Luthiers: what do you do when you finish a violin and realize it sounds bad?

December 14, 2017, 9:55 AM · I have a question for luthiers. If after many days or weeks you finally finish a violin, and realize it doesn't sound that good, what do you do?

I also have other questions. Do you charge normally the same price for your violins mostly counting the hours spent, or does the final sound greatly affect the price?

Also, is a violin symmetrical?
I mostly mean if the fingerboard is right in the middle, so is the scroll, button, etc...

Finally, what's the most difficult piece or process to make that you can mess up in just a second?
The top or bottom that you can mistakenly make too thin? May be the scroll? Fitting the neck may be?

Replies (43)

December 14, 2017, 9:59 AM · on violins I restore, I lower the price.
December 14, 2017, 10:44 AM · Sounds like trouble shooting your instrument is something that should be done. If you don't know what went wrong, how can you prevent it from happening again.

Measurements are a big thing to keep an eye on. However like most things, nothing is written in stone, still don't get too crazy with them.

What can you mess up in a second - bass bar, sound post, bridge, nut, fingerboard, tailpiece, saddle, f-holes, etc... what can't you mess up is a better question.

Avoid shortcuts is a good start. Use the proper tool for the job that needs done. Learn your lessons well and don't expect anyone to pay for your mistakes. In other words, take pride in your work- if it's too far gone, don't sell it to an under educated customer, start over.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 11:07 AM · Sell it at the same price. Someone will come along who thinks it's the best thing they ever heard.
Edited: December 14, 2017, 11:15 AM · I had a friend who made violins. At some point about 23 - 27 years ago I would play them "in the white," before they were varnished. He had developed his own ground and oil-varnishing process - but he would know what to expect before that final process.

If not happy with the instrument in the white there was more he could do. I recall that once he re-made a cello top plate.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 12:07 PM · " I have a question for luthiers. If after many days or weeks you finally finish a violin, and realize it doesn't sound that good..."

Huh? That's a pretty serious accusation!

December 14, 2017, 12:55 PM · "What can you mess up in a second - bass bar, sound post, bridge, nut, fingerboard, tailpiece, saddle, f-holes, etc.."

Most of those can be repaired/replaced, though. But the errors on the plates (f hole, carving of the trench (?) for the purfling) will require making a new plate, with the elaborate process of getting them in the correct 3D shape on the outside and tuning the thickness such that all the resonances are exactly right once the violin is assembled and varnished. In my imagination, that plate tuning is the most magical and difficult part.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 1:52 PM · Oh yeah, the 3D of the plates would definitely be the one of the biggest "oh crap!". Actually, the plates, ribs, and neck would cause a big curse considering the cost of things now. Plates and neck work-wise. However, I did see someone make a violin with the neck cut into some strange loop- I'll have to look for a picture of it.
December 14, 2017, 2:09 PM · @Jim Auckerman when you said "Sounds like trouble shooting your instrument is something that should be done.", I read that as 'Sounds like trouble; shooting your instrument is something that should be done.' I got really scared for a moment!

@Tim my local luthier sold me one of his 'failed' violins for half the price, even though it didn't sound that bad in my opinion. (I have not played on too many of his 'good' violins however.)

December 14, 2017, 2:20 PM · ha ha ha! sorry about that, got to love typos.
December 14, 2017, 2:32 PM · Hahaha, that was funny. If the violin sounds like trouble... man, just shoot it. Or even better, call it viola. Sorry I had to say it.

Yeah, messing up a sound post is not big deal, or bridge. I was asking, just because I'm curious, what's the hardest process to do or piece to carve that a few extra carves can totally ruin tons of hours. I'm not pretending to build anything.

David I'm not accusing anybody, hahaha. I guess sometimes you've done violins that turned out to be worse than expected or even straight bad. What dis you do then?

Edited: December 14, 2017, 2:48 PM · "Kiddu", good aim is always an asset, when it comes to intentionally shooting anything. ;-)
December 14, 2017, 2:41 PM · call it a viola - you watch too much of 2Set, but hey who doesn't
Edited: December 14, 2017, 4:54 PM · Tim, I'd answer in more detail, but I'm busy carving. ;-)

In a nutshell, a moment of inattention at any point can screw things up pretty badly. Don't ask me how I know. LOL

When I mess something up, I like to make a new sub assembly to totally eliminate the mess-up. I'm not very comfortable selling a "new" instrument which has already been repaired.

There are exceptions, mostly based on what Stradivari was OK with sending out the door. For example, I don't consider putting an insert where there was once a "pitch pocket" anything to be ashamed of. One of the finest remaining examples of Stradivari's work, the Messiah Strad, has such an insert.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 5:11 PM · Exactly, one thing I though is "would I buy a new repaired violin?", hahaha.

Oh no, don't blame 2SetViolin, it was this very forum, you all violinists, that injected that viola venom in my blood. Now there's no cure, well just one, let them jokes out.

I was a nice musician before, very sweet, I respected violas and all, I once even dared to look at the viola section with a nice sweet face expression during Ravel's Bolero, while they were playing the main theme. I was kind of bullied by the concertino, but I didn't care, I liked the groove violas had when they played the main theme, it was amazing.

