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Jonathan Hai

Violin Maker's Wife: How Long Does It Take to Make a Violin?

March 1, 2012 at 7:59 PM

Post No. 3

This time I have to begin with an apology – apparently I jumped the gun and with my excitement (about the quartet building project? This blog? Both?) I ran ahead of the actual building process… It seems that at present the "ribs" have been bent and adjusted to only the violin molds and the cello mold. The viola has been left somewhat behind since Yonatan decided to change the model for it. Why? That's for the next post…

But this is actually one of the things I find most fascinating – and honestly at times most frustrating – about the violin-making process: it is just so very, very, very labor-intensive.

When people walk into Yonatan's workshop, they always ask what both of us have come to call the "Classical Four Questions" (CFQs). It happens quite often because the Artisans' Compound at Kibbutz Ein Carmel, where his workshop is located among carpenters, jewelry makers, pottery makers, a glass-blower and so forth, is open to the public on the first Shabbat of every month, and draws a surprisingly substantial crowd. We are always amused by how predictable people are: young or old, women or men, they all stand there, admiring the functional disorder of the beautiful workshop, muse things over, and then ask the same, identical CFQs, usually in the very same order, as follows: (1) So how long does it take to build a hand-made violin? (2) So what wood is this made of? (3) So how much does a hand-made instrument cost? and (4) Can one make a living out of this? (To this last question which, depending on the person's tone and attitude, may sound concerned, disbelieving, condescending or just plain rude, Yonatan sometimes answers: "Actually, it would be nice if you could leave a small donation in the collection box on your way out").

As for the first question: it takes over 250 hours (net!) to build a violin or viola and about twice or even three times as much to build a cello (a double-base is a project of a whole other scale, which maybe I'll dedicate a post to write about).

So yes, constructing hand-made string instruments is one of the most painstaking, exact, minute-detailed jobs I have ever come across. Of course not all violins in the market are hand-built– maybe even most of them are not. Many violins are serially made, either in factories or in mass-production workshops (where numerous people are working, each making the same piece over and over, which are then assembled into a single instrument). Many violin makers around the world spend the majority of their time (and make most of their money…) fixing and restoring instruments, as well as trading them. Of course Yonatan does that too, and enjoys the problem-solving and creative-thinking required to fix and restore instruments, as well as the ability to learn from working on a variety of instruments, some of them constructed by excellent makers. But in all honesty, his love for this profession centers on the art, the process, the magic of creating new instruments from raw blocks of wood.

So by now the "ribs" – thin pieces of maple wood – have been bent, using water and a bending iron, and then fitted on the molds to create the rib cage on three of the quartet instruments.

bending iron

ribs on the cello and on 1.5 violins

I guess now you know one of the major reasons why I will never become a violin maker - and why this is the perfect job for Yonatan - it just requires an enormous amount of patience…

You can see additional pictures from the construction process in the new Quartet Presentation here:

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