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Jonathan Hai

Violin Maker's Wife: Putting the Corners in the Center

April 5, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Post no. 8

After days of hard work, the four instruments are taking their final shape. Yonatan finished roughing out all four external arching, as well as completing the flat contours, and over the past few days has been concentrating on completing what is one of the most important – and personalized – aspect of violin making: the corners.

You know, when most of us mortals (that is, non-violin-makers) think of a corner, we think of an out-of-the-way, often insignificant aspect of a room, a structure, or even a situation. But for a violin maker, shaping out the corners of an instrument is a most central task; a creative challenge that’s an opportunity to bring to light a unique personal touch. You may ask why the corners are so important if the models of the instruments were prepared so long ago, based on classical, often pretty rigid, measurements. Well, the answer is that the model of a violin creates its general shape, but the mold really only lays out the contours of the sides, the top and the bottom. The corners, however, are a “free-standing” component – meaning that they are external to the mold, and each violin maker can shape them based on his or her own esthetics. And here’s the real challenge: this is done based on hand-eye coordination, with no external assistance. Although the basic proportions of the mold are maintained, changes in the corners alter the entire “look” of the instrument. As is the case with almost every step in the violin-making process, this is a one way trip – once you have sculptured a piece it cannot be put back so every error is irredeemable.

I must tell you, being someone for whom drawing a straight line is a real challenge (and I mean WITH a ruler in hand), I can’t imagine how he manages to shape these corners based on his mind’s vision only, and then how he makes the wood bend to his will and become that shape… But, being the true artisan that he is, this is one of Yonatan’s favorite steps. The way he described it to me “the corners actually define the instrument’s outline. They are the place that all the lines of the instrument flow into; they are the aspect that most draws the eye of the looker; and they are the place where I can add my personal touch to each model, creating the harmonic shape I wish for each instrument”. Now tell me that’s not poetry…

So basically, once the instrument’s corners have been finished, the external contour takes its final shape, and the instrument is ready for the next phase called purfling (a word even my Word Dictionary doesn’t recognize…), of which I’ll write next week.

And here we are. Look at the following pictures: all the endless quantity of trucioli has been cleared aside (a portion of it Yonatan collected and brought a huge sack for our daughter Yaara’s kindergarten to use as materials for their artistic activities). Now that all four instruments have taken their final outline, it’s really impressive to look at all of them together –



If you look on the wall behind the instruments you can see passport pictures of our kids that Yonatan has been collecting since they were born (thanks to the unparalleled Italian bureaucracy there are many of those) , and these pictures are overlooking the entire scene.

Wow – now that I am looking at this last picture, it looks like two parents with… let’s see… six kids (!!). Well, let me tell you, that ain’t going to happen here! Then again, maybe this is just my private association since it’s Family Day in Israel today:)

If you want to see more of these terrific pictures, look in the Quartet Slideshow!!.

From Gene Huang
Posted on April 5, 2012 at 5:28 PM
Awesome and fascinating!
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on April 6, 2012 at 4:33 AM
Something that hadn't sunk in until I studied your pictures: the "flames" give the impression that the back grain runs horizontal while the front grain runs vertical. Good thing they're separated by the ribs.

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