questions for luthiers that never got asked,,,,

February 13, 2007 at 05:02 AM · as violinists, what are some of the questions for luthiers that you never had a chance to ask? too shy, too busy?

as a starter, here is one: on F holes...

does each luthier have a template for each style, or is it done by feel on each violin? ( have seen some older master's evolve with time, thus confused)

when cutting the hole, does the knife cut exactly on the outline of the final form or a bit inside to allow some filing? does it matter to approach it from the inside surface or outside surface? and to top it off,,, does the shape of the F holes affect sound (i assume a teeny weeny one in size may affect sound)? thanks and have fun:)

Replies (37)

February 13, 2007 at 01:46 PM · Stradivari's way was that the shape was drawn with a template, then the holes were drilled, and the rest cut out with a knife. It's not known if he used a saw, but today we have saws small enough to cut out the stem. The knife can be held above or below (I do both), and it's all done with a knife, no filing.

Even with the template, the results depend on working by eye, so the same template can give much different results over time, as maker's eye develops.

As for the shape affecting the sound--you will find makers that think every cut and every mm of placement has huge effects, and ones who will think it doesn't matter at all. I'm in the middle: gross changes make differences; tiny ones probably don't.

February 13, 2007 at 02:03 PM · MD comes to the rescue, thanks! good cutting!

February 13, 2007 at 03:00 PM · q1. How long did it take you to make your first?

q2. How long your last?

q3. How many have you made?

q4. How long on average?

q5. Is end result chance or luck?

q6. Have you fasioned your own tools, or stuck with the industry made ones?

February 13, 2007 at 04:59 PM · 1-One weekend, plus two days.

2-About 80 hours.

3-close to 200.

4-It's gotten longer as I've learned more.

5-Must I choose between the two, or can I just say no?

6-Yes, often.

February 13, 2007 at 06:19 PM · 5-Must I choose between the two, or can I just say no?

That sounds like a maple, I mean shell game to me.... Typicial luthier! ;)>

February 13, 2007 at 06:59 PM · "80 hours"

There is a British violinmaker who has a nice website with a step-by-step sequence of photos showing his work. He states 120 hours.

I think that is interesting that it takes longer now--as you learn more. So it isn't an industrial time minimization learning process, but rather a creative one?

As far as questions that never get asked goes, I have so many that I wouldn't know where to start!

February 13, 2007 at 07:14 PM · I have a really stupid question, appropriate for my own stupidness:

Why is the scroll shaped like, well, a scroll? If you change the shape of the scroll, does it change the sound of the violin?

Please keep the answer nice and simple! Thanks.

February 13, 2007 at 07:13 PM · My f-hole shape is drawn with a pattern made many years ago. My taste has changed with time though, so the completed ff doesn't match the pattern.

The holes are drilled undersized, the center portion is removed with a small saw, and final sizing and shaping is done with a knife working from both sides, working by eye, not using the pattern. No files or sandpaper.

Yes, the size, shape and location of the ffs can have a major affect on sound.

q1. How long did it take you to make your first?

Didn't keep track of the time.

q2. How long your last?

Didn't keep track.

q3. How many have you made?

Haven't kept track or numbered them. Probably about 500.

q4. How long on average?

Don't know.

q5. Is end result chance or luck?

The end result is usually according to plan, but sometimes there are surprises. :-)

q6. Have you fashioned your own tools, or stuck with the industry made ones?

Have made many of my own tools, gigs and fixtures, and modified others which are common in the trade.

David Burgess

February 13, 2007 at 08:25 PM · The time aspect of it is an interesting topic. I know that many makers inflate the times they take, to make it seem like they're "working" more, to justify their price. I have never viewed it that I'm working by the hour; as a friend of mine said once, you're paying for my experience and knowledge, not my time. That's similar to how your doctor charges. To cut you shouldn't really cost more than a couple of dollars, but knowing where and how to cut you is the result of more than just the five minutes the cut takes the doctor to make it.

I have made a whole violin (in a race) in as little as 27 hours, minus varnish and setup, and 80 is really about my top time. I'm suspicious of people who claim huge amounts of time: to me that's more an admission of tool incompetence than work accomplished. I've heard some makers say 200 hours, and that's just BS, I think. What has happened over the years, though, is that I have more ideas, so I take more time to implement them.

