One piece vs two piece back?

December 19, 2006 at 09:12 PM · Which adds the most value or esthetic appeal to a violin back, one or two piece construction? Two piece backs seem to be in the majority, buy why? Does it have anything to do with finding maple blanks that are wide enough for a single piece, or is it something more? I'm really curious!

Replies (34)

December 19, 2006 at 11:49 PM · I think one piece backs are more "beautiful", if you may. I'm no instrument expert, but I think that a piece of wood that would work to make a one piece back is harder to find/more expensive.

I also recall hearing from a violin dealer that 1-piece backs tend to increase the value of a violin.

December 20, 2006 at 12:28 AM · I always thought that one pice backs were standard a hundred or so years ago, so that helps determine the age of the instrument. But I don't remember where I heard that from, so it is probably not true. Or made up....

Mine has a one-piece back. I would think the absense of an extra seam down the whole length of an instrument might not let the violin vibrate at optimum capacity.

Just a thought, though.


December 20, 2006 at 02:46 AM · I have been told that there was no difference in tonal quality between 1 or 2 PC back. But most poeple including myself prefers 1 PC back, which pushes the price higher for 1 PC.

December 20, 2006 at 01:32 AM · I am prob one of the few violinists that actually prefers a 2 piece back. I just find them more appealing.

December 20, 2006 at 06:33 AM · Everything I have read (no personal experience) says that a violin with a one-piece back, all else being the same, will have more body or be warmer than one with a two-piece back. That makes some sense, since there would be more vibration. That could be a bad thing as well as good, since that vibration could also comb-filter, or absorb some high frequencies.

I imagine it's a balancing act, as with so many other mechanical variables.

December 20, 2006 at 03:50 AM · Consider electric guitars...

those with a solid body+neck are worth more than a guitar with a neck bolted into the top of the body.

The less parts usually means a higher quality, as I have understood it. Less seams or nuts and bolts to go wrong and throw off the tone or functioning of the instrument.

I think one piece backs tend to be louder too.

I've had a two piece back violin and it still sounded gorgeous to me. I don't think it's as crucial as other aspects of the violin when choosing it, so don't worry about it too much.

December 20, 2006 at 03:54 AM · Greetings,

I believe Shakespeare had something to say about this but unfortunately it`s a family show...



December 20, 2006 at 03:56 AM · "all else being the same, will have more body or be warmer than one with a two-piece back. " first time to hear that.

at least one less seam to worry about with one piece:)

allan, i also read something about 1 vs 2, in terms of "pressure", but do not know enough to elaborate.

December 20, 2006 at 05:31 AM · LOL Buri! :)

December 20, 2006 at 10:31 AM · Hi!

My violin's got a one-piece back, and my luthier told me that its more valuable only because of that. Yet again the onepiece back creates a lot of tension in the body, so her "medical history" is a really long and tiresome one. Every two months or so he gets some problem somewhere that needs attention, like old cracks that tear open and needs to be adressed, and so on. She really is very loud and has a hearty voice. My former violinteacher thought it could be beause of the one-piece back. Sometimes, when you strike a doublestop perfectly in tune you get an eardeafening chord of overtones right into your left ear. Have had to adjust my bowing technique a lot not to be to loud even without bowpressure. But she really has a warm and tender voice. Could be due to the onepiece back. Or not. Maybe she's just a good instrument 2p or 1p?!



December 20, 2006 at 11:21 AM · I've had two luthiers tell me it doesn't matter as far as sound. What makes the one-piece more valuable is its relative rareness / the difficulty in finding a good piece of wood large enough. One of them currently doesn't make violins with a one-piece back because of this.

