Pushing the boundaries of violin design

January 28, 2015 at 08:24 PM · I was searching this site and beyond for any luthiers that are pushing the envelope when it comes to violin design. I only found one guy in the UK that was doing something a bit out of the ordinary. Does anyone know any makers who are pushing the boundaries of violin design?

Replies (21)

January 28, 2015 at 08:27 PM · Um...can you be more specific?

January 28, 2015 at 08:45 PM · It's hard to describe but here's the luthiers that I referred to in my posting. http://www.timsviolins.co.uk/ I think that his designs are very interesting and definitely not traditional.

January 28, 2015 at 08:46 PM · I've seen some really neat designs from New York-based luthier Guy Rabut, here is his website. He makes plenty of "normal" violins, too. Scroll down a bit in this story about modern makers and you can see one of his more unusual designs. They seemed to me to be also soundly functional, which is nice.

January 28, 2015 at 09:03 PM · What sort of design changes are you thinking about? External or internal, and do you include violas?

Instrument makers designing instruments for the folk/pop world regularly come up with non-standard designs, the aim apparently being to make a more ergonomic or better-sounding instrument, or with more than 4 strings, or perhaps just eye-catching. One such maker I know of is Tim Phillips in the UK - http://www.timsviolins.co.uk/. Thought evidently goes into the design of such violins, but you almost never see them in classical orchestras or ensembles.

In the classical world there is a handful of luthiers who are thinking hard about the design of the viola because an acoustically really effective viola that isn't going to cripple the player isn't easy to make. Some extraordinary asymmetric and strange-looking violas have been made which apparently do really well what it says on the pack, but so far do not seem to have achieved much acceptance at the professional level - perhaps due to innate conservatism in some quarters.

Another design change involves the material. A lot of effort is on-going into using carbon fiber to make violins, violas and cellos. Success is gradually being achieved - as it certainly has with CF violin bows which are being used at all levels from beginner up to professional - but the basic problem to be overcome with violins is that CF and wood have very different acoustic properties.

January 28, 2015 at 11:59 PM · A good number of us have experimented extensively with different designs and materials, but most who have enough traditional training to be capable of making a high-quality traditional violin, have reverted to doing so.

Part of it is that the high-end market isn't very supportive of strange looking or sounding violins, and part of it is that it's pretty hard to "improve" on what was done 300 years ago (in combination with the alterations which have been done to these instruments since), except for minor tweaks.

I know a fair number of high-end makers who have made something really different, and the instruments ended up being "orphans" (never found a buyer). Sure, maybe they could have been sold if the maker was willing to accept a much lower price than what they can get for a more traditional instrument.

January 29, 2015 at 02:28 AM · Have you encountered David Ravinus' work?

It's pretty different...people who play his violas seem to like them.

January 29, 2015 at 04:28 AM · I would personally love a violin that did not have wood on the right e-string aide of the fingerboard until it ends. Then I could play 3 octaves on all strings without losing stability or twisting my arm... :)

January 29, 2015 at 12:03 PM · A.O., you mean the upper treble bout is cut away by the neck so as to give easier access to the in altissimi positions? This has been done on guitars for ages, and as far as violins are concerned my memory tells me that Tim Phillips in England has done this (see the link above). Tim would probably be among the first not to describe his instruments as high-end in the sense usually used here but they are popular in various genres and who knows what a bit of careful tweaking of a setup may achieve.

If the upper treble bout is cut away then the resonating volume will be diminished. Doubtless, skilled luthiers have devised ways for effectively compensating for that change in volume.

January 29, 2015 at 12:38 PM · Every viola maker pushes the boundaries of violin design by a few inches 8-;)

January 29, 2015 at 12:59 PM · Hi,

To David Burgess: I always wondered about that guitar shaped Stradivari called the "Chanot," I think. What is the story behind this instrument?


January 29, 2015 at 01:37 PM · It is thought to have been made originally as a violino d'Amore, or a viola d'Amore, and later converted into a violin, perhaps because there was a much stronger market for violins.

For those who don't already know, Stradivari made instruments other than violins, violas and cellos. We even have a couple of surviving guitars.

January 29, 2015 at 02:24 PM · I see that the "Chanot" style Strad has a wider waistline than the cornerless modern designs, which simply remove the corners.

