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Thread: Building a violin... easier?

  1. #1
    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Building a violin... easier?

    I've recently taken up violin and have become quite passionate about it, almost immediately realizing I need/want something more than a beginner or even advanced violin. So, I shall build my own professional violin.

    Having looked at the templates and many free plans found at various places on the web, nothing specifically jumps out at me as being too tedious or inherently difficult from a mandolin builders point of view.

    So, for those who build violins, what exactly am I missing? What caveats are there?

  2. #2
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Violins are more forgiving. The inside mould is easier to work with then an outside mould. Purfling is easier then binding, neck sets are about the same depending what you used for a mandolin. You do have to carve a scroll though but it is fun. Everything goes together with hot hide glue which is nice (if you use hide glue) so if you make a mistake or need to change the graduations or bass bar you can pop the top.
    I would recommend this book very highly.......

    https://www.amazon.com/Art-Violin-Ma.../dp/0709058764
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Purely technically speaking making classical violin is about 1/4 of making Loar style F-5 mandolin (using mostly hand tools and doing all the tiny nerdy details of construction, but if you use machines whenever possible it is closer to 1/2). But violins are completely different world in many aspects. Many folks thnk you don't need all that good workmanship on violin as on guitar or mandolin. Let's say purfling on violins is rarely prefectly done but good makes or dealer will notice tiny difference between just sloppy beginners work and result of personal style of work of experienced maker. If you just follow some plans your result will show it and will be frowned upon in classical circles. You need to develop your accepted personal style and/or be able to interpret various schools or personal styles of violin making (Stradivari, Amati, Guarneri and variiations within each maker like early period, golden period etc.) Your setup will need to be exact to 1/10th of mm and larning the tiny sound adjustment with bridge cutting, soundpost cut and position, tailgut length and matching best set of strings for the instruments are art in itself. Then if you are making antiqued instrument you are down another long way...
    Of course if you are making old time fiddle you don't have to care about all the subtleties and just make workable and fine playing, good looking instrument.
    Adrian

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    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Thanks for the insights. For now, I just want to build a better than I can afford violin. I'm not too impressed with the sub $1000 violins and know I can do better

  6. #5

    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    You can still walk away and save yourself. Building violins is kinda like pistachios. You can't build just one. I say read everything that you can find on the subject. Go for it.

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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by violinvic View Post
    You can still walk away and save yourself. Building violins is kinda like pistachios. You can't build just one. I say read everything that you can find on the subject. Go for it.
    Ain't that the truth! You keep thinking, well, this one's okay, but I bet I could do better. And you can. I'm a long way from pro skills, but they were easier to build than a mandolin for me. The comments about all the adjustments needed are also very much on the mark, it is amazing how much tiny alterations change the sound. You will spend a lot of time tinkering, which isn't a bad thing really.
    -Dave
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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    I would advise go to maestronet forums. The builders part is really good full of quality information by some of the worlds best violinmakers, though sometimes a bit less civilized language is used compared to MC.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Fscotte, I personally think you should consider building a fiddle instead of a violin

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by Clinton Johnson View Post
    Fscotte, I personally think you should consider building a fiddle instead of a violin
    Then selecting strangs becomes the problem.

  13. #10
    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Oddly enough, just as I was starting to cut the outline of my mould on the band saw, the drive belt broke... Can you believe it? I certainly couldn't. So without a bandsaw, I went ahead and cut out the mould with a coping saw.. then, for cutting the blocks, I used one of my rarely used Japanese hand saws..

    When that drive belt broke, I could hear Stradivarius saying, "No.. that's not how you do it".

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    Then selecting strangs becomes the problem.
    Also, fiddle or violin may depend upon how many teeth the builder has.
    Collings MT-0
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    selling my Mid-Mo

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    If you discuss violin building on an internet forum, prepare for varnish fights.

    2 books on violin building:
    Violin Making As It Is and Was-- Ed. Heron-Allen -- written in the 1880's. The old-fashioned way, in old-fashioned English.
    The Technique of Violin Making-- H.S. Wake -- written in 1973. Takes advantage of more modern methods and tooling, in more contemporary language.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    If you discuss violin building on an internet forum, prepare for varnish fights.

    2 books on violin building:
    Violin Making As It Is and Was-- Ed. Heron-Allen -- written in the 1880's. The old-fashioned way, in old-fashioned English.
    The Technique of Violin Making-- H.S. Wake -- written in 1973. Takes advantage of more modern methods and tooling, in more contemporary language.
    Those two books are hopelessly outdated and contain erroneous information. The book I mentioned in my first post is the best that I know of to date...

    https://www.amazon.com/Art-Violin-Ma...533886e4ce294a

    I am retired from violin making five years now so if there is a better tutorial out there I am unaware of it.

    I wonder if the original OP ever built a violin?
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    I don't know if he ever finished a violin or not. I just noticed that this an old thread. He has built a few mandolins.

    I don't know of any book on instrument building or repair that is over 5 years old that everyone will agree is undebateably perfect, or uses the same methods.
    I agree that Heron-Allen's book is very old-fashioned and sometimes difficult to interpret, and there could be varnish fights over both his book and Harry Wake's book.
    Both books are informative, though, and both will produce an instrument.