February 13, 2007 at 08:31 PM · Anna, I think the scroll is just tradition, I don't know who started it. Some (very) old violins, violas d'amore and such have "scrolls" carved like faces or lions' heads or stuff like that--I kind of wish those would make a comeback...

February 13, 2007 at 08:45 PM · What are the biggest myths or "emperor's new cloths-like" beliefs about violins/violin sound?

February 13, 2007 at 09:24 PM · Myths? That depends who you ask. Some people will say the myth is that old instruments are special. Some will say the myth is that some people believe that there's no difference. A few people may say that new instruments are better. It depends who you ask. I would say, though, that someone who says there is no difference at all is deaf.

February 13, 2007 at 09:31 PM · David--could you take a minute and describe generally some of the surprises...

Bilbo--do you have a link?

February 13, 2007 at 11:01 PM · here is another one: given the label swapping practice of the past couple centuries which may have brought some fortunes and other less fortunate ones misery,,,,why don't makers gravitate toward branding their violins instead of using paper label???:(((

ps, sorry MD and DB for coming here providing helpful info and prolonging the make time even more:)

February 14, 2007 at 01:27 AM · There's one maker I know of who'd put his fingerprint on the label. That was good in the days before photocopiers.

February 14, 2007 at 01:54 AM · From Albert Justice;

"David--could you take a minute and describe generally some of the surprises..."


Just that tonally they don't ALWAYS turn out the way anticipated.

And after varnish, you can see things from a perspective that's not available with bare wood.

And when seeing an instrument years after completion, the perspective is different from having looked at it continuously for hours on end during the making process. It's a bit like listening to a recording of your violin performance years later.


From al ku;

"here is another one: given the label swapping practice of the past couple centuries which may have brought some fortunes and other less fortunate ones misery,,,,why don't makers gravitate toward branding their violins instead of using paper label???"


I sign the inside of the instrument, but this could be easily scraped away. I'm not arrogant enough to think that someone would want to relabel one of my instruments.

Besides, I do my own work in my own style (not copies) which doesn't mimic or closely resemble anything else, so what would be the point of swapping labels? Experts wouldn't be fooled, and high value transactions usually involve experts (I would hope. :-)

David Burgess

February 14, 2007 at 02:09 AM · Al Ku,

This is quite a revealing thread of "where you are coming from" (under the guise of "FAN").

Now it makes perfect sense.........your "post" on the Aaron Rosand thread.

You are much better off just signing your real name and letting people know who you are.........

and BTW, you still missed the point regarding some of the greats Stern blocked. As it has been said, Fransescatti, Friedmann, Ricci, Rosand etc. are all better fiddlers, and some were even better musicians.

But Stern made all the right moves to solidify his legacy. And so, history will speak for itself.

February 14, 2007 at 02:25 AM · alright, you got me this time,,,,alexander kubarsky the pion that is. do you like Blues Clues?

February 14, 2007 at 02:42 AM · Thanks David--just wondering....

So are there general veins of tonality, that you are certain a leads to b, as in dark/mellow v. bright/whatever?

February 14, 2007 at 02:59 AM · so what do you makers (including the author of this thread) think about the Janos Starker Bridge.

As you probably remember, Starker invented a bridge design to enhance the acoustical properties of stringed instruments.

February 14, 2007 at 03:05 AM · as the author of this thread, i would like to ask you to provide a link to a pic of the said bridge so the whole class can see. i tried but only found links about him.

February 14, 2007 at 03:37 AM · A friend of mine who does a lot of cellos thinks that the main advantage of the Starker bridge is that the type of people who would fit a bridge like this usually can't fit feet, but it's easier to get a foot to fit if it has a big hole in the middle, so this type of bridge will, indeed, sound better when done by one of those people. He said that seriously.

One reason not to worry too much about labels is (1) that if someone is intent on being a criminal, he WILL find a way; and (2)no one who knows violins should really be fooled, since labels are not what one uses to identify a violin.

February 14, 2007 at 04:02 AM · I have seen these bridges in person, but I don't think they are on line anywhere.

February 14, 2007 at 04:35 AM · here is an antique article from 1966, with a brief description of the bridge and a mention of price for strad and guan.and heifeitz's comments... darn!,9171,901941,00.html?promoid=googlep

February 14, 2007 at 07:20 AM · Regarding labels and authenticity. How about a drop of blood on the label or impregnated into the center block? This way there is DNA embedded into the violin to help in future authentication.

