New at NAMM: Yamaha Introduces YVN Model 3 Student Violin

January 24, 2019, 12:01 PM · The form and function of a violin make it both an instrument of music and object of art, with the most valued instruments created in the hands of a well-trained and experienced luthier, using centuries-old templates and methods.

In this context, the idea of a violin created with Computer Assisted Design and built with the aid of machines and lasers seems a little -- shall we say, sacrilegious?

And yet, why not combine the knowledge of the old masters with the advantages of new technology? Especially for student violins?

Yamaha Model 3 student violinThat is exactly what Yamaha set out to do five years ago, when the company started a serious analysis of new and different ways to make a student violin, said Ken Dattmore, Marketing Manager for the Strings division at Yamaha Corporation of America. "Teachers said, we need consistency, durability, good sound. We took a solid look and said, 'How do we do that?'"

The result is the new YVN Model 3 Student Violin, debuting today at the 2019 NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim, Calif.

In creating this new student violin, the engineers and designers at Yamaha considered a number of specific issues. Do they need to use as much wood as is typically used in the process of creating a violin? Can they increase the uniformity of the parts that are made, to the point that those parts can be interchangeable, as are the parts in, say, a Yamaha clarinet? Can they increase the durability of the instrument? Can they use all of these methods in a design that will produce an attractive violin, with high quality sound?

They started by taking the top off a hand-crafted antique instrument and doing a computer analysis. Was it possible to devise an efficient process to make a top that is graduated the same way? That has the same, very specific arching?

"Carving an instrument is a difficult process, and it tends to take a good deal of wood," Dattmore said. "A violin maker starts with 3/4 inch of maple or spruce and throws 2/3 of it away," Dattmore said. "Graduating the top, you need to know exactly what you are doing and it takes a lot of time and creates a lot of sawdust and wood chips. How do we change that?"

One of the things they started looking at was pressing the instrument, both the top and back. "But how do we get a graduation into a pressed piece of wood?" Using a 3-D computer image of the antique instrument, they programmed the CAD machine to carve out that pattern in a 1/4 inch piece of spruce, which they could then press into an exact duplication of the antique violin top, complete with the graduation.

"If you look at the original hand-crafted violin, it looks exactly like that," Dattmore said. What's more, they were able to do this with much less wood. "Technically, we didn't carve it, but we put a pattern in it. And we used 1/3 the amount of wood."

The tops and bottoms are three-plied, and "the grain goes the same way in all three plies, to give additional durability and resistance to humidity changes," Dattmore said.

Another advantage of this method: machine precision means consistency and uniformity in the end product.

"The tops are all the same, and they are so accurate that if you cut a bridge for one, you can use it for every other one," Dattmore said. The bridges also are carved using a CAD machine. "A human doesn't have to fit it," Dattmore said. To test this they took three violins and pulled off the bridges -- they were interchangeable in all three.

"What does that mean for an educator?" Dattmore said. "If a kid breaks a bridge, the educator can simply open a toolkit of Yamaha bridges, put on another bridge and it fits."

"For a dealer with 1,000 violins in a rental pool, when the violins come back, typically 10 percent need bridges changed," Dattmore said. In the past, that has meant that someone needs to carve 100 new bridges, each requiring 40 minutes to an hour to carve. "Now you just get a box of Yamaha bridges and install a new bridge in a few minutes."

In a traditional violin, the purfling -- those two lines around the shape of the violin, are carved channels into which a thin layer of wood is laid. Though it looks pretty, this is not only decorative; it protects the violin from damage. So even in a student violin, it is very important that it be functional, that it not be simply two painted lines.

For this student violin, "we have a laser that hits the top, goes around the edge, then it cuts a second channel." Those channels are then filled with a resin we developed and "when that resin hardens, you have a functional purfling."

Dattmore knew that the purfling worked when they were transporting parts of the new violins, and to their horror, they accidentally dropped one of the instrument tops -- on asphalt!

"A piece chipped off the edge, up to the purfling, and stopped. That is exactly what it's supposed to do," Dattmore said. "I handed it to the designer and said, 'Here, your purfling worked!'"

