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Violin back-- one piece vs. two piece

Instruments: 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.

From Joseph Congiusta
Posted September 11, 2008 at 04:41 PM

Hi everyone:

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.

Thanks,
Joseph

From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 04:47 PM
One piece backs are more expensive.

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.

www.manfio.com

From Paul G.
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 05:32 PM
I prefer the look of two piece backs, but I dont know the differences in tone.
From Marc Bettis
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 07:53 PM
A one-piece 1/4 cut back medium-flame, well varnished-is a beautiful thing ;>)

No difference in tone has ever been scientifically proven...it is unlikely it ever will be either.

From Roland Garrison
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 02:13 AM
I have a question about two piece backs. Are they always bookmatched (two pieces of the same grain, reversed against each other like two pages from a book), or is there another way of making them that is considered acceptable? I would think the tone would require them to be as close to each other as possible in density and grain.
From David Burgess
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 04:12 AM
I'm not aware of any advantages in using a one-piece back, other than some people prefer the appearance, and it's less work for the maker.
From Timothy James Dimacali
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 06:57 AM
I'm glad this thread was put up, because I've been curious about this topic for a long time. I have an Amati copy with a one-piece back, and I've always wondered why one-piece backs are few and far between.

@David Burgess,
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.

From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 12:58 PM
would a 1-piece be more prone to cracking?
From Michael Dowling
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 01:05 PM
I notice a lot of cheap violins have one piece backs too, and I can only guess because it's easier to machine one piece of wood in a factory, instead of glueing two pieces together.
From Sue Bechler
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 01:20 PM
There are many high-grade violins with one-piece backs as well. I believe it's more difficult to carve a one-piece back on handmade instruments. Some part must be both maker preference and buyer preference. I love the look of a one-piece back with extensive grain or flame, but I would not choose an instrument for that. Sue
From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 01:33 PM
Using a one piece back represents less work for the maker because he will not have to make the center joint, that is necessary with two piece backs.

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.

www.manfio.com

From Barry Dudley
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 02:41 PM
One piece backs cut on the 1/4 are more expensive because it takes a larger tree to produce a piece of wood that can be wide enough for a violin and still be cut on the 1/4.

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.
www.dudleyviolins.com

From Joseph Congiusta
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 06:02 PM
Thanks for the input everyone.

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?

Thanks again,

Joseph

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 08:40 PM
What Mark described is true. Such violins are sought by collectors, who may not even play the instrument.
From ben zhu
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 06:13 AM

 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

From Royce Faina
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 10:10 AM

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?

From Michael Richwine
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 12:00 PM

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.

From Christopher Burndrett
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 03:37 PM

 

1700 Taft1690 Tuscan

 

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!

 

Chris1699 Castelbarco

From bill platt
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 04:13 PM

The Tuscan from 1690 is a three-piece back. Look closely at the edges:

 

From Christopher Burndrett
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 04:29 PM

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?

1702ContedeFontana

 

From Royce Faina
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 04:59 PM

Well if that Three Piece Back is a repair job that is impressive!!!!!!

Gorgeous violins!!!!!

From Christopher Burndrett
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 05:30 PM

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!!!!!

1670 strad

From Melvin Goldsmith
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 05:45 PM

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.

From Elana Lehrer
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 06:48 PM

 "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.

From Christopher Burndrett
Posted on July 9, 2009 at 08:08 PM

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.

From Brian Lee
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 01:52 PM
I use a Vasile Gliga instrument with a one-piece bird's eye maple back, and it has an extremely bright, though sweet tone. As for projection, I've had it overpower entire violin sections - especially with Vision Titanium Solo or especially Evah Pirazzi strings. My teacher, who's played Stradivarius-es and Vuillaumes and regularly plays on a Guarnerius said that my violin was a wonderful instrument, especially for the relatively low price...
From Roland Garrison
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 10:36 PM

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?

From Brian Lee
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 11:07 PM

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.

From David Burgess
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 11:57 PM

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.


From Robert Spear
Posted on July 11, 2009 at 12:45 PM

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.

From Amy Tobin
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 05:24 PM

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!

From Royce Faina
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 05:50 PM

Notice the bottom corners on this one piece.  I wonder how dificult the joints woould be?

 

From Royce Faina
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 05:50 PM

I originaly called it a Three Piece Back.

From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 07:13 PM

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.

www.manfio.com

From Joan Coy
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 07:18 PM

I have a Romanian handmade violin with a one piece back and it sure as heck wasn't inexpensive.

From Nicolas Temino
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 07:26 PM

 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.

From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 08:09 PM

Yes, these wings can be seen on tops too, much  more rarely on scrolls.

www.manfio.com

From Royce Faina
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 08:39 PM

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!!!!!!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on November 27, 2009 at 10:03 PM

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.

Anne-Marie

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 28, 2009 at 02:31 PM

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.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on November 28, 2009 at 07:23 PM

Cello with one piece back!!! Imagine the tree...

Anne-Marie

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 28, 2009 at 10:55 PM

A giant redwood! Actually I saw one once - standard maple, but that one really was an inexpensive cello.

From Lyle Reedy
Posted on November 29, 2009 at 12:58 AM
If you see a one-piece back on a cheap cello or violin, look carefully at the edges of the plates. They are usually laminated (plywood). Basses have been made that way for a long time but I've recently seen it in cheap fiddles.
From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO
Posted on November 29, 2009 at 02:08 AM

There are some first class celli with one piece backs....   Ferdinando Garimberti is a quite good maker that favoured one piece backs for celli....

www.manfio.com

From Peter Carter
Posted on December 2, 2009 at 12:09 PM

..and his violins.....


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