The "Rushed Luthier" Challenge

May 4, 2019, 6:13 PM · First off, I want to add that I already know that no one is going to actually *do* this challenge, because in-demand luthiers are already very busy (if not physically, then perhaps mentally) and probably just don't have the time.

So, this will have to be a theoretical challenge, and perhaps a thought-experiment in violin making. I would greatly appreciate any violin makers on this board to comment (and of course, anyone else should also add their thoughts, even if not based on actual experience).

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The challenge:

You have only 10 hours to make the best-sounding violin possible. Aesthetics are not a concern. By best-sounding, I mean in a solo classical context, trying to maximize projection, clarity, and balance (vertically, up the positions, and laterally, across the strings). Also, "best-sounding" includes the ease of playing, since if the violin is very difficult/impossible to play, then potential good sound is a moot point. The sound would be judged based on difficult concertos being played, and not just on simple folk tunes in 1st position.

Everything must be made from scratch, minus standard 3rd-party additions such as pegs, tailpiece, chinrest, end button, etc...).

Any tools are allowed, including power tools. The only exception is a CNC machine.

No varnish is required, since this is too time consuming to be expected in the 10 hour time frame. However, there is no explicit rule against varnish.
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So: what are the first things you would choose to compromise on? If it were me, I would certainly not bother carving the scroll (or even having any sort of scroll). I also wouldn't be overly concerned about symmetry, but then again I'm not a violin maker! And of course, I'd use power tools whenever possible.

Lastly: if anyone ever gets into a manic state and wants to actually do this challenge, please record some video of the process (maybe a 1-minute video for every hour of the process, just to see how the end product came along) This would be so interesting to me and very informative in general. On the other hand, even if you just did the challenge without video, it would super, duper intriguing to see and hear the resulting instrument. And I would definitely fly out to you to play it (not that I am a musician of any true caliber).

I have a weird affinity for things that were made in a rushed state. I feel they show the truest colors of the maker, since there was no time to sit around deciding between a hundred different potential outcomes. In many ways, rushed things are the purest product of their makers' instincts, and expose both strengths and weaknesses in a way that I find beautiful.

**I might be able to help with material costs, if that is a concern.

Replies (29)

May 4, 2019, 6:34 PM · The result would be absolutely horrible. No time for plate tuning, or varnishing, or any intricate carving.

But I've never made a violin. Who knows? Maybe with the help of a CNC machine, a hip-and-with-it luthier could shoot out a working violin in half a day.

May 4, 2019, 7:08 PM · Quite doable if you allow a team of luthiers to work in parallel!
May 5, 2019, 4:35 AM · I believe you can buy one, heck a thousand of these, at Amazon....
May 5, 2019, 5:08 AM · Not so, Elise. I'm talking about 10 hours from a *good* luthier, not some random fellow.
May 5, 2019, 7:49 AM · Just pulling the old legato Erik...
May 5, 2019, 8:04 AM · I really do not understand the basis for this idea of a certain set time limit on the construction of a violin. I feel that in most jobs haste makes waste and was taught to slow down and do your task well instead of haphazardly. There is an interesting Stentor Violin factory video on YouTube and perhaps if you added up the time for each piece that these craftsmen complete it in it could possibly equal ten hours in the end.
May 5, 2019, 2:51 PM · Jeff, I wouldn't say that haste makes waste as much as haste forces compromises. Of course, a violin made in 10 hours isn't going to be very good, that much is obvious. But I'm curious as to *how* not good it would be? Of course it would be ugly, but could a great luthier make it *sound* decent in that time frame?
May 5, 2019, 4:53 PM · "Of course it would be ugly, but could a great luthier make it *sound* decent in that time frame?"

I doubt it. Not that it couldn't happen. What's the old axiom?

A monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

May 5, 2019, 5:43 PM · But it's not random, David! You, as an accomplished luthier, already know many of the primary factors that lead to playability and sound production in a violin, and I would even claim that you probably kind of know what a violin will sound like before the strings are put on. I wonder if you weren't worried about aesthetics, scroll carving, etc... If you could make something that would sound pretty good in a fairly short time frame. Perhaps not 10, but maybe 20 hours?

Plus you already have the added advantage of being skilled in roughing out violins with abnormal tools, giving you a distinct time advantage.

Imagine the ugliest violin you've ever seen, producing a beautiful sound. I love that thought.

May 5, 2019, 8:49 PM · Ivan Galamian once said to Joshua Bell,
"if it isn't pretty, it's bad".
May 5, 2019, 10:43 PM · I actually remember that masterclass video. I thought it was pretty stupid advice, lol. But then again, there may have been a bit of a language barrier there.

Plus, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, some ugly violins look really great. Look at the asymmetry of some Guarneris (not that they're ugly, but you get my point).

May 5, 2019, 11:13 PM · The major problem would be the time it takes for glue to dry. There are several gluing operations in series, and you need to have the first one dry before you can continue work.

