Making a violin from "scratch"

October 9, 2017, 2:08 PM · I have read a few books on making violins, and I'm quite handy in the workshop, both with metal and wood.

Somehow, I have this itch to make a violin, balanced only by my fear that the first half a dozen instruments I would make would be "unplayable" outside the workshop. And I don't know if I would commit to making "half a dozen" instruments.

What is the experience of other people? Do many people make a reasonable instrument in their first few attempts, or is it something for the long haul?

Replies (12)

October 9, 2017, 2:46 PM · I have wanted that for a long time and I'm still working up the courage. But I am leaning more and more towards making a viola instead.
Main argument against is that I will be spending a considerable amount of time on what will no doubt be a mediocre instrument at best and that I will rather spend that time on playing the wonderful instruments I already have. It would be interesting though....
October 9, 2017, 2:53 PM · I mean the worst you’ll have made will be a really nice accent furniture! I think you should go for it!
Edited: October 9, 2017, 5:37 PM · I might be tempted to try this if I did not have shaky hands. Anyhow - the approach i would take would be to start out with one of those "violin making kits" that will show up on search. This would give me a chance to start with the final steps and get some idea of what is involve to do that.

I would read up on the actual work involved in starting from scratch (I've actually been doing that for half my life) and consider graduating the plates on this first kit the way s a real violin maker would.

If that succeeded I might then try to make one from scratch.

A friend of mine some 40 years ago when we were both that age (half our lifetimes ago) was unhappy with his progress as a beginning violin student and decided to try to make them instead. He became very successful and by now has made 101 instruments (sold 100, so far) including 3 cellos, 86 violins and 12 violas. He won a competition award for tone for one of his early violas (the only competition he ever entered). I bought 3 of his instruments between 1990 (his violin # 11) and 2000.

I should add that he started this as a hobby while working for pay as a mechanical engineer. After he retired around 1991 he continued this as a business, actually built a studio addition to his house, and became the town luthier caring for many instruments and rehiring bows. He did a great job around 1992 repairing an antique cello of mine that had been damaged beyond economical repair by movers back in 1962 and it is in better playing condition than ever before.

October 9, 2017, 4:57 PM · The learning curve in violin making is very slow.
The competition in this market is tough, only outstanding instruments will be sold.
I made a step by step scroll carving tutorial some years ago, about 200 photos, here:
October 9, 2017, 5:06 PM · Making vioins, as a hobby, can be a great pastime. Making violins, as a profession, can be a pretty hard row to hoe.
Edited: October 9, 2017, 7:07 PM · I second Andrew's suggestion of buying a kit. My first luthiery project was a violin kit from Stewart-Macdonald. I learned lots and produced a violin that I am very pleased with. (I did graduate the plates).
October 9, 2017, 8:13 PM · You have an itch to make a violin?
Try a steroid cream. It'll go away.
October 10, 2017, 7:32 AM · I too have always wanted to try my hand at this, but have never had the courage to try.

There's a man who lives in my area who has a website packed with a plethora of useful information on building violins. Since you're handy with tools and have already read up on violin making, this information will be supplemental. But it does have a lot of useful information, once you can navigate through the website (it's a little busy and disorganized).

Hope it helps.

Edited: October 10, 2017, 9:43 AM · Graeme, I say go for it! You'll never know until...

I have an orthodontist/audiophile friend who obviously has great hands but also a great ear for detail. He inherited wood working machines and tools from his father and started making fancy boxes and small furniture. He quickly grew tired of that and, because of his love for string music and instruments, he decided to try his hand. He said he figured a violin was the fanciest, most complex box he could try to make, but still a box :)

His first fiddle looks rough and sounds pretty muted. His second was an improvement, but not by much. The wood work was cleaner but it still sounded very VSO. His third however was a huge leap, still a little less than pristine work, but sounded like a good student fiddle I'd pay real money for. His first viola, the next project, was similar to the third violin. The last I visited with him he had started work on his first cello, but I haven't seen it yet. We've lost touch because of a new summer job I started about 5 years ago, but I assume he's finished it by now. I remember him remarking at how much more wood he had to shed on the cello plates.

He befriended luthiers at a local shop and frequently visited with them, constantly peppering them with every question he had and problems he faced (they set up all his instruments,) and his investment in a couple of very fine multi-million $ instruments, sourced and serviced at the same shop, probably helped with that relationship.

He's an avid fan, often flying to Europe to attend concerts and competitions, and a big supporter of the local symphony and musicians. And so he constantly listens to instruments both live and on his (I think he's said) 100K hand crafted hifi system. Aside from his obviously plentiful resources I think it's his keen deductive mind, his hands, his ears and his tenacity which allowed him such early success, over a period of a couple of years.

Good luck! And hope to see some videos of your work!

October 10, 2017, 4:13 PM · All very interesting comments. Thank you.

I would be very much a hobby maker, not a late-blooming luthier.

I had not thought of kits, and will look into that, maybe as a "trainer wheels" project.

My experience with approaching engineers and tradies is that they give a little very happily, but freeze up when it looks like you might actually do something. Thankfully, with the Internet, it is much easier to make contact with other hobbyist makers.

Edited: October 10, 2017, 4:58 PM · I started with an old cheap violin. Fixing cracks in the table, flank facing the pegbox, making new bridges. In the process I learned I needed quite a few tools. Some I made myself, Including a total of 32 clamps. Oh, get a drill press that don't wobble.

I want to build one from scratch but the expense is holding me back. A kit might be a suitable substitute for the first one. There is a lot involved so get a really good book and poster blue prints. They can be found at the Strad. They have the measurements on the backs. posters/Strad They do have Stradivari, De Gesu, Amati and others.

October 11, 2017, 3:19 AM · I made a step by step tutorial about scroll carving some years ago, here:

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