    Is there anything you can specifically mention that's particularly awful about either book??

    We often have finish fights in the mandolin and guitar worlds also. And we also have the finish of the year, and the builder of the year.
    10 years from now, some will still be using nitrocellulose lacquer if it's still available, some will still be French polishing shellac, some will be using the latest and greatest new product, and some will be using Tru-oil. I just do repairs, mostly on older instruments, and I like nitro and shellac myself; but these days I try to avoid breathing nitro as much as possible. If I build a guitar or mandolin before I hang it up, I'll probably use either some sort of shellac/varnish combination, or nitro if I can still stand breathing the stuff.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jun-10-2022 at 9:04pm.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    So, did the OP ever build a violin?

    Most of Harry Wake's books are minimalist and leave the reader wondering if he actually built one. We can say the same thing for the old Irving Sloan book on guitar building.

    I nearly spit out my lunch reading the comments about how easy it is to build a violin & inlay purfling......

    I don't understand why nobody mentioned Henry Strobel. His small useful measurements for violin builders book is generally considered an industry standard found in almost every repair shop in the country, and he published many books on violin building:

    https://www.henrystrobel.com/booklist.htm

    Henry was a gem of an man who built many many violins & published extensively while running an old school Violin shop in the Willamette valley for half a century.

    I'll admit that I have never built a violin, but I have been building double basses for two decades; imagine a six foot tall violin that gets more gigs and uses up a whole lot more tonewood....
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  20. #16
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    I remember the picture of Sloan trimming a neck blank to size with an old-fashioned carpenter's cross-cut saw.

    Strad didn't have no belt sander. Maybe that's why he didn't built any basses.
    I wonder how they made purfling strips of consistent size in 1700?
    Those guys must have had really good steel for their tools, and been really good at sharpening them.

    A few years back, I had to hand-make 2 kinds of intricate purfling for a Larson guitar that had missing sections. Cleaning out the channel and levelling the new inlay was the least of my worries. I don't know if I want to do that again.

    James, it'll be easier if you stick to basses. The purfling is bigger . . .
    Last edited by rcc56; Jun-10-2022 at 9:44pm.

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    If you want a truly minimalist book on instrument construction, read David Russell Young's book "The Steel String Guitar." He gives you just enough information to get into trouble. He leaves out more than he puts in.

    And you'll really spit out some food when you see how he joins a neck to a body: no dovetail, no simple mortise and tenon, not even a bolt-on system. He just uses a butt joint and glues it on with epoxy. You'll do more than spit out your lunch if one of his instruments comes in for a neck set . . .

    He did some nice inlay work, though. Doesn't give you much info on how to do it, though.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    I'm very familiar with David and his book. I've worked on several of his guitars. He no longer makes guitars and has been a bow maker for several decades.

    Have you ever built a guitar using David's book? Beyond the neck joint, it has an elegant simplicity that few are able to create. The whole minimalist approach is more a reflection of David and his approach to life living on the west coast in the 1970s. I used it for many of my first guitars. I believe that whole epoxy butt joint was the reason Bob Taylor eventually used a bolted butt joint for his first 1/2 million guitars; they lived very close to each other and were working at the same time period. It would be almost impossible to deny the fact. Breedlove and many other copycats who still use the design. I use a bolted butt joint with many students who struggle to understand how to set a dovetail properly with their early builds; it is extremely useful and functional. They get to rapidly understand the complexities of neck angle and body geometry then they can move on the the mechanical limitations of a dovetail joint. For all of my current instruments, I use a traditional dovetail but it is more of a response to market demands than my belief of it as a superior structural engineering approach for an area that is on constant flux throughout the life of an instrument.

    My biggest area of humor with David's book is his choice of coastal redwood. Everyone who reads that now thinks any old redwood will do and it is all the same. Very few folks understand that everyone building guitars at that time knew Craig and Alicia Carter....aka the folks who found and brought to market the "Lucky Strike" tree. I handled thousands of true sets from that tree and they were unlike any other redwood I have used. It was like rust colored red spruce- stiff and hard and dense and alive. Most redwood is a floppy mess; as a local tree when I lived out west it was everywhere and readily available, so I handled literally tons of it. We used to drive my old Willy's out on the beaches of Humbolt County and fill the back up with free redwood that washed up after big storms.

    Cumpiano's guitar neck joint in the first edition of his book is even more contrived with the cross doweled tenon. If you ask him about it, he'll admit that it was a transitional design that he only used for about 18 months while writing the book, yet now we have a whole generation of builders who think your neck joint has to have that vestigial organ tenon to hold a bolt in place.

    I've built several hundred guitars and worked on several thousand. There are many ways to approach the design, almost all of the with some kind of compromise.

    Back to the violin nerdiness....

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    James- Alicia called me out of the blue 20 years ago. She was living over the mtn west of us and packing to move to Mexico. Said come get all this wood before we haul it to the landfill. I was there the next morning filling my Toyota bed with Ziricote guitar sets, long boxes of brazilian rosewood 1x4s, and reams of guitar tops from 5 trunks they had salvaged from old power line rights of way that had been cut in the 1950s. Passed the thick long tops on to a harp maker in Taos, lots to aspiring guitar makers, the rest roasting in a seacan on the hill till I start making tuneful cremation reliquaries.....