December 20, 2006 at 11:30 AM · I have a violin with a one piece back and it is verry silent and dark, the matter of fact i have never heard a violin sound like that one. it doesn't respond well to anything you do to it, for example the vibrato sounds like a car engine when trying to start it (when it doesn't start) it's hard to play anything that will sound in tune because it has no clearness or ring to it. My two piece back violin is clear and ringing but it has little dept compared to the other one

December 20, 2006 at 02:20 PM · I've got a two-piece back, and so does my violin. Seriously, I've got a fiddle made by William Walls of Tampa, Florida, and it was made in 1964. It's a beautiful violin, has a wonderful tone, and has a two-piece back. It seems fine to me.


December 20, 2006 at 03:09 PM · A number of things aren't being considered here at all, and I see people saying very contradictory things. But the bottom line in this case is that the violin is what the maker does, not what the wood does. If, however, you're looking for the theoretically perfect wood, it's quartersawn, two-piece, with one piece flipped end-for-end as the Amatis often did it (the curl goes up to the centerseam, then continues up on the other side, rather than turning around in a chevron format). That's the most symmetrically balanced, stable way to do it, and it's very rarely seen in later violins. That's how the wood on this one of mine is done:

December 20, 2006 at 03:53 PM · Hi Michael,

That's interesting about the grain. I'd noticed that about the grain on your specific violin (having seen it before), as well as some others I've seen before.

Why would it be superior to bookmatching?

Would you call that fiddle you made and linked to a "baroque" fiddle? Is the neck straight rather than canted?

December 20, 2006 at 04:20 PM · That's a baroque violin, yes.

Bookmatched wood is not structurally symmetrical. If the wood is perfectly quartered to the arching on one side, it is very unquartered on the other side. The Amatis obviously realized this, and that flipping one side would bring the wood into a quartered relationship to the arching on both sides. They also did this with the top wood (where it isn't as obvious because there's not curl), that practice continued to the end of the classical Cremonese period, and this is one of the tiny differences of classical Cremonese violins. It's also a clue that some makers mis-read to come to the conclusion that tops were bent.

For instance:

December 20, 2006 at 04:24 PM · Michael,

You have GOT to explain that tailpiece! I think it looks fantastic, but is there a sonic reason for it as well? -and what wood did you use?

December 20, 2006 at 04:36 PM ·

December 20, 2006 at 04:33 PM · Violins with a back in one piece are beautiful but not as much rare as violins with a belly in one piece, wich I am very happy to own...only a very limited cremonese instruments do have a one piece belly...


December 20, 2006 at 04:58 PM · Hi Michael,

Your point about the grain angle is a good one. I have attached a GIF image (please refer to it) which may help others on the thread to understand the issue.

So, on the left are "bookmatched" slabs. As you can see, the grain angle is identical for non-rotated pieces (A).

But at (B), if you join the bookmatched slabs ,and then do the arching, you end up with appreciably different grain angles.

However, at (C) we rotate the slabs to the average arching first, and then carve. This brings the grain angle to the same *average* value. However, note that the local grain angles will be asymmetrical at the centerline, and at the purfling.

On the right side of the image, we see the Amati rotation. This brings the grain angles to perfect symmetry which, as you can see from E and F results in identical mirror image grain angles regardless of whether you glue the slabs flat-aligned or pre-arched. Furthermore this puts complete symmetry into the the structure.

Looking at your sketch, it looks like you essentially end up with what I show at B,D, as you are working directly from a rough log which, of course, is tapered naturally as you quarter it.

December 20, 2006 at 07:26 PM · Thanks for the drawings, Bill. They illustrate the concept well.

Flopping one side end-for-end is a common practice to get the grain more vertical on tops for greater strength.

I do it sometimes on backs too, but it's mostly for a different visual effect. Strad used both methods, but the numbers of each would suggest that he preferred the conventional method on backs, resulting in V-shaped flames.

On a violin top or a back , symmetry of the wood isn't particularly important, as the two sides of a violin vibrate differently and perform very different functions. Note that makers glue a big reinforcing strip of wood onto one side (the bass bar) and link the other side directly to the back with a soundpost. A violin won't sound right if the two sides are the same.

A creative person might even deliberately choose different wood properties for the two sides.

