One-piece back or two?

February 12, 2021, 9:18 AM · My Breton has a one-piece back, typical of all Breton models. It has a very mellow sound, and I was curious about whether a two-piece back affects the sound and makes it more complex. I know of a nice-looking Louis Lowendall for sale, then I'd have both a French violin and a German one.

Replies (22)

February 12, 2021, 10:02 AM · I read somewhere that two piece backs can be made from thinner trees than one piece backs. But sound wise there is no difference. But I'm not a luthier.
February 12, 2021, 10:41 AM · A one-piece back may be more likely to be a certain kind of wood, and certain kinds of wood may behave differently when shaped the same vs. other kinds of wood, but there are too many variables to generalize to "one piece backs".

So choose a violin that fulfills your criteria as a player and don't try to sidestep that game by adopting an empty rule of thumb. :-)

February 12, 2021, 12:59 PM · I've never heard anyone claim a significant "this vs. that" difference between one-piece vs. two-piece backs for sound. I think it boils down to the luthier's creative preference and the wood (s)he has available.
Edited: February 12, 2021, 1:35 PM · "Macht nichts" I have one violin with one-piece back and three with 2-pice backs. There are all different but that is not the reason.

Stradivari's "Emperor" violin has a one-piece back, I think far more of them are 2-piece.

February 12, 2021, 3:18 PM · My luthier acknowledged that two piece backs are stronger than one.I have had the soundpost snugged up a few times in the last couple years due to it being a one piece back, thus pushing the back out( very slightly).
February 12, 2021, 4:30 PM · What about a one-piece back with two "wings" added in the lower bouts in the manner of Andrea Guarneri, as here in one viola I made, "La Struggente"

February 12, 2021, 4:48 PM · Very nice. Extra sun porch on one edge, and a playroom for the kids on the other?
February 12, 2021, 8:33 PM · A more consequential difference would be whether the maker used 1/4 sawn or slab cut maple, irrespective of whether it is one or two piece back.
February 12, 2021, 9:09 PM · That's a beautiful viola Luis.
February 13, 2021, 1:31 AM · Two-piece backs are no more or less complex than one-piece backs. There is an argument that the two-piece back is stronger, yet there’s also one that it’s weaker and more prone to failure, so there’s nothing conclusive about the structural benefits.

In the early age of violin making, the choice of one-piece vs. two-piece was based more on the availability of good quality wood. Sometimes there just wasn’t quite enough for a full back, so makers would add wings to be able to make use of higher quality wood rather than using plainer wood or having to source another back. It wasn’t always very easy to acquire good wood, so many just took what they could get and worked around any deficiencies.

Edited: February 13, 2021, 4:39 PM · Luis, as a luthier,how do you obtain your wood supply? Are you constantly on the " hunt" for quality wood or do you buy a large quantity all at once and " coast" on that supply for a while?
February 13, 2021, 5:49 PM · The Lipinski Strad.
February 14, 2021, 10:31 AM · There is absolutely no difference in one piece or two piece backs... if they are cut similarly and of similar wood and the glue joint is good.

Differences may come in the practical issues, such as getting a full-width slab out of a tree, where you might have to accept more off-quarter or slab cuts. But you can find off-quarter, slab, or quarter cuts in 2-piece backs as well, so the number of pieces in any specific back is really irrelevant; it's the other things that matter.

February 14, 2021, 6:05 PM · I agree with Lyndon's February 12 post, and also Don's February 14 post.

Peter, your question was not directed at me, but I am always on the lookout for quality wood. That doesn't mean that I purchase it one piece at a time. I don't think I ever have. Instead, I like to purchase large batches of quality wood (preferably from the same growing area or even the same tree), because the more experience one has with wood from a particular source and of particular properties, the better the chances of having a predictable outcome.

I once paid 40 thousand dollars for some highly impressive maple, all from the same tree. This would be about 80K in today's dollars. Add 15 years of storage costs for proper natural drying and stress-relieving, and you can probably add another ten grand. And not all of it turned out to be useable.

Edited: February 15, 2021, 1:08 AM · The JTL catalogue says some of their wood is seasoned for more than 50 years.

I come from a place that has a boatbuilder and a friend of mine was a carpenter's apprentice there. They had a piece of teak 15' long and 2' square and they had to saw it lengthwise down the middle (quarter it?) and fit the pieces together to make a bowsprit. When they sawed it, the whole thing had been hollowed out by a giant wasps nest!

(don't quibble about the dimensions - my memory isn't good on detail)

February 15, 2021, 4:25 AM · Gordon, Hans Weisshaar told me years ago to never trust the age of wood that a wood dealer claims. Store and season it as if it is new, or risk using wood which is not yet stable.
What JTL did, I do not know.
Edited: February 15, 2021, 10:06 AM · I remember many years ago there was an effort to recover logs from the bottom of Lake Superior. The water is so cold that there is essentially no decay. Of course they would need to be dried, but we're talking about whole forests' worth of virgin timber -- enormous trees including many hardwoods. I don't know about maple but there was a lot of oak. Such was the scale of the logging operations, and Lake Superior is also known to be a place where a lot of boats have gone missing.

On a related note, I also remember reading in a biography of Harry Truman that when his forbears migrated up the Missouri River toward Kansas City, as they looked out from the boat there were endless black forests of 6-foot-diameter trees and some larger, including huge groves of walnut. So plentiful was walnut that it was used for barns. Such stories are quite common in the US. Nowadays you will pay so dearly for a ten-inch board, even of softwood, that you'd just be better off investing in a joiner.

When my friend Daniel Foster (a luthier) died, now several years ago, I know that he left behind a huge supply of wood. Dan told me that you have to buy far more wood than you will ever need because it's impossible to evaluate it when you buy it. He said you can buy 10 pieces of wood that seem fine and then after drying and storing for 10-15 years you might find only a couple of pieces truly suitable. Dan mostly made violas and cellos, so he needed wide boards. His last cello was made of poplar.

February 15, 2021, 6:27 PM · I had no idea what you as a maker pay for wood David.Thats an eye opener...
February 15, 2021, 7:53 PM · Wow! David I had no idea tone wood could be so expensive. I suppose a great instrument must begin with great wood. I'm curious... are there certain visual characteristics of wood in a finished violin that would indicate superior quality?
February 15, 2021, 8:19 PM · that was for a whole tree
February 16, 2021, 1:48 PM · Well, maybe a 25 foot section of a whole tree.
Edited: February 16, 2021, 6:33 PM · The phrase "value added" applied here I think.

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