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Jonathan Hai

Violin Maker's Wife - Two Identical Violins?

February 24, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Post. No. 2

The first step in building a new stringed instrument is to decide which model to use. I have to admit that to my unprofessional eye, the various models seem very similar – they all look like… well… a violin.

But in the amazingly intricate world of violin making, each model has its own uniqueness: violins made from one model will tend to sound more “robust”, while a different model may create a “sweeter” voice (yes, violin makers – and musicians too – talk about the sound of their instrument in much the same way that wine tasters talk about the taste and aroma of wine; using words such as “bright”, “rich”, “sharp”, “golden” etc.) (However, wine tasters tend to spit out the wine after the trial, whereas this has rarely been observed with violins..)

Why is this interesting to me? Because here Yonatan had quite a unique opportunity – he could build two exactly identical violins. After all, how often does a violin maker get to use pieces of the same tree-trunk, which have aged together, and are being worked on simultaneously, by the same builder, in the same season of the year…. You see, there is an almost infinite number of variables that come into play in a hand-made violin, and thus in its characteristics and sound. It is always very hard to isolate these different variables. Here, however, there was an almost scientific opportunity to create two identical instruments, changing only a single variable (e.g. the thickness of the sounding board). This appealed to my scientific upbringing – both my parents were teachers of biology and chemistry – and I thought it would be a really cool experiment.

Alas, my artisan husband thinks otherwise, and after giving this much thought has decided that since one violin is to be the “first” and the other the “second” in the playing quartet, different models will be used. One model will be more “masculine”; the other more “feminine”. Yonatan says it will be boring to build two identical violins, and that with two different –but somehow related – models, the quartet will be more interesting for both the eye and the ear. Have to trust him on that one…

So this week, the deed is done – models for all four quartet instruments have been picked, drawn, cut and prepared, the “corner blocks” (“zocchetti“) have been glued and now the ribs (“fasce“) are being bent to create the “C” (the instruments’ so-called “waist”). Wow, I almost sound like I know what I’m talking about!
corner blocks

I guess this reminds me a little of having kids. Not that the control and influence we have over our kids is remotely in the vicinity of a violin maker turning a block of wood into a playing instrument. No in the least! (…and would we want it to be?) But there is something about the infinite number of variables that form a different instrument every time, which I associate with my surprise, initially at least, at our kids being so different from one another, while originating from the same gene pool :)

Below you can see a few pictures from the very first steps of building the quartet. What Yonatan is doing is really building all four instruments simultaneously, so that each step is repeated four times before the next step is taken.


From Vu Nguyen
Posted on February 24, 2012 at 4:34 PM
Nice blog!
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on February 26, 2012 at 1:22 AM
Look at Laurie's recent interview with Anne Akiko Meyers. Anne is planning to record herself playing both parts of the Bach Double, using one Strad for each voice. One of them she characterized as more masculine and one as more feminine. She said (in effect) that Heifetz's recording of himself playing the Double with the same violin for each voice was boring.
From Jonathan Hai
Posted on February 29, 2012 at 7:21 PM
thanks Francesca!

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