Violin Maker's Wife: The Magical Chiocciola (scroll)

October 14, 2012, 2:11 PM · Post No. 24

As promised last time, I am moving backwards in time from the "incastro" phase… to describe one of my favorite steps in the violin making process – the scroll, which in Italian is called "chiocciola", (pronounced kyo-cho-la)meaning "snail".

This is maybe the most obviously impractical part of the stringed instruments – it has nothing to do with the instrument's strength, sound or playability. However, in addition to becoming one of the violin's trademarks, the scroll is the place where the violin maker can really express her or himself. I'm sure that for most of you, like for me, most of those curly "snails" at the end of the instruments' neck look about the same. Oh how wrong you are!

There are endless intricacies, variations, proportional differences and three-dimensional improvisations that go way beyond what we mortals are able to see – scrolls can be delicate or heavy, protruding or relatively flat, with a big or small "eye" (center), flowing downwards or upwards…. And these oh-so-subtle differences make the scrolls of each violin maker uniquely his. Not only that – the scrolls are one of the places that experts in violin evaluation look to decide whether this particular instrument is, in fact, a really valuable antique or whether it's just the old, used instrument you happened to find in your grandparents' attic, and wildly hopes that maybe, just maybe, you had stumbled across a long-lost Stradivari….

Since I am far from being one of those experts, I want to share with you what I find so magical about the scrolls: it's Yonatan's ability to three-dimensionally-imagine the perfect curve of the snail figure, and then to actually take a block of raw maple wood and turn it into that perfect, totally symmetrical, completely flawless, flowing form. Honestly – I still have trouble drawing a good two-dimensional circle… so seeing this process amazes me time and again. And thus, without further ado, I turn the stage over to pictures that will much better describe this amazing process:

Cutting the raw block of wood into the initial scroll form:

DSC_0110 (2)

Further cutting it with a saw:

DSC_0115 (4)

…and using a chisel to begin the three dimensional work:

DSC_0116 (3)

Then cutting again with a saw:

DSC_0120 (3)

And beginning to slowly, patiently, sculpture the scroll, based on nothing but the eye's perception and evaluation:


Then going round and round to deepen the curves and perfect them:

DSC_0066 (2)

Then gently shaving and smoothing the edges:

DSC_0081 (3)

Then working on the back side of the scroll:



Until finally there's a perfect, flowing, almost sensuous, curvy chiocciola:


Need I say more? Pure Violin-Making Magic :)


October 15, 2012 at 01:05 PM · Such wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing,

October 15, 2012 at 03:55 PM · I love your blog, but this entry really felt magical. Thanks for the description, and the wonderful photos.

October 15, 2012 at 04:38 PM · Thank you, Avivot. I have seen many pictures of scrolls in various stages but it always seemed to me that too much wood was being cut out at the sides. Your pictures taken from different angles are perfect. And I don't know why, but I was always reading "chiocolotta" as "cioccolata" and your adjectives did sound like descriptions of chocolate!

October 15, 2012 at 04:48 PM · And I'm curious about how the design of a cello scroll differs from that of a violin scroll. Are you planning to photo-document the creation of the cello scroll, also?



October 16, 2012 at 01:59 AM · I was admiring the pictures again and noticed pencil markings on the first 2 pictures that showed

the scroll just before the chisel work began. Does Yonatan use a template that he drew?


October 16, 2012 at 05:56 PM · thanks everyone for the warm comments and compliments!

Fran - the pictures are actually a combination of scrolls taken from the cello and the viola ... while the proportions of the entire neck are different, in pictures that are so up close you're right that it's hard to tell which is which.

and about the pencil lines you mentioned, yes, each instrument model has a template of the scroll, which gives guidelines for its shape.

October 17, 2012 at 11:29 PM · Really enjoy following your blog on this subject. It's nice to be able to learn more about what goes into creating these instruments.

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