We might be getting to technical for a musicians forum though. I'll try to post later with more information on the two major types of one-piece backs and their differences, if someone else doesn't address this.

David Burgess

December 20, 2006 at 07:44 PM · Mr. Darton,

Having read this month's Strad expose on that beautiful Montagnana with a 2 piece back which does exactly this, the grain continuing up across the back as opposed to opposing sides, I want to ask about ribs. He also does this with the ribs, reversing the wood making the flames sort of point to one another, whereas many violins on the ribs have flames pointing in the same direction. Sorry, my technical speak is not very descriptive. My question is, does this have a lot of value besides aesthetics, or does it contribute to a superior sound?

December 20, 2006 at 08:21 PM · Rib curl direction doesn't matter to tone. The Cremonese makers made the curl run the same direction all around, because they used one piece top and bottom ribs; Germans balanced it so that it matched the back, with the result of a v-shape at the endbutton, the same as on the back. But it's just a style thing, not function.

December 20, 2006 at 09:02 PM · Now a refinement on this grain business:

The sketch I put up has a notional 20 degree deviation from perfect quarter-sawn grain. In terms of structural wood, this would be considered a quarter-sawn board.

But how about from a "flaming" standpoint? As you deviate from perfect vertical grain, do you lose the flame? I don't work with maple at all, being a boat guy--I work with oak. In oak, the flaming is caused by the rays, and so you only get really dramatic striping if you have perfecty vertical grain, so that the rays are perfectly parallel to the free surface.

What part of the morphology causes the flaming in maple? Is it a ray structure? It looks to me like it is. And yet with all the arching that is part of the plates, would they bey made of oak, there would be a discontinuous flaming. So I don't understand what makes this work in Maple--it must be other than what I thought. (Maple rots, so I've never had a "professional need to know"). My own violin is a one-piece, and the flaming disappears off the lower corner of the back, and I can see that the grain is becoming less vertical there.

When Michael talked about the symmetry, I was curious about whether it really is important per se--in light of the asymmetry of the vibration which David indicates is the case.

To me it seems that the primary reason for the vertical grain has everything to do with dimensional stability, and very little to do with sound. The elastic constants (which are whaat dictate the speed of sound) in the tangential and radial directions are not identical, but they are much closer to each other than they are to the grain axis! However, the %change in length with moisture content is dramatically greater radially than tangentially, and so quarter sawn pieces make for a structure that is far less likely to check (crack).

December 20, 2006 at 09:43 PM · You've hit several nails right on the head.

Yes, as you deviate from perfect vertical grain (as viewed from the end of the violin), there tends to be less flaming visible in maple. But rather than flaming being a ray structure as in oak, the wood fibers actually weave back and forth as they go up the tree. This pattern can be seen as waves when curly maple is split. Once this has been flattened, you see a dark flame wherever you are actually looking into end grain. As your viewing angle shifts, it may line up with a different area of end grain, so it will become dark and the previous dark area will become light. This pattern moves as you shift your viewing angle. That's some of the magic of curly maple, and one reason you see people rocking a violin back and forth as they view the they can watch the patterns move around.

There are primarily two types of cut used on one-piece backs. One is quarter cut, with the grain vertical as viewed from the end of the violin. The other is slab cut, with the grain horizontal from the same view. (and of course there's everything in between) A slab cut can create a board which is almost the entire diameter of the tree, but a quarter cut can use less than half the diameter, going in from the bark and stopping at the "heartwood" center.

So to answer one of the original posters questions, a quarter cut one-piece back is rarer and more expensive, because the tree it comes from must be twice as large as one used for a two piece back.

As you mentioned, the quarter cut tends to be much more stable. Old violins with slab backs tend to have more damage than those with quarter cut. They often also have slightly reduced bending stiffness, so are typically left slightly thicker.

They usually show a less prominent flame pattern than the same piece of wood cut on the quarter.

