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Jonathan Hai

Violin Maker's Wife: So - Spessori

May 28, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Post No. 15

I have been somewhat negligent of my blog (restructuring of our new home started last week, kids needed to be registered to new schools, etc. – all got in the way), and meanwhile Yonatan has been hard at work and, in addition to overseeing the restructuring process, is about half-way-through the thicknesses process. Lots to explain about this phase, so let’s get started:

As I mentioned last time, now that each of the fronts and backs have been carved from the outside into their rounded, curvy shape, Yonatan has been gauging out the inside of each, emptying it of wood and leaving an extremely exact thin layer of wood (doesn’t it sometimes seem like the wood of a violin was maybe bent into the shape it’s in? Well, now you know it’s actually carved out from a raw block of wood. Much more impressive I think!)


This ‘layer’ or ‘wall’ of wood, however, isn’t homogeneous throughout, changing between different segments of each ‘belly’ and each back.… complicated? I’ll try to explain -

Let’s take for example, the sounding board, (‘belly’ or “tavola” in Italian), of the cello. So Yonatan has a kind of “map” drawn that lists the various thicknesses throughout the belly’s plain. Usually, the belly is thicker – so more wood needs to remain – in its middle, and it’s thinner around the edges. The differences here – between so-called “thick” and “thin” areas – are tiny, not to say minute, just a few tenths of a millimeter (!!!) between say a “thick” section of 3.5mm and a “thin” section of 2.7mm, but this makes a hell of a difference.

For me there are two really interesting issues that come into play during Yonatan’s work on the Spessori (the Italian word for the “thicknesses” phase). The first is that here you can really understand the difference between a hand-made instrument, and a factory-made or serially-made one. Why? Because although each violin-making school has this type of “map” of thicknesses for the sounding board and back, Yonatan’s professionalism is to adapt this generic map to the specific characteristics of the piece of wood he is holding in his hand. Sometimes the wood is “softer” and more pliable, so he leaves just a bit more wood, making the sounding board thicker in the smallest degree. Other times, if he feels the wood of that specific instrument is rather “tough” or “hard”, he shaves off a tiny bit more wood, to compensate for that.

The second thing, which I guess is a recurring fascination of mine with the entire violin-making process, is how much PATIENCE this phase requires. At first, gouging out the wood is done with relatively rough gauges, but then the wood becomes really thin and Yonatan must use much more exact instruments – like the finger planes I mentioned before – to slowly and painstakingly reach the exact thickness he desires in each section of each front and each back…


And so he gauges out a tiny, thinnest layer, and then measures the thickness that remained with a special instrument that you can see in the picture here and then gently – very gently – flexes the wood to “feel it”…


Then he scratches away another tenth of a millimeter, and again measures the thickness of that specific section and tests the wood… and so forth –


You get the picture of how much PATIENCE this requires?? (an American artist-friend of mine once created this art piece once that she called “Pain in Patience”, in which she stuck hundreds of small needles in a stuffed surface to make the word ‘patience’ with the needles that made the letters of the word ‘pain’ sticking out further.) I am reminded of this because patience is one of the hardest things for me to master in this world and watching Yonatan’s seemingly ENDLESS PATIENCE during this phase always amazes me – and half makes me want to scream :)

Anyway – the Spessori for the backs (“fondi”) of the cello and the two violins have been completed, and so the back of the viola remains to be finished, as well as the sounding boards (“tavole“) of all four instruments. … but time waits for no one, and we have only less than five months to go till the deadline!

A couple of people have told me they like the pictures in this blog (so credit to Yonatan who finds innovative new ways of taking pictures even while he works…). Since I can only insert a couple here, check out the great photos we have uploaded to the Quartet Slideshow!!.

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