First attempt at violin making that came out really well?

July 25, 2019, 1:51 AM · Have you or someone you're aware of had really good results the first time out making a violin - or any orchestral stringed instrument - primarily thinking of making one from scratch by hand, but you can reference results starting with a kit if that's your experience.

By good results I mean an instrument you could in good conscience charge decent money for that an advanced college or conservatory player or pro would find to be a perfectly usable instrument?

Or is it extremely unlikely to make a really outstanding instrument without first making a pile of not so outstanding ones? I've watched a number of videos and have an appreciation that it's an extremely laborious, precision endeavor.

Replies (9)

July 25, 2019, 2:17 AM · Never tried it myself. But my luthier told me, his 7th violin was the first violin good enough to sell. And it was only after an apprenticeship with an excellent luthier. He told me because I play that violin now:)
Building good violins is a real craft. IMO no one learns real craftmanship by only looking some video's.
July 25, 2019, 3:39 AM ·
July 25, 2019, 6:44 AM · The learning curve in violin making is very slow. I started making instruments when I was 13 years old, I am 56 now, I got really satisfied with my violas just about 10 years ago.
The details in style, woodworking, varnishing, sound subtleties and playability are so many that you will take years to learn it.
Training the ears and eyes takes time too.
If you are interested in violin making start from the scratch. The ART OF VIOLIN MAKING by Courtnall and Johnson is the best DIY book.
Good luck!
Edited: July 25, 2019, 8:38 AM · A personal friend of mine, a mechanical engineer, Charles Woods, started making violins in 1987, shortly before his 50th birthday. He was taking violin lessons from a teenage girl and didn't like the way he was playing so he decided to try making violins. His first violin was not bad and he gave it to his young teacher.

I played on several of his early newly made violins for some local community TV demonstrations he gave and they were OK. He brought his 11th violin to one of our community orchestra rehearsals; I was at the back of the hall during break when I heard one of our good young players trying it out and I knew I had to have it. I was lucky enough to purchase it. It is probably the best sounding violin I have owned. (Lydia Leong said she liked it best of all my violins.) Unfortunately (for me), when offered a choice of my violins when she was finally "full size" at age 11, my granddaughter chose "Number Eleven." I felt I had to replace it with another "Woods" violin so he sold me number 54, which he had just finished. I believe he told me the top was made from the same Engelman spruce as Number Eleven. I had bought his viola #6 four years earlier.

At age 80, after over 30 years of making, Charles Woods declared he was finished making with his 100th instrument (a viola):

but he has since completed number 101, a violin.

July 25, 2019, 8:57 AM · Right now I'm working on instrument #30, and started making them 12 years ago (and tinkering with them for decades before that). I think it takes 10 - 20 instruments before you get to where things start to make sense... depending on skill level and training.

In observing who the winners are at VSA competitions, I'd say they all have spent 10 years or more, mostly in high-level shops or with top makers.

Skill and experience matter. Don't count on the first one being great. Playable, yes... but something (or many things) won't be right.

Edited: July 25, 2019, 10:01 PM · I once asked my piano tuner how you learn to tune pianos. He said, "By tuning 100 pianos."
Edited: July 26, 2019, 4:07 AM · I've seen some OK "first fiddles", but these were all from people who had major prior training or experience in the trade, or had someone who was already very good micromanaging every detail of the process, in person.

It's a little like playing the violin. One probably isn't going to sound very good on their first attempt. ;-)

July 26, 2019, 8:01 AM · (Burgess): "It's a little like playing the violin. One probably isn't going to sound very good on their first attempt. ;-)"

Similarly, if you try to learn from a book without hearing a good violinist play, it won't just be the first attempt that doesn't sound good. For making a good violin, you need to see and hear good violins... and there are so many subtle details to see and hear, it takes years to take them all in. Exposure to top instruments, players, and makers is extremely important.

Edited: July 26, 2019, 10:26 AM · I have friends and apprentices who have made first violins that: 1-sounded very good, 2-looked very good. I haven't seen a number 1 that was both. A sculptor friend who I "taught"(rather, I guided him-he should have been teaching me to sculpt better!) made a first violin that had a scroll that was to die for. The violin sounded terrible.

You can follow the numbers and listen to a well-trained violin maker and get a good first instrument, but the numbers are only the beginning and it takes years, if not more than a lifetime, to figure it all out.

I have customer who ask me how long it takes to master violin making, and I tell them that i don't really know. I've been doing this almost 25 years.

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