Violin cracks

January 8, 2020, 11:51 AM · What is the order of severity amongst the following?

- sound post crack on top
- sound post crack on back
- bass bar crack

anything other major things I am missing?

Replies (8)

Edited: January 8, 2020, 2:15 PM · I sincerely hope you don't have all three, or even one, in that list!

Any one of those cracks would noticeably affect the tone and there would be the real risk of a soundpost crack propagating and causing even more damage to one of the plates. Any of those three needs immediate attention, starting with letting the string tension down, the only safe thing that the owner can do before the violin is taken to the luthier.

I don't know the precise answer but common sense suggests that a bass bar crack could be the easiest to deal with (i.e. replace the damaged bar with a new one), but a soundpost crack in the front or back plate would presumably require carpentry skills of a high order to repair, and hence be expensive.

A not uncommon crack, or perhaps more correctly split, that I should mention tends to happen in the top plate of some older violins. It is a split that propagates from a corner of the saddle towards the bridge. I had it happen to my 18th century violin some years ago, and it was a straightforward repair for my luthier.

January 8, 2020, 1:25 PM · Post cracks in the back. There seems to be a movement away from 50% hit on value for many older, fine instruments, but on a modern instrument it is still the worst. We have better repair techniques so the long term prospects for a good repair that causes fewer problems down the road are minmized, but if a living maker's instrument presented with a post crack in the back I would try to get the maker to make a new back.

Bass bar cracks would be second, in my experience.

January 8, 2020, 2:42 PM · Order of severity to value:
sound post crack on back
sound post crack on top
bass bar crack
January 8, 2020, 3:56 PM · On a related note, how do you properly treat a violin to prevent the possible formation of these types of damage?
Edited: January 8, 2020, 4:45 PM · Don't drop your violin, don't send it through checked baggage on an airplane, don't ever leave your instrument in a closed but unlatched case (violin) or a case standing open (cello), and don't ever, ever do the youth orchestra thing of leaving your instrument on your chair during break. Those cracks happen as the result of some sort of trauma to the instrument.
January 8, 2020, 6:21 PM · Mary Ellen, sadly, it is not just youth orchestras who do that thing of leaving their instruments on chairs. I've seen it happen only too frequently in relatively good adult community orchestras where even experienced violinists do it - adults who should know better. Once, during a rehearsal break of one such orchestra I tried to count the instruments left not only on chairs but also on the floor, miscounted (so much for my math degree!) and decided it was quicker to count those with their violins safely in cases; there were just two - the CM (a retired pro) and me.

Fortunately, there are encouraging exceptions to this unedifying behaviour, one being my Bristol Chamber Orchestra where every violinist and violist religiously puts their instrument back into its case for the rehearsal break.

January 8, 2020, 8:06 PM · One way to properly treat a violin to prevent those cracks from forming is to use a modern suspension case. The design suspends the violin corpus from the end blocks so it can't take blows at the bridge or the middle of the back.
Edited: January 9, 2020, 12:53 PM · I'll add that it's important to avoid humidity extremes.

Wood expands and contracts as the moisture levels in the surrounding air go up and down, and not all parts expand and contract at the same rate, leading to high stresses which can result in cracks.

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