world right now makes factory, innovative, and copy violins.  It made the mistake of stepping away from and neglecting old Cremona methods starting 200 years ago.

I am unreasonably stepping out of line by saying let's revive those traditions.

A nailed on neck 1cm shorter? 

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37 minutes ago, sospiri said:

A nailed on neck 1cm shorter? 

So that is a choice.  The old Cremona masters only made 'Baroque' instruments.  Later people have modified virtually all those old instruments to modern playing standards.

So, today's best instruments were made by the old methods, then later setup for modern playing.

My approach to this to say 'revive' the old ways of making, but let setup belong to modern methods.

In practice, what this means is that if you are making an instrument for Baroque setup, then just 'Do As They Did', all the way.

But usually, you're making for a modern playing setup.  This requires some decisions in handling the neck and fingerboard elevation.  But I still want the sides and neck to get worked together in the old way. I want the instrument to go through those steps of twist aligning the neck on pins.  Then working the back outline geometry 'chasing' the actual sides and corner disposition. And then later independently working the top outline, again in relation to the real disposition of the sides, sides which in the old processes aren't necessarily square.

To reconcile the old build and the new neck/fb, you attach the neck early, just when you would in a fully Baroque build.  But, you mortice the neck, and anticipate the neck angle as best as possible.  And you cut the neck back alla Lady Blunt so top can fit at the neck in the old ways.  The Baroque build, their wedge system allowed final fb angel setting. To get this needed opportunity with the Lady Blunt style neck, leave wood where the FB glues to be cut back later.

It's not difficult.  Old build. New setup.

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Now that I've thought about it some my work was derived from the Davidson/Bagatella formula, Mockel's back plate arching, a 1709? Strad belly lowered or raised depending on how I was destroying wood at the time and an accurate Stradivari replacement neck template.  

I've never owned a poster for specs or copying - just made my own design to what I think can be right.

  

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21 hours ago, David Beard said:

So that is a choice.  The old Cremona masters only made 'Baroque' instruments.  Later people have modified virtually all those old instruments to modern playing standards.

So, today's best instruments were made by the old methods, then later setup for modern playing.

My approach to this to say 'revive' the old ways of making, but let setup belong to modern methods.

In practice, what this means is that if you are making an instrument for Baroque setup, then just 'Do As They Did', all the way.

But usually, you're making for a modern playing setup.  This requires some decisions in handling the neck and fingerboard elevation.  But I still want the sides and neck to get worked together in the old way. I want the instrument to go through those steps of twist aligning the neck on pins.  Then working the back outline geometry 'chasing' the actual sides and corner disposition. And then later independently working the top outline, again in relation to the real disposition of the sides, sides which in the old processes aren't necessarily square.

To reconcile the old build and the new neck/fb, you attach the neck early, just when you would in a fully Baroque build.  But, you mortice the neck, and anticipate the neck angle as best as possible.  And you cut the neck back alla Lady Blunt so top can fit at the neck in the old ways.  The Baroque build, their wedge system allowed final fb angel setting. To get this needed opportunity with the Lady Blunt style neck, leave wood where the FB glues to be cut back later.

It's not difficult.  Old build. New setup.

Two different instruments. Old and new. 

If the neck is longer, should the plates be thicker? Is a 60-65g belly better for a 229-330mm string length than 70-75?

 

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48 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Two different instruments. Old and new. 

If the neck is longer, should the plates be thicker? Is a 60-65g belly better for a 229-330mm string length than 70-75?

 

No.  The favored concert instruments today are the classic instruments with their old build but a modern setup.

That is what I'm undertaking with 'Cremona Revival'.   The old build process and design choices, with a modern setup.

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