And then, then I registered here.

December 14, 2017, 4:13 PM · I think I miss-interpreted Tim's use of the word "finish!"

Violas getting to play the main theme? WOW!
I thought that was like waiting for the Messiah.

December 14, 2017, 4:23 PM · a-huh, violinist, wild ones... bad influences...
December 14, 2017, 5:12 PM · OK I'm so sorry but I don't understand none of your last 2 messages. I fixed the sentence so there's no finish word anymore.
Edited: December 15, 2017, 7:42 AM · Just carrying on the joking. You can disregard if you like.

As for buying a used violin; sure as long as you're pleased with the sound. New/used/old does not necessarily translate to good or bad. You have to take instruments on an individual basis. Some are good, some not so good.

December 15, 2017, 2:56 PM · If it's a real dog I'd remove all traces of its origin from within and without, perhaps including scrubbing off my DNA, stick an outlandish STRADIVARIOUS (sic) label inside and sell it anonymously for whatever on eBay.

Of course all this would never happen because I'm just dreaming ;)

December 15, 2017, 4:36 PM · If you think you can scrub off your DNA, you probably ARE just dreaming - They'll find it, if they want to.
December 15, 2017, 4:55 PM · I heard they are going to test all violas for dna, and if it belongs to someone laying claims to being a violinist, they will throw them out of the violin section. I also heard the first two they found are named Brett and Eddy.
December 15, 2017, 6:16 PM · There once was a thread on Maestronet about this. I remember one luthier after some trying to improve the blasted thing took it to the yard and shot it with a shotgun.
December 15, 2017, 8:06 PM · "There once was a thread on Maestronet about this. I remember one luthier after some trying to improve the blasted thing took it to the yard and shot it with a shotgun."

Xtreme antiquing!

December 15, 2017, 8:18 PM · *Takes antique Winchester shotgun. Apply antique bullet with fine green patina finish onto wood
December 19, 2017, 2:49 PM · Thrown out of the violin section because your DNA was found on a viola? Come to the viola section. We will nurture you. We will cherish you. We will help you rebuild your broken soul. But come. Please. We need you. Anybody.
December 19, 2017, 4:26 PM · "what do you do when you finish a violin and realize it sounds bad?"

I wouldn't consider a violin finished if it sounded bad. It's finished when it sounds, feels and looks like it should.

December 19, 2017, 6:48 PM · I remember visiting a luthier when I was a kid and my violin needed repairs. He told us that if he made a bad sounding instrument it went right into the fire and heated him twice. He said he did not want any bad sounding instruments getting out and tarnishing his name.
December 19, 2017, 9:45 PM · Wow, some tough policy right there Timothy.
December 19, 2017, 11:10 PM · They add $5000 to the price tag and try to make some connection to Cremona... More people fall for this than you'd think!
December 19, 2017, 11:15 PM · Of course, Stradivari never did send me the Messiah out the door, did he?
December 19, 2017, 11:44 PM · Change your name to something that sounds Italian and charge twice the original price.
December 21, 2017, 6:34 AM · Ohh we're forgetting the crucial "it's a new violin, it'll open up!"

May be true but definitely used to manipulate buyers...

December 21, 2017, 9:08 AM · Aren't they renamed 'student' violins?
Edited: December 21, 2017, 11:02 AM · Put a competitors label in it and sell it. ;-)

December 21, 2017, 11:14 AM · Hahahahaha, you have the evil inside, David!
December 21, 2017, 11:58 AM · Or you could say it's from your "workshop".
December 21, 2017, 12:46 PM · I think the proper procedure is to break it over your knee dramatically at your workbench while live streaming on Facebook.
December 21, 2017, 1:22 PM · If it only sounds okay, surely someone could still play it, so destroying it is such a waste. Labeling it as a "workshop" instrument and selling it for less seems better than nothing.
December 21, 2017, 1:40 PM · But then you would be lying...

My initial question was more about what do luthiers do (trouble shooting, modifying things, ungluing and start all over again, replace some parts like top, etc...) when they finish that "unique" violin and suddenly the sound is much worse than what they expected.

December 21, 2017, 2:33 PM · When a good maker has a lot of experience, he will be consistent about sound. That includes knowing very well the model, the wood, consulting notes about weight and tap tones of plates, etc.

He will develop a "recipe" for sound and playability. The changes in the recipe will be very small, if they work well, they will be incorporated in the next instruments. But these small changes will not ruin an instrument.

I just make violas, always the same model and size, similar wood. I repeat the recipe, so no bad surprise. Results are very predictable.

December 21, 2017, 5:04 PM · If you have someone else fit the pegs then it's a workshop instrument.
December 22, 2017, 12:46 PM · I always find it funny when violinists joke about violists . In comparison to violas violins practically play themselves. When you hear a Violist who can make musical poetry then you've found a real string player !
Edited: December 22, 2017, 12:58 PM · Martin made the only comment that gets near the truth of the situation . If a violin doesn't work as it should do then it's not finnished .
If you were working on a piece for violin you wouldn't consider your work done untill you were satisfied with the result surely ?

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