CNC machines

Edited: October 8, 2020, 5:12 AM · After ditching a Chinese VSO that sounded like a cathedral, I wondered what the biggest problem was. Presumably it was CNC'd to a 3mm thickness throughout (that could be a totally wrong assumption), but a CNC machine could easily be programmed to give the wood the exact thickness profile of, say, a Strad (or any other competent violin). It wouldn't result in a Strad, of course, but it would be a basis. Maybe that's done already and there are other reasons why a Chinese VSO might be crap?

Replies (15)

October 8, 2020, 5:27 AM · No two apparently identical planks will have identical density and stiffness, even if they come fro the same tree.

I have read that Stradivari (and others) could even adjust tone by scraping the outside of a finished violin (before varnishing..)

Edited: October 8, 2020, 5:48 AM · I chose the words "it would be a basis" carefully. We're talking factory. I don't suppose many workshops achieve what Stradivari achieved. And if they didn't, the result wasn't crap. If instead you assert all workshops apply unique consideration to every piece of wood, then I'd have to take that as a definitive answer, assuming VSO's don't have uniform thickness.
October 8, 2020, 7:28 AM · Mass production is about getting as much of the product out the door as possible. Product quality is compromised. It will be calculated as a percentage of returns. The recipient of the container will most likely be the quality control manager. My point is, that quality is not as important as it should be as far as the manufacturer is concerned

From what I understand, plates are rarely CNC'd. Most likely the scrolls, fingerboards, pegs, and other such parts are. I think it would be just as time consuming to setup the plates for CNC as it would to have an experienced gouger being paid $.15 per hour to carve them out. By the time you purchase a bunch of machines, higher CNC operators, pay the electric, etc it will probably calculate much higher then the $.15 per hour and turn out less plates.

Edited: October 8, 2020, 7:34 AM · No two Stradivarius violins are dimensionally exactly the same even though some can be really close. There is extreme similarity in tap tones, deflection, etc. That requires a human touch, know how, and experience. Nothing wrong with using a CNC to rough out parts, but a knowledgable and experienced human will still need to spend much time on the finished product. Inexpensive instruments are inexpensive because they cut back on quality materials and time to finish. You might be surprised to find out that some really fine modern makers use CNC machines to rough out parts as well.
October 8, 2020, 8:04 AM · Power planers and routers are not good for tonewood tap tones, I had experience with a really great tap tone piece of wood after power planing to thin it down the tap tones were destroyed and the wood was dead as a doornail, so no CNC is not a good idea, to the Chinese makers credit very few factories are using CNC machines, almost all their violins are hand carved, the wood may not be properly aged on some of them, though.
October 8, 2020, 8:15 AM · If you've ever seen a Chinese factory operation, it becomes apparent that humans can develop incredible speed at manual tasks, to where CNC would be too slow and expensive (see

Careful attention to detail is undoubtedly lost, but I think that equaly or more important is the use of huge volumes of low-cost wood, which would also compromise acoustic performance.

October 8, 2020, 9:21 AM · "I don't suppose many workshops achieve what Stradivari achieved."

I suspect Stradivari did not achieve what many of his surviving violins have achieved. He made baroque violins with significant differences in dimensions, setups and power output than the current incarnations.

They were, and are (in most cases), beautiful works of wood art sculpture. It should not be a surprise that people cherished and cared for them.

Add 300+ years of aging to alter the physical damping of the wood, and the tinkering of master luthiers over the years to incorporate new knowledge and technologies, and you have a modern instrument: still beautiful to the eye but now suitable for the modern concert stage.

October 16, 2020, 9:00 AM ·
I was looking at this catalogue and noticed the "violons filetés".
I had to look it up in the dictionary.
"Le filet" is French for purfling.
But fileté can also mean made on a milling machine!
October 16, 2020, 9:48 AM · Woodworking is a skill, it takes both years of practice and a dedication to perfection that not a lot of people have.

The little that I do know is that fine grained wood comes from trees that have survived harsh conditions with little growth season-to-season. The current forestry practice of clear-cutting doesn't allow these struggling trees to mature and the re-plant is almost always fast growing softer woods.

Then there is the simple fact that profit rules in most businesses. These companies don't measure greatness of their products - they only measure cash out versus cash in and how big the profit is.

To be sure my "Mittenwald Strad" from the mid-to-late 1800's is a factory fiddle but there was a craftsman who made the body and neck. The original fittings were junk but the body, neck, scroll were made by a craftsman who took pride in what he did.

We still have some craftsmen out there (like Lyndon) who seek the best wood, and take the time to make something wonderful. But the demand for inexpensive instruments is driving the market.

Edited: October 16, 2020, 10:27 AM · i'm actually just doing repairs of antique instruments now, just found out the baroque set up violin I thought I was finishing has a 3" bass bar in the wrong position and its coming loose, so I have to take the top off and fit a proper baroque bassbar, much more work than I thought, as the violin has no cracks and I had no previous reason to take the top off, should have looked inside earlier, live and learn, I've put so much work into it already, there's no option but to fix it properly, will be a better instrument for it.
October 16, 2020, 11:04 AM · Got the top off, the 4" bassbar was on the wrong side, the treble side where the soundpost is supposed to go, well its gone now, new one on the way!!
October 16, 2020, 11:17 AM · Is it not a left-handed violin, Lyndon?
October 16, 2020, 11:38 AM · no, pegs are normal, its Salzkammergut, no liners some don't have bass bars, much nicer on the outside than inside, but the top is thicknessed well, not too thick, good wood, it may well sound quite good with gut strings as it would have had originally
October 18, 2020, 9:38 AM · Well I've fit a properly dimensioned baroque style bassbar on the correct side, and just glued the top back on, I'm back to the point I thought I was at three days ago, just needing to fit soundpost and bridge to finish. Should be an interesting instrument, doesn't look bad.
October 18, 2020, 9:41 AM · There was evidence of soundpost indentations underneath the wrong side, poorly glued bass bar, which I removed, and evidence it originally had a bass bar glued on the correct side, so maybe it was converted to left hand but was not originally.

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