Several times I have speed-carved a top for some acoustic experiment or another, and often the sound didn't seem to suffer for the lumpy shape. I don't think I could carve a back quickly enough... or maybe with a chainsaw.

Soundwise, I think it would suffer from trying to get in a 10-hr time window, and unvarnished violins have a distinctive sound that I think is a bit rough and unrefined.

Edited: May 6, 2019, 12:39 AM · Hmmmmm Don, thanks for the input. Perhaps there could be several allowable windows of time to allow "passive" construction such as drying of glue.

And there's no rule against chainsaws :D

May 6, 2019, 3:12 AM · I am not a luthier, but I will just cheat and make an electric violin on solid wood frame instead. Of course, I assume we don't make our own pickup from stretch.
May 6, 2019, 5:14 AM · And the winner can be donated to the three-hour practice challenge.
May 6, 2019, 6:26 AM · I'd think the first step would be locating some antique labels off ebay. Then you could slap anything together, blame the ugliness on the instrument's alleged age, and count on the placebo effect for the sound quality.
May 6, 2019, 8:37 AM · One of the advantages of doing a del Gesu copy. You can always blame it on the great man's experimentation.
Edited: May 6, 2019, 9:17 AM · 10 hours is simply unreal, no matter how fast and how sloppy you can work. For me it would not be enough even to make fingerboard, nut, pegs, soundpost and bridge to get a violin that works well and is playable at concert level.
I don't think they are enough even to make an ugly VSO held together by cyanoacrylates, but I know, many would call me a slow maker...:-)

I'm out of the challenge

Edited: May 6, 2019, 10:07 AM · Erik, that's a great idea, why don't you make one and show us what you ended up with? We'll even give you an extra 3hrs to compensate for your inexperience. On the other hand that would be a total waste of anyone's time that they'll never get back! A rushed job would be 10 person days, approximately 1/3rd of the time it would normally take as I understand.
May 6, 2019, 10:19 AM · I might be able to do it, but what label would go inside?
It would not be my own. LOL
May 6, 2019, 10:51 AM · There's this video on youtube about the Stentor factory: https://youtu.be/0SvfNhMlnBE . F-holes at 3:16; ribs 5:00; scroll carving 11:15.

It seems to be all hand-made, but every step is executed by a different worker, all at lightning speed. It would not surprise me if the total labor is well below 10 hours per violin.

May 6, 2019, 3:18 PM · David, you could put a crappified version of your own name in there, like "daved burjez". LOL
May 6, 2019, 3:25 PM · I should also add: although the violin would be judged at "concert level" as Davide Sora put it, it definitely wouldn't be expected to actually play at that level. In other words, it's very unlikely that the violin could possibly sound good enough to be used on stage. But then again, I've been surprised by people before. Human beings can do some crazy things.
May 6, 2019, 3:57 PM · I'll carve you a scroll in 10 hours...
May 7, 2019, 12:22 AM · Roger said: "On the other hand that would be a total waste of anyone's time that they'll never get back!"

Jeez, do you really think that experimenting is a waste of time? What a close-minded view! Sometimes we discover the most interesting things about ourselves and our craft by doing the unorthodox, or by undergoing a challenge we know we'll likely fail. I feel life is all about exploring the unknowns, and not just about taking only the safest roads.

May 7, 2019, 1:20 AM · "Jeez, do you really think that experimenting is a waste of time? "

No, but that...hum "experiment"...to be honest... yes. Good luck finding a willing guenea pig.

May 7, 2019, 1:20 AM · "Jeez, do you really think that experimenting is a waste of time? "

No, but that...hum "experiment"...to be honest... yes. Good luck finding a willing guenea pig.

May 7, 2019, 1:30 AM · I thought this idea was an attempt to troll the 3h challenge that has been put to us in a different thread (which is not that useful either IMO, except maybe if entered by people of comparable technical prowess--impossible to achieve on any forum of this kind).

The problem of waiting time for drying glue could be solved by stopping the clock for the time that glue or varnish take to do their jobs.

May 7, 2019, 2:45 AM · Albrecht, the 3-hour challenge was useful for demonstrating how few people are actually willing to undergo a challenge they know they won't 100% succeed at. I was really hoping I'd get to see more than just a couple of people try it, but was disappointed.

If people of very comparable technical prowess entered, you would get similar results, and that would be boring (in terms of the 3h challenge, not the rushed luthier challenge). Like watching any olympic sport at a high level, the level of similarity between the performance of all the candidates makes it boring to watch (at least to me). I like to see a wide variety of entries in stuff like that because it goes to show so many different ways something can be done, and it makes you appreciate how much better some of the people are. An olympic level sprinter always seems slow when they're running next to 10 other sprinters of roughly the same speed. But put them next to an ordinary guy? Then you can really appreciate the difference.

And I agree that glue drying could stop the clock. There's also no need for all of the 10 hours to happen at once! They could be split up.


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