(from blog post) Hi everyone - its been quite a while since I've posted and I'm currently a student at Georgia Tech (bio major; yes highly ironic considering I'm not an engineering student AND writing on a musical community blog)
Many summers ago I had the opportunity to take a very, very brief apprenticeship for a local violin maker and I loved every aspect of it, so now I'm currently working on building my own personal instrument as a more of something-I-should-have-done-with-my-life-instead, which also raises new questions diving into the construction.
While many regard the violin as "perfect", it also has its tendencies and flaws like every other natural thing in the world (projection, frequency response, wolftones/frequency overloading, etc.), and its within human nature to try and improve it (I mean, someone sat down a long time ago and put together something nice that vaguely resembles the modern day instrument and before that baroque violin or lute)
Does anyone know of design implications they thought of but is 'outside traditional design"? Yes, it'll be my first instrument and my workmanship won't be great, but I hope these new ideas will amount to something truly unique and special rather than just copying for 'a first violin'. Along my line of thought on my current blueprints (which I won't try to spoil until I'm finished), ideas such as another bass bar on the back, placement of f-holes, thickness of plates, transfer of sound around the body, shape?
Any ideas are greatly appreciated to be contemplated!
A friend of mine, Charles Woods, took up violin making about 15 years before he retired from his real job (27 or 28 years ago) as a mechanical engineer. I bought his 11th violin in 1990, but it was "commandeered" by my granddaughter in 2005 when she was 16 after 10 years of violin lessons. I subsequently purchased a viola and another violin that Woods made. He is now about 81 years old and has completed 101 instruments including 3 cellos, about 12 violas and 86 violins. I think he has sold them all - except for the last violin (I don't know about that one). In addition to being "self-taught" Woods has also attended violin-making workshops and actually won an award for tone for a viola he made early in his 2nd career. I don't think he entered any other competitions.
There has been anything possible.
Study the physics of how the violin works. A second bass bar on the back will do nothing positive.
You might also want to take this question to Maestronet, where a lot of luthiers hang out.
Standard violins seem to work well.
If you want to make violins, learn how to make them in the orthodox way first. It is better knowing how the traditional violin is made prior to develop something new.
While they are in a minority, I often have customers that will pick an ugly violin because it is cheaper and still sounds good, so not everyone rejects everything that is not beautiful IMHO.
Before you go too far down the rabbit hole of wondrous new violin inventions, keep in mind that certain dimensions of the violin are the value they are because it has to be played by an actual human and has to use available strings.
I've noticed (on violas again) that wide bottoms with narrow shouders (e.g. Tertis model) can give a boomy bass and a reedy treble. Curiously, Sabatier's assymetrical 3-cornered model seems to avoid this by reducing top
A viola is a bit different as the wavelength/dimension ratio is different.
You can make calculations that seem right. In order to try them out you'll need to experiment.
Btw, I have seen and played violins and violas by Julius Zöller. Did anybody have a cello in his hand?
I really like the simplified corners of this one:
Though all kinds of things have been tried, the "ideal violin" sound still seems to come from violins with rather conventional construction and dimensions. You might "improve" on this sound somehow, but then it may no longer conform to the sound which is considered "the ideal", so there's a very high probability that it wouldn't be considered an improvement.
What I was going to say, Luis said first, so I won't repeat it. There are really good reasons why golden period Strads have been the standard violin design for centuries now.
I've just read Luis's post in which he mentions a violin length of 36cm which apparently the "market" does not love.
Maybe your violin is French, they seemed to love the longer body length. What's important is having the correct ratio between neck length and stop length, the standard being 13cm neck length(from top edge of the top to the nut) and 19.5 cm stop length(from the top edge of the top to the f hole notches), shorter or longer can be OK but preferably in the same ratio.
First, follow Luis's advice.
I have a monster violin, possibly Italian, that's 364mm body length, If I put the bridge lined up with the notches its 34cm sounding length, a full cm longer than usual, but it sounds incredible.
It's interesting how many beginners want to do something different from the same old violin design. I was one too... my first experiment had flat plates, no corners, a snakehead instead of a scroll, and soundholes in the shape of snakes. Thankfully the top caved in and I had a reason to scrap it. Now I make pretty much the same old violin designs, and they sound much better.
My first full-sized violin, made in 1972 and bought for my by my parents in 1976, was a violin that evidently contained some design "experiments." For example a top that was about twice as thick as it should be, and massive corner blocks inside. And guess what? It produced about half the amount of sound as a normal violin. I remember when I showed it to Dalton Potter. He took it in his hands and he had a very surprised look on his face. He turned to me and said, "This violin is way too heavy." A luthier in Richmond declared it beyond help (
Is this about trying to reinvent the wheel? We've tried the circle and this works very well. Should we now try one with five or six sides? It's different. Maybe it will work better?
Instruments may be beautiful but their main function is making music, I see the violas I make as tools for making music.
