What elements make the biggest difference between great violins and mass-produced?
I'm talking about nuts and bolts, anatomical and construction differences between run of the mill violins and what you would consider a professional or even elite violin.
Assuming similar materials - maple, spruce, ebony, and all the requisite pieces are there and are fit and adjusted correctly - what makes a great violin sound profoundly different than a mass-produced instrument even though the basic components are at least superficially very similar in appearance and dimensions?
Have you ever heard a mass-produced instrument you thought sounded way out of its price range, that you'd gladly play anywhere?
The details of what make a truly good violin are far too complex to put into writing on a forum, honestly. It's nothing so simply as "better wood." It's careful "tuning" of the wood that's there as to make all frequencies respond in a pleasant and easy way.
Some mass produced factory violins made in France (like Collin-Mezin) or companies like EH Roth in Germany make violins every bit the equal of most hand made by one maker instruments. Whether or not a violin is made by one maker or factory produced is not necessarily a good criteria for selecting a violin, you should pick the best violin regardless of how it was made.
It's probably worth making the distinction between individually-crafted, workshop, and factory violins, too.
Everyone has made good points. I think the subtle differences in dimensions of individual instruments can impact sound, especially depth (e.g a violin with tall sides/ribs will generally sound quite deep).
While this may not answer your question on specifics, I think it should be said.
Often the luthiers employed by some of the top factories and workshops are substantially more skilled craftsman than many one off makers.
Are "...luthiers employed by some of the top factories and workshops..." not makers?
Very true Lyndon, some of the workers in Chinese factories are extremely skilled at what they do. I am wondering though why bench made instrument makers insist on laborious hand carving from start to finish, while the tools exist to cut down hands on time by 80%. I.e. spending less time in the rough to get to the 80% stage in a small fraction of the time, and spend more time in the fine tuning of the plates (where the "magic" happen) would seem a more logical approach no? At the end does the buyer cares about the nobility of the making process?
Power tools vibrate the wood so strongly that they can kill the tone. I have seen this happen with high quality tone wood I used power tools on, suddenly become dead as a doornail after using the power tools, less violent power tools like a band saw or electric drill are less of a problem and used by most hand makers. CNC is a very destructive process tonally, and is not the future of quality violins, IMHO Just a way to make fairly crappy violins cheap.
The introduction of power tools to German violin making in the mid 20th Century led to some of the worst tone disasters in History, next to the $60 Chinese violin, brands Like ER Pfretzschner, Becker, and Sherl and Roth produced violins so bad that the cheapest Czech violin from 100 years ago still sound better.
Scott, I posed a similar question awhile back and there were some interesting answers. I came at it from a slightly different direction in asking, After hundreds of years and thousands of examples, why can't the instrument be made using modern tech along with the knowledge we have, good craftsmen and mass production to make fine instruments?
The massive vibrations of the CNC machine destroy the microfibres of the wood, which ruins the tone, there really is no way to only half way ruin the tone, routers are bad for tone.
Ultimately, since I've been researching on this, it really comes down to the fine tuning of the instrument. Most of the times, these "factory made" Instruments are hand crafted by a machine line of people who specialize only in one task. They're extremely good at whatever they're doing, but not anything else
Good factory or workshop violins would have had a specialist who's one task was the fine tuning of the violin, just saying.
Lyndon, it's true that material response depends strongly on frequency. (If you pull silly putty slowly, it draws. If you apply the same total force very quickly, it fractures.) Still, the idea that sawing a board in half with a table saw or carving a scroll using CNC would change the "tone qualities" of the wood, or that the vibrations of a CNC machine "destroys the microfibres of the wood" -- these seem to me rather fantastical claims.
The main difference is the market which is aimed imho.
Wasn't Stradivari's process a workshop of several makers doing different steps? Division of labor between highly-skilled craftsman should lead to a higher quality product than one person doing everything alone. I always figured this was part of why Stradivari had a consistently high product in relatively large volume--he clearly had a well oiled manufacturing process, so to speak.
Paul I guess you're an expert at almost everything, can't really argue with genius.
The ability (more like willingness) to think about things scientifically is not genius, in fact it's rather commonplace. But apparently not universal.
Lyndon, I don't think he op meant "factory made" in the same way you're thinking of it. If a place has a dedicated tone Luthier, I would call it a workshop, not a factory.
I was always under the impression that the falling of German factory violin tonal quality had to do with thicker plates and stronger construction to withstand the rigor of shipping in those days.
I think it also had something to do with using kiln dried wood instead of air dried, but I haven't come up with any evidence besides dead as a doornail tap tones on mid century German factory fiddles.
All violins in that price range are factory made,unless you're talking cheap antiques, then maybe workshop, actually you can buy a hand made American violin of dubious quality for $500 on ebay.
The care, knowledge and thought that went into their production.
I think the main problem here is that you're asking the wrong question.
I am no expert, but I would think that the quality of the wood tone is one biggie. A luthier I believe could spend well over a thousand dollar (if not several) on raw material alone for exceptional quality tone wood.
You asked whether I ever heard a really exceptional mass-produced half-sized violin. Yes -- my daughter had a 1/2 size unlabeled Chinese violin (thought to have originated from Eastman) that was really great.
To answer your last question, my Eastman VL305. I could easily upgrade if I wanted to but see no point. I play with people that use $10,000 plus instruments and when they first heard mine (including my two teachers) and asked to play my machine they were shocked to learn what it was. It’s pretty lovely and I feel very lucky to have found her.
Hand carving uses a gouge that cuts parallel to the grain of the wood and the strokes are thousands of vibrations below any audible frequency.
Scrolls are carved entirely with the grain? Scraping the plates is a silent process? Okay...
Well its hard to tell as there are good and bad handmade violins while there are good and bad machine- made ones too. I guess the mechenical difference is the weight.
I seriously doubt there has ever been a study on acoustic damage assessment as the result of routing. I'm not trying to be a smart ***. I think we both know the answer to that one.
What would Amati have watched on cable? Perhaps "Keeping up with the Medicis" or "The Apprentice: Cremonese Violin Shop Edition".
Timothy wrote: "I seriously doubt there has ever been a study on acoustic damage assessment as the result of routing"... well, I've googled for nearly 2 hrs and have yet to come across anything!
Ideal wood properties, arching (geometry), and plate thickness. All three are either in limited supply for mass produced instruments or takes too much labor to execute to a high standard.