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Working hour estimate Violin vs Cello


Michael Szyper
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How much more work is a Cello compared to a violin?

I have made only 1 cello so far and worked parallel on 2 violins, so finally I have no real idea of the proportion regarding the amount of working time.

My guesstimate would be around 3 times the amount of work compared to a violin.

What is your experience?

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1 hour ago, Michael Darnton said:

A friend of mine who makes a ~50/50 split and is probably sitting at around 1000 instruments total likes to say that cellos are 4X the work for 2X the money.

 

I think that's about right. Basses are even worse.... which may explain why nobody who is highly acclaimed in the violin-through-cello category makes more than an occasional bass, if any.

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Depends on several things. if you do all your work by hand cellos are about 3 times the work time but much harder on the body. If you use machines for rough work then that difference is much less. Also if you are making willow cellos versus maple violins the difference evens out some. It doesn't take me much more time to purfle a willow cello cello back than a maple fiddle.

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15 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

....that cellos are 4X the work for 2X the money.

But you can use the cheap willow or poplar from firewood stash instead of expensive highly flamd maple.

BTW, what is the typical hour estimate for a violin by maker who does most of the work by hand?

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I would think a'la Davide Sora (as he shows in his videos).

I believe using bandsaw to saw out neck profile or plate outlines is normal these days. Thickness sanders or CNC carving or purfling channels routed less so.

I'm just curios to compare to my mandolin making. I found out I spend more and more time on my mandolins even when I improve my technique or some fixtures I still tend to spend more time on tiny details (just to be more period-correct) then on previous instruments. I can estimate my F-5 mandolin build (fully hand made, minimal use of power tools) to be close to 300-350 hours of work. Sometimes maybe more.

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2 hours ago, HoGo said:

I would think a'la Davide Sora (as he shows in his videos).

I believe using bandsaw to saw out neck profile or plate outlines is normal these days. Thickness sanders or CNC carving or purfling channels routed less so.

I'm just curios to compare to my mandolin making. I found out I spend more and more time on my mandolins even when I improve my technique or some fixtures I still tend to spend more time on tiny details (just to be more period-correct) then on previous instruments. I can estimate my F-5 mandolin build (fully hand made, minimal use of power tools) to be close to 300-350 hours of work. Sometimes maybe more.

It’s just that we have argued about this theme before. Is a Sawzall fitted bridge “by hand” or not? (by American standards)

My father always had a massive polemic about this. He would point out to customers that there wasn’t a single machine on the premises “apart from the glue pot”, and ridicule colleagues for using machines “to save half an hour”. What he neglected to mention was that he, for over 40 years, gave v.m. lessons at the local technical college every Tuesday evening, where they had every imaginable wood working machine

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4 hours ago, Dave Slight said:

I must send you my wood next time, for processing :)
I have been using a wooden toothing plane, then a mitre plane to thickness them.

You are welcome :) I would have never bought the sander for cello making, but it is a relict from my guitar making times…still don’t want to miss it. 

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4 hours ago, HoGo said:

But you can use the cheap willow or poplar from firewood stash instead of expensive highly flamd maple.

BTW, what is the typical hour estimate for a violin by maker who does most of the work by hand?

The range among the highly respected luthiers would be between 100-250h for „hand made violins“. At least I know luthiers on both sides of the extremes.

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5 hours ago, HoGo said:

I would think a'la Davide Sora (as he shows in his videos).

I believe using bandsaw to saw out neck profile or plate outlines is normal these days. Thickness sanders or CNC carving or purfling channels routed less so.

I'm just curios to compare to my mandolin making. I found out I spend more and more time on my mandolins even when I improve my technique or some fixtures I still tend to spend more time on tiny details (just to be more period-correct) then on previous instruments. I can estimate my F-5 mandolin build (fully hand made, minimal use of power tools) to be close to 300-350 hours of work. Sometimes maybe more.

It has been a long time since I counted the hours of work necessary, but I think today they are around 350 hours. Getting to 400, however, only takes a breath. The problem is that you can't just count the actual hours at the bench, we are not workers on the assembly line, but the time actually dedicated to that violin (not only cutting wood) and to our work in general, every moment. My personal "record" at the beginning (end of '80) was 240 hours of effective work at the bench, then instead of decreasing it always increased, because despite the experience increasing, awareness of aspects that were not known before also increased, not to mention the time to discover them.:)

For a cello? I think three times the violin is reasonable, even two and a half times if you don't have to make templates, form, fixtures, and so on, and all other aspects of stylistic research. And if the wood isn't too hard and the cello isn't too big...

 

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May I throw in one more factor? The pay off might be relatively poor, but for traditional violin makers the cello might garner enough interest for a certain sale. 

I have never played a Matsuda cello. Or a Stanley Kiernoziak cello, both makers who I enjoy playing their violins and violas ( for example... in the US, near Chicago, for example ) for reference and knowledge.

But there are the monster makers out there like Maestro Burgess, Maestro Zygmuntowitz, Maestro Kuttner, Maestro Greiner, Maestro Grubaugh those whom were discussed at the show with friends at length. We get what we can. We play what we can. We can compare to what we know. 

Those who I think of as cello makers like Maestro Melanson, the value is superb. 

The cello world is fierce. As mostly an upper string player, there are some cello players that are mean as hell. Attilla Pazstor ( sp? ) was at the conference and I really wanted to be his friend.

But I am not sure of any one who collects large volume of one maker or another. Anyone know? I missed a chance to have played a "Peresson" cello oddly from Aldo's studio. I hate to say it, but cellos are under priced. If the cellos are made to the same details as violins, they are way undervalued.

