From Joseph Congiusta
Posted September 11, 2008 at 04:41 PM
I am looking at a new violin, and I noticed some instruments have one piece backs. My Sofia had a two piece back, and had great tone for the price.
I was just wondering how one piece versus a two piece back affects tone or projection. It seems that one piece backs are on a lot of the less expensive instruments.
The tone may be influenced if the one piece back is cut on the quarter or slab cut, but that on on good hand made instruments.
But if we are talking about factory made instruments there will be no difference.
No difference in tone has ever been scientifically proven...it is unlikely it ever will be either.
How would a one-piece back be "less work for the maker"? As I understand it, one-piece backs are more difficult to make because you're not able to sight down the wood in cross-section as you're hollowing it out.
In contrast, it seems easier to maintain a consistent thickness across the curvature fo a two-piece back because you can look at it from the middle.
Roger Hargrave mentions that sometimes Del Gesù had some problems with his back center joints.
A pencil line may be drawn inside and outside the one piece back to guide our eyes.
As David Burgess mentioned, many players have a craving for one piece backs.
It is easier because as Luis said you do not have to make the center joint in the back. That joint must be made with surgical precision to keep it from opening up when the plate is arched and graduated.
I think you may be right that it would be easier for a factory to use one piece backs for their C&C machines to mill the plate. They would use less expensive cuts of wood than a hand maker would typically use.
So, it appears that one piece backs are on less expensive instruments because they are machined, and thus cheaper than carefully fitted center joints -- but also may appear on more expensive instruments with quality maple, as it's difficult to find large enough pieces of high quality or flamed maple for a one piece back.
Regarding sound, has anyone compared one piece to two piece for tone, or sustain?
actually one piece backs may be more work for a maker in that it is VERY hard to find a GOOD piece of wood that will work
Something of a side step- I have seen the Romanian violins using one piece quilt & birds'-eye maple. Gorgeous! But what do those maples do for sound..... if anything?
Wood wide enough for one piece backs isn't all that hard to find, but it is usually saved for cellos or basses. Manfio and David Burgess are makers, so I'd accept their opinion that one piece backs are less work because they don't have to be joined.
One of our people spends a lot of time in China working with our affiliate who makes our entry level instruments, and he hasn't seen any CNC machines yet. He's been in dozens of shops. There is an occasional duplicarver for roughing out scrolls, but in most of China labor is still cheaper than machinery. The people in the shops there are incredibly efficient, as a rule.
Just a few examples of Stradivari's with one-piece backs. There are quite a few - I have more examples. There are also Del Gesu's, Gagliano's, Derazey's, Grancino's etc. Heck, Strad and Vuillaume made one piece tops every once in a while. That's alot of fun, lining up and cutting f-holes without a centerline!
The Tuscan from 1690 is a three-piece back. Look closely at the edges:
Yes. Not knowing the history of this instrument, I wondered if this was repair work. I can find another example if necessary. How about the 1702 Conte de Fontana?
Well if that Three Piece Back is a repair job that is impressive!!!!!!
One more. This quite interesting to me. A modern maker would have to be pretty darn confident to use wood like this, yet here it is on the back of a 1670 strad. Slab cut, one-piece, with knots!!!!!
The little wings on the edge of the Tuscan violin are original. It's not an altogether uncommon feature in Strad's and other old Cremonese and old Italian instruments.
"Supposedly" one-piece back instruments sound darker. But, when looking at different violins, the maker mattered far more than whether the back was one piece or not. Personally, I play on a one-piece back instrument with a tiger's eye pattern. I chose it for sound, not looks, but good looks never hurt. :) I don't find the sound especially dark.....
PS Royce, for bird's eye maple, I don't know much, but having heard from some people who tried the instruments, they are gorgeous and sound beautiful under the ear, but don't project. That's with very limited experience, so take it with a grain of salt.
There are simply too many variables involved to quantify the effect of a one or two piece back on sound quality. Comparable violins with one-piece backs are more expensive because the materials are more expensive. While finding one-piece boards is easy enough, they are less common because the nature of wood is unpredictable. Large boards without flaws (which evidently didn't bother the italian masters) are sold at a premium. The obsessive focus on perfect looking materials is a more recent development in violin making. The varying differences in the fiddles shown implies this. I think the masters knew when they were holding wood that would work, regardless of its visual characteristics.
I've often wondered about the one-piece back also, and about a birds-eye back. I've been told the one-piece is stronger, but the birds-eye is actually more brittle.
With a birds-eye back, it is possible for the sound post to push through because of no strength to the supporting grain. I have never heard of this happening in practice, so I do not know if it is true. Has anyone heard of this?
My bird's-eye maple back hasn't ever failed me once, and I've been subjecting it to long, hard commutes through the New York public transit system. My violin's about six years old, and I've never had any tailpiece problems, and the back seems just as hard as curly maple.
Bird's-eye maple hasn't won favor with the high-end violin making community. I can't get more specific, because I've never tried it myself. It sure is pretty though.
Bird's-eye maple is hard to work because each "eye" functions as a small knot and is difficult to smooth off. As for its acoustic properties, I've found it no better or worse than other types of one-piece backs. Two-piece backs are more stable because they are most usually cut "on the quarter" where a one piece back is sometimes cut "on the slab." Also, because the pieces are bookmatched, a two piece back tends to cancel out its own tensions.
In all honesty, I have never heard any difference from a 1-piece back to a 2-piece back. Of course, without the one and two piece backs being made from the same piece of wood, exactly the same way, on the same instrument, it would be impossible to really compare them. Too many other variables are present!
To me, a one-piece back just means there is one less place for a seam to come open. If an instrument is properly cared for (comfortable humidity levels, etc.), it most likely wouldn't be an issue, however, it does happen. My violin, which is about 40 years old now, comes open at one specific seam every winter. It is a side seam, though, not the back seam!
Notice the bottom corners on this one piece. I wonder how dificult the joints woould be?
I originaly called it a Three Piece Back.
Hi Royce! Technically we call this a one piece back with two "wings" added to the lower bouts. Even Stradivari added these "wings" in some of his violins and celli, we do that to use wood that is not wide enought. The "Primrose" Andrea Guarneri viola has 4 big wings in the lower and upper bouts.
I have a Romanian handmade violin with a one piece back and it sure as heck wasn't inexpensive.
I have also seen these "wings" in a top of an old italian. Guess it is no so common.
Same is on the other bout. Maybe the maker was short on some timber he liked.
Yes, these wings can be seen on tops too, much more rarely on scrolls.
I have said this, and I will say it again...... I have learned more from this sight than I did all 10 years from elementery school to 2 years as a music major!
Luis, thank you for the info!!!!!!
I've heard soloists with wonderful tone playing on one piece vs too piece back strads.
I think it depends on each violin rather than a general rule.
It is certainly not right to associate a one-piece back with a less expensive instrument. On the contrary, all things being equal - whch they never are - a one-piece back is usually given a slight aesthetic preference by violin connoisseurs. But there are great looking and great sounding instruments with both one and two piece backs. Strad and del Gesu made both. Two-pieces backs are more prevelant, as it is a little harder to find a good piece of wood wide enough for a one piece violin back. It's still harder for a viola, and of course really rare on a cello.
Cello with one piece back!!! Imagine the tree...
A giant redwood! Actually I saw one once - standard maple, but that one really was an inexpensive cello.
There are some first class celli with one piece backs.... Ferdinando Garimberti is a quite good maker that favoured one piece backs for celli....
..and his violins.....
Please consider supporting Violinist.com by becoming a sponsor, and reaching our dedicated community of violin professionals, students and fans!