4/4 Neck- How short can it be?

October 11, 2006 at 05:51 AM · Help!

I just found an interesting old violin at an antiques store. It has no label, but is of fine wood, and has a very nice tone. Looks to be quite old, and has that "open" sound of a well-aged instrument.

It had no bridge, so I didn't try it at the time. I now realize that the proportions are all really odd. The body is 35.8 cm, yet the total length is only 23" due to a very short neck. Even stranger, the F-holes were cut extra-low on the plate, so the notches actually do line-up with the proper intonation point of the bridge. the (normal) fingerboard extends about 1/2" too far over the plate.

OK, so how do I even measure a neck? If I measure from the edge of the nut, to the top-edge of the body, my normal 4/4 violin is 132mm. this one is shy of 121 mm !

I can still play it, but fifth position takes a little getting used to, to put it mildly. Is this the small end of 4/4, or could the maker have actually used a 3/4 sized neck with a full sized fingerboard?

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for you luthiers: I just happen to have a very nice, unfinished neck. (don't ask) I obtained it years ago along with some cello parts & nice wood, and never sold it. It would need the heel fitted and peg-holes cut, plus the fingeboard glued. If I were to consider having a luthier do this, what ballpark cost might I expect?

Replies (8)

October 11, 2006 at 09:04 AM · Bump.

I really need some reference numbers asap, as I may still be able to return the instrument. It will never be an amazing violin, but I think it could be excellent for mellow, romantic lines, which I will be recording quite often.

So, can anyone with a smallish 4/4 violin measure that same area and let me know what you get? This would be a huge help.

October 12, 2006 at 01:25 AM · Maybe you should SHOW it to someone who can really advise you and, if it means saving money for you, offer to pay them for their time?

For a modern neck, the ideal is 13.0 cm. There is some wiggle room on this, but there is a ratio (2:3; neck:stop) that should be maintained.

My bill is in the mail. :-)

October 11, 2006 at 10:43 PM · Jeffery, I'm still saving for a violin in the $15,000 range (that's a lot for me) so I'm trying not to waste $$$ (and considerable time) by going to a tech, until I determine if it's worth it.

Anyway, after much net-searching, here's what I found:

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The modern standard for scale length is indeed 13", though a Strad will be 12 7/8" and this shorter length is sometimes suggested for players with smaller hands.

The neck - stop ratio is indeed absolute, at 2 to 3.

Standard 4/4 neck length is 130mm, 129mm on a Strad.

A 3/4 scale neck is 122mm, and mine is 121mm, so holy cow....... My f-holes are correct, in that they give the proper scale length, but they are waaaay down on the table, and the neck-stop ratio is way off.

My only choice, if I can't return the violin (probable) and don't want to trash it, is to install the 4/4 neck. At least I have one. However:

Evidently there is also some "wiggle room" on where to place the inner F-notches., but is there wiggle room on where to position the F-holes themselves? These F-holes are over 1/2" too low! Would this placement affect the way the violin vibrates or which frequencies exit the body? With a new neck, and the bridge properly positioned, the scale length & ratio would be fine, but I'd still worry about where the holes are.

Well, I guess I know the answers. I have to try to return this instrument if I can.

I was (still am?) hoping to make this violn playable, so as to have a good secondary instrument, and one with perhaps a limited but useful sound that is different from whatever great violin I eventually get.

If I can't return it, then I'd appreciate any luthiers' suggestion on what would be a fair price to fit/ install my spare neck.

October 12, 2006 at 04:08 AM · Hi Allan,

I'm certainly no expert on this kind of thing but I do play on a fine old 18th century violin which has a "grafted" scroll, because (I'm told) violins more than 200 years old were originally built with shorter necks.

So it may well be that the violin you have is quite fine but just from a different time and needs to simply be upgraded by a competent luthier for modern playing.

Hope this helps.

- Chris

October 12, 2006 at 01:31 PM · If you have a decent repair person or shop change a neck (or perform a graft) you'll be easily into between $1,000 and $2,500 (by the time you're finished with varnish work and setup...) That's if they have bench space avaiable for the instrument you have (I don't know any really good restorers that are hungry for work presently... and many are selective about the instruments they accept for work).

Almost better to find a shop that carries an instrument you can afford (that's ready to play) with a trade-in policy AND carries instruments you like in the "target range" you wish to move on to later. What you're doing now may not get you any closer to your stated goal... and could potentially move you further from it.

October 17, 2006 at 08:29 AM · Lyndon, aren't the F holes and their notching normally the same for both Baroque and modern? Are you saying there were transitional models that had both the short neck and the correct scale, produced by making or notching the F holes too low? Are there violins that were serious violins in their day that have F holes placed wrongly by modern standards? Who standardized 13" and determined whose F holes were correct?

Who standardized 13"?

October 17, 2006 at 09:01 AM · Lyndon.

Wow, thanks for this fascinating info on baroque violins.

Sadly, I believe it is, a you suggested at the end, just an oddly-made folk instrument. There is no label, and the purfling is somewhat clumsy in execution. But the sound, oh my..... It is also made of some extraordinary maple, with an incredibly 3-dimensional look to the curl. The antiques store I found it in says no returns, so this may become firewood. Kind of sad.

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"by the time you replace the neck you have devalued the violin and now you will find a new problem, the f hole notches are now placed wrongly for a scale greater than 13"(you indicated that your violin already had the correct scale "

Exactly correct, and this is why I'm thinking now that it's not worth considering any expensive repair.

"Do you know if the neck is mortised into the body as modern or is it a one piece neck top block...?"

Morticed.

"Is the bridge quite low, is there a wedge between the neck and the fingerboard or is the fingerboard itself a wedge thin at the nut and thicker where it meets the body; all these are signs of a baroque or transitional set up. "

Very interesting information! But no, this seems like a standard violin except for the neck length & F-hole position.

"As long as you determine youre violin is genuinely old and not just some more recently produced "folk" oddity by all means leave it the way it is."

-Well, I'm gonna' start calling it a fiddle.....

October 20, 2006 at 01:43 PM · Hey- there are people out there wanting to collect or play (fiddle music) on old handmade fiddles. If this isn't a baroque/transitional violin, it could still be pretty interesting as-is. If it was for me to do, I'd take it to a couple of shops for opinions, and where the luthier has an open mind about these things. Sue

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