Bernard Sabatier, in Paris, has two new viola designs:

- an unsymmetrical 3-cornered one (elongated on the left side, shortened on the right) which have a very warm tone, even in the smallest sizes, and very popular in the Suzuki circuit;

- and a 2-cornered model inpired by Da Salo's "Lyra Viola" (to be seen at the Ashmolian Museum in Oxford, England). Warm tone, again, but with a little bite at the top, but not at all nasal; a slightly 'cello-like response right across the range. Unlike Tertis-inspired models, the wide hips and waistline are acompanied by wide, but sloping shoulders, thanks to the absence of the upper corners, so there is none of the drier tone I associate with narrower models. Body length 40cms, string length 35.7cms, so great for my acheing tendons..

January 29, 2015 at 04:31 PM · Thanks for all the great responses. I've seen some cool CF violins which deviate slightly from the traditional violin design. http://www.mezzo-forte.de/en/ I did see this interesting violin that Tim Phillips built. http://www.timsviolins.co.uk/instruments/octave-violins/ Check out the video.

Other than the VSA show are there violin shows held anywhere else? There are a ton of guitars show but haven't found anything similar in the violin community. Thanks.

January 29, 2015 at 04:44 PM · I would check out http://exoticwoodviolins.com/. Some very beautiful instruments. No idea what they sound like. For Folk fiddlin' they's probably some great ones.

January 29, 2015 at 05:14 PM · I think the guitar-shaped strad is not one of his most desirable, which is why Bell eventually dumped it. Didn't a member of a trio buy it, maybe Beaux Arts Trio or someone? I remember backstage after the concert all anyone cared about was the fiddle and not the music.

I think the design eliminates a little volume because there's less room. Looks cool, doesn't deliver

January 29, 2015 at 06:27 PM · If you really want to push boundaries, Doug Martin has gone pretty far out there: http://josephcurtinstudios.com/article/the-next-big-thing/

Joseph Curtin also has been trying out a few things:


But, as David mentioned, the market for strange stuff isn't that great... unless you like selling cheap.

January 30, 2015 at 10:25 PM · "I think the design eliminates a little volume because there's less room. Looks cool, doesn't deliver"

Scott, from the photos, I should have thought The "Chanot" Sread had more room inside than a normal violin, there seems to be extra room round the F-holes.

The cornerless design seems common in 14 inch violas, and Sabatier's "Lyra Viola" designs that I mentioned above are tonally satisfying in their 14 and 15 inch versions, and superb in the 16 inch ones.

January 31, 2015 at 12:15 AM · What are the boundaries of violin design? Would a maker need to understand and be able to work within these boundaries before pushing them?

January 31, 2015 at 04:18 PM · The real question is: why?

more power?

better ergonomics?

different sound?

better projection?


In the guitar world, there has been a constant evolution, primarily regarding the internal structure (bracing), since Baroque times. Recently, a few modern makers designed guitars using lattice bracing, new materials and even double top plate. One example is Jim Redgate, whose instrument is played by Ana Vidovic. Some classical guitar players say that these guitars are great, but it is not a "Spanish guitar sound" anymore. Nothing new - Martin has been pushing the limits for many years for its guitars with metal strings and there is a huge market for them.

Is the violin design evolution over? Perhaps not, but it would take another Strad for a major shift.

February 4, 2015 at 02:20 AM · Pushing the boundaries. I believe the technology developed by the Catgut Acoustical Society certainly pushed the boundaries of violin making in the 20th century. But in all of their work they have stayed true to the basic shape and materials perfected by the Amati family. Members of the CAS, mostly acoustical physicists and makers, broke the many actions of the various parts of a violin into parameters to study. After learning what happened when parameters were altered, they understood where changes made effective improvements, made no change or made things worse. And they published their findings. The journals of the CAS are now available online from Stanford University.

One of the projects at the request of composer and conductor Henry Brandt was to develop a set of instruments that cover the full musical spectrum utilizing eight violins of graduated sizes. But on two of those violins they had to shrink the boundaries for the soprano and treble instruments. Yet in basic construction the same materials and same shapes are used are the same as in the Amati's instruments. Yes, the strings and tail gut can be polymer or metal.

Two luthiers that I know who are pushing boundaries with new family instruments are Joris Wouters in Belgium and Robert Spear in Ithaca, New York. Both have excellent web sites.


February 11, 2015 at 10:01 PM · I should like to Stick temporary corners on a conerless violin to see (hear!) any differece due to the extra, localised masses.

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