Spruce tops on the other hand are much different from the hardwoods you work with. A vertical grained piece is MUCH stiffer than a horizontal grained piece on the longitudinal axis, so it is not only more stable, but grain orientation has a huge effect on sound as the grain angle changes from vertical to horizontal. You can see how the transverse stiffness would be affected too.

Slab tops are extremely rare.

So is a one-piece back anything special? It is if you like it. For me though, it's only special if it is quarter cut rather than slab cut. I've never used slab cut backs because of the durability (cracking) problems I've seen with them.

David Burgess

December 21, 2006 at 01:49 PM · David, for us non-luthiers, how can we tell if a back is quarter cut or slab cut? Can you tell anything from looking inside through the f holes or removing the end pin and looking in through there? What would we be looking for, exactly?

December 21, 2006 at 04:13 PM · David, with Maple is is quite easy to tell. Slab cut has wide, wavy patterns. 1/4 sawn has thin, straight lines (instrument spruce is always 1/4 sawn or 1/4 cut) 1/4 CUT is slightly different from 1/4 SAWN. It's a less expensive way to make "mostly" 1/4 sawn lumber. There is much less waste, but you get some rift-sawn grain (in-between 1/4 sawn & flat) at the edges.

It's easy to understand with pictures, and this info is all over the internet. Just do a search under "1/4 sawn lumber" True 1/4 sawn Maple (not 1/4 cut) is fairly hard to obtain. It basically has to be special-ordered from the mill, or purchased from a lutherie-supply house with good connections. The only woods commonly found true 1/4 sawn are Spruce, the Oaks (both white & red) , and Sycamore. (sometimes Rosewood, but that's exceptionally rare)

Note- David is correct that 1/4 sawn Maple often has more flame than slab-cut, but that is not ALWAYS the case. Flatsawn Maple can sometimes have intense tiger striping, so that's not an indication. (look at a good pool cue, where the flame goes all the way around)

December 21, 2006 at 02:53 PM · What HE said. :-)

Look for the actual thin grain lines. They can be difficult to find if certain staining procedures have been used.

December 21, 2006 at 05:29 PM · Quarter sawn has a grain pattern like vertical stripes.

Slab cut looks more like a topographic map.

I prefer one piece backs for looks and ease of carving.

December 21, 2006 at 08:12 PM · I have a 1 PC slab maple back, over 100 years old according to my luthier. Interestingly, it does not have any cracks on the back, but on the ribs at the bottom and upper C bout (at an angle to the joint of the C bout). One chinrest area and one f-hole cracks.

So I wonder what preserved the back from cracking. I love the wavy looks of the back although my luthier took very dim view of my aesthetic sense of this violin. :-)

December 22, 2006 at 11:26 PM · An advantage to a two-piece back:

Took my fiddle for its biennial checkup (had been a bit longer than that, asalways), and two days later the phone rang: "yeah, it looks like you've got an open crack on the back of your instrument, close to where the neck meets the back".

A crack. Absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear. I came to pick up my violin several days later and was told that the two piece back provided stability, as one side remained undamaged - and there was no way for the crack to continue growing in every direction. Lucky me - with constant auditions at the moment, the last thing I wanted was to have to have my fiddle taken completely apart to do a proper repair.

December 23, 2006 at 12:17 AM · may be the luthiers will comment, but in this case, the same crack would have appeared one or two piece. the crack usually run down, not across. probably the same procedure in terms of repair, same cost...

in fact, during repair, don't they have to be more concerned about the integrity of the central seam?

December 23, 2006 at 12:58 AM · Guess I wasn't that clear - the crack does indeed run across the body of the instrument, not down. Thought it was strange too - but it speaks for itself.

December 23, 2006 at 01:28 AM · So far, I noticed most of my violins have cracks on the front if they have cracks at all, not much on the back. The only crack I have on one violin was a soundpost area crack on the back on a birds eye maple. It is also old, about 125 years old. My violinist friend and my luthier friend like that one a great.

That said, I do notice seam separate on many a violins on eBay though.

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