February 14, 2007 at 07:51 AM · Clare--tell the truth--you just watched "The Red Violin"... Actually that's pretty smart.

February 14, 2007 at 03:48 PM · Well, I did watch it a couple years ago... But that would have been attributed to the wife, and not the actual maker. I suppose you could do a priori fake, in attributing a violin to someone else, but not a postmortem fake of attributing it to someone who is long gone, unless you robbed a blood bank. :-)

But actually it would be interesting if people could go over old disputed violins for organic material. Maybe Antonio nicked himself while carving the scroll.

February 14, 2007 at 03:54 PM · unless we have a gold standard in dna bank going back 400 yrs, it may be tough to find a reliable comparison:)

February 14, 2007 at 04:22 PM · Clare--have you seen "The Red Violin"?

February 14, 2007 at 05:42 PM · There was a company (Harris Technology Group, Inc.) which was marketing microchips about the size of a grain of rice to install in an instrument for identification, similar to what can be done with pets, but they appear to have gone out of business or taken a new name.

David Burgess

February 14, 2007 at 06:59 PM · When luthiers and their helpers install pegs into the scrollbox, why don't they drill the holes closer to the left or to the the right depending on the side where the string is to be threaded?

Also the string holes are all equal in daimeter, but individual strings do not have equal diameters.

Ted Kruzich

February 14, 2007 at 07:05 PM · I'd like to know more about those tonality surprises David.

February 15, 2007 at 02:41 AM · From Albert Justice;

"I'd like to know more about those tonality surprises David."


To over-simplify, let's say that we graded violin sound from 1-10, with a 1 being almost viola like and a 10 being hard and bright with little depth.

Once in a great while, I'll shoot for something like a 7, and get a 4 instead, or vice versa. If it's a commission, I might need to have another go at it or refund a deposit if the person doesn't want to wait. Either way, or if the violin wasn't a commission in the first place, no big deal. Someone will surface who is looking for exactly what that violin offers.

While I can usually come pretty close to targeted sound, it's not something I can completely guarantee, hence my policies of refunding deposits at any time for any reason, and no obligation to purchase an instrument which has been commissioned.

Ted, regarding holes in the pegs:

Luthiers have different theories about where they should be located. I make mine pretty close to the bass side wall for the lower pegs, and treble side wall for the upper pegs allowing for quite a bit of wear before the holes need to be re-drilled, and creating less chance of the strings interfering with each other. A lot depends on how the strings are wound though.

The size of the string holes? I can't think of a good reason that they shouldn't all be the same size. A small hole on the E peg would just be a more difficult target. String diameter at the pegbox end varies between string manufacturers anyway.

David Burgess

December 20, 2008 at 02:14 PM ·

 personally I wanted to ask but was too shy, if I could be an intern in the shop, not necessarily in making instruments, but to just be around the shop, sweep do odd jobs, help with customers (maybe, or stocking) but I think it would be too much of a bother.

December 20, 2008 at 04:01 PM ·

What makes a particular instrunment easier or more difficult to play. My stand partner has a Lupo that I can't play well at all and his Vuillaume is so easy to play it's like taking candy from a baby.

December 20, 2008 at 06:59 PM ·

Ray, that's a pretty complex topic.

Part of it will depend on the player, and how easily they can adapt to how different instruments "want" to be played. For instance, someone who has only played a violin which requires a light fast bow might have difficulty with a "digger" violin, and vise versa.

Part of it can have to do with dimensions of the instrument, and how closely it conforms to "standard" dimensions. Something as simple as the incorrect string height can make a violin difficult to play

On a given instrument, the difference between being easy to play and difficult to play can come down to the cumulative effects of many small tweaks. The ones musicians are most familiar with are probably string selection and sound post position.

Some violins seem to just be constructed in a way which makes them difficult to play for most any player, and no amount of tweaking will make them easy. In my experience, most musicians won't put up with this once they're aware of it, unless the instrument is very very expensive. ;-)

December 20, 2008 at 08:54 PM ·

Also, a lot of playability has to do with setup. Players live more comfortably in one zone or another, and gravitate towards instruments and adjustments that satisfy that, but it's often possible to change one type of instrument into the other in a flash, if that's what's needed. Some instruments that doesn't work with, though. One person I adjust for only saws hard to see what an instrument will do; another tests by playing very softly. The same violin might suit either, but not without adjustments. That's aside from the issue that violins are just different from each other, as are the choices players make.

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