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by fscotte View Post
    So, I shall build my own professional violin.

    So, for those who build violins, what exactly am I missing? What caveats are there?
    Does anyone make a 'good quality' instrument on their first or second try?

    What exactly what is missing is how a violin bridge works and how a bow works.

    Plectrum folks have no idea how subtle these things are. The only 'crossover' skill is in understanding acoustic properties in wood.

    But until one can make a good violin bridge and use a violin bow where you can make really good tone, there remains a huge gap between plectrum and violin lutherie.
    Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile

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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by oldwave maker View Post
    James- Alicia called me out of the blue 20 years ago. She was living over the mtn west of us and packing to move to Mexico. Said come get all this wood before we haul it to the landfill. I was there the next morning filling my Toyota bed with Ziricote guitar sets, long boxes of brazilian rosewood 1x4s, and reams of guitar tops from 5 trunks they had salvaged from old power line rights of way that had been cut in the 1950s. Passed the thick long tops on to a harp maker in Taos, lots to aspiring guitar makers, the rest roasting in a seacan on the hill till I start making tuneful cremation reliquaries.....


    There is nothing like the tonewood giveaways that happen when a widow or ex wife decides to get rid of all that crap! I once met a man whose uncle was D'Aquisto's neighbor's lawnmower. One day he had his truck sitting outside of her place and she paid him to haul away half of the "junk" in his old workshop- half finished guitars and tons of beautiful maple and spruce and ebony and quite an assortment of tools and jigs!

    I'd love to chat it up about that wood from Alicia. As I get older, I've been trying to incorporate small bits of my friends work and materials into some of my own builds out of reverence and nostalgia. Plus pretty much half of my wood stash is from old dead guys & often old dead guys who coveted wood from other, older old dead guys. I'm trying to use it all up before my wife has that garage sale....

  28. #22

    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Strad didn't have no belt sander. Maybe that's why he didn't built any basses.
    I wonder how they made purfling strips of consistent size in 1700?
    Those guys must have had really good steel for their tools, and been really good at sharpening them.
    The sharpest knives I ever had were made from a plain carbon, water hardening steel. They were made by the dozens for an old packing house and used for deboning hogs so they had to be sharp and stay sharp and also cheap to buy because of how many they went through.

    It is the most basic type of steel and should have been available in some form in Stradivarius time. A really good smith could produce something with the high carbon to get a fantastic edge. Most modern alloys give toughness or corrosion resistance or wear hardening or other properties, some of which work against getting a really sharp edge. The plain carbon tools would be more brittle and tend to chip the edges a little easier than modern tools but would be just as sharp or sharper.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    I agree that Heron-Allen's book is very old-fashioned and sometimes difficult to interpret, and there could be varnish fights over both his book and Harry Wake's book.
    Both books are informative, though, and both will produce an instrument.

    Is there anything you can specifically mention that's particularly awful about either book??
    Heron-Allen's bio: http://www.heronallensociety.co.uk/H...len.Edward.htm

    A true character of his times:
    Rather than a dilettante, Heron-Allen is better described as a polymath. The violin was his first love and Heron-Allen began to write and lecture on the art of violin making, "having become a 'casual' apprentice of George Charnot" (one of the greatest violin makers of the time). Heron-Allen's book, Violin Making As It Was and Is has been continuously in print since its publication in 1884. However, his Chiromancy, or the science of palmistry, (Routledge & Sons, London, 1883) and A Manual of Cheirosophy, (Ward, Lock, & Co., London, 1885) made his name in London Society. He read the palms and analysed the handwriting of various luminaries of the period, and was even asked to cast the horoscope of Oscar and Constance Wilde's first son, Cyril. Towards the end of the 1880s he embarked on a three year lecture tour of America (his subject was palmistry) which was both critically and financially successful.
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  32. #24
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Strad didn't have no belt sander. Maybe that's why he didn't built any basses.
    I wonder how they made purfling strips of consistent size in 1700?
    Those guys must have had really good steel for their tools, and been really good at sharpening them.

    James, it'll be easier if you stick to basses. The purfling is bigger . . .
    Strad didn't have belt sander but he had aprentices to do the "less fine" work.
    Purfling strips have been cut with ordinary plane for centuries. Requires soaked/cooked piece of wood (mostly poplar or willow was used by the old guys) and two strong guys with very sharp plane to plow through the piece, nothing fancy.
    The strips of the old guys were not always consistent, Strad, Amati and Stainer had excellent workmanship in this area but mot others had wildly inconsistent purfling work when compared to todays best makers with their precision tools.
    Interestingly enough the old guys (17th century and earlier) didn't make different purfling sizes for larger instruments, they used basicly the same size for all instruments. The different sizes are modern thing when makers started buying ready made strips from factories.
    Adrian

  33. #25

    Default Re: Building a violin... easier?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    A true character of his times:
    Oh man, he would absolutely clean UP on Instagram.

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