Lyndon, interesting that you suggest my #1 violin may be French. One luthier who has seen it thought it might be late 18th c German, another thought it was French, and a very experienced violinist of my acquaintance, but not a luthier, also said it looked like French. So we have the current odds 5 to 2 that it may be French, making allowance for the fact that one opinion isn't from a luthier.
Thanks to everyone for their wonderful insights - I'll definitely keep as much as I can in mind building up my first violin! I didn't so many ideas had been attempted to the violin. I am curious at why people gravitate towards traditional design? Quite honestly some of the violins mentioned earlier by Zoller and Chanot sound quite beautiful, if so in a different way, obviously very far away from traditional design. I understand the basic mechanics and why keeping arching, string length, body stop ratio, etc. is important, but I also feel like we forget that the violin has also changed a lot as well over time - neck angle and dovetail setting, string tension, bass bar length, soundpost location, bridge design, differing arching thickness (Guarneri's il cannone for example) - which all greatly change how the violin sounds and responds. I'd wager that the modern setup was not the ideal in the ages long ago; but somehow the sound was encouraged as classical music developed and artists developed and pushed boundaries of the limitations of the instrument and music. If a sound, not yet imagined, can be created, why shouldn't all the incredibly talented luthiers in the world seek that sound: something more beautiful that people or a collection of people cannot deny? I'm would think that thought must have crossed Amati or Stradivari's mind at some point, however naive. Music is still changing today and artists are pushing what's possible to play and what is needed. Imagine where we'd be without the extended bassbar or even throwing in the violin's better half, the design of the first tourte bow.
I played a few Zoller violins, a friend of mine ownes one I played quite often.
Robert. First, understand that you are addressing probably the most conservative community here. Whether it be maker or player they tend to value the tradition aspect and will defend that tradition in its purity. The words change or evolution suggest to them an end to this tradition rather than living side by side in the way that the many different types of guitar coexist without replacing. Also understand that there is an image players and makers have in mind and that image is a classical soloist playing in a large concert hall with an orchestra. For the most part it’s a fantasy image but it’s still the aspiration in the violin world at every turn. However, in this scenario the soloist is playing a Strad or a Guarneri, not a modern instrument.
It is far off my intention to discurage him. If it sounded that way I am sorry.
Not pointing the finger and I agree with you. :) My point though is that sometimes it's a sidestep for a different purpose rather than an improvement.
Christopher, I'm not noticing much of people trying to defend anything, just attempting to answer Robert's questions.
Dr Thomastik designed a new type of violin some 50 or more years ago, and they were still being produced in latter part of the last century. It had top and bottom 'S' shaped basebars, and the sound post came out through a hole in the belly. They made creuths with the same sort of design which worked, but I was told the violin shape improved the tone. There was a rage of woods from which instruments were made. The instrument was very responsive, but, from what I heard from a recording, the basic tone didn't seem to me to be very pleasant. I haven't heard of them recently, and I haven't been able to find a mention of them when googling for it.
You haven't been surfing ebay, David, the Chinese are turning out all manner of strange shaped violins and viols, not to mention any colour imaginable, or strange head carvings.
That's true Lyndon - I for one bought a hybrid viola d'amore, a 5 string viola d'amore shaped violin, a cornerless viola and a cornerless violin from those Chinese makers. From European makers I also have two more cornerless violins one of which is my main instrument. Oh, and a 5 string electric too. I might be unusual as a buyer but my point was that there is a niche of high end electric violins which seem to be selling okay. Isn't that an area that might work for you makers? It occurs to me that they are not so complicated to make and you don't have to worry so much about the acoustic tone so long as you have a good pickup.
Wohaa, thats a strong one, suggesting making electric violins instead!
Marc said: "Wohaa, thats a strong one, suggesting making electric violins instead!"
I'm reminded of the art appreciation course I took as an elective in college some 63 years ago. I was amazed to see the early works of Picasso. That guy could really do what all the old masters did.Then he spent his life experimenting with simplification.
The discussion reminds me of a probably apocryphal story. Someone tried to fix the inherent intonation problems of the oboe, redrilling the holes and rearranging the machinery. The intonation was improved, but, it didn't sound like an oboe. The early makers, especially Stradivarius, did a lot of experimenting. We don't have a record of their failures, but we do have their results; the Strad. and Guarnerius models. I also especially like the sweet sound of the Amatis, and the masculine, woody sound of the Gaspar da Salos.
Alright, here is a different angle. There is a lot of talk in the violin world of the instrument having reached a level of perfection that need not be improved upon. By that logic though, every violin made like a Strad would sound like a Strad which is not the case. Violins vary enormously even though they are mostly the same pattern and the same kind of wood.
There's a violin maker near where I live, I have not tested out his instruments yet (I'm just getting back into playing again and am waiting til I don't suck so badly before I go test drive a new instrument). He is incredibly brilliant and takes a very technical approach to construction and improving tone on each instrument. You should check out his website. It's a little disorganized and tricky to navigate sometimes, but it's filled with a wealth of information that you might find useful in constructing your own violin.