 

 

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5 hours ago, GoPractice said:

May I throw in one more factor? The pay off might be relatively poor, but for traditional violin makers the cello might garner enough interest for a certain sale. 

I have never played a Matsuda cello. Or a Stanley Kiernoziak cello, both makers who I enjoy playing their violins and violas ( for example... in the US, near Chicago, for example ) for reference and knowledge.

But there are the monster makers out there like Maestro Burgess, Maestro Zygmuntowitz, Maestro Kuttner, Maestro Greiner, Maestro Grubaugh those whom were discussed at the show with friends at length. We get what we can. We play what we can. We can compare to what we know. 

Those who I think of as cello makers like Maestro Melanson, the value is superb. 

The cello world is fierce. As mostly an upper string player, there are some cello players that are mean as hell. Attilla Pazstor ( sp? ) was at the conference and I really wanted to be his friend.

But I am not sure of any one who collects large volume of one maker or another. Anyone know? I missed a chance to have played a "Peresson" cello oddly from Aldo's studio. I hate to say it, but cellos are under priced. If the cellos are made to the same details as violins, they are way undervalued.

 

 

Attila Pasztor is one of the nicest guys I‘ve met so far. His playing on Friday evening at the competition room blew my mind.

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Some alternate perspective:

Since Tetsuo Matsuda's name has been brought up recently. . .  I worked along side him at WH Lee & Co, and was positioned with one foot in making and one in administration, so I had access to production figures. Fact: every year that Tetsuo was there he and his one single assistant made 55 finished violins working eight hour days with an hour nap after lunch every day, head down on the bench. This was consistent, year to year, obviously intentional. You can do the math on this. When I was there I made 27 violins one year AND set up nearly 300 of the shop instruments (one hour per violin, post, bridge, nut, pegs, all done to the same Bein and Fushi standards that I brought to that job, but honed through repetition, and in a pinch I still can cut a fine bridge in about 30 minutes as a result of that experience.) I raced with another maker (still living, you would know his name) once, and he beat me by several hours, making a white violin in 24 (non-continuous) hours. Another (still living, you would know his name) consistently worked faster than any of the three of us. We used to joke at makers who made 10 a year as being amateurs who didn't have their act together yet. At that time I heard second-hand from someone that Bob Bein had told him that of all the modern makers he'd seen I was the best at creating the effect of the Cremonese instrument tradition in a new instrument, so I don't think I was doing too bad of a job at it.

I wonder how many makers who are willing to name their hours take their prices, divide by what they think is a reasonable per hour figure that customers will accept without protest, and name that result as their hours. I often suspect the same situation regarding being booked ahead for years (I have actual behind the scenes accounts of that lie as well). If you have ever been at the back of a two-year list and then your violin shows up in a month or two because someone ahead of you "backed out" and the maker wants you to get yours because you are "special" for some reason, you should know that this isn't all that unusual: every good salesman knows that it takes a while to fully set the hook, and every minute past that offers the fish the opportunity to wiggle loose. Imaginary long lines are good for sales but real long lines are not.  When we started our retail business one famous-name maker, booked up to infinity, called us to say that he had nine unsold violins on his rack and could we help him get rid of some. Anyone who's been here a while knows the similar story of a  supposedly backed up EuroMaker whose new NYC representative made the mistake of advertising that they had three violins for sale, in stock and available now.

I don't doubt all of the figures people name for how long they take, but I wonder how fast they could work if they had a real job working for someone else alongside others who worked much faster. :-)

My time for a violin, finished and set up, now runs around 80 hours. My machines are a band saw, a drill press (optional, but nice to have for the peg holes and f-hole eyes), and a purfling machine.  I do things like planing ribs, shaping arching, outlines, etc, entirely by hand. The trick to working fast is knowing where you are going and getting most of the way there as efficiently as possible, leaving a lot of time for the last 5% of the work. This comes from lots of experience, and  especially from taking risks by working on the edge along the way while learning.

I don't expect this post to be well received, but it's my true experience behind the scenes in the violin biz, working at a couple of big shops, and now having my own fancy nine-person retail shop. I am DEFINITELY NOT saying that every maker is a liar on these topics, but I know that a lot of them are. As already stated, single makers have also to deal with ordering, customers, cleaning, etc. and those are real costs. Also remember that it costs well over $100 an hour to get anything done on your car, so we shouldn't begrudge makers who think they are worth more  for what they do than the guy who changes your oil.

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If we accept the common guess that about half of Strads are missing, remember that there remain existing as many as 15 violins for some years, indicating a possible production of 30 per year from three people who also had to make the cases and their metal fittings, bows, and *all* of the violins' fittings from scratch, all with zero electrical tools. Chew on that for a bit.

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It is quite possible, that the workshop made all of its own fittings, bows, cases, parts etc. Despite only the boys being mentioned, there were female members of the family too, who I'm sure will have contributed.

In a place like Cremona, with its history of, and abundance of violin makers, it's possible too, that there were other artisans operating, making those items.
It is still not clear to me that they made their own varnish, or even applied it themselves.

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5 minutes ago, Wood Butcher said:

It is quite possible, that the workshop made all of its own fittings, bows, cases, parts etc. Despite only the boys being mentioned, there were female members of the family too, who I'm sure will have contributed.

In a place like Cremona, with its history of, and abundance of violin makers, it's possible too, that there were other artisans operating, making those items.
It is still not clear to me that they made their own varnish, or even applied it themselves.

I agree, and I would add that most likely all the other luthiers in Cremona could work for Mr. Stradivari if he had the need and paid them, not all of them had a list of orders like him.:)

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