With all these innovations in the manufacture of the new YVN Model 3 Student Violin, it pretty much looks like a nice student violin.

YVN Student violin
The YVN Model 3 Student Violin outfit.

Time will tell how students and teachers like the sound and performance, and whether the durability and interchangeability of parts make a difference for educators.

The violin outfit, which includes a bow and case, has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $835.00 and will be available during the first quarter of 2019.

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January 24, 2019 at 07:33 PM · Very interesting! I would be interested to hear how they sound.

January 24, 2019 at 08:21 PM · Looking forward to trying it out at NAMM on Saturday.

They do such a great job with woodwinds and brass, and the YEV electric strings are awesome, but up to now my experience with their student-level traditional stringed instruments has been somewhat disappointing. Perhaps this novel approach in the production process will yield better results!

January 24, 2019 at 09:09 PM · With due respect to all the wonderful artisan luthiers among us, who make such beautiful and unique and special instruments that are deservedly the objects of our love (and our checkbooks), I am really behind this effort by Yamaha to see what can be accomplished with high-end manufacturing technology. To be able to get a decent, reproducible-quality student-grade instrument for under $1000 will be a positive step.

Hopefully they had the good sense to make gear pegs standard or at least optional right from the factory.

And if it sounds less than a Strad, well, it's got to be the fake purfling, right?

Violas and cellos? Plenty of violinists who are already heavily mortgaged to buy their main instrument and bow, might not want to do that all over again just to have a viola available for the occasional wedding gig.

January 26, 2019 at 12:43 AM · I have nine Yamaha instruments (3 electric Violins, one electric viola, two electric cellos, a Clavinova and a portable digital piano, and an acoustic guitar). They all work and handle superbly, and are therefore great value! I have no doubt that the world’s biggest instrument maker will capitalize on their unmatched experience and high quality control and deliver superbly... Go Yamaha!

January 26, 2019 at 05:11 PM · For the process of construction, pressing to match the dimensions of a specific antique violin, it sounds to me like more of an engineering exercise of duplication than the production of a musical instrument for its own acoustic merits. Granted that the reduction of manual labour and uniformity of production will have value, but they're not necessarily values shared by violinists at large.

I've had two Yamaha YEV-104's. The first I returned because its setup made it hard to play. The one I got in exchange is somewhat better, but is still somewhat hard to play and more difficult than many student instruments. And the tailpiece, essentially a Wittner copy, had to be replaced because one of the tuners snapped.

It's great that Yamaha is innovating and providing new affordable products, but we shouldn't think of them as being more than they are.

January 27, 2019 at 02:46 AM · @J Ray, I am interested to know more about the trouble you are having with your Yamaha YEV-104. I have heard that some orders of the YEV’s do not include setting up the bridge, ie. Yamaham expects a luthier will carve it to set it up properly, so purposely leave soe meat in the wood to allow for this. Some of the suppliers make a point of when ordering from them, the bridge is setup properly by their luthier, others make no mention of this. What aspect made it difficult for you to play?

January 27, 2019 at 05:50 AM · It was the string height -- it was much too high. The second one is just a bit too high. Expecting the store to cut the bridge doesn't make much sense as it's a mass-market product not just sold in specialist shops where additional manual labour would be expected at / after the sale. Moreover the bridge has a built-in pickup with an attached wire and sits on a solid flat body, so a custom carved bridge as for a handmade acoustic violin wouldn't apply.

January 31, 2019 at 09:10 AM · J Ray,

To be fair these are advertised as student instruments for school environments, where low budget and easy of maintenance and similarity of equipment combined with stable function are the things that are important.

These aren't instruments for their own acoustic merit, instead they are tools for teaching music to children where you need to provide and maintain 30 violins on a shoestring budget. If they sound lovely all the better for it.

If your general music teacher, who might not even play strings, is given a set of these violins for their school's orchestra and is capable of maintaining them by themselves without extra cost outside of parts, then that's amazing and something we should be diving behind full force.

Music education is disappearing from public schools. Anything that helps keeps it there is excellent.

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